I’ve traveled to nearly two dozen countries on four continents, yet I have never visited an all-inclusive resort, which is seemingly the easiest introduction to overseas travel. In the beginning I was skeptical that I could truly relax, but by the end it wasn’t too hard to figure out. The best comparison I have is it’s essentially a land cruise.
I had a busy week leading up to the trip and was writing reports and memos on the plane. When I arrived, I was excited to find a wifi signal, but initially disappointed by its spottiness. After an hour of work in the room I packed up my computer and stored it in the safe. Little did I know, I wouldn’t open that computer again for the rest of the trip!
On day one we were overwhelmed by the excess. We arrived at the Excellence Punta Cana and were greeted with champagne and a friendly staff. Hector at the front desk had us smiling, laughing, and booking massages within minutes! Once I wrapped up some emails we headed to a bar by the pool to fill-up our champagne. Here’s the thing about an all-inclusive: you never have to drink or eat anything you don’t like because you can always order something else! In some ways the gluttony is horrifying and I wonder what the staff thinks of the travelers, but it’s also incredibly delightful to be able to order whatever you want!
I generally drink vodka and was worried it would be rubbing alcohol, but I was able to order Stoli. If you’re an adventurous drinker, you may want to try the coco loco, which is a rum based drink in a coconut mixed with coconut water and water. Plus you can eat the fruit once you drink the juice. You’ll also want to try a mama juana, but don’t say I didn’t warn you! It is a very strong shot that’s already mixed and ready to go!
I experienced my first swim-up bar and it was just as luxurious as I had hoped. We met two great couples from St. Louis while sitting on underwater stools. In our hotel the Martini bar was a central hub to socialize, but it never got so crowded you couldn’t find a seat after a few minutes.
It took me awhile to figure out the food situation. The buffet is overwhelming. For breakfast there was an omelet man, bread table, and juice bar. At lunch there was a pasta bar, seafood spread, and sushi station (just to name a few). In addition to the buffet the Excellence has nine other restaurant options. Guests don’t need to make reservations, which allowed something called a progressive dinners. We often started at the tapas restaurant for apps and finished at another. Restaurant options included Asian, Italian, Mexican and French.
So how was the food? We had one lunch that was awful, but honestly the rest of the food was pretty good! It wasn’t overly spicy or spiced at all for that matter and some of the dishes were fairly bland, but some of the food was delicious! The steak and cheese platters at the French restaurant were hands down the best meals of the trip. Even when the food wasn’t fab, the service was always outstanding. The staff works so hard and always has a smile on their face.
If you want to be social, there’s a calendar of events including beach volleyball, bingo, poker, and tennis. There is a fitness center with machines, weights, and occasional classes. The Excellence has a casino. There is also a show every night at 9:30 that usually include singing and dancing. Afterwards there is some sort of night club, which was very fun two of my five nights, but dead the other three.
After a few days I got a little bit of cabin fever and had to get off the resort. We booked a half day excursion for $60 each ($120 total) to drive dune buggies! We tried local coffee, swam in a cave, and stopped at a beach, which were all short and cheesy, but driving the buggies was a blast!
Many of the resorts are a good 50-60 miles from Punta Cana’s airport (PUJ). You can pick-up a taxi at the airport or pre-book it through your hotel. I scheduled it ahead of time and there was a man waiting with our name on a sign. It cost $70 each way, no matter if you have one or four passengers in the car.
How long should you spend at an all-inclusive? Depends. It took me about three days to really relax, but by day four I was really digging it. That being said, by day five and six I started to get a little bored. Still I met two older couples who do three weeks three times a year and love it.
On the topic of time, we ended up in bed by (or before) midnight every day, but got up at 7:30 so that we could get a pool seat. By 8:30 most of the good chairs were gone. I also recommend getting seats by an umbrella. I never sit in the shade at the pool/beach, but have the option of cover when it rains.
Seeing the culture
Look—you don’t go to an all-inclusive to learn about the culture of the Dominican Republic, you do it to escape reality and enjoy paradise. Still you can get to know the staff and meet guests from all over the world. I had a meal with two couples from England, who told me all about a town I would like to visit called Blackpool. Who knows? Maybe I have a place to stay there!
I had a great trip, and it was the perfect way for me to spend the holidays. I escaped the cold United States and returned with a tan and smile on my face. It would probably be best, however, to go on a honeymoon or with a big group of friends. I stayed at an adults only resort, but met travelers with families who told me the all-inclusive is a great financial deal for families.
While I would rather spend my time and money experiencing new cultures and seeing historic sites, this was still a great experience and I would be happy to do it again. I hope this helps and would love to hear about your all-inclusive experiences!