Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trip Impressions, March 7-14

Just back from a fabulous stay at Club Med Punta Cana. Already wishing that everything at home was as close as the beach there and as beautiful... I would go back tomorrow if I could!!!

This post focuses on the renovations and general trip impressions. Read my MiniClub Impressions if you are interested in information regarding childcare and programs at Punta Cana.

"Renovation" Impressions:
After reading many reviews that lamented the current renovations, we were bracing ourselves for a greatly changed Club Med Punta Cana. Overall, the renovations are a plus. Specific comments below.

Lobby: Some cosmetic changes, but overall attractive, and additional seating is great. You wouldn't notice anything "weird" if you hadn't been here before.

Main bar: This shows up as rather stark and mod in some online photos, but in person it didn't
give that vibe. We were pleased to see Tito again; he is now on during days at the main bar.

Hispaniola Restaurant: Great addition of outdoor seating (some covered, some open with umbrellas)

Samana Restaurant: Mixed. This is one where the online photos really make it look stark and mod, but in person it's not quite that bad. Navigation of the buffet was mentioned as one downside by some, but to me it seemed about equally confusing as before. The table sizes and style are definitely not as conducive to sitting with other GMs. We had dinner here twice, and actually found the food choices/presentation nicer than at Hispaniola. However, we ate at Hispaniola more because we prefer the water view, do enjoy meeting other guests, and found it more low-key with our young child (Samana has marble-type table tops, which aren't great with really young kids). The food at Hispaniola was still very, very good!!!

Celeste Restaurant/Bar: Great! More seating, better food options (kids can have wraps and quesedillas), overall much better than before. See photos here:

Beach: New beach furniture. Much better -- no rubber sticking to you, and easy to bounce off sand.

Public Restrooms: Auto on/off water and auto-flush toilets. I think this is new, anyway. Definitely a good thing given the # of guests.

Room decor: Fine/good. We had a renovated room in '08 so new color scheme was not a big surprise.

In-room TV:
More channels in French/Spanish/English, so you can see English news (if really necessary?) but don't plan to watch your favs from home.

We heard lots of 'local' music in a variety of places, and actually didn't hear lots of 80s music (except during the aquagym/water aerobics class and the miniclub end-of-week party for parents and kids).

Other Comments:

The club was at about 1400 guests when we were there – I think up from our stay in 2008.

Socialization with GMs and GOs: We had pleasant meal time interaction with some GOs and with some GMs. The GMs did not have children in tow, and seemed to be French retirees. We did not eat with any families with children (I suspect they have enough to handle!).

General Atmosphere: We are probably the “new” generation of clueless GMs, as we didn’t know much about Club Med when we first went last year, but we really enjoy the collective seating and opportunity to meet others. At the same time, this is a HUGE resort, so just based on sheer numbers you could equally get away with sitting alone at all meals if that’s your style. We like some interaction, and some time to ourselves, so I think we struck a good balance.

Photo Service: GROSSLY over-priced but you may find a few that you like, and at a minimum it’s entertaining to see the candid photos taken by the roving photographer all over the club. The prices are 500 DOP (at 33DOP/1$US) for one photo, 4000 DOP for 10 photos, and 7200 for unlimited photos. Photos can be printed or burned to a CD. The photo viewing and retrieval system is a little clunky at first, but you can figure it out, and once you do, it works ok. Photos are posted for each day of the week, usually shortly after they are taken.

Bedrooms ("Deluxe") in Ovando:
Master bedroom room separated from "children's" room by small hallway and foyer/sitting area, and three sets of doors. Master bedroom includes flat panel tv, as previously noted. Children's room included two twin beds, writing desk/chair, and flat screen TV (and in our case a Pack 'n' Play/crib for our small child). LOTS of closet space. The closets were a little bizarre/overwhelming but we got everything stowed away promptly so we could keep all the doors shut. Sheets/duvet are new/high thread count, and bedroom towels are also new. Rooms are air-conditioned (you don't necessarily need AC, but you should run it as opposed to opening doors and inviting in mosquitos.) Porch access with two deck chairs and small table off of master bedroom.
Our room in '08 was partially renovated but still had the old blue bedspread. This was fine, and we could see how it tied into the old room color. The new room color scheme is fine and anyone who hadn't been there before won't be offended/will find it normal.

Bathroom toiletries include bar hand soap, shampoo, shower gel, shower cap. A wall-installed hair dryer is provided, and bath towels are ample. Two bathrobes and sets of slippers were included in our room (these were not included in our standard room in '08.) Toilet is separate from main bath in typical European style. Shower gel is ok but shampoo isn’t great (ladies, take note).

Bath included a shower stall and a regular bath tub. Our non-deluxe room included only a shower. As noted in a review that I read prior to our '08 trip, the shower stall floors are slippery, particularly for young children. For smaller children (including those who can stand fine but who don't grasp the concept of slippery), the tub in this room is a good bet, or you can request a plastic "baby" tub from the reception. (I would make the request prior to your arrival.) Recommend "shower shoes" (flipflops, other plastic shoes) for safety in shower even for older children and perhaps older adults as well.

Electricity (same as home):
Electricity and outlets are in synch with the US. Note that if you have very small but ambulatory children, ALL hotel rooms -- not just Club Med -- are full of hazards, of which electricity is just one. If you are particularly worried about a curious youngster, you can bring U.S. safety covers for the outlets. There are not many free outlets, as one reviewer noted, and these aren’t always in great locations to charge lots of stuff, so you might want to bring a powerstrip if you and yours have many things to recharge. This was not really an issue for us with one each of laptop, camera, and phone, but I think sometimes we recharged stuff in the bathroom, so if you have more stuff to charge, it's just something to consider.

Mosquitos (none/few):
Due to concerns about malaria, we came with DEET bugspray wipes (can be carried on in carry-on). In '08 we did notice a few mosquitos in "still" air places such as during the evening in the lobby and main bar, and on occasion in other places. We did apply a couple of times this year but did not notice any/many at all. Winds were VERY high during this trip, so that may be part of the reason. However, during our wait in airport security lines, we saw MANY people with bites on their legs. Not 100% sure if these were mosquitos bites, but it may be that other resorts are not as good about spraying, or these folks were in areas with less wind.

Weather (great sun, windy):
Weather was great. Main "thing" was very high winds. For example, wind surfing was great for the experienced but not possible for beginners. It was windy in '08, but not like this!! Evenings were cool. A couple who we met last year was there again this year and they also thought it was cooler in the evening. Still, great sun.

Between the two of us, we tried kayaking, windsurfing, AM stretch/yoga, off-site golf next door, and noontime water aerobics followed by crazy signs. Windsurfing instruction was very good in spite of limited opportunity due to high winds. Water aerobics is fun to see whether you are in the water or not, and the workout is as strenuous as you want to make it!!! Water aerobics is a good way to “connect” with a lot of GMs who you’ll run into later and have something funny in common to talk about. Golf is next door; tee times can be reserved at the reception. 18 holes is about $150. A taxi ride was $15 each way, which seemed steep but maybe that is the fee they think they can get for that segment. If you decide to play on impulse, you can rent clubs as well. You can see the course layout and proximity to the ocean using Google Earth and other satellite map programs or at
http://www.puntacana.com/resort-map .

Transit to/from the airport was smooth and super speedy – one of the key selling points when we first came in ’08 with our very small child. Departure can be chaotic at check-in and there are long security lines, so allow plenty of time prior to your flight. The security area has very short tables on which to set items, and short conveyor belts, so be on your toes to quickly dump everything onto the conveyor belt and to grab it all really fast as it comes out and piles up. Some flight status on the electronic screens may conflict with what is happening at the gate – for example, a screen may say your flight is “Boarding” but there will be no staff at the gate and no info for your flight at that gate. This is a little frustrating but might be less annoying if you know in advance.

Trip Insurance:
We did purchase the Peace of Mind insurance offered by Club Med. I'm in the process of submitting a small medical claim, and I will update this review when the 'experience' is complete.

Planning your family's stay at Club Med Punta Cana? More info here:
Check Out Kids' Programming
Health: Pre-Departure Tips
Request a Room Location
My Review of Kids' Programs

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