This summer I traveled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to participate in the nuptials of some very dear friends. They didn’t have to twist my arm. It was a country I haven’t been to before and we were staying at the infamous Hard Rock Punta Cana All Inlcusive Resort. I had heard really good things about the Hard Rock PC so I was excited. As it turns out, there were some things about the resort that I loved but there were also some things that I wasn’t so fond of.
I stayed in the Caribbean Suite which is the most basic level room. It comes equipped with a liquor dispenser, mini-bar, hydro spa, flat screen television, and 781 square feet of space to roam around in. It feels like an open floor plan apartment as opposed to just a hotel room. In the space and amenities department they are definitely winning.
However, it kind of had the feeling of “cheap luxury”. What I mean by that is that there were numerous places around the room where there were noticeable cracks or really bad paint jobs where they tried to paint over a trouble area. Even the quality of the materials felt a little cheap, kinda of like Ikea meets Target and they decorated a resort room. The bed was comfortable but by no means the best sleep I’ve ever had. I’ve stayed in luxury hotels before and what really makes them luxurious is the attention to detail and just how truly immaculate they are. When you are talking about a room rate that is $400+ dollars a night per person and claiming 5 star status then I was just expecting a bit more on the luxury side. Does that make sense? Had this been a $250 or even $300 a night property then the room would have been suitable to that. I was pleased with my room and the size; it just didn’t give me the luxury feeling I was expecting.
I was also unfortunate enough to be placed on a ground floor. My patio was actually a subterranean garden view. With the enormous amount of golf carts transporting guests around the property and people walking by it made it hard to enjoy the my terrace. If you were in an upper floor then you would have a much better view than I did. Another down side to being on the ground floor and near the elevator was the noise. It wasn’t guests who disturbed my rest; it was mainly the employees. Lots and lots of yelling in Spanish amongst the workers because I happened to be located near the elevator and the maintenance closet.
The fridge was filled with water bottles, various sodas ideal for chasers and of course the popular Presidente Dominican beer. The liquor dispenser had 3 well bottles of liquors. If you like beer or if you aren’t particular about the type of liquor you drink then this is a win for you. However if you have a more discerning taste when it comes to your alcohol then the the liquor dispenser might be a bit of a disappointment. I opted to get my drinks at the bars and didn’t make use of the in room liquor the entire trip.
The bathroom was the highlight of the trip, I mean aside from the actual wedding of course. The bathrooms are very large with the biggest walk in shower I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting naked in. The shower is larger than my walk in closet at home and it comes equipped with a built-in bench and dual rain shower heads on opposite walls. Yes indeed, I’m talking front and back action at the same damn time. What a shower! I was in there going baaaaack to back. I’ve showered in some pretty swanky showers before but this one definitely gave me some goals for my future dream house. But be warned. This shower is the anti birth control. If you are not traveling alone you could leave with a stowaway in your tummy so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Lucky for me, I was traveling solo so I didn’t have those types of struggles. The picture just doesn’t do it justice.
Our reservations came with an added bonus resort credit to be used for excursions or spa treatments at the resort. For my room level I was given $500 in resort credit. Sounds like a steal right? I had all kinds of plans in my head. However there is catch. There’s always a catch right?
- You were billed 20% of the regular price of the service. Depending on what service you opted for this may still be totally worth it. I didn’t know this prior to my arrival so it did let a little wind out of my sail.
- The excursions available for use with your resort credit were extremely limited and very basic. Basically all of the über fun adventurous things were not available for use with the resort credit or so basic that it didn’t interest me in the least. There was a boat cruise I wanted to do but of course it was already booked. Everything I found even the least bit interesting was already booked by the first morning when I went to the excursion desk. Lesson learned, go the excursion desk as soon as you get checked in. Now if you are a fairly inexperienced adventurer or not really all that adventurous then you would probably have found these excursions to be just fine. I was just a little too advanced. Typically I pre-plan at least 1 excursion and book it on my own based on my Trip Advisor research but since I was there for a wedding I wasn’t really sure what kind of free time I would have and I thought I would be able to book something using my resort credit. I planned a Segway tour that cost me $25 after applying my credit but I overslept and missed it.
- You could get a decent spa treatment paying just 20% of the service. However I should have made my appointment right after I checked in. They booked up very quickly for the weekend. I heard great things about the spa and I’m sad that I didn’t get a chance to get a service.
- The win for the resort credit seems to be Bali Beds. These are beachside cabanas with beds and bottle service. Definitely a good use of your resort credits with you coming out of pocket for just a few bucks + gratuity. Several people in our party took advantage of this and with it just being me I didn’t reserve one just for myself. I crashed theirs and it was a really nice relaxing experience. I wished I had an extra day to take advantage of this. As with everything at the resort book it early!!!
Food and Drink
There are 9 restaurants on the property to choose from. Some are open at various times for certain meals. There was one serving Italian, a hibachi style, Caribbean style, Brazilian style, steakhouse, buffet style featuring different specialities each night, and various delis. Breakfast and lunch both offered buffets.
Breakfast was pretty good. There was every breakfast item you could dream up and an omelet station, mimosa station, waffles made to order and fresh fruit. I enjoyed breakfast in The Market everyday but be warned the line can get a bit long later into the morning.
Lunch was also buffet and it was pretty basic resort food. It was basically the type of spread you get on a cruise ship. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great.
Dinner could be hit or miss. We did encounter a couple of issues for our party even though the bride and groom had made arrangements for a large party well in advance of the trip. If you are a resort catering to destination weddings and handling large groups then I would hope that process is a bit more efficient from a service standpoint.
We tried to go to Zen, the hibachi style restaurant, for dinner one night however the wait was over an hour. We found out later that you can actually make a reservation and avoid the wait. That would have been nice information to know ahead of time. I ate at Isla twice, once with the large group and once with just a few of us. The second experience our food was a lot better and they do have a seafood bar with grilled Caribbean lobster tails that I enjoyed. I’m not sure if the improved dinner experience was due to a change in kitchen staff or the smaller party. Overall the food was decent. Nothing really jumps out at me as being fantastic.
I was hoping for at least one option for authentic Dominican food. I couldn’t even find anywhere serving plantains. Maybe at an all inclusive resort that’s asking for too much.
Things To Do
Well the obvious entertainment draw there is the Casino. I’m not the casino type of girl and while I can entertain myself at the slots for a while I cannot survive the thick ever-present layer of cigarette and cigar smoke that permeates throughout the entire Casino. No corner is safe. So the Casino has like a 30 minute time limit for me and then I have to escape and stop punishing my lungs. So what else is there to do? Well there is a lounge that plays different types of music, another lounge that has a bar and some games that was the preferred area for the teenyboppers to hang out. Both of the lounges closed at midnight. After midnight the only option for entertainment was the club inside of the Casino.
The club boasted flyers of a DJ spinning hip hop and top hits. Nothing could prepare us for this very special experience. First of all the admission to the club wasn’t included for hotel guest. It was $50 but you could apply your resort credit if you had any left and pay 20% out of pocket which would have made your admission $10. However if you had allotted all of your credits for spa or excursions then you would be sorely disappointed to have to shell out $50 for the nightclub. They also had higher admission price which came with unlimited drinks. Of course there was also an option to get a table. In any case we were not expecting to pay to go to the only club on the property so that was a bit annoying. I certainly wasn’t purchasing the unlimited drink admission. I mean the casino bar was literally 10 feet from the club entrance where I could drink for FREE so why would I pay extra. After much complaining we resolved that there was literally nothing else to do so we paid the admission price.
Let me tell ya; hip hop is a relative term when you are in a different country. This was really hip hop meets EDM mixes for the majority of the night. If that’s your thing then yay for you. You’ll have a good time. I don’t like EDM like that to want to hear it the entire night. The music was the least of the issues. We were standing around and out came a little person in a light up jumpsuit wearing a light up helmet to match and light up football shoulder pads. I want to say he was in black face but it was too dark for me to see if he was really that shade of brown or if he had really painted himself so I will reserve judgement on that part. He came out and stood on a platform with a fire extinguisher hose and sprayed the crowd with smoke. People were going crazy and loving it. My friends and I were very very confused. Then he went away and returned later wearing an elvis jumpsuit and an afro wig. He didn’t really dance. He was just standing there doing poses. It was very bazaar. There were also 2 girls dancing in glass boxes behind the bar. It felt like they wanted to be a Vegas style club buuuuuut not so much.
The best thing to happen that night was me getting into an argument with the bathroom attendant for opening the door on me while I was still using the restroom. She was extremely rude and after we exchanged words I went to the club manager and he tried to smooth things over by giving us a table in VIP and a bottle. All in all the club experience was a fail.
Why didn’t we just hop in a cab and venture out to somewhere else? Well, we were told in no uncertain terms that we really shouldn’t venture out at dark. To be honest there really wasn’t much else to do in Punta Cana in the way of night life. We didn’t really have any other options.
There were several instances of staff who were very friendly. The ladies who were in charge of the cabanas went above and beyond to be attentive and friendly. Unfortunately there were more instances of staff at the resort who were not quite so customer service oriented. Aside from the bathroom attendant in the club, there wasn’t any specific instance of rudeness. It was just more a feeling of indifference toward us. It wasn’t on par with the level of service I expect for $400+ a night.
The staff could be extremely loud at times and my room location made it very hard to be able to relax in my room. Additionally the way the resort is designed, it made it hard for the staff to go about their day to day duties without it being an inconvenience to the guest. With just one very small elevator in each building it’s impossible not to get into each other’s way. They also caused a mini melt down to my friend, the bride by deciding to clean the hallway floors of our building in the middle of the day on a Saturday by dumping a few inches of water on the tile floor just outside of her door. In general the service did not reflect what you expect when you think luxury. They have a lot to learn in that department especially with the astronomical rates that they charge.
All in all my friends had a beautiful wedding celebrating with their friends and family and that is what was most important. We did have a good time but it was more due to the people I was with than the resort itself. I felt like there was a lot going on during the day on the property that I was completely oblivious to. There is an activity board near one of the pools but I didn’t even notice it until the last day. There are so many different pools and it is very hard to miss. I wish they had a daily itinerary sheet delivered in your room at turn down service to show you what was happening the next day on property.
It wasn’t a miserable time by any stretch. The beach is very pretty. The waters were a bit rough but beautiful nonetheless. I get the appeal of the all inclusive vacation. It’s pretty effortless. You show up. You eat as much food as you want. You drink as much as you want and relax. It’s like a cruise but on land. I think my let down is because I had overly high expectations based on other people’s experiences and based on the very high cost. For the money, I was just expecting more. I also like having more options instead of just limited options presented to me. I like getting a bit of the culture in the food and the entertainment. I didn’t really feel like I was in another country while I was there and that’s the part I really like about traveling. I like to get a feel for the culture and the Hard Rock didn’t provide that feeling.
Would I try the all inclusive resort thing again? Perhaps in a different location. I wouldn’t rule them all out with just this one experience. Now I know what to expect and I can alter my expectations accordingly. Would I stay at another Hard Rock property? Unless it was a superb deal then probably not. I realize some will read this and say that I’m too picky or ungrateful or “boogie”. But we all have different expectations when it comes to luxury. By no means am I a “luxury traveler”. I’m a single mom and ballin’ on a budget is a necessary skill set. I can rough it with the best of them and not complain at all. My expectations were just not met with this experience this time. It happens and I’ve learned more about what appeals to me.
Have you ever visited a place that was hyped up to be the best ever but turned out to be a disappointment? Let me know in the comments below.
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”