I recently travelled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to attend a friend’s destination wedding and take a short vacation. My flight in business class on United Airlines was rather nice. The seats were comfortable and the service was excellent. Glad I was able to spend the money for once to upgrade my seat! Once I landed, I disembarked the plane on the tarmac and walked to the terminal.

Once inside the terminal I was swarmed by a bunch of men who were luggage handlers who offered to carry my bags. I really didn’t need any help rolling my bags out to the tour bus, so I politely declined. Luckily my host had forewarned me about this and told me to say “No Quiero” or “No Tengo”. I was able to get my bags and make my way to the Prieto Tours booth. They directed me to their tour bus that was waiting to take me to my destination. I was finally on my way to the Reserve at The Paradisus Palma Real resort. The bus ride took 30 minutes.

When I arrived at the resort the bellman retrieved my luggage and directed me to the main lobby. I was greeted by a number of very friendly people who helped me register. They gave me a wristband that I had to wear during my stay so the hotel staff could identify me as a guest. I then made my way to the bar to get a cocktail. It was at this time that my traveling companion noticed that there were ashtrays on the bar and on all of the tables in front and behind us. She is violently allergic to cigarette smoke and suffers from serious health problems when she encounters smoke. Not sure how there could have been any confusion when she explained this fact to the travel agent and was assured that she would not have a problem with smoking at this resort. Needless to say, from this moment forward for her this trip would turn out to be a disaster. She spent most of the week in the room watching the Olympics.

One of the positives of this vacation was that the resort was beautiful. Very tropical. Very peaceful. Everything was perfectly manicured and immaculate. Simply gorgeous. The pool was beautiful, the white sand beaches were beautiful. The rooms were also really nice…very contemporary decor with dark wood finishes and and lots of space. My suite was like a large studio apartment, with a jacuzzi tub on the balcony.

One of the HUGE NEGATIVES of this vacation, however, in additional to the cigarette smoke issue, was the food. Now I want you to know The Reserve at The Paradisus Palma Real is a 5 star resort. I would give the food only 1 star, and that is being generous because I found some of the breakfast food to be decent. I was deeply disappointed by the food. With the number of restaurants that they have resort wide and the various nationalities of food they represent, I thought that this trip would present a unique culinary experience. Needless to say, I was wrong.

Room service was the worst. I ordered breakfast in my room my first morning there…I ordered French toast and an order of pancakes. They brought the wrong order. What they sent was over cooked scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and hash brown squares…yes, the frozen kind. The food was cold and bland. Decided to give it another try and order lunch late that afternoon. I ordered the fish of the day with mashed potatoes…I got some kind of fish with a white sauce that was lumpy and red rice. My travel companion order a steak sandwich. Now how do you mess up a simple steak sandwich? Well, you mess it up by serving small pieces of steak, topped with big unmelted slices of american cheese, lettuce and tomato on a gigantic, very hard toasted roll. This meal was just not edible. Needless to say we called room service again and order burgers…cause you can’t mess up a burger…RIGHT? What we got was a small, flavorless, dry burger on a bun that was three times a big as the burger. The french fries were also cold.

All inclusive resorts are only a good thing if the food is good. However, they become a nightmare if everywhere you turn the food is bad because you are stuck and don’t have many options. This was definitely a nightmare, as the rest of the week was a bust in terms of food. Wednesday evening, we ventured out for dinner to Bana Bistro at the Paradisus Palma del Real. This is their Asian fusion restaurant. Well, it may be considered to be Asian fusion to some but not me. I started out with the spicy chicken wings (they looked half cooked). My entree was seafood in red curry. My traveling companion ordered thai spring rolls and lemon chicken as her entree. Everything was salty. The food tasted like it was frozen food heated up in a microwave. For all the MONEY that I spent on this trip I was beginning to feel like the joke was on me.

On Thursday, my traveling partner spent the day at the YHI Spa. The YHI Spa at the Paridisus Reserve is a beautiful oasis which allowed her to escape the disappointment of the cigarette smoke and the bad food and relax. They have a sign hanging on their wall in their waiting are that says “We Respect Silence”. It was quiet, peaceful, beautiful, everything that she expected and more. The place is surrounded by water and the sound of water. Once you enter, you feel like you have been transported to a completely different island. The people who work there were extremely nice. The treatments that she received – the Eneryhi mani and pedi and the Abhyanga massage – were some of the best that she has had anywhere. She highly recommends the spa, which was clearly the highlight of her trip.

Spa 2

Spa 1

Spa 3

Spa 4

Because I am more of an action oriented vacation person, I decided to do a half day tour around the city of Higuey and soak up the country side. I visited a cigar museum and witnessed the fine art of cigar rolling. My tour ventured in the city and visited two churches, several municipalities and public parks.

On my way back to the hotel I asked my the tour bus driver to PLEASE take me to get some real Dominican food. He laughed, as it is no secret to the locals that the hotel food is lacking. He took me to this little joint by the side of the road in the middle of town where I finally got my grub on. I had rice and beans with steak and potato salad. Delicious. I brought some back to the hotel for my traveling companion, who also got her grub on.

Thursday evening we went to Aqua restaurant at The Reserve. Beautifully decorated, great service, but the food was crap. We started with a tomato and mozzarella salad…yes, you can screw this up! I ordered skirt steak with crusted potatoes. I got rubber steak and crusted something. My partner ordered tenderloin with mashed potatoes. She is still trying figure out what they served her. Let me mention here that you know you are having a bad experience when you can’t even drown your sorrows. Meaning, I could not even get my drink on because the drinks were that bad. The mixed drinks at the bars around the resort were the worst I have ever had. Too sweet. Cheap well booze. There was only one beer served at the resort – Presidente, which I am sorry, is not that good. I have never been anywhere that only serves only one kind of beer. When you walk into Aqua they bait and switch you by having you pass a table with champagne on it. Then when you order a glass of champagne you get some spumanti swill. The real champagne costs you extra. The prices were OUTRAGEOUS. What a nightmare.

Friday we left our room at 7:00am to try to beat the smokers to the breakfast and pool area. Later I went to the beach to soak up some rays while my traveling companion headed back to the SPA for a facial and foot reflexology. I visited the Prieto Tours booth and asked Jullian, the tour representative, if he could take me somewhere to get some more Dominican food. He laughed, because again the locals know that the food is horrible. He hooked me up with a co-worker who drove me and my traveling companion into town to his favorite spot. While she was a little unnerved about getting into the car with a strange man in a foreign country to chase some food, I am happy to report that we made it back safely and once again got our grub on.

Saturday was our last day and I had breakfast at the Gabi Grill buffet. Most of the food was luke warm, near cold, and the only thing hot was the freshly prepared scrambled eggs. I could have ordered an omelet but you still got scrambled eggs with stuff in it. I went to the beach and my traveling partner stayed in to get some rest. We connected at noon and headed out to lunch. The Gabi Grill actually served Dominican food that day. It was very good. We sat in the lounge area near the front desk where there is no smoking allowed. We drank espresso and caught up on emails and so on.

We made reservations for Vento restaurant a Middle Eastern joint. Once we arrived we were introduced to our waiter Raphael and he served us an assortment of breads with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and grated parmesan cheese. This was actually tasty, to say the least. We started with Grilled Lamb Koft with yogurt and cucumber tzatziki and both ordered morrorcan squash soup with roasted almonds, Greek salad wrapped in cucumber. I ordered the Veal Shank Ossobuco for my entree. My traveling partner had Pasta penne…she played it safe. To our surprise we both enjoyed our food!

Since it was our last night in the DR we thought we would do the late night buffet. We went back to the Paradisus Palma del Real around midnight to have a late night tasting. Naos had a buffet style set up. They offered salads, chicken thighs, stuffed potatoes, mashed squash, seafood in cream sauce, fish in grape sauce, fresh fruit and drinks. I am not sorry to say this, but it all sucked!

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