Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Hello hello! WOW it's been a long time since I've written a blog post. I've always wondered if people actually read these things, but I love writing them.... so here we are. After not having traveled since before COVID hit back in 2020 (minus a few drivable weekend trips), Justin and I FINALLY booked a vacation. We talked about planning something for a year out, and then spontaneously booked a trip to Punta Cana a month before we left. Celebrating my 26th birthday, and 7 years together! What a better way to celebrate than fruity beverages on the beach?!
I really wanted to do something all inclusive. Something where when we arrived, I didn't have to plan where we were going to eat, drink, etc. I wanted everything right there and ready for us.... We looked all over and after receiving some recommendations and reading reviews online we finally decided on Punta Cana. We stayed at Excellence El Carmen, and really loved it!
With COVID, it was pretty simple to travel. Honestly, I am not sure if you have to be vaccinated (I kind of don't think you do). We also did not need a negative COVID test to enter the DR. But, we did need one to get back into the US. The resort offered tests right there at the resort, so it was very easy to get this done! We went up to the front desk the day before we left, and they sent us to the testing site. After a quick 5 minute test, they told us our results (thankfully negative) and we went back on to enjoy the remainder of our vacation! A few hours later we got our results via email, and that is what I showed at the airport to board our flight.
We arranged a driver to pick us up right at the airport and take us to the resort (Excellence provided all the contact info to do this prior to our arrival.) We found our ride service outside the airport and they sent us on our way to paradise. Upon arrival, we were greeted by staff who took our luggage, and gave us cool cloths for our faces and glasses of champagne. When we got to the front desk to check in, I won't lie... I was little weary. There was a couple very upset, arguing with the people at the front desk that they did not receive the room that they booked. Shortly after, our front desk employee told us the same thing. We originally booked a room with a private pool, and they claimed they did not have any available (which we were confused why we could book one and pay for it if it wasn't available). They said they upgraded us to a junior excellence club room (basically their VIP package), with a swim up pool. We were bummed since we were hoping to have the private pool that we booked, but we didn't want to argue and just wanted to enjoy a stress free vacation... they insisted it was an upgrade and ensured us it was a fair trade. (Of course why would they admit to giving us a worse room than we booked, though. Haha). NONETHELESS - we were just happy to be on vacation, and didn't want to let the couple who were clearly upset when we walked in give us a negative taste in our mouths before our trip even started. Also, our upgraded room was WAY closer to the beach. The private pool rooms were on the opposite side of the resort. So... that worked out in our favor.
We got to our room, and were very happy to see it was an end room... so the swim up pool (shared by a few rooms next to each other), wouldn't have a bunch of people swimming on each side of us. The room was pretty nice! Since it was all inclusive, our mini fridge was stocked with snacks and beverages, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There was champagne upon our arrival (a perk of the excellence club membership). The room was also pretty large! There was a separate bathroom, living room, patio with 2 chairs and table, a large padded lounger, a separate lounge area with a cushion and pillows, and 2 pool loungers with a table. Then you walk into the bedroom where you continue into another bathroom that had a rainfall shower (SO NICE), bath robes, slippers, and another toilet (the door did not really close, so I encourage you to be close with whoever you're traveling with haha).
As far as our stay, it was super nice and we were very happy overall. The views were beautiful. The drinks were plentiful. The staff was so nice. There was also a lot of stuff to do even just on the resort. Since we only stayed for 5 days, 4 nights, we didn't leave the resort. We wanted to just enjoy every second of relaxation. However, we did enjoy some of the on-resort activities. I went to aerial yoga on the beach which was so fun and unique! We also went to a stretching class... which nobody else showed up to so one of the staff members gave us a one-on-one class with just him, Justin, and I (his name was "Black Coffee" as he goes by)... we had some great laughs and got a good stretch in early morning. We also went to all the evening shows. They had a Michael Jackson show, flame throwers, a Queen tribute, and the Harvard University men's acapella band was touring and had a stop here during our stay! During the shows, there were people walking around making sure no one was empty handed and without a drink (amazing).
For the food, that was the only thing that was "OK." There was a super cute little coffee/pastry shop we stopped in, in the morning. That was good! We went to a different restaurant each night, and had better meals at some than others. We went to Oregano for lunch 2 days... that was actually really good! The last night of our stay, we went to the excellence club only restaurant, Magna, and that was also really good (although by that time I was SO FULL that I wish I would have enjoyed that meal more early on in my trip). The Lobster House was ok... the lobster wasn't great. The Grille was also OK... we had a thin ribeye that was fine. Nothing was bad, it was just OK. I heard Chez Isabelle was really good, but we didn't get a chance to go there only being there for 5 days. We ordered room service one morning for breakfast... it was awesome to have breakfast delivered while we relaxed outside at our little private pool area, but the food overall was just ok! We wanted to try everything without anyone else's opinion, but going back... I wish I would have maybe read reviews of which ones were the best and gone their first.
The excellence club also included a free hydrotherapy session (basically like a water relaxation/massage session) at the spa. We did that, and then also paid for a couples massage for our anniversary. This was AMAZING! Again, the staff was so friendly, and all the treatments were so relaxing and we left feeling so rejuvenated. In fact, me writing this blog post.... I could really go for another massage right about now, haha.
The morning we left, we woke up super early to catch the sunrise. The most beautiful views. Then, the staff was right on time to help us with our bags and take us to the lobby to check out. Our car service was also on time, and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to get to our gate (I'll also say, we did not check a bag, and checked in prior to arrival - so we did not need to check in at the airport).
Overall, for the price of this resort compared to others, it was so so nice and we would definitely go back. They also have locations a few other places. Another in the DR, and one in Mexico as well. The staff was the highlight of this resort. They were all so friendly and fun. They were dancing with us, chatting with us, and making sure everyone enjoyed their stay. We really enjoyed everyone we encountered at this place. We were happy we didn't let the first 5 minutes of angry guests at the beginning of our arrival, set the tone for the trip. The only thing, I would maybe be worried coming back about the room situation since we didn't get what we initially booked and we saw someone else had that same issue. It ended up being totally fine, and we were very happy with our room, but just something to think about.
Lastly, I thought about not even touching on this topic... But I'm going to. *Tipping. I did some research on if you tip at an all inclusive because it says "gratuities included," but it feels so weird to not tip the staff who is waiting on us hand and foot. It seems like that might be a topic of controversy for those who travel to all inclusives often. I had never been to an all inclusive before... so that is why I looked it up. Although some people do not tip... we decided to bring cash for tips. We tipped our servers who brought us drinks over and over, servers at restaurants, etc. It seems (according to the internet) although you pay your gratuities upfront, a lot of times the resort does not give these tips to the staff like they should. The staff at this resort busted their BUTTS to make sure everyone was enjoying their stay. And they worked insane hours... I couldn't believe how long I saw some of the same staff members stay throughout the day. We had one server wait on us at breakfast, then at dinner, and then at breakfast the next day. I don't know much about all inclusives, but that is worth a tip to me. Just my personal opinion that I wish someone would have told me before I went because I was just going by google... so sharing with you in case you're wondering.
We are already thinking about our next vacation. Thinking we might try somewhere else just because there are so many places... but we would DEFINITELY go back, so who knows... maybe we will go back to old faithful and return to excellence!
Sharing some more photos of our trip here! Wow... I miss paradise!