A DOMINICAN WEEKEND

So last weekend we hit up the Dominican Republic – namely, Punta Cana – for a relatively short stay (exactly 50 hours from touchdown to takeoff) on the island of Hispaniola. The weekend getaway was our first relaxing – if fast-paced – journey to the Caribbean.

- Now you may also know that we in D.C. are keeping an eye on Hurricane Irene. For the moment it has affected my travel plans for Williamsport on Sunday should Billings win against California in the Little League World SeriesĀ  (I plan to travel up Saturday to catch the US Final and drive back that same night, likely through some decent rain). Well, that same storm enveloped the north coast of D.R. the morning of the 22nd, hitting Punta Cana with some heavy showers before treading northward. I thought I avoided it then, but I’m left to wait and wonder as weather predictions show D.C. in the relative path of the hurricane (a week after the now infamous east coast quake, no less). -

I don’t think I’ve ever set an alarm earlier – but we were up and at ‘em at 3:15 a.m. waiting for the taxi to take us to Reagan National for our 6 a.m. flight. 11 hours later we landed on foreign soil, my first flight to another country since my 2000 trip to Norway and England. Let’s just say the customs line at D.R. was an experience in itself, not to mention getting a ride (will explain later) to the resort. It took almost three hours to get to finally get to the beach, but we managed.

Grand Turk Island (Turks & Caicos) from the air

I will say this – the Dominican Republic coast is a stunningly beautiful place. High rising palm trees and white sands with bright, blue water shimmering in the morning and early afternoon hours. It’s truly a sight. That alone made this short excursion worth it in every way, even if there were a few potholes along the way (and I’m not talking about the roads – which were surprisingly good, better than the ones I experienced in New Brunswick earlier this year).

Touching down - you can see the town of Punta Cana in the background

Here’s the thing with some resorts, at least in my short experience with them (namely, this one). They stop at nothing to sell you their timeshare. We stayed at the Melia Caribe Tropical – which is a huge establishment located just north in Playa Bavaro. Multiple restaurants, three buffets (the only ones we ate at), friendly Dominican employees and a beautiful beach – can’t beat it.

Our beautiful breakfast view!

If it wasn’t for Jose chasing us around on our getaway day, I would have given the place very high marks. You see, Jose was intent on getting us to listen to his spiel, despite our very short time on the island. On day one, he greeted us as we waited for the trolley service to take us to our room. He was quite helpful and friendly – giving us directions and pointers on the map – which we appreciated very much. The Melia Tropical can be an intimidating place at first, just because of its sheer size, so the little map we got came in handy numerous times. Jose then filled out an “invitation” for us, saying we had to be at a certain area at 10 a.m. the next morning. Believe me, the only place we were going at 10 a.m. was the beach. (Oh – and our ride service from the airport, provided by “Coco Tours”, demanded we visit them at 9:30 a.m. that day just to “confirm” the ride back to the airport the next day…AND listen to their additional sales pitch as well).

The beach goes on forever...but unless your brave, you stick to your resort

Screw that. The next day we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day in the D.R. swimming and taking in the sights and sun. We enjoyed Caribbean food (though I got a tender stomach from either the food or the water – I survived), shopped the souvenirs and strolled along the complex, ending our day poolside at night with the beautiful blue water and palm trees swaying in the cool breeze providing the perfect nightcap.

My best impression of Robinson Crusoe, if he were a Nats fan

Our third day was going to be rather hectic, regardless of how smoothly the journey went. We still needed to find a ride. Our airplane was leaving at 5:30 p.m. but the checkout at the hotel had to be done by 12:30 p.m. to avoid an extra $20 charge. Our plan was to get to breakfast by 9, beach by 10 and lobby by 12. Jose had other plans.

The view from the ocean

At about 8:50 a.m. we were stirred by the phone ringing. It was someone with the timeshare group who asked if we had received an invitation. I said we are checking out at noon (thinking at first it was the front desk calling). They wished me a good trip. Not five minutes later I receive another call. It’s Jose. He says he’ll be right over for a 20 minute presentation. I can’t quite understand him and I utter an “ok, what?” Taking that as a “yes”, he tells me that he’ll be right over. Breeah and I had none of that – but we also needed to make sure we had a ride for later that day. Instead of waiting around and wasting time, we left to see if the Coco Tours rep would be at the travel desk (or whatever they called it). He’d likely be pissed we missed the confirmation “meeting” the prior day, but I already paid for a round trip, so be it. The rep wasn’t there so I decided we’d just pay extra for a taxi and less hassle.

Parasailing way up high

We walked back to get ready for breakfast. At the room we received yet another phone call, which we didn’t answer. We walked over to the breakfast buffet area near the beach and were welcomed by the greeters with a loud “buenos dias”. Breeah could barely finish uttering how friendly the people were before we heard someone chasing us down shouting “Hey, Hey! Ola, Ola! in a rather aggressive tone. It was (gasp) Jose. “What room are you,” he asked. I confusingly uttered the room next door, which worked to my benefit as I thought I was being truthful. While flipping through his list of invitations he asked, “Do you know who I am, do you remember me?”. I simply pretended he was some rep from Coco Tours and trying to come off as just a confused American tourist at that point. “Coco tours, yes, Coco tours – for our ride back!?!” He answered “yes”, hoping that agreeing with me would get me to follow his plan. He asked if we were enjoying ourselves, and I basically said we were having the time of our lives. He then said “see me after breakfast,” to which I reminded him that we were checking out at 12. “Yes, 12, see me after breakfast,” he reiterated with a rather serious stare while tapping his finger on his chest.

Dancing Dominican statues

Did we see him after breakfast? No. We had two hours left. We paid for the beach and we were going to get our money’s worth. On the beach we were more humorously interrupted by an employee who was selling what – I hoped – were yoga lessons. “No more sleepy – Come stretchy” he said while carrying a wooden board painting with the word “stretching” on it. It gathered more chuckles from guests than anything else. On the walk back home, a kind maintenance worker offered a coconut and chopped it open in front of us. We enjoyed some of the water inside before heading to the room to pack up. We kept on guard for Jose, but managed to avoid him by taking the back route to our room and then lucking out with the trolley coming by and picking us up rather than (what I feared) Jose personally coming by. We checked out, grabbed a taxi and spent the next five hours at a very hot and humid Punta Cana International Airport.

A souvenir hut on the beach

I don’t want to fail to mention we also had to spend a VERY short night in Atlanta (made shorter by the long immigration process), which included a stay over at the Hyatt Place hotel near the airport. Our entire time at the hotel from check-in to check-out was just over six hours…likely the shortest stay at any hotel in my travel history. That night made Georgia that much more official on my 50 states checklist, upgrading it from airport visit to, well, airport hotel visit, but at least I set foot on the ground.

Who you lookin at?

All said and done, the Dominican Republic was well worth the visit and while Priceline afforded us a very nice resort rate and while the resort itself was fine, it was a little more than annoying to have to duck and run to enjoy ourselves, though, I was quite thankful our full Saturday didn’t have any distractions and we did everything we wanted to. If I ever go back I may look to a more traditional hotel setting that doesn’t have a package to sell. Santo Domingo maybe?

Check the gallery below for more images from the trip…

2 thoughts on “A DOMINICAN WEEKEND

  1. We went to St. Maarten last spring and stayed at a small boutique hotel where the accommodations were actually one-bedroom apartments. The only time we ever got hit-up for time shares was when we happened to drive through one of the towns in the direct line of fire of a cruise ship that pulled into port. I’ve never gone to one of the mega-resorts so I don’t know if your experience is typical, but I had a very relaxed time at a place with no vested interest in whether I bought a time share or not. Of course it wasn’t inexpensive either…

  2. I’ve been looking at similar establishments to the one you describe for St. Maarten on other Caribbean locations and think that might be my smartest move for future travel to that area. Call me ignorant, but I just didn’t expect sales pitches en masse and especially with how short our stay was – we couldn’t afford to lose any time to that. We want to try a cruise ship experience as well, but I’m all too wary of the tourist traps that beckon upon docking as well.

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