Review: Club Med Punta Cana

I was thrilled to finally be able to experience a Club Med resort, thanks to a workshop that was held at the Punta Cana Club Med in early October.  Now, I will preface this review with the fact that Hurricane Matthew was arriving and passed over the east side of the Hispaniola island the first few days, so that explains why the weather looks a bit threatening in a few of these photos.  Luckily, Punta Cana is on the far western tip of the Dominican Republic, so we missed the brunt the storm, and in fact had gorgeous weather by the end of the week.  On to the details!

Location & Feeling:  One of the initial positives about Club Med is its proximity to the PUJ airport. After the long wait through customs (pre-purchase the tourist card online, people!), it's really nice to have only a five or ten minute drive before you arrive at the resort.  Especially in Punta Cana, where resorts stretch all up and down the coast and can be as far as 45 minutes away from the airport.  Normally being so close to an airport is really bad, but the flight path isn't directly over the resort, and after the first day, I never noticed the planes taking off (they're really a bit off in the distance).  As for the resort itself - like many Club Med villages, the beachfront space is amazing. It is a very large and spread out resort, but it stretches all along the coast, so every room is only a few minutes walk over to the beach. Now, from the far south end of the resort to the far north end of the resort would be a bit of a hike, but the resort is set up so that you wouldn't ever need to do that, making it actually quite walk-able.  There are quite a few rooms with a view onto the ocean, but something else that's great about this village (and many other Club Meds), is that it is not brand new, so there is mature growth vegetation all around.  In this case- tons and tons of soaring coconut trees.  The trees DO obscure the beach views for many, but they're nearly equally as lovely as the blue water.  One OTHER great point about this location is the actual water & beach.  This part of the coast is protected by a reef, so there isn't any rough surf, making the water quite calm and swimmable, and that reef offers tons of cool dive sites, including an actual shipwreck that you can see from pretty much anywhere along the coast of the resort. There is a large swath of sandy beach (populated with palms too, of course, and some of it has been helped a bit by humans), but there is also some coast with rocky, reef-edges too.  All this adds up to good for visitors because it means you can actually swim out right from the resort for excellent snorkeling and/or diving.  Here are a handful of pics that help show the beaches and resort grounds:     

Room Types: There are A LOT of rooms in this village, like, well over 600.  !! (I promise I never felt like I was on a resort with hundreds of people, somehow.) At this point (October 2016), about half have been renovated in the last few years.  However, we saw examples of non-renovated rooms, and those did NOT look like they needed work, and had features that might be useful for certain guests (families, especially).  In order of quality, the rooms go from Club, to Deluxe, to the Zen Oasis and 5 Trident "Tiara" rooms - more on the latter of those in a second. The vast majority of the rooms are either Club or Deluxe, and spread out from the main lobby area on both the north and south sides of the resort.  There are four "U"-shaped buildings that are only three or four stories tall (two on each side of the center of the village, all rooms facing the water), and then a collection of smaller two-story buildings spread through a coconut grove on the south side of the resort.  Those are mostly the standard Club rooms, which don't offer mini bars or turn-down services, BUT they do offer connecting rooms (which can be confirmed upon reservation - a HUGE bonus for families).  One type of club room sleeps up to 4 people, but at least two of them need to be under 15, as two of the beds are on the smaller side (they're really more like day beds that are sofas if you only have two in the room).  The rooms that connect to these sleeps up to two people, so a family of 6 can easily fit into two connecting Club rooms - hooray!  Again, from the photos, you'll notice that there's not a great deal of difference in the decor of the Club rooms (with orange pillows) and the Deluxe rooms (with gray pillows) - all the rooms are simple and comfortable, with the Deluxe rooms being ever so slightly more spacious. Deluxe rooms feature two sleeping rooms (though one is more of the sitting room with two sofas), and sleep up to 5 (if you count a baby bed, which they'll include for you at no charge).  Deluxe rooms also feature extra services, like a mini bar and turn-down service, for example.  NOW, if you've got a family and want even more services and even nicer rooms, then you have the sort of boutique hotel-within-the-resort: Tiara, the 5-"Trident" area.  This area features 32 oceanfront suites with their own oceanfront pool and bar, their own dedicated concierge service and check-in area, and even room service. The suites area spacious and beautifully appointed, and in fact the rooms around the infinity pool would be a spectacular spot for a family reunion or large group of friend who wanted the feeling of their own private resort.  Another spot that is like a mini resort within the larger one is the brand new Zen Oasis area, which is restricted to adults only.  This is where I stayed and let me tell you - LOVE.  These rooms are GORGEOUS and huge - all white with splashes of red and natural materials.  The bathroom is massive, with the most incredible shell-tub and rain shower.  The set-up of this area is also lovely - a ring of sort of "casitas" around a lovely pool and bar.  Each casita has two rooms on the ground floor with large grassy patios, and then one room spread on top with a large white-floored patio.  All the patios feature a set of comfy chairs and a delightful "bali bed".  They're fabulous, but no- they don't have any sort of ocean view. The two U-shaped buildings of deluxe rooms are between the ocean and the casitas, BUT - Zen Oasis residents have their own adults-only beach at the north end of the property, only about a 7 minute walk away (maybe?).  It's a fantastic spot for couples, or groups of friends who don't mind sharing the giant king beds.  Here are pictures of, in order - Club Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, Tiara Rooms & pool, and finally Zen Oasis rooms & pool.   

Services & Amenities: I don't know how to even describe how much cool stuff there is to do inside this resort. SO many sports and activities. The nautical center offers lessons on just about any water sport you can imagine - and that's an important distinction - LESSONS are included. They don't just give you a sailboat, they teach you how to sail.  I could go on and on. As I mentioned above, there is great diving as well, though of course scuba is one of the activities that is an additional fee. There are all kinds of loungers and beds, shady or sunny, available all over the beaches. If you don't like the ocean, well, there's tons to do on land as well.  Yoga and other fitness classes. Beach volleyball, bocce ball, sure - there's all of that. But honestly - the revolutionary "Creactive" program is the highlight of the land programs. Created in conjunction with Cirque de Soleil, actual former cirque performers teach guests everything from trampoline and juggling to trapeze. There is ribbon and bungee cord skills, there's this crazy cool wall-running thing - it's seriously super fun - AND they have performances once each week to highlight things you can learn. There are different times designated for different age groups, so you can be confident that little kids won't be mixed up with adults or teenagers, and will be taught skills appropriate to their age. Don't just believe me about how cool Creactive is - Neil Patrick Harris was there shortly after I was and has posted at least twice about how much he & his family loved their experience! Too cool!

Besides Creactive and the Nautical center, there are three pools - one dedicated for Tiara, one dedicated for adults in Zen Oasis, and then one massive one for everyone.  It's so big it has an island inside of it!  Oh, wait- there are more pools than that.  I'm about to forget the pools just for kids as part of the kids club.  There are lots of different kids clubs for all different ages, for children as young as four months old!  Now, for toddlers (under four years old), there is an extra charge, but it's not just "babysitting" services.  They have full on programs, in French and English all the time, for the little ones.  One parent was so excited when their kid got back at the end of the day and told them "Je t'aime", which is of course "I love you" in French, which they'd learned that day - so cool!  I walked by a group of littles one day and the flawless way the leaders were switching back & forth and having fun with the kids was so cool- the kids were having a BLAST. For the slightly older kids, they also divide activities & clubs up to make sure 14 year olds aren't forced to hang out with 8 year olds. That said- they're also super flexible, so if you're a family who WANTS your 10 year old and 13 year old to be together (for example), that can be accommodated. Long story short- if you want your kids to have fun, they have tons of options.

I haven't yet talked about the food situation, which is important. As you may be aware, Club Med is a French company, and French people love their food - right? But they also don't eat the same way Americans eat. I will say that they have somehow figured out how to feed all the masses of people here efficiently, without big lines, and in an (mostly) elegant fashion.  So, there are three restaurants on the property. That's it!  At each meal, only two are open.  But they're not crowded! Seriously! One is full-service, meaning it's sit-down and off-menu (Indigo - located right in the center of the beach, with a gorgeous view over the water) and open for all three meals (reservations required for dinner); the other two are buffets with open seating. One of those is inland, by the lobby, and the other is on the water, over by the Tiara section. Now- this is not the kind of buffet you're picturing. French people would not accept standing in a line and getting food slopped on their tray as they move down the row.  There are different stations to choose from, most featuring beautifully composed plates, made right in front of you.  The variety is impressive- from pasta and pizza to sushi and stir fry and lots in between. The fresh whole grilled fish, for example, was delicious one night.  (The lamb chops that I got because I wanted the mashed carrots they came with were disgusting, so... be careful what you choose!) There is wine and beer and sodas always available, and the bars are always available, but we found that service for mixed drinks was pretty pitiful at the restaurants.  They do have reservation-only outdoor seating by the main central buffet at "La Cave" which is where you can purchase higher end alcohol, wine, and cigars.  We ate out there one night and found it SUPER lovely, with really excellent wine choices.  FYI- none of the restaurants are air conditioned, so be sure you sit by a fan or in a more open area, like "La Cave." They are fantastic with allergies - one gal in our party had a gluten allergy and she was quickly recognized each meal and personally chatted with the chefs to know what would be safe for her to eat and what would not.  What they do NOT have is unlimited opening times and/or unlimited snacks.  Now, parents do have access to a room with things like baby food and juice boxes, so that's always available for the little ones, but for kids that might be hungry for a meal at, say, 5pm, the choices are limited. There are always light snacks available at the different bars, but there are specific opening times for each of the three restaurants. And there aren't snacks like chips or candy bars in the minibars either, just fyi.  A little tip?  Grab extra slices of the ridiculously amazing white-chocolate bread which is freshly baked day after day and available at all three restaurants (along with several other loaves of different types of bread) and keep those in your room in cases of emergencies.  :)  Here are a few pictures of various services & amenities around the resort:

Oh my goodness- in putting those photos together, I realized I missed a few other great aspects of Club Med Punta Cana!  They have a wonderful spa that uses L'Occitaine products, which I took advantage of a particularly stormy day.  Sadly, I couldn't use the cool outdoor treatment spaces, but the indoor one I did use was lovely (and the perfect temperature).  They of course also have a gym, if the scheduled outdoor exercise classes aren't to your liking, and above the gym is the theater.  Now- I am a boring old fart (who had meetings in the mornings - boo!) and did not go to any of the shows, but you could hear them from some of the outdoor bars (and even, yes, a bit from my room that was super close to the theater).  Every night there is live entertainment - starting out for younger folks at 8:45 and then getting more age appropriate as the night goes on.  There are also frequently salsa lessons in the main bar area, which looked like a lot of fun.  If you prefer a quieter evening- the Zen Oasis bar stays open until 10pm and is a super cool lounge style space.  So there is a lot to do after dinner, whether you're looking for a disco or a chat.  What there isn't, however, is some hippy-dippy, swinger atmosphere like you may have in mind when you hear Club Med.  The company has done a lot in the last twenty years to change their villages, and while some things are the same (the very international and friendly staff who yes, will occasionally ask to join you for a quick meal, and will likely be able to speak with the guest in the guest's native language, plus great locations), some things are quite different - over 70% of their guests are families, only about 20% are couples and the remaining 10% singles.  In summary - for a Caribbean vacation with a bit of international flair, a great beach, and lots of fun, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Club Med Punta Cana!