Wendy's Tips for a Punta Cana Trip
This article was written by Wendy.
Here’s a few tips I remember for maximizing your enjoyment at the Barcelo Beach Hotel.
1. Ride the train all the way around as early as you feel like it. It will give you the best idea of where everything is, and the general layout of the property. You will want to know where the other hotels are. You CAN walk to anything, but the train is free and fun and you can just ride around.
2. The nicest pool is at the Garden hotel. It’s an oval doughnut shape and has a deep end. The second nicest (and usually the quietest) is at the Casino hotel, and that’s also where the flamingos are, if you like that sort of thing (they’re NEAR the pool, not in the pool with you!). Your pool at the Beach is fun, but like the Palace, it gets pretty crowded and there seemed to be a higher ratio of annoying Americans at the Beach pool compared to Garden or Casino. Your Beach wristband gets you into those pools and all the drinks at their bars (but not at the Palace, so don’t even bother over there. It isn’t any different).
3. Bars… your wristband gets you all the “included” drinks you can possibly stuff down the hatch during your vacation. There are bar menus which tell you what’s “all-inclusive” and which drinks you would have to pay for if you got them. Don’t bother with the not-included drinks unless there’s something you just have to have… the Pina Coladas are included and are just great, and the local beer “El Presidente” is OK by beer standards. There’s just no need to go off-menu for any of the premiums. They always have free cold bottled water at all restaurants, and all the bars, too. If you take an insulated thermos-type cup, you can have them fill it at the bar with your drink of choice and it stays colder longer, plus you can happily take it out to your beach chair and not worry about drinking sand with your drink. They are happy to do this as it cuts down on work for them (you make fewer trips), and it’s all-included so they’ll load you up. The ice in drinks is made with purified water, so they’re safe.
4. Restaurants… the buffet is just great. It has everything you need. It’s the only choice for breakfast (literally). Don’t miss the fresh orange juice! They keep it at the front in a “fountain” type cooler (sort of like they have slushies at the mall here), and there are always 2 kinds of juice in the morning. You know what’s what by the actual piece of fruit on top of the cooler. They have natural oranges, which tend to be green, rather than Sunkist orange. DON’T miss it if you love juice. I wish for it every morning. The coffee is typical European… esophagus-searingly strong, so they cut it in half with milk. There are usually loaf-breads in baskets in the front which are great, plus all the usual breakfast breads, eggs, etc. There’s an omlette guy who will make one to order for you every morning, and you can also have a yogurt smoothie made to order with whatever fruit you like. Beware the sausages… they may look like Jimmy Dean links, but they’re really morcillas, which are blood sausage. Tasty if you’re expecting it, but somewhat of a surprise if you’re expecting pork. For lunch and dinner you have the choice of either the buffet or the sit-down resaurants. I forget which sit-downs are included at the Beach, but I think it’s the Mexican place and the Italian place. Somewhat limited menus in each, but we enjoyed them both. The Italian also offers “take away” pizzas, which were supposed to be great, but we never did that. The sit-down restaurants are fun, but frankly most of the same food is available on the buffet, along with a lot of “while you wait” stations where they will make you fresh pasta or seafood or whatever the station is. The desserts are also great, and there’s no limit on what you eat and where… if you want two dinners, go to two different restaurants and have them (or stay at the same restaurant and order, Order, ORDER!). You’ve paid for it, you can eat it. The service staff is about half and half of who speaks English and who doesn’t, but it’s no problem to get your point across if they don’t. Staff at these big luxury places are the envy of the rest of the natives, and they are HAPPY to serve. Really, they offer on-site housing and meals for the families of the workers, which is a far cry from the hovels you pass on your way in. The waiters are thrilled you’re there, unlike so many other poor nations where they hate you. I have never met such kind people in a resort.
5. Tipping… you don’t have to, ever, anywhere. We enjoyed handing people dollar bills and knowing that they’re really appreciative of it, and that it’s a ton of money to them… makes you feel rich. So we took a hundred dollars in singles down, and gave them out liberally, and still came home with maybe half of them. We tipped a few dollars at dinner, a buck every few times to the bar… whatever we felt like. So do whatever you like… they don’t expect it, but it’s easy to feel like a Rockefeller down there with a fistful of singles. We tipped our room maid ten bucks at the end of the week, but had read that they can’t get simple things like little toys and cosmetics down there, so every morning we left her a few things we had taken… got some kids’ toys at the dollar store here, and took her some nail polish and such… maybe ten dollars worth of stuff from home, but she really loved it because she just can’t buy things like that down there. Plus it left empty space in our luggage for souviniers coming home. She keeps the minibar stocked with candy and sodas and bottled water (essential, as you need to brush your teeth with it… do not even RINSE your toothbrush in tap water — which Andrew forgot several times!).
6. Shopping… there’s a Plaza right on the complex (see note 1, ride the train) where they have local crafts and things. The gift shop right in the hotel is just as reasonable for rum and T-shirts as any deal you’ll make with the locals, but don’t forget to take your own necessary toiletries, as they’ll get you if you have to buy it there (like any hotel). Just north of the Palace Hotel is an open-air flea market. That’s where to buy your Larimar jewelry (the blue amber they mine there), but haggle like MAD… they’ll get you if they can, in the friendliest way possible. They will ALWAYS cut their price drastically if you STAND UP and WALK AWAY. The rum is wonderful, and you can take a certain amount home with you (bring some Columbia (or is it Columbus?) Rum back for Wendy & Andrew! You can find it at the flea market.). Pack it into the middle of your suitcase, as they told us on the bus back to the airport that you couldn’t carry it on with you (new security, broken bottle is a weapon). Ours made it home fine.
7. Excursions… depends on what you like. The only “extra” thing we did was scuba diving, more later. All non-motorized watersports are included, so you just ask for a sailboat or snorkel gear and they hand it to you (there’s a little room badge thingie they give you that you leave as collateral when you take their gear out). Take a waterproof watch down with you, as you get the stuff for an hour (at a time… you can have it another hour if else nobody is waiting for it). They offer multiple excursions for additional cost, which include snorkel trips out to the reef (friends did it and said it was cool), trip to their little marine animal park (supposed to be fun, but I read that the dolphin enclosure was very small and it makes you sad to see them cooped up), snorkel with sharks (that’s a love-it or hate-it thing, I think), or a big truck trip into the interior of the island. Friends of ours took the truck trip and had fun (though they said that the roads left MUCH to be desired!), but we only had 6 days and didn’t want to spend a whole one riding around the truck… we just wanted beach and sun. As far as scuba goes, if you want to dive (even if you’re not certified you can do a “discovery” dive where they train you in the pool for an hour and then you go out into the ocean… TOTALLY worth the cost, coolest thing I’ve done in years), don’t go to the on-site dive shop (Red Coral). They are very nice, but their dive site stinks. Go north of the Palace hotel, past the flea market onto the very wide beach of the Villas hotel. There in a little dive shack you will find Neptuno Dive shop, run by Robert and Robert who are the BEST. Very safe and very kind, just wonderful guys. I never felt so safe, and their dive site was wonderful (I dove with both, so I can tell you), great coral and sea life. I highly recommend diving with Neptuno if you have even the slightest interest in Scuba.
8. Miscellaneous (in no particular order)… When you arrive at the airport, the porters will try to take your suitcases to the bus. I felt it was worth it to give them the dollar tip they want so they took me straight to the bus with no wandering around in the heat, but it’s not hard to find on your own if you don’t want to let them. At the immigration desk you pay Ten American dollars for your tourist card (have $10 cash in your passport and ticket folder ready). Do not lose the half they give you back of the card… you present it on your way OUT of the country, and if you have lost it you pay another ten bucks (big deal). Just keep it with your passport and stuff in the safe. When coming home, be sure to check the desk the day before to be sure your flight and pickup time haven’t changed… ours did. Again when you reach the hotel there are porters who want to carry your bags for you… up to you whether you think it’s worth two bucks tip to let them do so.
There will be a briefing the first full morning where the Vacation Express guy will tell you most of what I have told you here (minus the editorial). I think it’s worth attending just to help get your bearings.
Your trip includes tickets to their “Tropicalissmo” show which is the professional dancers show in the Casino. If you like thong-clad cuties shaking their booties to incomprehensible spanish-language music, then this is the show for you. If you like rum and coke (they give it to you free), it’s also the show for you. If you like not having your eardrums intact, then this is the show for you. If you want to dance with the cuties, then sit in the front row. There are other shows in the different hotels including (I am not kidding) CATS, which is the little spanish dancers lip-synching to a broadway cast album while wearing David Bowie wigs. Andrew Lloyd Weber would spin in his grave, except he isn’t dead yet. Do not ask if they have paid royalties. The rest of the shows are mostly hispanic King’s Island wannabes shaking booties in thongs. This is a very good reason to ask for a room FAR away from the hotel center where the shows are (we were just fine where we were). We did not have any problem with mosquitos, or any other bug for that matter, but we took Off spray anyway, and I would take it again. Do not take less than 30 SPF unless you want to roast. Use it liberally. Take some Immodium… I did not have a single minute of trouble no matter how obscenely I stuffed myself, but not all bellies are as iron-clad as mine. I don’t think folks get sick because of food poisoning, but you are not used to 5 pina coladas and 2 lobsters a day, and that can upset any belly. If you think you might dive or take any party-boat excursion, take dramamine with you. Don’t take a hair dryer, they have them in the room. No in-room iron, though, so take one if you like that sort of thing. It’s all very clean, but you will want sandals to get to and from the beach as the walkways are slippery (!) when wet. Men must have long pants to get into the sit-downs for dinner (dockers are fine, don’t have to be dress pants). Ladies can wear whatever they like, most wore sundresses to dinner. Only your room is air-conditioned… all the restaurants and bars are open-air, so you probably won’t need a sweater unless you sunburn and chill. Do not lose your towel card… exchange it for beach towels in the morning and trade back in the evening for your card. They charge you for suspected stolen towels if you lose your card. We found no hidden charges or “surprises” on checkout… didn’t owe a penny. Do take a bottle of water from the hotel when you get on the bus to go to the airport… you may have to wait for your plane in the open-air terminal and there is no water there unless you buy some. You will be grateful for the bottle from the hotel. Your luggage WILL be hand-searched on your way out of the DR, as they don’t have x-ray viewers. They search everything, so don’t pack anything you don’t want them touching. And I heard not to pack anything of value in your checked suitcase (like electric shavers or snorkel equipment) as folks have had stuff stolen after the suitcase is checked, but we didn’t have any problem, and I think that’s just sensible anywhere. Vacation Express was just great for us, no problems with ticketing or luggage or anything.
Have a great vacation!