October 23, 2014

Punta Cana Paradise for Every Budget

Sun and sand beckon travelers
to this all-inclusive playground

By Alexis Loyd

Vacations Magazine: Punta Cana Paradise for Every Budget
Iberostar Hotels & Resorts
Less than four hours from several major U.S. airports, the Dominican Republic is a haven for eclectic guests: Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, political power couple Bill and Hillary Clinton, the reality TV Kardashian family and fashion designer and native Dominican Oscar de la Renta, to start. The second-largest country in the Caribbean (after Cuba) peaks at nearly two miles high at Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Antilles, and flows into flourishing emerald forests and clear lagoons, all on a Hispaniola isle expanse caught between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

But it is the 1,000 miles of picture-perfect sand lapped by turquoise seas that has made this region a world-renowned resort destination, hailed by travel experts as one of the best places for a beach vacation on a budget.

A capital for sunbathing, fishing, kitesurfing and golfing, the Dominican Republic boasts dozens of all-inclusive resorts that offer value-packed vacations at an assortment of price tags. Properties bundle accommodations, meals, snacks, sodas, alcoholic beverages and some activities -- like morning yoga classes and nonmotorized water sports -- into one up-front price. Travelers can relax on a trip that truly fits into their spending parameters.

Punta Cana, at the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, is one such destination. It has sandy stretches rated among the best in the Caribbean, big-name golf courses and the DR's largest concentration of all-inclusive resorts. Vacationers have no trouble finding a fitting beach escape here, from a bargain break to a no-luxury-spared retreat, and everything in between.

Here is a sampling of the best all-inclusives the Coconut Coast has to offer, on a scale starting at less than $100 a day per person. All stays were priced at press time for seven nights in January, based on double occupancy. Find out more by calling the resort specialists at Vacations To Go, (800) 998-6925, or following the links below.

Situated on one of the isle's most idyllic shores, Catalonia Bavaro Beach, Golf and Casino Resort provides all the necessities and more for beach-bound vacationers. Partake of merengue classes, an introductory golf lesson, daily catamaran and snorkeling time, swimming pools for grown-ups and tots and sports like volleyball and archery. Weekly barbecue parties and live music performances entertain; meanwhile, guests sip tropical concoctions at swim-up and beachside bars. Crepes, ice cream and pizza make for tasty bites, or munch on Mexican dishes, steak house fare or hearty pasta plates.

Palm trees and lagoons surround accommodations ranging from junior suites to roomy presidential digs with balconies and ocean views. Guests longing for a splurge can tack on tee-off times at the golf course, pampering treatments at the spa or slot machine sessions at the casino. Pricing starts at $675 per week ($96 per night) per person.

Sprawling oceanside, Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort brims with amenities. Shared by two recently refurbished sister hotels -- adults-only Barcelo Bavaro Beach and family-friendly Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe -- this property packs pleasures for all kinds. Vegas-style shows, a glittering casino and a 24-hour sports bar appeal to the elder set, while a water park, supervised kids' club and teen disco occupy younger guests. Kayaking, sailing and pedal boats are complimentary, as are tennis, spinning classes and swimming in five pools.

No one will go hungry with nibbles and meals available from 14 restaurants comprising an international smorgasbord (Dominican, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and French food all are options). Mini-golf, rounds at a P.B. Dye course, spa treatments, horseback riding and scuba are available for a fee. Rooms are priced from $994 per week (or $142 per night) per person.

Bavaro's Melia Caribe Tropical makes it possible to browse boutiques, hit the waves, roll the dice at the casino, try out the arcade and meet Fred and Barney at the on-site Flintstones Land, all in the course of one day. Guests play the numbers game at this megaresort -- more than a dozen restaurants, 14 bars, 10 pools, eight tennis courts -- and the grounds are big enough to warrant a train to transport vacationers from one diversion to the next. The 1,100-plus rooms, ranging from 450 to 815 square feet, are equipped with verandas and living room areas, some with trundle or sofa beds. Thoughtful touches for tykes include themed children's linens, a sink step stool and a kit with floating toy and bubble bath in the family deluxe junior suites.

Three children's clubs pack age-appropriate activities: Baby Rock Club for ages 4 months to 4 years, Bamm-Bamm Club for ages 5 to 8 and Cool Club for ages 9 to 13. Add-ons for adults include lessons and rounds of golf at Cocotal Golf and Country Club and facials and massages at two spas. Stays start at $1,019 per week ($146 per night) per person.

Bowling on a beach vacation? It's possible if you select expansive Ocean Blue and Sand, also in the Bavaro Beach region. Beyond knocking down pins, active types gravitate toward a rock-climbing wall, gigantic pool area and water-sports center. Younger travelers feel welcome in programs designated by age group: Ages 4 to 12 color and craft while vacationers ages 13 to 17 play video games and mingle on the dance floor. Test out eats at nine dining venues and toast the good life at a handful of watering holes.

Simple decor and marble bathrooms with Jacuzzis are highlights of suites at Ocean Blue and Sand; renovations to the property earlier this year spruced up color palettes and upgraded furnishings. Pay a bit extra for perks at the Privilege level, such as in-room Wi-Fi, VIP restaurant reservations, admission to a private beach served by waiters and dotted with sun beds, and spa and scuba dive discounts. Rates are available from $1,081 per week ($154 per night) per person.

Travelers who pick the 274-suite Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro get the best of both worlds: a kids-free retreat decorated in European style with marbled hallways and manicured gardens, and access to amenities at all-ages sister resorts Iberostar Bavaro, Iberostar Punta Cana and Iberostar Dominicana. Grand guests may not care to stray from their exclusive area as they relish upscale dining in gourmet venues, plush suites with personalized selections of premium wine and liquors, and shady poolside tents.

But for a change of scenery, wander over to the kids-allowed portion of Iberostar's complex, where you'll find well-stocked buffets, pool zones bustling with happy tots, gaming tables and a nightclub. Extra perks await at the two-story spa and 18-hole P.B. Dye-designed course (stays of more than three nights earn complimentary rounds of golf). Per-person rates start at $1,824 per week ($261 per night).

Seekers of tranquility choose 51-suite Zoetry Agua Punta Cana, secluded in rustic Uvero Alto, about an hour from the Punta Cana airport. One- to three-bedroom abodes with hardwood floors, cane-thatched roofs and stone accents blend into lush environs; French doors open to garden and ocean panoramas. Relaxation and enrichment are key elements of the experience here, and attentive service reigns supreme: A welcome bottle of rum, daily sparkling wine and fruit basket, 20-minute massage, rum tasting, cigar rolling, painting and dance classes, nature hikes and photo safaris all are gratis. Menus spotlight locally grown and organic cuisine, and vegetarian and vegan fare are available.

There are no set check-in or check-out times, so no need to plan flights to avoid loitering in the lobby. Stay for seven nights before Dec. 23 in certain suites and the resort will ensure you start your vacation in style, with arrival by helicopter from the airport. Stays begin at $2,223 per week ($318 per night) per person.

The newest place of prestige in the Dominican Republic is Cap Cana, a more than 30,000-acre paradise in Punta Cana with a full-service marina and Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. New resorts and amenities are planned for this enclave, though 176-suite Sanctuary Cap Cana already capitalizes on its prime Juanillo Beach locale: Stone castle towers overlook bright blue seas, arches accentuate a Spanish colonial-style terrace and thatched open-air huts nestle in sugary white sands. Travelers select among 14 room categories including swim-out suites, expansive beachfront villas and terraced tower chambers. Special occasions beg a booking in a bilevel suite in the adults-only section, which resembles an island fortress; layouts average 5,000 square feet and come with private plunge pool, exclusive concierge club perks and access to a private islet.

Find culinary allures in five restaurants including the Blue Marlin, perched on a dock over the sea and dishing up the catch of the day, and a Pan-Asian fusion spot, Wok. Golfing guests can take advantage of special rates -- and complimentary forecaddies and transportation -- at Punta Espada Golf Club, rated by Golfweek as the best course in the Caribbean and Mexico. Per-person pricing starts at $3,108 per week ($444 per night).

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in November/December 2012. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.


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