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The Caribbean’s Punta Cana: A luxury resort for the masses

  by RD Foster

Luxury comes in two sizes:  boutique and grand.  While boutique resorts may signify personalized service, luxury on a grand scale - done right -  can offer that and much more.

In the Caribbean, Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe has done luxury on a grand scale just about right.  Spread over an improbable 1,800 acres, the 26 year old resort recently completed nearly $300 million in renovations.  In fact, not much of the old property remains.

Located on the eastern edge of the Dominican Republic’s Altagracia province, the property is one of 40 hotels in the region that began development in 1985.  The area, known as Punta Cana, has been called the next Cancun.

Barcelo is a near hermetically sealed resort.  Your biggest exposure to Dominican Republic culture will most likely be the staff.  There are ways to escape, but after a few days relaxing in infinity pools or visiting the nearly two mile long beach, 18-hole golf course, seven tennis courts, spa, theater, casino and nightclub – you may decide to stay put.  This is a todo incluido (all included) resort – which makes leaving all the more difficult.

The all inclusive policy means just that – all activities, food and drinks, except for premium varieties – are covered in the price.

At first Barcelo can seem overwhelming.  Familiarization with the realm’s vast spread can take a few days.   But after several rounds, you’ll know where the seven specialty a la carte restaurants are – a choice of Mexican, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian as well as seafood and a steakhouse.

Cuisine on this grand of a scale does have its drawbacks.  Stick to the restaurants that keep preparation simple – Japanese (hibachi style), Coral (seafood) and the steakhouse. There’s also Striker’s Sports bar, open 24 hours, but it’s best reserved for late nights (post casino and nightclub) when no other options exist.

Club Premium is the resort’s value added package – worth purchasing for the exclusivity it affords:   private check in and check out at a lounge off the airy lobby, personalized concierge services, best room views, free wireless and more.

While most of the other 5,000 guests may crowd one of two morning buffets, Club Premium members enjoy personalized lounge service at tables set with white linen. 

Various other rooms and perks are scattered throughout the resort for Premium members.  After late night casino gambling and dancing, this writer and friends slipped into an exclusive area overlooking the nightclub. Later, we entered another VIP smoking lounge that overlooked the casino.  Sitting on couches, sipping brandy - it was well worth a small increase in cost.

In truth, with guests spread far and wide, there’s always some spot beneath coconut palms that feels private at Barcelo.  Several discreet pools cater to adults (reserve one of the cabanas early in the day).  In contrast, the swim-up pool bars can rock with activity.  And guests are not required to belong to Club Premium to take advantage of many of these areas.

One of the best kept secrets at the resort may be an ...

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