Destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
When: March 8-15, 2008
Day 1 (Friday): We decided that we would try staying at the Days Inn in Eagan and use their "Park-n-Fly" services. We got a room, parked the truck for a week, and were taken to the airport in their shuttle for the same cost as parking at the regular parking lot we use. Plus, we got a few more hours of sleep since we didn't have to drive to the airport so early. The Day Inn in Eagan suited our needs well. The rooms were clean and bright, with great showers. They serve a free hot breakfast starting at 6am. Book early because their shuttles do fill up. I believe they run every half hour.
Day 2 (Saturday): We had a wake-up call for 3:15am and were scheduled for the 4:00am shuttle. Everything went smoothly. We got the HHH and were checked in at the Sun Country ticket counter within minutes. Security was quick and painless. Our flight left on time at 6:05am. I just love Sun Country airlines - leather seats, friendly people, hot snacks, great service. After five hours in the air, we landed in Punta Cana. We walked from the plane on the runway to the thatched-roof airport, got our $10 tourist card, turned in our $10 tourist card, cleared customs and got our luggage all in a about 45 minutes.
Prior to our trip, I booked our transfers with Punta Cana Mike/IBK Services. I found him highly recommended on Trip Advisor. He does fishing charters, but has started to do airport transfers and other tours as well. For $123, we had private van and driver the whole time we were in Punta Cana. We have learned from our other trips that we prefer to pay for a private transfer rather than use the free shuttles that come with the packages we book.
The driver from the airport to the Riu hotel complex took us about 30 minutes. We made a pit stop at the Riu, then continued on to the Excellence Punta Cana, which took another 30 minutes or so. The roads are filled with potholes, have no center line, are narrow and curvy. Much like driving to Negril! We enjoyed the adventure!
Finally, at the Excellence Punta Cana! We were greeted with a friendly "Hola! Welcome Home!" a cold towel and a glass of champagne. Check in was a breeze and we were escorted to our room, 5206. WOW! We were upgraded to a Master Suite. Sweet! We had a living room with a small sofa, large TV, desk, two tables, two chairs, refrigerator and patio doors leading to a huge balcony overlooking the cascade pool. In the middle of the front room there is a huge Jacuzzi surrounded by large pillars, then a large vanity area with mirrors and double sinks. Off the vanity area, there is the shower and toilet room, then a dressing area that leads to the master bedroom. There was a king bed with a lovely canopy, dressers, large TV and DVD player and another patio door leading to the balcony. The balcony had a table and chairs and lounge chairs as well. We were very pleased with the room. There was a fruit basket and champagne waiting for us in the room.
We were pretty tired from the day, and by this time it was about 3:30pm. We headed to The Grill and had a late lunch which was delicious. We walked around the property after lunch, then grabbed a drink from the pool bar outside our room, and headed to our room for the night.
Day 3 (Sunday): There is nothing quite like waking up in paradise! We took our time getting ourselves presentable, then headed to breakfast. Breakfast was the only buffet offered at the Excellence. The wait staff is excellent, always gracious and extremely well mannered. I never touched the back of my chair and always had my napkin laid across my lap for me. We explored the resort, checking out the pools and all the other nooks and crannies. We found two chairs by the cascade pool, but soon discovered that it was HOT. We moved to the beach, where we enjoyed some ocean breezes, cocktails served by beach waiters, and some sun. For dinner we opted for Spice, the Japanese restaurant. It was delicious! We were worried because the table was set with only chopsticks, but as our food was being served, we were given the option of good old forks and knives. Whew!
Day 4 (Monday): Finally feeling in the groove, we planned our day. Beach, eat, drink, swim, nap, more beach, more food, more napping. It was a good day to do absolutely nothing and we did a great job! We scheduled a "Romantic Dinner" at the Italian restaurant, Toscana. When we arrived, we were taken to our table which was decorated with rose petals, candles and a bottle of champagne chilling on ice. It was very, very nice. We took some photos, then the waiter took photos of us together, which was nice. The Excellence has a "Romantic Dinner on the Beach" for $150, too, in case you're interested. It looked wonderful!
Day 5 (Tuesday): Similar to Day 4, we claimed our pool beds and enjoyed the resort much of the day. We had a late breakfast at the Lobster House, and a late lunch at The Grill. We decided to order room service for dinner... pizza, nachos and a bottle of wine.
Day 6 (Wednesday): After a lazy morning, we got packed up and headed to the lobby to check out. We had requested that our driver send someone for us at 11am to take us to the Majestic Colonial. I had an appointment with the wedding coordinator at the Majestic. After a quick ride, we arrived. The resort is beautiful! The rooms are large and beach is lovely. Definitely a good place to stay. Being a travel agent, it is important to get out and see some other resorts when I travel. I'm glad I was able to visit this one! I wouldn't hesitate to stay there, especially with the family.
After our meeting, our driver too us over to the Riu Palace Punta Cana, where we were spending our remaining 3 nights. Check in was easy, and we were given room 1129. Our room wasn't quite ready but we were shown to the buffet for lunch. We were in our room within an hour. We decided to go find the wedding coordinator at the Riu. Magnolia is fantastic and very fun to work with. I book a lot of brides at Riu properties, so it is really great to meet the coordinators in person whenever I can. After meeting Magnolia, we headed down the beach to check out the other Riu hotels, and to find the location of a wedding happening there that afternoon (yes, one of my clients!) We found it, and hung out in the background to take a few snapshots for the bride and groom. It was so beautiful! It brought back memories of our own destination wedding.
The Riu property is great. There are 5 resorts, all next to each other, with pools, wide, expansive beaches, plenty of sun and shade and all the activities you could want. The rooms all have balconies, and of course, the signature Riu liquor dispensers in the rooms. Too fun! We used the buffet for all meals at the Riu. We found it to be very good every time we visited. The wait staff at the Riu is very different, but equally as impressive as the Excellence. At the Excellence, everyone was very formal with impeccable manners. At the Riu, everyone was super friendly, on top of everything, fun and were not afraid to talk and joke with us. Both places were wonderful for their own reasons. I can't find fault in either location, honestly.
Day 7 (Thursday): We were skeptical about finding a quiet place at the Riu, like we had at the Excellence, but we did. We headed out to the far edge of the resort and pulled two lounge chairs out into the sun. Not only was the location great all day long, but the beach traffic was fun to watch. People watching can be so entertaining!!! Be aware, you will see plenty of everything on the beach including topless women and men in teeny-tiny Speedos. We (ok, just me) were starting to get a little antsy, so we decided to head up to the concierge desk and ask about tours. We met with the Apple Vacations rep, who was able to give us a few different snorkeling options. We got one booked, and headed back to our sun loungers to finish out the day.
Day 8 (Friday): Our tour started at 7:45am, so we set the alarm and had time to grab breakfast before heading out. We had booked the Marinarium tour and were looking forward to snorkeling again. We hadn't been able to snorkel with our new gear yet (Christmas presents for the whole family after all the snorkeling we did in Hawaii in October.) We hopped on the bus, swung by a few other resorts and headed to the marina. This tour was FUN! The staff was very outgoing and got everything into the tour. We sailed out to the area where they have nurse sharks and stingrays, then jumped off the side of the boat into the water. We were able to snorkel for about an hour. The sharks and rays swam right underneath us! I took a lot of photos with our underwater digital camera. After snorkeling, we sailed along the shoreline, having a light lunch and a few drinks. We anchored in a very quiet, calm bay and were able to get back in the water for another swim and more photos. It was fantastic. We were back at the resort at 1pm. We paid $75 for this tour and it was worth it.
Day 9 (Saturday): Time to go home. We really enjoyed our trip to Punta Cana, but we missed the kids terribly. I kept in touch with them through email and instant messaging, but it just isn't the same. We were ready to go home, see the kids and pets, cook some home cooked meals and get back to normal. I think we both had enough sun, too!
Our driver picked us up at the Riu, right on time. Mike's Marina sure did an excellent job coordinating all of the transfers for us. Back at the airport, we checked in at the ticket counter, checked our luggage, then went through immigration (got our passports stamped again!) and then through security. Simple! Our flight was late taking off, but we made it back to Minnesota only a few minutes late. I'm so glad we were able to see Punta Cana! It is a great place to visit and I can't wait to go back again!
Summary: Sun Country Airlines ROCKS! They are absolutely fantastic to travel with. I love using the HHH terminal at the MSP airport. The staff is always friendly, and you can't beat the hot sandwiches on board. I was also impressed with the Apple Vacations rep at the hotel.
The Excellence is, well, excellent! I wasn't sure about the "no buffet" idea, but we ended up loving the concept. I thought getting dressed up for a formal dinner every night was going to be a problem, but it only added to our experience.
The Riu is fantastic, too, for different reasons. I liked that the staff was so warm and welcoming, and fun to interact with. The beach at the Riu was much calmer. We didn't even go in the water at the Excellence because it was to rough and had red flags daily.
The coastal areas of Punta Cana are absolutely gorgeous. The water was clear and the beaches soft and welcoming. We did a lot of driving around between resorts and were able to see the "inland" parts of the islands to some degree. There was trash everywhere. The roads were narrow, windy and filled with potholes. Drivers pass pretty much whenever and wherever they want to. It's an adventure, so say the least. However, we never once felt unsafe, and that says a lot.
Overall, a great trip!!!