Avid readers of my blog (hi, mum!) will remember my nervous state of mind a week or so ago as I waited with baited breath to see whether of the small list of destinations we hoped for were available through my work’s last minute travel scheme. As the day of booking neared, I was actually only left with one choice, and so we bagged the last 2 seats on a flight to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, with no idea of where we were going to stay, but a good idea that most of the lodgings in this part of the world tend to be all inclusive.
Now, I really don’t want to sound ungrateful as it basically meant that we were heading for 10 nights of sunshine and all-inclusive merriment, but it would not have been my first choice if I had been looking for my perfect holiday destination. I prefer a little more going on – maybe a bustling local town, the opportunity to board a boat and go off and explore a nearby island, somewhere that you could easily get out of your hotel and explore a little. I don’t like being held as a captive audience by a hotel and told what I can and can’t do with my time. However, I really wasn’t in a position to complain, so I decided to take a break from my usual style of travel and try out one of these all inclusive resorts for a change, and see if a travel blogger used to having an adventure could enjoy this style of travel.
All inclusive – choose wisely
If taking this type of holiday, make sure you do your research and make completely certain that the resort will cater for everything you want to do or see whilst in your destination, and offer the standard of service you’d like.
Normally I would spend hours pawing over reviews and blogs online trying to find the very best accommodation for our budget, but with only a few hours to decide, we hastily chose our hotel on its merits of having plenty of restaurants (so we could avoid any weirdos should we come across any – an all inclusive hotel can be a bit of a minefield if you get talking to Mr Strangeman on day one, as you can’t really avoid them in your bizarre little micro-world), and booked ourselves in at Dreams La Romana Resort & Spa. Based on the name alone, we couldn’t go wrong, right?
On first glance, it really wasn’t a bad hotel. I have stayed in a lot worse. But it being nearly easter, it was full to the brim with bloated holiday makers, trying to get their money’s worth at the buffet. True, the hotel did have palm trees, a white sand beach and clear blue seas, but on closer inspection these palm trees were planted in concrete underneath 6 inches of imported sand, and the beautiful waters were void of all life, unless you count that one dead starfish and clearly-lost shoal of fish we saw.
Not all it seemed
The glossy website promised ‘Unlimited Luxury’, ‘Elegant Accommodations’ and ‘Gourmet Dining’. Sounds great! But when you’re sharing your small amount of space with 1500 other people, the air of luxury tends to dissipate somewhat.
Our room was large with a great bed, but sadly lacked any great character and the bath was small and grubby, making a romantic bath out of the question. We chose the hotel mainly because it sounded like a lot was included for your money. Seven restaurants, four bars and all gratuities included, however ‘all-inclusive’ sheen seemed to crumble as the days went on. ‘You want wifi? OK that’s 25 dollars please. Room service? Yes that’s included but you can’t have any spirits, only wine, and it’ll be an hour. Snorkelling? Please leave a $20 deposit. And make sure you tip with every drink please, or you will be getting really crap service.’
Grumpy old bint
Maybe I’m just getting old, but I don’t like to pay a lot of money to stay somewhere under the promise that everything’s included and then have to make allowances for stuff not in the budget. Plus running out of money due to excessive tipping and then being charged $25 to withdraw some more really grinds my gears too.
Don’t get me wrong, the resort wasn’t all bad. The beach, when quiet was lovely, and some of the restaurants did a great job of serving decent fare, but I was starting to think I’m just not an ‘all-inclusive’ kind of person. I mean, the hotel had graciously offered lots of day and night time activities, open to all who wished to partake. However, when faced with these options – exercise classes on the beach (in front of 500 laughing strangers); bingo by the pool bar; some kind of mad dance show of an evening, complete with human butterflies on surf boards gliding across the swimming pool – none of these really floated my surf board, so to speak. It’s all a bit ‘Butlins’.
Stating the bleeding obvious but something to note nonetheless: As a general rule of thumb, the larger the resort, the less intimate your experience.
A remarkable stroke of luck
So one fateful afternoon, ambling through the reception area we spotted a notice asking for volunteers to move to a nearby sister hotel as they had, luckily for us, overbooked at Dreams. One quick google (on our $25 wifi) showed the alternative to be an absolute palace. Every room a suite, yoga classes in a quiet spa studio in the mornings, free horseback riding, beach side waiter service and all manner of incredible sounding luxuries that we had been hankering for. So we buzzed straight back downstairs and secured our space at the new abode before anyone else could bag it!
Yesterday we arrived at our new home; the Zoetry Agua Punta Cana. An absolute gem of a resort which doesn’t really feel like a resort at all. Waiters are pleased to serve you (rather than avoiding your gaze), and the restaurants are classy with impeccable food. But if you don’t fancy making the schlep down to the restaurants, never fear as 24-hour room service is here! In fact, last night in a state of pure self-indulgence, we had a bath in our two person tub, ordered a 3 course meal to our suite (oh, don’t even get my started on how amazing our suite is), and curled up in our dressing gowns to watch Game of Thrones (on the free wifi). You might think this crass, but I was just SO content with this. After all, a holiday is about doing what you want, when you want, right?
Tomorrow we’re starting the day with a spot of yoga and after sunning ourselves for a while, are heading off on a horseback ride along the beach (Alex hates horses so this should be particularly hilarious). The next day we’ll treat ourselves to our (included) massage and get our clothes washed and pressed (for free) before we (devastatingly) head home.
In short, this place is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. I am so happy here in my quiet contentment without the fear of being hoodwinked by a passing member of the entertainments staff and asked to bounce around on the beach for the entertainment of hundreds of gawking weirdos. I am sitting here in a pink spotted swimsuit as I type this, and my only worry in the world is the threat of becoming as pink and spotted as my clothing, as the red hot sun burns my poor English-Rose skin. It’s a hard life.
A few days ago I was thinking I was finished with ‘all-inclusive’ style holidays, but on reflection, it seems that maybe I was just waiting for the perfect one to come along. And I’ve found it. Thanks, Zoetry.