Saturday, April 11, 2009

Airport Departure Tips

You may also want to review Resort Departure Tips.

Please check out photos of Punta Cana Airport courtesy of puntacana-vacation.com. These are some of the best centralized airport photos that I've found, and they and really depict what you will see, particularly on arrival. However, departure is also "open air" - you will walk to your plane on the tarmac and board your flight by walking up stairs, not through a gate connector (as is common in cold climates and at many airports).

1) Plan to arrive at the airport a full two hours prior to your flight. Even though you want to spend more time at the beach, leave ample time for the airport process. If you should have lots of extra time at the airport, once you are through security, the waiting area features some fast food, other snacks such as decent pastries and ice cream, souvenir shops (a bit cheesy, but there if you need something), and an outdoor children's play area. You can also stop to review the "arrival" photo taken of your group when you first arrived at the Punta Cana airport (no obligation to buy, but they're kind of funny).

2) If you take private transport (taxi), expect that an airport porter will immediately descend upon you to take your bags. The porter will take you to a counter to have your baggage inspected (you get "stickers" on your bags) and will then get you to the right ticket line. (It's probably easier to allow the porter to take your bags -- follow closely, they move fast -- and to give him a small tip than to try to prevent the process from taking place.)

3) Expect a long and crowded wait to get to the ticket counter, as large groups traveling together create instant long lines

4) Ticket counter lines can be fluid. Depending on the size of the crowd, the line may move to another counter or converge with lines from other airlines, so be alert.

5) Security screening lines may be long as at home. They are attempting to replicate the TSA screening process (already the security screening infrastructure has evolved since our first visit in 2008) and they have "3-1-1" signs displayed.
Special Note to Parents with Strollers and Little Kids in Tow: The conveyor belt set-up to place your carry-on items, shoes, etc. in bins for security screening is very short (much shorter than in US airports, for example) -- there is basically a conveyor belt and very little preceding table space, which means that when you approach, you need to be ready to throw everything into a bin almost directly on the belt, and move through the metal detector/security checkpoint quickly. (In contrast, in most US airports there's a lot of counter space preceding the belt where, as they approach, travelers set bins, deposit their bags and other items, and then push their belongings forward *toward* the conveyor belt.) Ditto when you emerge from the human checkpoint -- the conveyor belt ends quickly, and the bags, bins, and strollers have little space to move, and pile up fast. Fast parent teamwork will help to collect belongings and get everyone and everything resituated quickly. (We encountered a number of friendly/sympathetic travelers who asked to help, which was very heartening.)

6) Gate information and flight departure status posted on waiting area screens may conflict actual gate activity. Be aware of your departure time, and don't stray too far from the gate. For example, once you are through security and in the waiting area, the screen may say your flight is boarding/go-to-gate, but the gate may not have any representatives from your airline. Or, your ticket may say that your flight should be boarding (departing in 20 minutes), while the screen may still list the flight status as "Checking in" -- but suddenly, airline personnel are at your gate, and it's boarding! (We saw both situations, and encountered a fair number of befuddled travelers staring at screens and checking actual gate activity.)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Resort Departure: General Tips

Your Last Day at Club Med Punta Cana

Please also review my Airport Departure Tips.
Parents may also want to read Check-Out Tips for Parents.

Many guests will have afternoon or evening flights out of Punta Cana. Club Med realizes this and makes arrangements to enable guests to continue to enjoy their last day while still checking out of their rooms. Read the following to help maximize your last day!

1) Check-out guidelines are provided to guests the night prior to departure. These guidelines mention that it might be possible to extend your check-out time (for a fee). If you are interested in a "late check out," you should speak in person with the Reception ahead of time - preferably well ahead of your last day - to determine if this is really an option (it may not be). If you cannot extend your check-out time, you will check out in the morning, according to the guidelines provided (most likely at 11AM).


2) Call the Reception prior to check-out time to have your large check-through bags taken to the "luggage depot" at the entry to the resort (enclosed area in the center of the circular driveway). Communicate to the porter where you are going (country) and what time. If you are concerned about your bags, you can actually visit them in the luggage depot area at the entry to the resort. (We did this because our child was sad to see our suitcases leave, so we took her to "see" them. We booked our airfare separately from our stay at Club Med, and would not leave on a bus with a group, so our bags were set aside by themselves.)

3) Store your carry-on items in a secure locker-room-with-shower-area called the "Comfort Area." There are men's and women's locker areas. You will be given locker key(s) for your belongings. If your roll-on bag is too bulky for a locker, the locker attendant (the same stern looking but actually very friendly woman in both 2008 and 2009) will keep your bag behind her counter, put a number on it, and have you sign by that number. You may feel nervous about leaving your belongings in this manner, but everyone is in the same boat, and we left with everything we brought on both trips.

4) Go back to the beach or pool, have lunch, etc.! When the time approaches, you can come back to the Comfort Area locker rooms, shower and change, and head off to the airport. This means that you should pack your travel clothes into your carry-on so you can change into them after your day at the beach.

5) If traveling independently (non-charter flight), arrange for a taxi to the airport through the Reception. It doesn't seem as though much advance notice is required for a taxi (say, 15 minutes). If you are leaving on a Saturday, there will likely already be many taxis waiting to take guests to the airport, but it doesn't hurt to check with the Reception about this ahead of time.

Resort Check-Out: Tips for Parents

Plan to combine your regular suitcase packing with packing for extra time at the beach/pool on your last day. For parents, this may take a little more logistical forethought to determine what you need (a) for fun/comfort at the resort and (b) for the flight home, and how that all fits into your carry-on, but it's definitely worth the advance planning!

A few reminders:

  • Last minute cold milk or juice for bottles/sippys is available from the restaurants (or from the bars, if lunch is over)

  • Refrigeration is available in the 24-hour access Baby Bottle Room connected to the Mini Club if necessary (label items that go in the fridge).

  • If you need kids' snacks for traveling, snag a few extras boxes of kids' cereal from the Baby Bottle Room or at breakfast for your carry-on.

Do Your Kids Nap? In 2008, we left on a Saturday (typical of many guests), and we were unable to extend our check-out time and the Mini Club was not open, so we had our 15-month old daughter nap in her stroller at naptime. In 2009, however, the Mini Club staff actually offered that the Mini Club would be open on Saturday from 1PM-3PM for naptime so "parents can pack." Our flight was at 4PM, so we couldn't take them up on this and didn't inquire as to any (nominal) fee, but if your children need to nap and you have a later flight, it would definitely be worth asking the Mini Club staff about this arrangement early on in your stay.