Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Island Escape with the Dominican People in Punta Cana!




Like many vacations, the planning and anticipation is as exciting as the destination itself but what really made this trip special was not just the beautiful island, but the Dominican people were at the center of it all and why I decided to dedicate this blog post to our personal experiences with the DR people who work at the Grand Palladium in Punta Cana.  I love the Caribbean and Pacific islands. I have always felt such a connection to them, and visiting the DR for 8 days was nothing short of special.

The Resort
Our 8 days and 7 nights were spent at the Grand Palladium Bavaro resort on Bavaro beach in Punta Cana. It is a large resort that consist of 3 properties as well as the Royal Turquesa resort for adults only. Pools, restaurants, bars, Spa, Theater, Nightclub,  its all there for a fun filled vacation.

There were some minor issues and annoyances that occurred during our stay, but not worth mentioning.  I refuse to nick pick about things that did not spoil our time on this beautiful island. The issues were resolved, and we certainly did not come this far to look for things that were wrong, when so much was great.

Checking in 
We were originally booked in a master suite but received a upgrade to a romance suite.  Carlos who works the front desk at the Bavaro Suites is a true gentleman, and worked hard to take care of some issues during our check in.


The Romance suite - These rooms are quite spacious with adequate storage, a huge Mayan shower, which thrilled my husband. The interior bathroom was equally large with a jetted tub that neither of used during our entire week stay, thanks to the Mayan shower!  The small balcony was a nice addition to catch an early morning or late nice breeze or to just relax after a long day in the sun.  







Pools
Common pool area in my opinion was smaller than I thought it would be for such a large resort. By afternoon it could get quite busy with minimal chairs available, but it was also a holiday weekend when we arrived; however it was a nice pool with a swim up bar with games and Zumba classes in the afternoons. Poolside drink service was also an added bonus.  We did not use the pools at the Palace & Punta Cana sister properties.




Restaurants were aplenty whether you venture to the sister resorts or dined within your own compound, you were never without options.  Our favorite restaurants - Mexican, Tapas and Chinese in that order for me, but my husband chose the Tapas as his top favorite. Our least favorite was probably the beach side restaurant in the palace section. Not that the food was bad, we just thought the area itself was too congested but again it was a busy week.

 










Sports bar -  This almost became a deal breaker for us on day one. When we arrived and our room was not ready, we decided to check this place out since it was close to the lobby.and we were starving.  When we walked in the world cup game was on, and it was jammed pack. We understood the crowds being there for the game, but the food areas were just bad. Disorganized, messy and not appealing at all. Fast forward the next day, totally different atmosphere. Clean and organized. I think the staff was really overwhelmed by the crowd.

Speaking of crowds, we arrived on a holiday, 4th of July. We anticipated more than usual crowds and during lunch time at the beach restaurant, it was horrendous as well. I've noticed when reading reviews people are quick to blame the resort for lack of organization when there are large crowds but I beg to differ somewhat.  Guests are also to blame. There was plenty of food for everyone but it was like feeding time at the zoo. It was ridiculous how people were behaving while trying to get food, kids and all.  The staff did a very good job handling them at this restaurant.

Bavaro beach! What a gorgeous beach it is. Wide open sand, and beautiful crystal clear water. We spent many mornings on this beach either napping, enjoying cocktails, people watching, or dips in the water.  This area of Bavaro beach also gets pretty busy by mid afternoon so we chose to spend mornings here. 

Locals on the beach - I don't understand why this is a problem for some tourists. To each his own I guess. Never bothers us. I purchased a few things from a local because I  knew I would get a good dEal, and I'm always intrigued by what they do.  Carrying those goods on their backs and shoulders can't be easy in the hot sun. 




Nightlife
The Michael Jackson show in the theater was very good. I heard this guy and his team travels around to different resorts. I see why. Very entertaining. The on site disco was fun to watch people dance and have a good time, but some nights were not our cup of tea so the lobby became our main go to place for entertainment and people watching.

I will say the Bavaro lobby is probably one of the liveliest areas we've ever seen at a resort, day and night. Everything happened here. Check in/out, full bar, live bands,, tour desks, adequate lounge space for hanging out. It was all there. I just wish it was cooler but on breezy nights it felt good. We also enjoyed listening to the Dominican music and watching people dance to it.


Offsite
We did not get to do all we had planned, but my husband did get to enjoy his favorite recreational sport, horseback riding.  He loves his horses, and while he was offsite having fun, I spent the morning and early afternoon enjoying my beach and pool time. We also spent one morning with a Realtor to look at properties and get a sense of what it would be like to live on this island.  We only saw two homes, total opposites of each other in terms of style and price.  One place was almost felt like it was totally removed from civilization and the other was in the heart of town, bustling with shops, and restaurants.  I can't imagine coming this far and isolating myself from true island living which includes the people who make it what it is, the good and the bad.






















Saving the best for last, The DR People
Here is where I felt a true island connection.  The Dominican people. Their hospitality as they welcome strangers from afar to their island is unlike anything we've ever experienced. They are very proud people not only of their country but they take pride in their hard work, and making you feel welcome and at home.

To many vacationers Punta Cana is a little slice of heaven,  an escape from reality with its beautiful beaches, Mega resorts, and outdoor adventures, but for us it was more than that;  It was a chance to engage with the people and talk to them about life in the DR.

It's easy to lose yourself in the self contained playgrounds better known as resorts that dominate many parts of Punta Cana, but aside from that we were most intrigued by life of the locals who work hard at these mega resorts. As we watched the housekeeping staff work at cleaning rooms, the gardener's caring for the lush and tropical grounds, and the front desk staff multi-task to keep up with the demands of eager guests anxious to start their holiday, we began to peel back the layers of the staff by striking up conversation with them throughout the week about Dominican life.

I distinctly recall one young man (Dominic) who had multiple jobs around the resort, I never knew what I would see him doing from day to day. The first day I met him he was part of the animation staff, a few days later he was working as a server near the pool. That particular day we had an intriguing conversation as he was taking my drink order, about his upcoming 3 days off and how he could not wait to get home to see his family and his girlfriend. He also mentioned how he would really like to attend college, but he displayed a look of uncertainty when talking about it.  Talking with him was like talking to my son.

I asked him why the look of uncertainty (by the way he spoke very good English which made the conversation easy) and he said he wasn't sure college would be possible and I responded anything is possible if you want it bad enough and he replied he really wanted to go and I said, and so you will. He smiled as if I had just given him a sliver of hope. I sure hope I did. My husband and I encountered similar stories like this throughout the week with the majority anxiously awaiting their breaks to go home and visit with their families, something so many of us take for granted. Imagine being away from husband's, wives, parents, children,  as much as 11 days straight and working long hours until that happens.

One of the barmaids whom became my husbands buddy (she made him the best drinks) was anxiously awaiting her 3 days off to go home and spend time with her husband and son.  There was a hint of sadness on her face as she spoke about her family, but she smiled as she began to talk about getting home and enjoying her time off.

What we also found fascinating but pleasant was the enthusiasm many of the staff members had at making sure we, the guests, were satisfied and enjoying ourselves. Whether it was serving us drinks, or refilling our coffee cups at breakfast you would also find one of them singing or dancing all while keeping up with the demands of work. Some may see it as they have to be nice, it's their job but that's not how we perceived it. My husband and I both agreed they were genuinely happy doing their job. Of course there may have been a few that were not so pleasant or just not having a good day, but that does not speak for all of them.

We became such familiar faces to many of the staff; when we would walk through the lobby in the morning and hang out in the evenings, some of them would call out his name "Hey James" and I was always called, "Senorita"!

Spanish being the dominant language in this country made conversations somewhat challenging at times, but the staff tried equally hard to communicate with us and speak as much English as they could; but hubby and I tried just as hard to speak in Spanish.  It was quite entertaining and we are already planning to learn as much of the language as we can to make our next trip even sweeter.

The staff are catering to people of all ages and walks of life all day long; a simple smile and hello can change a persons entire day. I saw how just acknowledging them with a greeting put smiles on their faces; from the housekeepers to the gardeners, to the front desk managers, I treated them as I wanted to be treated and it turns out they were all warm and friendlier than I could have imagined. Which is why we have decided to return again; When I asked my husband what was the one thing that stood out most to him about this vacation including the resort, and his number one answer were the people, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Meet some of the people who helped made this trip special!




Our coconut man!












Isadora - Whom my husband adored and she fixed him the best drinks!

The young man in the cowboy was a hoot!

Carin - Front Desk Rep!  A real trooper