We are just back , my wife and I , from four days in Punta Cana where we attended the wedding of the son of our close friends. It was great, getting away for a brief respite from the New Jersey winter. This winter hasn’t been bad at all , no complaints from me , but give me balmy breezes and sunlit beaches any day.
Punta Cana is a well known resort area in the Dominican Republic . Twelve years ago , in December 2000, our family and two others spent a wonderful week at the Melia Caribe resort there. This time around , we lodged at the Paradisus , reportedly the most luxurious on the island, and right next door to the Melia Caribe .Twelve years between trips is a long time ,and there have been a lot of changes in our lives ; the children have completed college now and are on their own , and we ourselves are twelve years older. It’s a strange feeling when you look back . Some incidents are crystal clear in our minds but the general feeling is that it was s-o-o-o long ago.
We disembarked at Punta Cana after an uneventful three hour flight and as we walked across the tarmac to the charming , familiar looking terminal , it seemed we’d only been away for a couple of years , no more. The welcoming musicians were familiar too … or had we seen them on another Caribbean jaunt ? Was it in Jamaica or was it here ? Anyway , the ceiling fans lazily spinning overhead were a surprise. They were the largest I’d ever seen , fully fifteen feet across. In short order , we negotiated customs and immigration , piled into the airport coach with our luggage and set out for the Paradisus. Driving to Pardisus , looking at the villas under construction ( no doubt for ex-pat Statesiders ) , seeing the posh grounds of the all-inclusive resorts I thought to myself that ,thoughPunta Cana is in the Dominican Republic, it is in reality almost a separate entity.
The Dominican Republic comprises the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola , so named by Christopher Columbus who discovered it in 1492 ; the western third is the nation of Haiti.People who have flown over the island say that the dividing line between the two nations is pronounced; Haiti is brown , the DR is green. While DR may be a paradise in comparison to Haiti , it is still very poor. After it freed itself from the Spanish conquerors , it has experienced French and Haitian domination , a brief U.S occupation , corrupt dictators and inept governance. Primarily an agrarian economy , it is heavily dependent on tourism and on remittances from abroad.
Paradisus , like the Melia Caribe next door, brings to mind the old TV series ” Fantasy Island”—manicured lawns , palms , crotons , Bougainvillea and other tropical blooms. At any moment , one expects Ricardo Montalban or Herve Villechaize ( De plane , de plane …”) to pop up from behind a bush. The buildings are huge, sprawling : an expansive lobby , fountains , marble floors , flamingoes in the pool ( much better than the peacocks at the Melia Caribe which kept shitting all over the walkways). It takes a lot of effort to maintain such a place in pristine condition and there are legions of workers seeing to the guests , cleaning , doing touch up painting , trimming the bushes and doing a thousand other tasks. The room is very large but , as we find out over the course of our stay, not very well planned. There are several lamps but they are poorly placed; evn when all the lamps are switched on , some parts of the room are still murky. The wall between the bathroom and the rest of the room is latticed ( God knows why ; not everybody at these resorts is on a honeymoon ) and the shower controls are so complicated that it takes us several minutes and a chart to figure out.But these are minor matters ; the palms , the white sand beach , the palms , the deep blue sea more than make up for them.
There are several restaurants at Paradisus but we find ourselves eating almost always at Naos , the buffet place that doesn’t need reservations as most of the others do.It’s a place that is open almost 20 hours a day and the food choices are plentiful , though the quality of the cooked dishes is only so-so. This is not a knock on the place ; given the amount of number of diners that eat there daily , it would be almost impossible to serve gourmet food . The vegetable salads , the fresh fruits and the desserts are all that we could ask for even if the meat and fish dishes are ho-hum. The one other place that we try , Bana , a pan – Asian restaurant is a disappointment and I think to myself that I’ve eaten better at home . We try to get reservations at Passion but miss out two days in a row. The chef there , Martin Berasategui , has worked at Michelin starred restaurants elsewhere , and diners are falling over themselves to experience his food even though there is an extra tab of $ 40 per person to dine there.
The Paradisus is an all inclusive resort and very expensive . As part of the wedding party , we get the group rate ( 50% off) and pay $ 165 per person per night or $ 330 for the two of us, which is not too bad. The regular rate for two persons is close to $ 700 a night , which in my book is exorbitant. True , all food and drink is included but how much can one eat and drink ? What amazes me is , that even at these prices , the resort is almost full. Recession ? Hard times ? Says who ??
Staying in such places makes me a little uncomfortable when I think of the hundreds of locals working there who probably make in a month what a single day’s stay costs. But then , all this agita is useless. Without employment at these resorts , they and the local economy would be much worse off. All I can do is be pleasant in my dealings with them , tip when called for, and never , never waste any food. It is shameful to see so many of my fellow tourists pile up their plates with food only to leave half ( or more) uneaten.
One last thing : in my experience , Dominicans ( at least those I’ve encountered at the resorts) are very pleasant and helpful. They are always smiling and genuinely seem to want to be of service ; there is none of the resentment towards tourists that I’ve experienced at some other Caribbean islands.
Next: The wedding