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Archive for the ‘Dominican Republic’ Category

I’ve previously blogged and posted another tipster’s itinerary on the Dominican Republic. But I couldn’t resist adding my own thoughts after my own awesome trip to Punta Cana a few weekends back. As discussed before we booked our all-inclusive trip on Bookit.com during a 92 hour sale and got a steep discount on an all-inclusive package that included airfare, hotel, all meals and top shelf liquor! The Dominican Republic is a great place to go for a short weekend away from the city, it is only about 3.5 hours away on a direct flight and is probably one of the most convenient locations I have ever been to.

Where to stay:

Most of the resorts in Punta Cana are all-inclusive. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an all-inclusive resort because we generally like to be more independent on vacation. After this trip I am now a reformed traveler!  For a weekend trip, all-inclusive is the way to go if you want a stress free vacation. You can literally leave the U.S. with only a dollar in your pocket and return with that dollar (excluding tipping waiters and staff) if you want to.

We booked our package with the NH Royal Beach. Upon arriving at the NH Royal Beach we were escorted to the adults only part of the hotel. The hotel is completely new and you can tell! Each hotel room is funky and colorful, we had a gift plate of cut fresh tropical fruit waiting for us when we arrived, and a jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking the ocean and pool. Can you spell h-e-a-v-e-n? The NH Real Arena is the family oriented side of the resort, both sit next to each other on a beautiful strip of beach.

The NH Royal Beach also features an awesome lazy river and several restaurants on premise that are included in the plan, but more importantly it has great service. The drinks are super fun and yummy. We took advantage of the bar in the pool and swam up frequently to have the bartender make us coco locos (real coconuts with rum) or hard lemonades in pineapples. Not once did we hear a busy bartender complain about scraping out the tropical fruit to spoil us rotten. We had a great time chatting with our bartenders who were busily tapping their heels to the catchy music the hotel plays during the day.

While you’re at the NH Royal Beach, the activities people on staff will try to make your vacation all the more fun. We learned how to sail a catamaran during a 20 minute instructional and then went out on the catamaran for an hour by ourselves. All included in the fee of course! The resort also had a volleyball competition and a kayaking competition, which was more funny than competitive. We didn’t have time to take the introductory scuba diving lesson, but it is offered for all guests of the resort.

On top of it all, on our last night there, the hotel staff brought us a plate full of home-made chocolate truffles and a chocolate sculpture! What else can you ask for in a weekend beach getaway trip from the city?

What’s not to like?

For vegetarians the food is so so… But honestly the effort that the chefs and managers put into accommodating our vegetarian tastes more than made up for the sub par food. I find it hard to complain when people are so friendly!

Overall

4.5 stars for a relaxing, romantic and fun weekend from the city.

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It’s about that time of year when you’re calculating whether spring is really around the corner or whether we are going to have to suffer through some long rainy months. Usually on vacation I want an action packed trip, but after some long nights at work, the idea of sitting back with a mai tai on the beach sounds pretty good.

Last week, an alert went out to TravelZoo subscribers informing them about a  92 hour sale on Bookit.com I don’t generally act on these emails and have never really used TravelZoo, but Bookit.com had some amazing deals last week. We ended up booking an all-inclusive package to the Dominican Republic that went on sale last week. I’ll be blogging from Punta Cana on the first weekend of April. Check out some other quick getaways on the Times.

We booked a package for two, including airfare, all meals, and drinks at the NH Real in Punta Cana for less than what a ticket to Vegas would cost you about now. Be on the lookout for deals fellow readers...they do exist!

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As winter descends on the city and snow blankets the ground, I wouldn’t mind escaping to a sunny beach where I can forget about the winter chill and have a mai tai. The following itinerary from my friend Elizabeth highlights how easy it is to escape from the city and find your inner beach diva. For more tips on the newest websites and blogs that compile travel data for savy travelers check back to my blog for my newest post.

72 Hours in the Dominican Republic
Friday morning
Fly JetBlue from JFK to Santo Domingo.

Friday afternoon
Arrive in Santo Domingo, buy $10 mandatory tourist pass, breeze through customs. A DR rum maker greeted us with free drinks on the other side, which many of us proceeded to consume while standing in line for rental cars. (The drinks were fairly light and it took about 45 minutes to get the car we reserved at Hertz. My traveling companion — and driver — abstained, leaving me with two…excellent).

We had reserved a compact car. In retrospect, this was insane. DO NOT attempt this trip without an SUV. Seriously. If you don’t mind getting poured on, and don’t have much luggage, a motorcycle, dirtbike or horse would all be more reasonable than a compact car.

Google maps had basically no roads other than major highways, and our host (Walter @ Rancho La Cueva) had provided only the following directions:

Hato Mayor – Seibo – Miches – El Cedro (24 kilometers in direction Higuey) – Playa Limon (500 meters after El Cedro you find the entrance to the beach Playa Limon – 4 kilometers to the Hotel La Cueva)

So, we paid the extra $30 or so for 3 days of GPS. Unfortunately, ours didn’t work – it seemed to think that no matter which way we were driving, it was always North. (While the egocentrist in me appreciated this, the traveler who did not want to be lost in dowtown Santo Domingo – the opposite direction from where we needed to go – did not. We also felt pretty silly having followed the GPS when we could see the ocean and ought to have known which way was which…).

We finally found our way out of Santo Domingo and back onto Highway 3 East along the south coast. We drove east along Highway 3 and then made a left onto Highway 4 in San Pedro de Macoris, parting ways with the pack of travelers bound for the resorts in the Southeast (Romana, Punta Cana, etc). We drove North along Highway 4 to Hato Mayor and then continued following it East to El Seibo. In El Seibo, locals pointed us to a detour to get to Highway 107 North to Miches (pronounced “Mee-chay”) because the usual entrance was blocked with piles of dirt.

This is when the road quality deteriorated severely, and it started getting dark. This is also where we stopped to ask for directions from a member of the Dominican military and ended up with him in our back seat. We dropped him off in a town halfway to Miches and continued on along an increasingly unfinished/potholed, winding mountain road. (We’d strongly advise making this drive in daylight. It’s quite scenic, and a lot easier to deal with the road quality).

We got to Miches in pitch darkness and again got out to ask locals for directions to El Cedro/Playa Limon. (There are extremely few street signs and, in any event, we didn’t have that level of specificity in our directions). We eventually got on our way to El Cedro and, shortly after passing El Cedro, found the entrance to the road to Rancho La Cueva (after a few turnarounds and chats with locals). The road to Rancho La Cueva is entirely unpaved and not of insignicant length.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot at Rancho La Cueva, a chorus of cheers went up from the small group of fellow travelers who were congregating in the dining area. They greeted us warmly in Spanish and we were promptly presented with more rum and, not long after that, freshly fried fish and accompaniments. Everyone was patient with our lack of Spanish skills and encouraged our halting attempts to participate in the conversation.

We had a few too many and went to bed (US$40 for a double room).

Saturday morning

We slept in Saturday morning, ate a quick breakfast (US$6 each for eggs, cheese, ham and toast) and then headed back to Mitches to get cash – about an hour and a half round trip (Rancho La Cueva takes DR dollars and US dollars but nothing else, and there is no closer ATM). (We took out DR$15,000 – approximately US$500 – and it was more than enough for the weekend).

We returned, walked to the beach (Playa Limon), where we didn’t see another soul. We returned to Rancho La Cueva for lunch and a nap. We had mafongo (traditional DR dish of smashed plaintains) and a chicken dish, both of which were fine but not as good as the fish the previous night.

Saturday afternoon

We came down as a group of nuns and a family with two small children returned from an ox-driven cart ride around the (large) property, and decided to join the remaining folks for a ride.

Afterwards, we had an excellent dinner of lobster and fish over more conversation with the other guests, followed by the delicious dulces postres (some sort of sweet coconut concoction – highly recommended if avaialable). We had a few Presidente beers and then turned in early.

Sunday morning

After another US$6 breakfast and coffee, we went horseback riding (US$10) along the beach. It was incredible. We asked to go a bit faster; we went up to a trot and it felt (to this inexperienced rider who hasn’t been on a horse since she was six) like we were flying. No helmets, no instructions.

Sunday mid-day

We settled up (US$250 all-in) and had difficulty figuring out what to do about a tip. We left a tip with a member of the staff, who didn’t seem to understand why we were leaving more money than the amount on the bill. At the airport later on, a restuarant menu noted a 10% ‘legal’ “propina”…

Sunday afternoon

We drove back the way we came, stopping on the highway from Miches at a restaurant (Oasis) that had been crowded both times we had driven by. We had very good chicken and what I think was goat (chivo/chiva?) for about US$5 each and Coca-Cola. The bathrooms were clean and stocked with green soap in a plastic cup.

We picked up yummy, fresh dulce de leche for DR$500.

Driving back on the way to San Pedro de Macoris, our tire blew out somewhere south of Hato Mayor after a particularly rough pothole. We pulled over and were immediately surrounded by locals wanting to assist. Although we had a spare tire and the relevant equipment, it was actually really helpful to have a crowd to alert other cars and bikes as they came flying by so they would steer around us a bit and not hit us while we were kneeling down around the tire. The women were eager to chat (in Spanish or French) and the men eager to help; the children seemed mostly curious to watch the entertainment. At the end, the two smallest boys did hang around a bit, and asked hopefully for money, but none of the adults did…all in all consistent with the interactions we had with the folks we talked to along the way.

We continued along our way, still a bit ahead of schedule despite the flat, and took a short detour through Boca Chica (which has history but has been eclipsed by the resorts farther east) before getting gas and returning our rental car at the airport. The GPS folks (conversing in Spanish only) gave us a customer service number to call to try (which we haven’t done yet); the Hertz folks were very professional in dealing (in English) with the tire.

We picked up cheap liquor and cigars at the duty-free shop but had less luck with cologne (a lot of the testers were empty; no tester strips out…). We had a couple of drinks at Mango, an unsurprisingly mediocre airport restaurant that reminded me a bit of the quality level in many of the places in Penn Station.

All in all, a good adventure if you want a bit more local flavor and are willing to sacrifice the ease of the resorts farther east to get it.

Sunday late night

Arrive at JFK; quick trip through customs and immigration and no wait for a cab back home to Jackson Heights.

Editor’s Note – for more info on planning your DR vacation check out this informative article from the NYTIMES at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/travel/25dominican.html?scp=2&sq=dominican%20republic&st=tcse and Travel Muse at http://www.travelmuse.com/plan/discover.htm?dpath=/tag/destination/DO/00-dominican-republic.xml&&dname=Dominican%20Republic, a newer travel site that lets you search the web for travel tips and save it to your own tripfolio.

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