Chilling at Caribe Club in Punta Cana
It started as a faint glimmer, but then quickly blossomed into full-fledged desire. Drew and I felt the travel itch. It was time to get away once more. With the pressing weight of a chilly western Pennsylvania spring on our back, we knew there was only one feasible solution. Beach time!
We hit up Miami last year, and while it was fun, we both wanted to try somewhere new and more… tropical. Thus began our research into finding a suitable tropical island paradise that met our needs. We were limited by the places which American Airlines can fly to as well as our limited and meager budget. But fear not! The choices were still numerous.
In the end, however, we decided on singling out Punta Cana, as it had the best flight options as well as the cheapest resorts. After a little bit of pushing, I was able to persuade Drew to try an all-inclusive resort, since it would make our traveling much easier. In the end, he agreed, and after much more deliberation, research, and indecision, we finally came to a conclusion. We would be staying at the Caribe Club Princess, a “four star” resort located on Bavaro Beach.
The Caribe Club in Punta Cana is about a 30 minute ride from the airport and is located down a shady alley. However, the resort itself is beautiful and is seemingly a paradise in the middle of a slum. It also included three pools and a pool bar for optimum entertainment. With seven restaurants and four bars to choose from, the resort boasts many different options.
That being said… the restaurants were probably the worst part of the experience. The only restaurant you could really drop into at any time was the buffet, El Higuero, and the beach snack bar. All of the other restaurants were only open for dinner and required reservations. Instead of being carefree as I had expected, this added an element of stress and annoyance. Every morning, we had to wait in line at a table in the lobby of our building in order to make these reservations. For some reason, people took several minutes to give the lady their name and time they wanted to eat, causing us to have to wait quite a while. The reservations were necessary, however, as we quickly tired of the fare offered at the comprehensive buffet.
The food wasn’t bad, especially at first. I marveled at the plethora of options and the large, expansive setting. The taste wasn’t terrible even though you could tell it had been mass-prepared from freezer entrees. However, as the days stretched on, the repetition became near unbearable. Similar foods were served for every meal, and the lack of flavor and taste became more and more apparent. It almost felt like I was eating at a college dining hall once more – but not the good kind. My favorite part of the buffet was definitely the pasta bar, which allowed you to choose from several different pasta shapes and sauces and then have it heated in a pan.
Sadly, even the reservation a la carte restaurants served the same food. However, each restaurant was themed toward a different cuisine. We ended up going to the Asian, Mexican, and Brazilian places. My favorite of those was probably the Brazilian, just because it finally offered some unique food. The Asian place wasn’t bad, but I was also considerably tipsy during that experience and was more focused on keeping my food down than the ambiance and taste. I got some kind of chicken dish there, and I remember it tasting very similar to the chicken they served at the buffet, but with some rice. At the Mexican place, I ordered chicken chimichangas, which came in a dreadfully small portion but which I bolstered with nachos and guacamole. The last night we ate at the Brazilian restaurants, which featured an array of meats that were served to each table on large sticks. This was the first time I had eaten in this fashion and I found it quite interesting. I believe they came around with chicken, pork, beef, fish, pineapple, goat, and turkey selections. The side dishes were all available at a self-serve buffet, so I also loaded up on fries and beans and rice.
For lunches, we just typically ate on the beach. As I mentioned previously, there was a small beach snack bar that offered pre-cooked hamburgers, chicken, and fries. Two other days, however, they had actual beach buffets out by the pool. The first day was more of a cookout style, with meat being grilled on site. The second time was a smaller occasion, and included just a few exotic things to sample, like fried plantains, fried chicken, empanadas, and… octopus hotdogs. Yeah. This was also the day Drew finally got his coconut drink, yay! We had seen these magnificent drinks scattered about throughout the week, but on our last full day he was finally able to obtain one for himself.
Speaking of drinks, they weren’t too shabby. However, the biggest problem was again, the lack of variety. I tried asking the bartenders a couple of times to make something not on the limited bar menu, but they either didn’t understand or said they couldn’t. I’m a little anxious about being assertive, especially with people who don’t speak English, so I didn’t really try asking again after that. Therefore, we were kind of limited to the basic cocktails and drinks that they had listed or that were abundantly common knowledge. These included pina coladas, rum and coke, bahama mama, tropical princess, caipirinha, blue lemonade, gin and tonic, and others. Some drinks that we ordered were just served completely wrong, like the mojito. Instead of using mint, they just added lime… so… it was kind of not even the same at all. Whatever, though. In the end, it all works the same, and it worked.
Usually, we got our drinks from one of two places – the beach bar and the pool bar. The beach bar was located next to the beach and required just a short walk by the pool to reach. It was usually quite busy, and I felt bad for the bartender as he was pretty much whipping up one mixed drink after the next all day. The pool bar was even busier, and usually had a crowd of rowdy or drunken people all ambling about. We mostly spent the whole day at the beach, so by the time we got to the pool, the action at the bar was winding down and we were limited to whatever drinks they had left at the time.
The beach itself was quite pleasant. There was a decent distance from the edge of the resort to the actual waterline, leaving plenty of room for what we termed as “huts” – basically straw umbrellas with tiny tables and loungers underneath them. We easily obtained a hut everyday, and it was a good thing too because it prevented our pasty Victorian skin from turning into a swarm of raging lobsters. The sand was soft and white (though not whiter than our marshmallow flesh) and the water of the ocean was transparent and turquoise. The waves were surprisingly a little turbulent for a Caribbean island, but it didn’t matter – I enjoy the waves more than the tranquil sea.
Throughout the day, the entertainment crew had various mini games to keep everyone entertained. Mostly, these were more fun to observe, but we did try our hand at a few. We entered a “horseshoe” contest, which just turned out to be throwing the horseshoe at the pole from about five feet away. It was such a simple task that we both failed entirely. We also ended up trying a “soccer” contest, which involved kicking the ball into a small net with beach chairs stacked in front of it. Again, failure flowed freely.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the night we found the beach dance party. It wasn’t at our resort; we had decided to talk a nighttime walk along the shore and see what some of the other resorts looked like. Luckily, we happened to stumble upon flashing lights and throbbing music. I got to combine two of my favorite things – dancing and beaching! Needless to say, we quickly cleared out a private circle with our wild dance moves, leaving us free to thrash and jump around as much as we wanted.
We ended up spending 4 nights and 5ish days (two half days) in Punta Cana, and it was all pretty nice. The Caribe Club was a decent resort, especially for the bargain price we got it at. I’m not sure if I’d stay there again, as it might be nice to find a place with better food and drinks. However, I would definitely return to Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic. We didn’t get to explore anywhere outside the resort at all, and I would have loved to experience more culture. That just means we’ll have to start planning a second trip… hopefully sooner, rather than later.