Punta Cana: Caribe Club Princess Review

This is our third attempt at an all-inclusive vacation, although I’m not sure if the first one counts. Our first foray into the world of resorts was in Cuba – we spent 2 weeks backpacking around on our own, before ending at a resort for a week. We took a taxi across the causeway to Cayo Coco, arrived at the hotel, and then spent a week trying to relax on the beach, while wishing that we were still out on the main island.

And after that, we went to Jamaica, where we were a little spoiled. We travelled with Westjet, who had a representative meet us at the gate, and show us to the lounge sponsered by our resort (Couples). The 5-star resort itself was lovely – small, quiet, adult-only, and they had a no tipping policy.

This year, after a hectic ride through Botswana and Zimbabwe, we decided to do a week in Dominican Republic at a resort. We went middle of the road – not the cheapest package we found, but not the most expensive either. It fit our criteria – on the beach, food available nearly 24/7, and relatively good reviews. We booked the resort, and an excursion, through our travel agent, thinking to have everything paid up front so that we didn’t have to worry about cost after the fact (and those costs skyrocketing as they are wont to when I get to researching destinations).

So here’s the thing. The all-inclusive resort thing doesn’t work for us. I know lots of people who it does work for – and everytime they talk about their trips I get this vision of relaxing on a beach, no worries in sight, everything taken care of…..and then I go on an all inclusive vacation and things just fall apart like paper towels in the bath tub.

So here’s how it went down.

We arrived to a quiet terminal in Punta Cana with only our fellow plane mates milling around at the carousels. We found ourselves with a porter (which turned out to be very helpful) who grabbed our “it’s a very small green bag” bag, and then led us quickly through the airport to our bus. (Instead of us wandering around trying to determine which bus out of the many there was the one we needed to be on.) A bit of waiting later (not everyone was lucky enough to have a porter like ours), we were off for the resorts.

So far so good, right? And it was. We checked in super quick, jumped on the shuttle, waited a beat to see if anyone else was joining us, then took a mad dash through the resort to our room.

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Shuttle on the resort

Where the toilet didn’t work. Where the safe didn’t work. Where the balcony didn’t lock, even though we were on the first floor. We called reception, who had someone there within 5 minutes (good) but who couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the safe, so we had to wait for reception to reset the code (bad). This means that we missed dinner at the buffet, which ended at 10:30, and couldn’t eat until the snack grill opened at 11 pm.

The rest of the stay was in a similar mode – we’d have some good, and then we’d have some bad. Because our room was incredibly loud (on the first floor, right by a shuttle stop) we asked at front desk if we could change rooms. The first person we talked to was a little rude, the second  (in the afternoon) was much happier. A few days later, we got great service when asking about a comfort room to use on the last day (our flight wasn’t until the evening, and check out was at noon), but then when I asked to  make a local phone call from the front desk (after our excursion company didn’t pick us up) I got a “I’m just scratching my face” middle finger. Or we would get great service at the Lobby Bar, but at the swim up bar we’d put in an order, and never get our drinks.

And it didn’t stop there. The food was mediocre at best – either over-cooked, or under-cooked, rarely done right (the exception being the roast chicken).  Or very few veggie dishes available or very few meat dishes available. Some mornings servers were on the ball, and we had coffee refills really quickly, other mornings it was like no one was working and even that first cup of coffee was like a pipe dream.

Our room would be cleaned well, with the towels refreshed, but the shower not cleaned. The sheets on the bed were crisp and white….but the bottom sheet didn’t reach the end of the bed; there was a good two inches were our feet were touching the mattress cover (removable and washable, so maybe it was clean).

Resort rules weren’t enforced, so people would reserve loungers on the beach, or around the pools, either the night before or early in the morning. If you didn’t get up by 8 am, and reserve a lounger before breakfast, you’d be out of luck until close to 4 pm when the sun worshippers headed back to their rooms. The dress code for the buffet was theoretically no beachwear, but you’d see guests in fishnet bikini covers. Now I realize that the resort can’t control all the behaviour of the guests, but having someone go around the remove towels from reserved loungers when they’re putting them back in place at night would a start to making a more enjoyable stay for others.

And all of that is why I don’t think I’m a resort person. I want a bit more variety – in food, in drinks, in things to see and do; I want to be able to take a stance on bad service by not giving them more money, and finding another hotel/restaurant/bar.

Least I leave you thinking I’m a whiny, elitist traveller, let me focus on the good. The beach was fantastic. A long crescent of white sand, it stretched in either direction (we were in the middle of the crescent). The waves were fantastic – I don’t know if it’s an always thing with Punta Cana, or a result of the wind while we were there (it was fairly windy the entire week), but we had crashing white-water waves to play in the entire time. We had bright, sunny weather the entire week, with a few rain showers at opportune times – at 4:30 for an hour or so, or overnight.

The resort is populated by birds – from the peafowl (2 peacocks and at least 6 peahens), to herons, ducks and geese, it’s a birdwatchers paradise. The staff fill feed bowls for the birds, ensuring that there are plenty around to entertain the guests. As a bonus, we were there shortly after hatching, so we saw so.many.babies!

Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend the resort (or its sister resort, Tropical Princess) simply for the staff’s cavalier attitude towards guests.

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