Punta Canta: MONDAY OCTOBER 21, 2002 or Getting There is Just Part of the Fun
This story features information about our trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Join us — won’t you? — for this first installment, in which we rise at an unreasonable hour, depart the cold weather, fly into the light, and land in a wall of humidity.
Wendy and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:00am on Monday, October 21, 2002. Why would we rise at such an undignified hour, you ask… Was it to enjoy the warm weather here in Cincinnati? Not in late October — it was barely 40 degrees! Was it due to an emergency or to go to work? Nope, neither of those distasteful options was the reason for our early rising.
The reason was that our plane departed the cold and grey of Cincinnati heading for the warmth and beauty of Punta Cana at 7:00am, and we had to get to the airport the required 90 minutes before flight time. At 4:00am on that chilly Monday morning (chilly, even, in our bedroom since Mr. Face enjoys sleeping on the heat register and soaking all the heat into his fat little body!), the prospect of warmth and beautiful beaches seemed almost a million miles away.
But rise we did and blearily made our way toward the car (which we’d had the sense to pack the night before) and airport. Our travel agency, Fairfield Travel, had instructed us not to park at the airport’s expensive long-term parking lot, so when we got near the airport, we parked instead at AIRPORT FAST PARK. The driver of the parking service’s shuttle bus, a Vietnam vet with loads of stories and opinions (who would have guessed that a 1.5 mile ride could feel so long!?) surmised that we were headed “somewhere warm” because of our conspicuous lack of coats!
We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and checked in at the gate. Because it was far too early for the airport’s food or coffee places to be open, we sat and waited until it was time to board the flight. Our exceedingly well-groomed and immaculately manicured all-male flight crew (ahem) made sure we were comfortable on the first leg of our flight, which took us to Orlando Florida’s Sanford Airport (which, from the planes we could see, seems to serve only Vacation Express!) in just a couple of hours of air time.
After a very brief layover, we began the 2 hour & 45 minute flight toward Punta Cana. We flew over many small, uninhabited islands, over the Bahamas, and past Puerto Plata on the north side. As we flew over Haiti, we found it to be far larger than we’d expected though it seemed to be empty except for the mountains in the center of the island that reminded us of Jurassic Park.
We landed and deplaned at the Punta Cana Airport, which was basically some thatched-roof buildings with planes sitting nearby. As we left the plane, the first thing we noticed is the humidity that hits you like a giant, warm, wet wall. We walked down the tarmac, past other planes with engines running, and into one of the thatched-roof buildings, which we discovered was completely open to the weather. Once inside the building, we had to purchase our Punta Cana Tourist Cards for $10.00 each. We filled out the cards, payed our $10, and we given part of the card. The other part stayed with the officials until it was reunited with our half of the card (kept during our trip but returned as we left the country).
In a roped-off area of the airport, there was a three-piece band playing lively local music. We claimed our luggage and made our way toward the buses to take us to the hotel complex. If you’re travelling to Punta Cana, ignore the porters who want to take your baggage to the bus — it’s a very short walk. Once our luggage was safely loaded on the bus (always watch to see that YOUR luggage goes onto YOUR bus!), we boarded the bus and waited for the other people going to the hotels in our resort.
Along the 20-25 minute ride to the hotel, we noticed that there were little shacks made out of cinder blocks along the road, and no billboards or other advertising. This seemed to be the main road and we saw very few connecting roads, though we did pass through two or three military stops (we were not stopped or delayed). Another thing we learned is that driving in Punta Cana is done somewhat by feel. If the bus driver doesn’t feel like stopping at a stop sign, they do not stop. If they feel like crowding another car off the road, then that’s what they do. We were both glad, for a number of reasons, that the bus ride was rather short. The bus dropped off folks at the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Hotel before taking us to our destination, the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Palace Hotel.
(These hotel names can get confusing quickly, so here’s an overview. Within the Barcelo resort, there are several places: Barcelo Bavaro Beach Hotel, Barcelo Bavaro Beach Casino, Barcelo Bavaro Beach Garden, and Barcelo Bavaro Beach Palace. The Palace is at the top of the heap; it’s the best hotel in the resort and guests of the Palace can use the facilities of any of the other places on the complex, but those folks staying in one of the other places cannot use the facilities of the Palace. The Barcelo resort uses a series of colored wristbands to denote where the guest is staying. We had snazzy gold wristbands at the Palace.)
We saw that our luggage was removed from the bus and proceeded to the registration desk. While waiting to check in (it’s a sort of controlled madness at the checkin desk — three to five employees talking in LOADS of different languages trying to get everyone squared away as quickly and efficiently as possible), one of the friendly staff brought over Pina Coladas for everyone as a way of welcoming us to the land of luxury. An audible sigh of relief went up from the hot, tired, and dusty travellers. At checkin, we got our room key and towel cards and were given good directions on how to get to our room.
We collected our luggage and walked along the lush grounds until we found our room — Room 2041 — complete with ocean(-ish) view.
The room had a tile floor (with only one small rug in the room), two full sized beds, a dressing area with two sinks, a bathtub/shower (with armrests in the tub), a small sitting area, a minibar, and a patio. There was no iron in the room, but curiously, there was a scale — the last thing in the world I want to see on vacation! Very nice accomodations, and very clean. The mini-bar was stocked with Coke, El Presidente beer, Coke Lite (that’s what they call Diet Coke), Sprite, bottled water, Snickers, and M&M’s. Our maid kept it very well-stocked for us.
Another feature of the resort that you’re certain to notice is the Barcelo logo. It’s just EVERYWHERE. From towels to keycards, ashtrays to one of the holes in the Putt-Putt golf course, to the rug on the floor of the hotel room, you cannot escape it. The Barcelo logo appears on the wrapper for the toilet paper (and is probably embossed on the paper itself). We even found a frosted Barcelo logo on the glassware that we used — very subtle, but there nonetheless. Those that know my personal motto of “Relentless Self-Promotion Done Right” will understand that this is self-promotion done really right!
One thing about the room… It was COLD in the room and not just a little bit! It was really REALLY cold in there (you’ll appreciate that comment even more when you know that Drew is writing this!), and the ‘thermostat’ slider on the side of the air conditioner controls was a cruel joke — it had no affect on the temperature of the air coming out of the vents at all. “So just turn it off, open the doors, and enjoy the tropical climate,” I hear you say. Well, that’s not an option as we found out. If you turn the air conditioner off and open the doors, soon every surface in the room is covered with a thin film of condensation. The humidity level is so high down there that just a couple more percentage points and the entire place would be under water! What we finally learned to do was to turn the air conditioner on when we left the room and turn it off when we were inside. It was very comfortable (though still on the chilly side).
After we unloaded our suitcases (as much as we ever do, which is to say not very much — we tend to hang up shirts & dresses, but the rest of the stuff stays in the suitcase), and since it was the “no man’s land” of 4-6pm during which very little food is available, we went outside to check out our new surroundings.
On the way our of our room, we met Cristina, our maid. She speaks no English, but in our broken Spanish we greeted her and introduced ourselves. We’re quite certain that it made her day. The vast majority of the resort staff speak enough English to perform their jobs quite well, and some of them speak more than that. All of them, it seems, appreciate our attempts to speak in Spanish, no matter how badly we did. Does speaking Spanish help? I think so. Is it necessary? Not at all.
The beaches are beautiful, clean, and feel somewhat untouched — palm trees grow up in the middle of the beach and at the waterline (in contrast to the stark beaches of Florida). The water is a brilliant blue and there are areas roped off for swimming. Infrequent police patrols putter by on Quad motorcycles. We noticed that the beach permits topless bathing, and quite a few women were taking advantage of this freedom. Wendy estimated that approximately 15% of the women were topless, and of those 25% were worth “a look”.
As I mentioned, 4-6pm is the time during which it is hardest to find food on the resort — but not impossible, as we were to come to find out. During those hours, the staff is busily scurrying around getting the tables set and preparations made for the evening’s meals. We even noticed a server’s meeting at one of the restaurants.
We wandered around a bit, just taking it all in. Just after 6:00, we got dressed (gentlemen are asked to wear long pants to dinner) and headed to LA BRISA restaurant — the seafood restaurant of the resort — for an early dinner.
When we got to the restaurant, we wondered if it was indeed open — we were the only customers in the place for the first 30 minutes of our meal! Our seats were overlooking the wonderful beach and ocean with a nice breeze making it very comfortable. We dined on small butterflied shrimp, lobster (when I complimented the waitress on the lobster, she asked if I wanted another!), shrimp & crab fettucini in a spicy red sauce, cerviche, and lobster bisque (it was more like lobster gumbo, but was very good). Fresh bread & butter that melted in its foil as soon as it was served and El Presidentes rounded out the meal. For dessert we had an excellent plumberry flan with coconut ice cream and a slice of almond cake.
Once we got back to the room, we hit the sack — it had been a long day of travel, and the bed felt great. We fell asleep during STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION, which airs down there at the oh-so-late hour of 8:00pm.