Five-and-a-half glorious days and five amazing nights. That’s what our family just spent in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. We went to celebrate some recent birthday milestones for myself and my husband. Considering I took almost 1000 photos during our time there, I thought I’d share our trip experiences across several blog posts.
I’ll start at the beginning and share how we decided on the Dominican Republic. When we first started talking about this birthday trip, we knew we wanted a warm, beach location, so we considered a lot of tropical destinations. Two of the main things we wanted were a white sand beach and turquoise water; those requirements took Puerto Vallarta off our list. We looked at Jamaica but didn’t find everything we wanted in an all-inclusive there, so we ruled Jamaica out this time. Turks and Caicos and the US Virgin Islands both looked amazing but were out of our budget for this trip. We didn’t consider the Bahamas for too long, as we didn’t find as many family friendly resorts there. That left us with Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and the Dominican Republic on our list.
With our locations somewhat narrowed down, I put together a spreadsheet (I’m a dork like that!) of all-inclusive resorts that had the main things we were looking for and that were within our budget. Then I started looking at resort reviews on various sites. One of the sites I found most helpful was Oyster, The Hotel Tell-All. The site shares hotel reviews by unbiased parties, and they offer Pros and Cons lists for each location they review, which were extremely helpful to us. You can search by a lot of different criteria – like best all-inclusive, best beach, best kid-friendly – which was also really helpful. I also looked at reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, Costco Travel, and Booking.com. The reviews helped narrow down our choices even further. We ultimately found pretty much everything we wanted at the Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe in the Dominican Republic.
We booked our trip through Costco Travel, and we could not have been more pleased with the experience. Costco’s rates were better (by several hundred dollars, in most cases) than the rates we received from a travel agent on the same properties and with the same accommodations and inclusions. Costco was super easy to book through, and we were really glad to know that we could receive a large percentage of our package rate back even if we had to cancel our trip one day prior to departing.
I’ll share more about the Barcelo property, our experience at the resort, and some travel tips throughout this blog post and subsequent ones. For now, though, I’ll start by saying that we had an overall amazing experience and vacation. The Dominican Republic is absolutely gorgeous, and the people are incredibly friendly.
Our flight left Kansas City early on Friday morning, and we had a short layover in Miami, so we were in Punta Cana by mid-afternoon. One thing I forgot to pack was a pen, and you need one to complete customs forms on the plane. So if you’re going out of the country, make sure you bring a pen! The customs process in Punta Cana was easy and quite efficient. It hardly took any time at all for us to get through the process.
Our Costco package included a private transfer to the resort, which was equally easy and efficient. After being greeted with champagne and soft drinks at the resort check-in lounge, we were escorted to our room. Our resort guide showed us where everything was and how the TV remote worked. We spent a few hundred dollars to upgrade our Costco package to a ‘premium level,’ which was well worth the cost. The premium level included expedited check-in and check-out, a bottle of Dominican rum in our room, a two-bedroom and two-bathroom suite spanning more than 1200 square feet, wi-fi at no extra charge, and unlimited access to the resort’s water park.
We got settled into our room a bit and then headed to the beach… to do lots of cartwheels.
And hand stands…
I don’t generally include cell phone photos in my blog posts, but I love some of the photos my kids and husband took, so I’m including them. This was a two-person selfie (what’s that called?!). They were quite fond of the hot tub on our balcony. And the bubbles. Clearly.
This was our breakfast view the first morning we were in Punta Cana… not bad!! Our resort offered several buffet restaurants and even more ‘a la carte’ restaurant options where you could order off the menu. We tried one of the a la carte restaurants our second night but opted for buffets the rest of the time. The buffets were a better fit for our kids. The variety was extensive, and they could always find something that appealed to them at every meal. Both kids were big fans of the self-serve frozen yogurt machine and the dessert buffet at lunch and dinner, too.
Two particularly nice things about the buffet restaurants were that they don’t require reservations, and the dress code is casual. If you visit an all-inclusive resort, be sure to find out if you can make dinner reservations before you arrive. Also be sure to inquire about the dress code for non-buffet restaurants. At Barcelo, the dress code for men at the a la carte restaurants was shirts with sleeves, long pants, and closed-toed shoes.
She HAD to hold this monkey the minute she saw that the resort offered it. It was basically the only thing she talked about until she finally got to do it. I actually got scolded for taking these photos. As a photographer, I totally get it. They want people to pay for the photos they take of guests with the animals. This is their livelihood. They don’t want people taking their own photos and then not spending any money on the ones they take. I truly wasn’t attempting to get out of paying for anything, though; as a photographer and a mom, I simply wanted to document the moment.
And we definitely still paid for the professional photos the resort staff took. Note to self for next time, though… don’t attempt to document moments when you’re told not to!
On our first full day in Punta Cana we got to experience that white sand and amazing turquoise water we were looking for… and it truly was amazing!
I spent $6.00 on sand toys at Dollar Tree before we left. Though they were lightweight, they took up a decent amount of room in a suitcase, so we left them behind when we left Punta Cana, which I didn’t mind doing since they were so inexpensive.
She might be taking a pic of the gorgeous scenery, but a selfie is a better bet. You get used to lots of selfie moments when you travel with an 11-year-old girl!
We brought our own snorkels. Snorkeling excursions were included with our package, but I was glad we had our own snorkels to use anytime we wanted and not just on resort-led excursions.
We saw a lot of small crabs on our trip. It was fun to watch them scurry along with their claws up. Another cell phone pic… it was hard to document them since they move so fast!
The water park was clearly a big hit. Definitely worth the extra money we spent to upgrade to the premium level.
Not quite sure what’s going on here…
Nose pluggers, unite! One of these days, we probably need to break them of this habit!
The tropical flowers were incredibly beautiful.
Back at the room after a day of beaching and water parking, Bubba offered free massages to resort guests (actually, just to his sister, thankfully!).
Once again, not quite sure what’s going on here…
Obviously, I need a lesson on where to look for cell phone pics!
The quality is horrible, but this is (sadly) one of the only images of all four of us in the Dominican Republic, so I’m choosing to love it!
That’s it for days one and two of our Dominican Republic vacation! I’ll have more blog posts and photos to share soon!