October 1492. Columbus “discovers” America. In fact – and still not proven with a high degree of accuracy – his first land sighting was one of the islands in the Bahamas (the natives called it Guanahani). However, his first settlement – albeit more due to circumstance than plan [one of his ships – Santa María – ran aground and he left 39 people on land, since they couldn’t fit on the smaller ship] – was on the island he called Hispaniola. In his second voyage (which carried 1,200 people on 17 ships) he actually colonized it officially. Today, this island is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And they call Columbus [aka Cristóbal Colón] the first overseas visitor…
I won’t bore you too much with the [alleged] past. Most of it is in the history books. But it’s important to set a little context. To understand how the area got a big jolt towards civilization, from the naked Taínos who greeted Señor Colón on the beach, to the second biggest nation in the Carribean, and the first in terms of tourism. Dominican Republic, that is. For that’s where we spent a glorious week early in July.
Breaking with tradition (usually we head down to Florida) we decided to finally give the Caribbean a try. Cancun and Punta Cana made the short list. The latter offered better deals, but settling on a property took a lot of work; there are so many to choose from, yet I think we made the right call with Iberostar. All things considered (TripAdvisor provides empirical evidence to back it up) it’s probably one of the nicest resort in Punta Cana. The property is HUGE; grounds are immaculate, luscious and extremely well kept. The beach… I’ll just let the picture speak, although the ocean did go deep in a hurry and the bottom was a little rocky. The pools(s): just phenomenal. Rooms were OK, but who cares about indoors when there’s a paradise outside?
On the plus side, there’s never a dull moment in one of these resorts. Activities galore, all-day-and-night entertainment, food always on display, and booze around every corner (just tip well and they’ll take care of you). So really, there is no reason to leave the property… but 7 days is a long time to stay “cooped-up” anywhere, so they do offer a large variety of activities for those looking for a little adventure… or at least a little “different”. More on that topic in a separate post.
Back on the property for now…
· The people were amazing; easy to make friends with, and always going that extra mile for the extra dollar (“you don’t have to carry your drinks back to the room, I’ll do it for you” said Juan during the Spain-Italy half-time)
· The majority of the people don’t tip (“it’s included in the price” they say) which is why they don’t get that “extra” service. Let me tell you, for a few more dollars in tips you get a MUCH better experience…
· Foods that made an impact: that roasted pork leg with cracklin’ caramelized skin. Oh, my! Or the suckling pig that melted… and of course, tropical fruit that tasted like tropical fruit are supposed to (didn’t actually know how good mango actually should be; will be hard to go back to store-bought)
· Activities all around the clock. Volleyball (on water or sand), soccer, aerobics, catamarans, snorkeling, kayaks, dancing, the list goes on, and on, and on… The catamaran was fun, especially for the girls. Volleyball too (I was so sore the next day) and with a little more motivation (or less gravitational pull towards the swim-up bar) we could have gotten our scuba certification for a lot less than it costs state-side. Oh, well… maybe next time.
· Snorkeling trip on individual speed boats. So much to see up and down the coast…
· Karaoke night every night, although we were never drunk enough to fully enjoy it (or at least some of us ;-)
· Evening shows, with the Michael Jackson one taking top prize. Pretty good impersonator, actually.
· Beach party! Tropical shower aside, nothing beats a party right on the beach!
|on the Catamaran|
|Beach party scenes (Go, mom!)|
|Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra|
|Jones, Sinatra and TNKOTB|
|Karaoke? Nah... Professional drinking instead!|
|Off to swim with the fishes...|
|marine life of all shapes and sizes|
|we had a great underwater camera|
|<----- Laura's new hobby ----- >|
|A corner of the island that man has not yet touched|
|Coconut water doesn't get any fresher than this!|
... Bogdan the kite surfer...
... that cornucopia I mentioned earlier...
|Our favorite spot, of course...|
- À la carte restaurants. Not really impressed. In most cases the buffet “spread” was better. The fact that most our reservations were late, didn’t help. True foodies will be disappointed.
- The Casino. Not that I cared much, but a room with a couple of folding tables and a hand-full of slot machines can’t really be called a casino. I’m sure they don’t adhere to any standards, either. For those of you who are jumping at the bit to lose some money, you’ll be better off giving it away…
- [Almost] non-negotiable deals to some of the local attractions (like zip-lining or swimming with the dolphins). Even with Bogdan – who has a PhD in price negotiations – we couldn’t get more than 5-10% off their list price. Off the property, though – totally different story: snorkeling and deep-sea fishing for half price.
- The fishing trip. Caught zero fish, “fed” a fair share and some of us got to experience the meaning of “sea legs”. At least the Caribbean Sea was such a pretty blue!
|That indigo blue was just amazing... the camera almost captured the exact color...|
* * * * *
In the end, it all went by too fast. No vacation is ever long enough, I know…
I didn’t miss running to the store to get food and drinks, or making plans for dinner, or cooking breakfast (or even coffee for that matter). All-inclusive really is a more relaxing way to go on vacation. Now I understand why Piti kept bugging us about it ;-)
Definitely will do this again soon!
PS - this is a post detailing the one-day trip in the DR countryside. Enjoy: