Paradise in Punta Cana : Tie the Knot at the Paradisus Palma Real
By Melanie Reffes
At the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic abutting the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Punta Cana is the land of the lavish all-inclusive, many fronting Bavaro Beach, one of the finest stretches in the Caribbean. As popular for unlimited eating and drinking as it is for zip-lining, windsurfing and sailing, the resort town is also one of the most popular destination wedding locales in the Caribbean.
Spread across one hundred miles of sugary white sand and surrounded by warm waves in 50 shades of blue, Punta Cana is tourist central with 37,000 hotel rooms and dozens of flights that arrive every day to the modern Punta Cana International Airport. Welcoming more than five million travelers every year, the airport is the busiest in the Caribbean with arrivals from 26 countries as far away as Russia and Japan.
A relative newcomer to tourism, foreign investors bet on Punta Cana’s perfect beaches and idyllic weather, and in 1969 bought 19 square miles of beachfront land. More investment followed and hotel construction took off in 1971. Today, high-end villas with every imaginable amenity share beach space with budget-friendly hotels and opulent resorts. Golf courses, convention centers and spas followed and continue to open at a breakneck pace. Excursion companies and private drivers offer tours away from the resorts to hot spots like Punta Cana Ecological Park and El Limon Waterfalls in the Samana Peninsula.
Part of the Spanish-owned Meliá Hotels International that own upscale hotels around the world, the brand called Paradisus operates three resorts in Mexico and two in the Dominican Republic: Paradisus Punta Cana and Paradisus Palma Real. All-inclusive on Bavaro Beach, Paradisus Palma Real, 20 minutes from the international airport, is the smaller of the two yet big with families, couples and singles who come for a vacation fueled by unlimited everything you can eat, drink and do.
A palatial lobby with regal marble floors is where you’ll find check-in desks, supersized sculptures and a piano bar. The centerpiece is a grandiose staircase that leads to an even grander Colonial Plaza with restaurants, bars, gift shop, casino and Olympic Theatre that is home to a Michael Jackson tribute called Legends. With an enormous canal-like pool that flows through the middle, the Plaza is high-wattage at night with a dramatic multi-colored light show.
Relaxation is made simple with a furniture store supply of sunbeds, benches, gazebos, cabanas and loungers at (and in) the pools, the manicured gardens and on the beach. For a pensive moment or two, the flamingo pond is where you’ll find a pair of pink birds who may be the most photographed couple at the resort.
Room and Board
Cobblestone paths lead to three-story buildings that house 484 suites, 200 Royal Service adults-only suites and two Presidential suites with ocean-view whirlpools on the terrace. Suites are tastefully outfitted with mahogany and marble, spa jet showers (note to those without a degree in mechanical engineering: showers are a challenge to figure out) and Jacuzzis. For late-night munchies, 24-hour room service is available and the mini-bar restocked daily.
For a few extra shekels, a stay in the Royal Service wing means no kids and access to a private lounge for sips, snacks and an early morning heady espresso. Reachable by cellphones, butlers handle everything from making dinner reservations to explaining exactly how the shower works. Pool concierges (yes, there is such a job) deliver sunscreen, snacks and cocktails to the water’s edge.
A golf cart ride away from the main resort, The Reserve is a resort-within-a-resort reserved for families and comes with a Family Concierge who hands out clever amenities like mini-sized bathrobes, welcome backpacks and milk and cookies at bedtime. Unlike many other big resorts, this one is well-marked, rendering the services of a Sherpa guide not necessary.
Ditch the Diet
Whether you like to graze or prefer to pig out, there’s plenty of opportunity for either or both at the resort’s 10 restaurants and eight bars. For dinner, the main attraction is Passion, with a menu created by Michelin-starred Spanish chef Martin Berasategui. With locations also at the Paradisus Punta Cana and one in Mexico at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen, dinner comes with a $70 surcharge that buys small portions on big plates, each one paired with a wine suggested by the sommelier. Servers explain every detail of every course which could include beet, garlic and black radish ceviche; grilled sirloin; and sea bass gussied up with lemony foam. Ideal for those making time for date night (no kids allowed), the décor matches the mood with red transparent heart-shaped vases.
Carnivores like Rare for its classic steakhouse menu, Blue Agave is for tacos and margaritas, Fuego for sweet Peruvian desserts and a fat stogie, Bana for those with a yen for Japanese fare and Vento for fashionable nibbles like eggplant parmigiana. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Naos is a ginormous buffet of just about everything. You’ll find an eclectic selection from sushi and tempura to cactus salad and jerk chicken. If you get there early, you’ll see a unique ritual where the servers gather in a circle, hold hands and pray for a successful day at the buffet tables. For those booked in the Royal Service suites, Palazzo is the go-to for pastas and a quiet table for two. The name says it all at the Grab & Go, where you can fill a picnic basket for lunch on the beach. Bocado Café is the real deal although it opens only at 11 a.m.
It is bottoms-up at eight bars including three swim-ups with seats in the water. Recommended cocktails at the Lobby Piano Bar are the vodka-infused Watermelon Crush and a Manhattan with a hint of bacon. In the Red Lounge, trippy red lights invite late-night party people for a spin across the disco-lit dance floor. At the Gabi Beach Lounge, sea views, rocking chairs and boozy cocktails keep it busy.
Nearly a mile and a half long, Bavaro Beach is family-friendly protected by a coral reef. The surf is calm enough for wading in without an undertow and the sand is soft enough for a game of beach volleyball and a siesta on a towel, although there are plenty of loungers and day beds. Part of the 25-mile long Costa del Coco or Coconut coastline, Bavaro is one of the best-kept beaches in the country although it is crowded with all-inclusive resorts.
One pool flows into another including the main one with blue and white tiled in-water benches, adults-only with a swim-up bar, seven whirlpools and the kids-only pools with a team of pool monitors who keep an eye on petite swimmers.
Swap foraging for food for burning calories with play on three tennis courses and two paddle courts or learn a new sport like windsurfing, fishing, parasailing and scuba diving. For landlubbers, bikes, jogging and horseback riding fit the bill. Blow the extra bucks you might have spent if you were paying for food at a European-plan resort and head to the casino for poker and slot machines. Chill-out options in the YHI Spa run the relaxation gamut from yoga and Pilates to aromatic volcanic stone massages and a romp in the palatial water room with enough jet sprays to keep you soaking all day. Close to the Spa, the Oriental Garden with a We Honor the Silence sign and Buddha at the entrance is big on mellow with Thai massages and Balinese tea ceremonies. To ease a buffet-inspired guilty conscience, personal trainers lead exercise classes daily.
A clever curriculum of workshops are worth signing up for, like sushi-making, tango lessons and one that teaches bartender wannabes how to shake ( or stir) the perfect martini. Unlimited greens fees at 27-hole Cocotal Golf & Country Club is an all-included option with shuttles taking players to the course.
For more photos, see the original article at USAToday.com