My family picked all-inclusive vacations in the Dominican Republic for our spring break for four reasons :
After 11 days, 6 tours, and 4 hotels, 33 meals, 7 kids events and I'm not going to tell you how many pina coladas, this is the round-up of our Caribbean vacation in Punta Cana:
Punta Cana is ideal for travelers who want an all-inclusive vacation and are willing to trade their Crackberries for cocktails, marble bathrooms for beach walks and Whole Foods for watersports.
To continue the alliterations, Punta Cana is more about interaction than intimacy. It's a stretch of continuous beach on the Dominican Republic's northeastern coast, with 20+ two- to five-story all-inclusive hotels lined up one next to the other. Lush with palm trees and other verdant foliage, for the most part you won't notice there are other properties until you walk on the soft pink sand beach (my favorite feature of this area). Hundreds of plastic lounge chairs continue for miles, fostering a very social environment. Guests revel in the chance to meet others and play together — fueled by the non-stop entertainment schedule. With water aerobics, ping pong tournaments, Salsa lessons, beach drumming, kids and adult discos and shows, boredom is not an option here.
The entertainment staff is a second major asset. Extremely friendly, outgoing, helpful and energetic — everyone we encountered at every resort was naturally ebullient, professional and dedicated to making sure visitors had a great time.
I think the resorts expect most people to spend their all-inclusive vacation lounging around the pool or beach, and they have invested the most heavily in those areas. There are plenty of loungers, the pools are huge (albeit UNHEATED), the ocean is crystal clear, and there are plenty of people walking around offering drinks (except at Club Med where there is no pool staff at all except lifeguards).
I think a non-foodie would find the meals to be just fine. At all the resorts we visited during our Caribbean vacation, there was plenty of variety, the food was relatively fresh, and perfectly acceptable. Most offer "gourmet" restaurant options, but beware: there seemed to me to be a system designed to make sure that we didn't eat at most of them. Compared to the gargantuan buffets where everyone can eat at any time, the 30- or 40-seat specialty restaurants are teeny — and they usually only allow one seating.
The gourmet restaurants are, in general, a modicum better than the buffet. In general, I'd say unless food is very important to you, simply avoid the hassle and go the buffet for your stay. I would suggest that those who want to go down the gourmet path should find out what the policy is for each restaurant IN ADVANCE. Most require showing up at 8:15 a.m. when reservations open to book it for that night. We felt the Iberostar has the best policy: they allow you book a certain number of gourmet restaurants based upon the number of nights of your stay, and it was easy to get a table. And Club Med, with the best all around food, only has buffet restaurants, so they are a good choice as well.
The rooms themselves range from college-dorm like to island upscale. The RIU and Iberostar have basic furniture, marble sinks, compact fluorescent lights and polyester bed spreads. They are pragmatic, easy-to-clean functional, just right for the all-inclusive vacation bargain hunter who does not need Pratesi sheets and Chippendale furniture. Club Med's rooms were the most luxurious, albeit just about one decorator notch above your local Hampton Inn. Down comforters and pillows, rain showers (with very low pressure and no real hot water), and glass-tiled bathrooms made this the only hotel I'd stay in were I go to back.
Finally, do not expect to use the Internet or make phone calls during your all-inclusive vacation. Most of the resorts we tried had limited Internet access in the lobby which was often unreliable or expensive. (Club Med charges $7 for an hour of Internet). My iPhone did not work at all, although others with Blackberries told us they could get a signal but were paying about $1.75 per minute for calls.
QUICK HOTEL OVERVIEWS:
Viva Wyndham Dominicus Palace All Inclusive, Santo Domingo
Club Med Punta Cana
Budget-minded travelers who are looking for an unplugged good time and are willing to sacrifice some creature comforts will love Punta Cana.
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Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn't been found.