Dominican Republic, where Dreams become Memories
Summer holiday 2017, I decided to go to a region I had never been to before and knew next to nothing about, and to try a holiday style I had never tried before, all inclusive.
Although I was sorely tempted by Central America and Mexico in particular, in the end I decided to go to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. I was astonished to learn (from Wikipedia and a Traveller’s Digest) that the Dominican Republic was the most visited of all the Caribbean islands, with some 4,300,000 visitors a year. Visitors are apparently drawn by the golf courses and the vibrant atmosphere as well as the white sand beaches and crystal clear seas of the Caribbean. It is important to note, however, that the Northern part of the Island looks out onto the Atlantic and that the rainy season (July and August) can give rise to slightly less clear seas and a lot of seaweed. The Southern and less well developed part is on the Caribbean side
I chose AM Resorts as my brand of All Inclusive, particularly attracted by the prospect of not having to wear a wrist band and not having to reserve seating at any of the restaurants. I chose Dreams Resort and Spa in Punta Cana, and was certainly not disappointed by the resort.
An impressive entrance leads to a massive central complex housing the reception area, a bar, a restaurant and an impressive staircase leading down into the resort. Even though we arrived late at night, one could not help being impressed by the size of everything. The room size was therefore slightly disappointing as it was just perfectly adequate, housing two double beds, a sofa, a table, nice terraced area outside, plus good bathroom. It was well appointed with very efficient air conditioning, big tv, iron, and hair drier.
Without a doubt, the best feature of the hotel is its amazing swimming pool, pretty much running from the top of the resort down to the beach. It is the largest free form pool on the Island, and allows plenty of space for everyone, with quiet zones, not so quiet zones and activity zones.
Initially the beach at the resort was a disappointment, with seaweed being a major problem. I was surprised to see that there was no one in the sea, but after grazing my foot and leg on hidden rocks close to the sand, could understand why, particularly as the pool was so outstanding. It was not until the end of the first week that I gave it another go, and was impressed. Provided you stay in the area roped off for swimming, the ropes to keep the seaweed at bay, the swimming is excellent, and the beach is pretty impressive.
Food and drink at the resort was unlimited, but perhaps not quite living up to the “Unlimited luxury” tag of the AM Resorts brand. It was good but without being outstanding. The food at the French restaurant, Bordeaux, was very good, and the other restaurants were good, but the resort could perhaps do with a little more imagination and variety with their food menus.
There is plenty to do in the resort, which boasts a good spa, a well appointed gym and many activities and other entertainment. I had a tennis lesson and tried out some archery, but most of the time was spent by the pool, and letting an endless stream of cocktails come to my table.
My reservation about All Inclusive is that visitors tend to be encouraged to stay on the resort, and that is certainly the case at Dreams. The Resort is someway off from anywhere (other than other resorts) and public transport appeared minimal. There are organised tours from the resort, but, with one exception, these are not cheap. They may well be excellent value for money, but coming in at about $100 + per person, they certainly add up.
The one exception is the free excursion to the Don Lucas Cigar factory. The site also includes a rum tasting, a coffee roaster and chocolate making facility. The cigar tour was interesting, even to a non smoker, showing how the leaves are selected, dried, and rolled and pressed. Some 2,500 cigars are made everyday, pretty much by hand. Although Cuba has the reputation of producing the best cigars, smokers may disagree, and prefer those from the Dom Rep. The rum tasting was excellent, providing 6 different ages and styles.
There was not a great deal to see in the coffee shop. The beans arrive in sacks, are roasted, dried, ground, and then drunk. I bought a large bag, at quite an expensive price, but I have to say that now that I am back in the UK, it is an excellent coffee.
The chocolate tour was good. Essentially visitors are allowed to slap some melted chocolate on a board, pour it into a mould and add their chosen selection of nuts and fruit to make their own bespoke bar of chocolate. It is very expensive, at about £10 a bar, but gives a good insight to the chocolate making process for dark, milk and white chocolate. There is plenty of tasting of different styles of chocolate, chocolate with nuts, and with fruit, and also drinking chocolate.
Another highlight of the holiday for me was the opportunity to try scuba diving for the first time. This is organised at the Resort with an initial lesson in the pool. This is a free lesson, although with obvious encouragement to then pay for a trip out to sea. Although we got to grips with the basics of breathing underwater in the pool, I was still pretty nervous on the boat, with weights and a tank strapped to me and being told to jump in. Surely the weight of everything would just drag me straight to the bottom. And just how deep was this anyway? I was surprised to find that I was not sinking and in fact I had to pull myself down to the bottom (about 10 metres) to await the rest of the party getting down. This gave me time to settle down and to blow my eardrums to deal with the water pressure. And once we started to swim among the rocks and fish, it was a fabulous experience. Our guide led us on a 3o minute tour, getting progressively more difficult, leading us through holes in the rocks and past a sunken table and chairs set, before we returned to the rope leading up to the ship. 30 minutes, at least for the first occasion, was about the right length of time for me, and I was glad to get back on board the ship. The water was not as clear as I had been expecting, and I am looking forward to my next trip to the Philippines where perhaps the diving will be better. I just wish that I had been brave enough to try scuba diving 10 or 15 years earlier!
All in all, it was an excellent holiday experience. Perhaps all inclusive is not the holiday style for me. I prefer to get out and about to see and experience other people, other life styles, and this is missing from this style of holiday. That being said, if you just want to relax and do nothing, if the only stress you want is deciding which restaurant to dine in or whether to swim in the sea or the pool, then you cannot go wrong with Dreams at Punta Cana