Oh. My. Gosh.
PUNTA FREAKING CANA
(yes, it was caps lock worthy).
So last week, I went on an 8-day vaca with ma bay-bay (say haaaay) (I’m so sorrayyyyy) (no I’m not), and it was everything I could have ever dreamed of and more.
Amidst flooding your IG feeds with vaca pics, I got TONS of questions from you guys about our resort, how we liked it, how I booked it, etc, so of course, I’m here to help.
While I would love to be one of those influencers that hotels pay me to come stay, alas, I am not (yet… fingers crossed lol), so I had to book this all on my own. And did I mention I’ve never really booked an all-inclusive type situation before? Like the ones where you have to arrange for travel and stuff to and from the airport because it’s a really long drive and the cab would cost you a month’s rent and you also have to find a good resort that isn’t just catfishing you with pretty picture?
And did I mention that I booked this trip two weeks before we actually left? I’ve never really been the impulsive type, but it’s 2018, and this bitch is living.
So before I get into the resort, let’s talk about how I booked this thing.
BOOKING OUR VACA
Two-ish weeks before we left, I got this strong urge to go somewhere sunny and warm. It’s been dreary and indecisive here in the good old Midwest, and sunshine genuinely does help with my depression and anxiety… So one Tuesday afternoon, I asked Grant if he was into surprises. He said yes. I asked if there were any kinds of surprises he didn’t like, trying to pry and make sure he wouldn’t get mad if I hijacked him and his life for 8 days and plopped us down on the beach. He said,
“I’d probably be pretty mad if you made me get up and do karaoke in front of a bunch of people, but other than that, no” (noted, babe).
So I got to work. Luckily, one of my friends (thanks Steph) saw my tweet about wanting to go somewhere tropical, and she recommended Southwest Vacations.
I figured, well, I don’t have a travel agent and this is about as best I’ve got as a start, so let’s do this. I decided on Punta Cana as a location and turned on the filter for “Adults Only.” I didn’t even know that was a thing… If you give me the option to not have to listen to screaming children for 8 days, you bet your ass that box is getting checked. Enthusiastically. Maybe even a little aggressively.
So I clicked submit and waited (all of 3 seconds in our instant world) for the results to populate. I scrolled through, looked at a couple places, and clicked through some pictures. Good looking pictures, “meh,” reviews. I was not about to drop dollars for “meh.” Then, a place called “Excellence Punta Cana” came up. It had over 13,000 reviews with a 4.5 star average. NOW WE’RE COOKIN WITH GAS. I figured that was already pretty promising, so I clicked on the hotel to get more photos and information.
Holy mother of beautiful.
(This photo is from their website)
Sunny beach (duh). Gorgeous facility. Lots of white and tan, aka very Instagrammable (okay okay I know that’s not an essential for everyone, but this is my year where I keep up with my theme, okay?), and the reviews were overall really freaking awesome. I took it a step further and simply Googled the resort to see what kind of other reviews popped up outside. Even went as far as to search the resort on YouTube and found a couple of room tours from people who had stayed there before.
After searching through all that, I was hooked. They were available the days that I wanted to book, and then I knew it was a sign from baby Jesus himself. So I booked the hotel, then the flights, then the travel, all on Southwest Vacations. Super easy, even for travel noobs like myself.
Before we get into our trip, I’ll make one quick note – Southwest is not my favorite airline. We had some pretty sassy flight attendants both ways, and the open seating is honestly the shittiest idea I’ve ever heard of (you don’t get assigned seats, so it’s full Hunger Games mode when you get on. If you get stuck in the last boarding group on a full flight, good luck getting a seat next to your partner). I will say though, it was absolutely worth some minor flight annoyance to get to Excellence. We could have booked through United Vacations, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind is willingly flying with United these days…
OUR EXPERIENCE AND TIPS
So before I talk about our resort, I do want to warn you guys about flying into Punta Cana. The main thing is I didn’t know you had to have $10 cash to give the people at customs with your passport. So, I had to go find the currency exchange place BY MYSELF in the airport (they refused to let Grant go with me). I was literally so terrified that it was going to turn into a scene from Taken. It didn’t… Just turned into a minor rush of cortisol that I could have definitely gone without. Long story short, bring $10 cash per person to enter Punta Cana and you won’t have to worry about airport stress.
The airport itself is pretty stressful – people were just throwing luggage off of the luggage belt and people were scrambling around trying to find their bags. I would not recommend flying here by yourself.
That was about it for travel stressors, so now, for the fun part.
WAS “EXCELLENCE” REALLY THAT EXCELLENT?
… Yes. Yes it was.
The resort we stayed at was The Excellence Punta Cana.
Our first impression? We got out of the van from the airport and were greeted with champagne. Well played, Excellence. Well played. The greeting staff was extremely friendly. Check in was a breeze (took less than 10 minutes), and we were on our way to the room. Walking through the lobby, everything was incredibly gorgeous. I about gasped out loud when I saw the pool and beach outside. It was literally picturesque. Like out of a movie. Beautiful, blue pool with the comfiest looking chairs (I can confirm after trial that they felt comfy too), and just outside that, fine white sandy beach with stunning blue-green water. Giant palm trees. The works.
I booked a Junior Oceanview Suite for our room, and it was absolutely everything we needed. I don’t necessarily need multiple rooms, just a bed and a separate bathroom area. Well, they delivered. They had two sinks with mirrors, one of those rain showers (living my wildest dreams here), and a separate toilet area. Walk into the room and BAM, big comfy bed, couch, and a Jacuzzi. In your room. Like you don’t even have to go anywhere. There was a TV right above the Jacuzzi as well, if you’re into that (I don’t watch a whole lot of TV). We stepped out onto the balcony and, again, jaw drop-age. Big old palm trees, pool right outside, and the ocean waving wild and free behind it. Walking out to that every morning was literally one of the most soul-filling things ever.
I will give you one tip about the rooms – request a dehumidifier. It’s humid as all get out there. When we didn’t have one in the room, everything would get abnormally steamy after one of us would shower (not what you’re thinking), and you could just kind of feel the moisture “hanging” in the air. Once we got the dehumidifier (which they were very timely about getting for us, by the way), that problem was instantly fixed. I’d say it was a 2-3 gallon dehumidifier, and we had to pour that sucker our every 8-12 hours. That’s how humid Punta Cana was. But again, just get a dehumidifier popped in there and you’ll be set.
For the rest of the blog, I’m gonna break the hotel/area down piece by piece to hopefully make for an easier read depending on what you’re looking for.
I would say this and the food are the areas that I left vacation most experienced in based on time spent… The pools were excellent. Very clean and not crowded. The section of the pool closest to the lobby was the “liveliest,” I would say (more activities, louder music, generally more people). If you go farther down, things are a bit quieter and more tame. We were in Building 10, and there was a nice quiet pool area right outside our room. There is plenty of seating. No “laying your towels on the seats to reserve your spot” nonsense. Plenty of chairs/beds. My personal favorite was indeed the cabana bed. Big enough for two people with a big soft mattress thing on it. I laid there and got some sun, read, did a leeeeettle bit of work on my phone, and during some of the small rainstorms, we would pull it back underneath the giant palm leaf umbrella, curl up in some towels, and take a little nap. Super peaceful.
The beach was equally gorgeous and very clean. Same kind of seating arrangement. Only drawback was the ocean was red-flagged most days, which meant it wasn’t suitable for swimming. Even on the days when the flags were yellow, the current was extremely strong, so not very well suited for leisurely swimming.
(The Ginger Red Tuna you’ll hear about in a second)
Overall, the food here was extremely excellent. We had our favorites and our not-so-favorites.
The Kitchen – This is the buffet style breakfast and lunch spot right off the lobby. Great selection of foods both at breakfast and lunch. If you wanted to stay on the healthier side, that was completely feasible. If you wanted some treats, you could definitely find those too. My go-to breakfast was hard boiled egg whites, oatmeal (they cooked theirs in milk) with peanut butter and fruit, a cup of coffee, and water. My go to lunch was either a DIY poke bowl (ahi tuna, greens, white rice) with fruit on the side, or some chicken from the Mediterranean station (they make it right there for you) with lots of greens and fruit.
Spice – Our favorite food spot here. Spice was Asian themed, and their Ginger Red Tuna was amazing. We also got some of their sushi rolls and tataki, which were all very good. I tried some of Grant’s pad thai one night as well. I’d never had pad thai and I thought it was pretty solid, and he loves pad thai and thought the same. Cesarin was our server multiple nights there, and he was excellent. He took great care of us, always made sure we had what we needed, and never let our water glasses hit empty.
The Grill – This one is a good one to go to for more traditional “American” fare. The chicken skewers that I got were nice and juicy, didn’t taste heavily oiled, and overall were very good.
Aroma – This is the little coffee shop on the resort property. This was the first place we went, and we just got coffees with steamed almond milk. Grant and I looked at each other when we took our first sip and were like, “What?” It was some of the best coffee we’ve ever had. I’d say we averaged 3-4 visits there (partially for the coffee, partially for the little biscuits they have out there too… just saying), and by the middle of the week they knew our order. Not ashamed.
Lobster House – Probably our least favorite place. If you think all-inclusive lobster sounds too good to be true, I’d say you’re right. I’d steer clear of this spot.
Agave – I’m not huge into Mexican food, so I just got some chicken fajitas with rice instead of tortillas. Once again, nothing tasted overly seasoned or oiled. Very fresh and tasty.
Chez Isabelle – Food was pretty good, not great. Portions were definitely small (nowhere had huge portions, which isn’t a bad thing at all). I got the scallops as my entrée, but ended up getting 2 because they were good and I was still hungry (what else is new). I definitely wasn’t mad at the macaroons they brought us at the end of our meal. They knew the way to my heart.
Room service/drinks – The room service menu was pretty solid and had great hours. If we got hungry at night, we’d usually order some fajitas and a fruit plate, then pass out. I also tried their hummus and it was awesome. Whenever we needed water bottles (which was often, since you aren’t supposed to drink the tap water), they were quick to get it to us and someone would always call to make sure they brought it up to us.
Honestly, we loved it so much there that we didn’t go on any… Lol.
This was hands down the nicest resort fitness center I’ve ever seen. Very clean, good range of equipment (dumbbells, a smith machine, cables, and quite a few machines), along with a good range of cardio equipment. There’s also a separate yoga room with yoga classes, mats, blocks, everything.
A COUPLE RANDOM TIPS
- Bring sunscreen. Buying sunscreen at the resort will cost you around $30. No fun.
- Bring bug spray/bug repellent. I literally got eaten alive, aka 71 BUG BITES. Weird thing, Grant barely got bit at all.
- If you do get bitten, a couple remedies that actually helped the itching:
- Rubbing the inside of a banana peel on the bites (weird, but effective. Thanks internet).
- Putting rum on a cloth and rubbing it on them. Thank you SO much to the girl who messaged me on IG with that hack!
Overall experience: 9/10
Staff: 9/10. Literally such an incredible staff all around. Kudos to every last one of the employees there.
Relaxation factor: 10/10 (this was SO NEEDED)
Weather: 7.5/10 (we had some storms, but still exceptionally beautiful)
Honestly, this was the best trip of my whole life… And I’m pretty impressed with putting this all together in two weeks. I hope you you loved coming along for the ride on Instagram (YouTube video coming soon), and if you’re looking to travel to Punta Cana, I hope this helped make your booking easier!