a little vacation recap of my week in Punta Cana
This was my first all-inclusive experience and it certainly did not disappoint. I'm the type of traveler who will fold myself in half on a Spirit Airlines flight and live that hostel life to save a buck. NOT THIS TIME! The nice thing is, although it's really expensive per night to say at an all-inclusive, once you're there, (almost) everything is included! I have nothing be great things to say about my experience and will hopefully help you plan your next vacation!
Resort: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (June 10-16th)
I 10/10 recommend this place. The rooms, the food, the activities, the beaches-everything is perfection. For a 5 night stay, it was around $1000. Do the math and that's $200 a day. There are over 1700 rooms at this resort, yet there was rarely a time where I felt overwhelmed by the number of people around, which is impressive for a girl with anxiety. The resort is huge, but is more than accommodating for the ridiculous amounts of visitors. There are constantly trolleys driving around the resort that you can hop on and off to get to your desired location if you choose not to walk.
Rooms: I stayed in a Pure Wellness Caribbean King Suite. The Pure Wellness Suites undergo an additional 7-step process intended to trap and eliminate virus, bacteria, and airborne particles and minimize the presence of potential irritants. Most rooms have the same layout - they all have private balconies, hot tubs, and living areas. The room was extremely spacious. There was plenty of closet space, a huge bathroom with separate toilet, shower, and sink area. The shower might have been my favorite part; it was one of those rainfall showers :'). The king bed was very comfortable, the AC was heavenly, and the blackout curtains ensured you'd have a restful night of sleep. The room had a fridge, fully stocked with water, soda, and beer. The cleaning crew came by daily to restore the room to perfection.
Food: Quite possibly my favorite part of the whole experience! The food was SO GOOD. Let's start with room service. Randomly hungry at 1am? Order room service. Craving pineapple? Order room service. There is a breakfast, lunch/dinner, dessert, and late night menu. My top recommendations are salmon, fruit plate, and chicken tenders, although I'm sure the menu changes periodically. Next let's talk about the restaurants. There are 9 restaurants that you can choose to get breakfast, lunch or dinner at (if dinner, reservations are required!), all with unique cuisines. Here are the ones I visited:
The Market: a food hall offering dishes of all different cuisines. I went there only for breakfast. There is an omelet station, French toast/waffle/pancake station, fresh fruit, loads of sweets and other sides, and of course unlimited coffee, juice and mimosas.
Ipanema: a buffet-style Brazilian steakhouse. My favorite dinner spot was Ipanema because the steak was phenomenal (that's coming from a girl who typically only eats poultry). There is a salad bar, charcuterie bar, red meat station, poultry station, and loads of traditional sides to choose from. Again, the steaks are *chef's kiss*. Don't forget dessert!
Ciao: a contemporary Italian restaurant for a romantic dinner. Start with some red wine and bread, order an appetizer, share a couple entrees, and finish with dessert. The waiter will fill your wine glass before you're even finished and ask why you only want 1 entrée per person (all-inclusive life).
Isla: an exceptional international cuisine for breakfast and an a la carte cuisine for dinner. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style; choose from fruit, eggs and bacon, pastries, waffles, and much more. The waiter will keep you fully hydrated, caffeinated, and intoxicated (if you so choose). I highly recommend this place for breakfast! There have a cute bar with delicious mixed drinks as well.
There is a nice little walk-up coffee shop that is open until late at night for all your caffeination needs. I was such a frequent that the staff memorized my order (not sure what that says about me). In the main building, there is also an ice cream shop and throughout the day they set up little bars and food stands. In the morning, there is a little bar cart with mimosas, bloodies, and screwdrivers. At night, there are carts with traditional Dominican foods, and bar carts for all your alcohol needs.
*Note: it is expected to leave a small tip for most interactions. I had $100 in singles and $5s so I was able to tip my servers.
Things To Do:
BEACH. There is a long stretch of beach that is reserved privately for the resort. The sand is the softest I've ever felt and the water is the clearest I've ever seen. The sunsets are magical and I highly recommend a photoshoot on the beach an dusk. Cuddle up on the beach at night watching the stars and listening to the ocean. There are loads of beach chairs and umbrellas at a first-come, first-served basis. There are bartenders on the beach who will bring you drinks, and a walk-up beach bar. There is plenty of space and equipment for beach sports, too. The Atlantic was a bit chilly, but it felt so good to escape the heat. The sun is very intense, so don't forget sunscreen! I managed to not get burned (go me!) all thanks to my favorite skincare line, Fre Skincare.
POOLS. There are 19 pools you guys. NINETEEN. They all have different vibes - there are party pools with a DJ and way-too-loud music, there are pools with volleyball nets and other sports, there are more chill pools that you can nap and read by. There are plenty of chairs to set up camp, with the choice of sun, shade, or even sitting in in shallow water. There are waiters who will bring you drinks and swim-up bars to get the best pina coladas around!
GYM. This gym was dreamy. It was everything you could ever need; a cardio section, a weight lifting section with racks, barbells, free weights, and machines. I started each day with a quick 40-minute workout to prepare for my day of lounging, eating, and drinking. Prepare to sweat, though. There is AC, but it was still very warm. They provide water, towels, and have snacks including coffee, fruit, and protein shakes all included. Reservations were required to ensure your time slot.
CASINO. The on-site casino is so much fun. This is one of the few things not included (duh). There are bartenders who bring drinks, which are free, just be sure to tip so they keep coming back to you! They make a mean Miami Vice and Pina Colada. There is a really fun game that involves betting on horse racing that was the highlight of my casino experience.
THEATRE. This very large theatre has nightly shows with all different, family-friendly acts! I watched a magic show that was quite mind-blowing. There are musical acts, concerts, and much more.
BOWLING. There is a mini bowling alley with nice views, free drinks, and good music. Bowling costs extra.
MINI GOLFING. This is not included, but looked like a blast.
Weather: The Caribbean in the summertime was real hot - imagine that! It was consistently 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, which wouldn't be too bad by itself, but the humidity is where it gets a little rough. Stepping outside of the air-conditioned room was a bit suffocating at all times of the day and night. Luckily, walking around in a bikini is acceptable, with the exception of the restaurants. Save space in your suitcase by not packing your hair straightener, make up, or any pants or long sleeves.
Extra Excursions: Beware, on the beach there will be plenty of people trying to sell you things. From pictures with parrots and monkeys, to trinkets and excursions, never be afraid to say no politely. We did find a vendor on the beach who offered excursions, that we chose to do through him instead of through the resort purely because we were able to "bundle" or excursions through him and get a good deal.
PARASAILING. Breathe-taking views of the resort and the coastline. You can go up with 1-3 people in the sail at it costs around $70 per person for 15-minutes. The whole excursion took about 3 hours. The process was getting from our resort's beach to a mile up the beach to where the excursion took place. It was waiting for a little boat to pick us up to get us out to the bigger boat with the parasail. It was waiting our turn amongst 10 other people to parasail. It was waiting for the small boat to come back and get us and bring us back to shore. Just an FYI so you can be properly hydrated, fed, and have used the bathroom prior to going on a what you thought would be very quick adventure.
BOOGIES. This is one of the most popular things to do in the Dominican Republic. It's basically off-roading in little cars on the countryside, stopping at different attractions. It's always humbling to see what the country and culture are actually like when you travel. We stopped at a beach, a coffee/cigar plant, and a cave where we could swim. You need protection for your face (we wore bandanas around our heads and wore sunglasses. There are muddy spots where you will inevitably be splattered with mud if you're lucky and manure if you're not so lucky. This excursion was around 4 hours long, from the transportation to and from the resort to the excursion site, and the actual excursion.
Final Random Thoughts:
ISLAND TIME. This is a real thing. I'm a very punctual get-to-the-point kind of person. That is not how things are done here. Slow down and relax, because after all, you're on vacation.
STAFF. All staff is eager to help you. Whatever questions you have, help you require, advice you need, someone will be there to help. Because of this, you may have a bit of a wait to check into the resort or get that morning mimosas at the bar cart, but you can bet you'll get your drink and leave with a smile.
TIP. Tip the staff, especially if they're bartenders bringing you drinks, or they may not keep asking you if you need anything.
TIMESHARE. You may be asked to attend a time share presentation in exchange for free excursions. What is said to be a 90-minute presentation, ends up being much more of a time commitment with aggressive sales tactics. I didn't experience this personally, but I saw plenty of miserable people getting "the talk".
WATER. I was told to not drink tap water in the Dominican Republic for fear or getting sick. Stay hydrated at all times with water bottles!
DRINKS. Prior to going, I was also told drinks at all-inclusive resorts are always watered down, which would make a lot of sense. I'm here to tell you, however, that it's certainly not always true. Unless you order a blended drink that they pre-make in mass amounts, they prepare the drink right in front of you, dumping liquor in straight from the bottle. Unless they're diluting their liquor in the actual bottle, they put a whole shot(s) of liquor in your drinks.
WRIST BAND. When you check in, you get a wrist band. This is your lifeline; It's your access to all the amenities. If you lose it, you have to pay $75 for a new one. If it breaks, you can get a new one for free, just hold on to it. Apparently people like to sell their wristbands to people who aren't staying at the resort, so they can benefit from the all-inclusive amenities.