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

  by RD Foster

One of the best kept secrets at the resort may be an outside lounge area above the spa and across from the theater.  With a view of the ocean, set with fire pits and candles, the area is probably the optimal spot to enjoy a late evening drink.  During a recent four night stay, it was nearly always empty.

December through June is prime season at the 1991 room Barcelo, when occupancy rates can top 5,000.  During a visit in early September, the resort had 2,100 guests and 2000 employees, a great ratio.  Plan the month of your visit accordingly.

Most visitors hail from Europe, although the hotel has begun wooing an American clientele, mostly from the East Coast because of proximity.  Americans have tended to favor the Bahamas, but flights from New York City are about three-and-a-half hours in length, and packages to the resort can be quite affordable. 

One couple during the stay reported a $1400 per person price for nine days including air fare – from the West Coast.   It’s an excellent bargain, considering one doesn’t have to drop a penny, except for tips, when at the resort. 

A high percentage of guests are honeymoon couples.  “Absolutely wonderful,” agreed a newly married couple from San Paulo, Brazil, when asked about their stay.

The honeymoon suites, also called panorama suites, feature wider views, private terrace and a Jacuzzi inside and out.  The vast majority of rooms, in fact, include a Jacuzzi on the balcony. 

Increasingly, Barcelo has parceled out various areas for differing needs and purposes – a wise master plan for a mega resort.  Satellite concierge stations (for the family and golf suites) enable guests to access services without making lengthy walks back to the lobby. 

One can spend an entire visit at the resort without leaving, and not be worse for it.   Whatever experience you desire, you can create it – from midnight swims in the ocean to numerous water sports: paddle boats, kayaks, snorkel and scuba gear, windsurf boards, sailboats, water polo and more.   There’s even a shark pen anchored off shore for the intrepid.  The cost?  Activities and dance lessons are included in the price.

It’s worth it to learn at least the meringue while at the resort, since it’s the country’s national dance.

“In the Dominican Republic, you learn to walk by dancing,” says Francisco Mora who was raised on the island and now lives in San Francisco, California.  “The whole island lives in dancing mode – on holidays, with your family.  Even the elderly go to dance parties at social clubs.”

With tempos that can reach 160 beats per minute the meringue keeps the island, and the resort, moving.  The dance was invented in the 1920s by Dominican Nico Lora.

“All the dancing – it makes the island almost unbearably happy,” says Mora who was born in San Francisco de Macoris.

If Mora’s anecdote is enticing, there are ways to escape Barcelo to directly experience the Dominican Republic, which is about the size of New Hampshire.   Cars can easily be rented for excursions to nearby Higuey, the province’s capital city dotted with fruit stands and swarming with motorbikes.

An all day excursion to Saona Island, at the island’s southeast point, will also pass by Higuey.  This government protected nature reserve is set-up for resort visits. The journey that delivers you there winds its way around several towns giving visitors a more intimate view of the Dominican Republic, home to ten million.

Endless fields of sugar cane backed by mahogany forests are common views on the journey to the island, passing the towns of Veron, Otra Banda and Higuey.  Most trips stop for an hour at Altos de Chavon, a mock 16th century town built in 1976.

The hour van ride takes you first to Bayahibe beach.  From there, a 45-minute speed boat ride to Saona Island stops midway for a dip in the famed turquoise ocean.  The island beach is set-up for lunch when you arrive, barbeque style, along with beach volleyball, massage stations and lounge chairs. 

Saona Island’s setting is idyllic, and while you’ll have a near duplicate ocean view as at the Barcelo, the lack of infrastructure is both refreshing and calming.

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