If you’re thinking about an island getaway but can’t quite figure out how to line up meals and activities, then the all-inclusive resort vacation is for you. As a seasoned traveler who has explored the globe on both a budget and in style, I have only stayed in an all-inclusive resort twice. Both were in the Dominican Republic, once on a girl’s trip to Punta Cana when I was single, and most recently to Puerto Plata with my parents, husband and newborn daughter. The two were very different experiences, and you can guess on which trip I got my money’s worth at the open bar. Both adventures accomplished what I was looking for at that time.
Puerto Plata and Punta Cana are popular destinations, and they offer very different tropical experiences. Punta Cana is on the Eastern-most part of the country where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. This location tends to produce calmer water and more serene beaches. If you are seeking picturesque beaches with soft sand and clean, sapphire blue water, Punta Cana is a better choice. Parasailing and snorkeling are popular, and you can easily take long walks barefoot on the beach without sharp shells. Puerto Plata’s beaches are rockier so bring your shoes! The waves can be temperamental like the Atlantic Ocean itself which makes it more exciting for wind surfers.
The two resort destinations are almost exclusively consumed by all-inclusive packages for tourists with one goal – trying to sell you a piece of the property inside. Be prepared to firmly keep the time-share representatives at bay who are constantly trying to upsell to the VIP area or secure a return visitor. Be polite saying you’re not interested unless you have a few hours to spare and want the freebies that come with touring a unit. Instead, talk to the staff about booking restaurant reservations the day you check in. Your concierge will have a list of all the good eats, usually including different ethnic-themed restaurants like Indian, Chinese and, of course, Dominican. I recommend booking activities at the same time. Some resorts have activities included, but snorkeling trips and horseback riding on the beach are usually extra and can book up fast. Keep dollar bills handy at both places – since everything is all inclusive, an extra tip can go a long way in getting more towels, drinks delivered to your room and valuable information.
If you’re looking to sightsee, Punta Cana is not your destination. Once you get on the property, you basically stay there and can attend nightly concerts on-site or check out the discotheque. I stayed at the Paradisus Punta Cana where there was a beach party or DJ every night. But honestly, in Punta Cana, besides the snorkeling tours, you aren’t missing much if you choose not to venture outside the resort. However, in Puerto Plata, there are a few sightseeing options. If you want to see the replica of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer you need to book the Teleferica cable car and ride up Mount Isabel de Torres. Try the morning tour as you might not get clear views in the afternoon when the mist rolls in. The center of Puerto Plata is lively with street vendors and mom and pop shops. You’ll need a translator if you can’t speak Spanish as the downtown locals just shake their heads when asked if they know English. If you find a small café, take a seat and watch local life. We witnessed a loud campaign parade that filled the streets and blocked traffic.
Lastly, it is important to note that Punta Cana is a newer tourist destination and much more expensive. The rates and activities onsite, including spa treatments, are just as pricey as an upscale American resort. You can find bargains in Puerto Plata, however. We stayed at the Lifestyle Holiday Vacation Club, and the spa managers walked around the beach ready to negotiate deals. Plus, for the budget price of the accommodation, you have your choice of six pools, some for adults only, others that have activities for kids and the main pool with a DJ and volleyball net near the swim-up bar. You can also save money by choosing a room by the garden instead of the beach.
Whether you decide your destination is Puerto Plata or Punta Cana – remember, you’re on vacation so relax and put away your money. Everything is included.
Krisha Chachra serves on the Town Council of Blacksburg and is a regular columnist and author. She has traveled to more than 40 countries on 6 continents and hosted shows for public radio and television. Her columns are taken from her journals and personal insights from traveling nationally and internationally. Her book about returning to Blacksburg, Homecoming Journals, may be found online or in local bookstores. Email her at email@example.com