Punta Cana vacation at the Paradisus Palma Real, a beautiful beach and breath of fresh air
Taking a vacation break from the Coronavirus Pandemic while ensuring that you protect yourself. We did that at the Grand Reserve Paradisus Palma Real hotel in Punta Cana, a 10-day trip that was wonderful. You will enjoy it, too
By Ray Hanania
No one ever expected the Coronavirus pandemic to be so disruptive despite all the reminders of how traumatic the Spanish Flu, which actually began in America in Haskell County, Kansas, was during the beginning of the 20th Century at the start of World War I.
Maybe because the world was focused on World War I everyone seemed less concerned with the Spanish Flu, the deadly H1N1 strain of the influenza virus.
We’ve been dealing with COVID-19 and its restrictions now for more than 20 months. It has changed the way we live. One of the essential aspects of enjoying life is to go on vacation, something that has been severely restricted by the pandemic.
But as the pandemic has eased, I decided to take an overseas vacation because with all of the unanswered questions and risks, the research suggested that you could enjoy a good vacation and not become a COVID victim.
DEALING WITH COVID
In looking at vacation resorts, I wanted to learn most about how the resort dealt with coronavirus. One of the top choices I found was in Punta Cana, the Grand Reserve Paradisus Palma Real, a resort on the Bavaro coast of the Dominican Republic.
My wife, son and I spent 10 days there and it was the best experience we had ever had.
The downside of the pandemic is that you have to wear a face mask constantly, although honestly face mask management can be very beneficial to your health, pandemic or not. We wore the face mask in the limousine to and from the airport, at the airport at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Punta Cana International Airport, too. We wore it in the Apple Vacation transport run by Amisted from the airport to the Paradisus Hotel.
But when we arrived at the Paradisus, with it’s big beautiful beaches and spacious hotel grounds, we were able to remove the face masks when we were by ourselves. In our room enjoying the beautiful views from the veranda. Walking in areas where there were no crowds. In restaurants when we were eating, after we entered and ordered. And, we took it off when we were on the beach or at the poolside and in the waters.
The face mask won’t destroy your vacation enjoyment and can be easily managed.
Tourists are required to have their vaccinations before they can board the plane. And before they can return, the United States requires that you take a COVID antigen test (a swab of your nostrils). The bad news is, if you are positive, you will be required to quarantine for up to 14 days. The not so bad news is if you are quarantined, the Dominican Republic will put you up free of charge in a room, provide food daily, Internet access and television on the resort. But you won’t be able to leave the room.
The big fear I had was we would have to pay thousands of dollars in the event that we tested positive. Fortunately, during our 10 days, we tested negative and had no problems. The number of people who test positive is low, the nurse told me. Mostly people from other countries with less focused or concerned about COVID, apparently.
With COVID dealt with, we enjoyed our vacation to the fullest. And the Paradisus Hotel did everything possible to make that experience enjoyable.
HOTEL LAYOUT AND AMENITIES
The Paradisus has several hotels in its “vacation campus” all owned by Melia, a prominent vacation corporation. Which one you stay at depends on what room you book. They have the Melia Punta Cana Beach. The Melia Caribe Beach. The Paradisus Palma Real. And, the Paradisus Grand Cana.
The Paradisus Grand Cana is very popular because the rooms open up into a large pool and you can swim out of your room into the waters. The rooms, though, are farther from the beachfront itself.
Residents at the Melia Punta Cana and Caribe Beaches also have rooms further from the beach front.
The Paradisus offers the Ocean Front View luxury suite which is only a few hundred dollars more. We chose that because the rooms were right on the beach. The Palma Real also offers a private adult pool which is pretty sizeable and has its own outdoor bar. It also offers a private reception area and a private dining hall so you don’t run into the majority of the tourists, most of whom are not coming from the U.S. but from Central America, Mexico, South America, and Europe.
There were hand sanitizer stations everywhere where you walked through the resort, so you could do everything and find some comfort and sanitizing afterwards.
Every room is deep sanitized after a family leaves the room and the door is marked with a seal that is broken only when you arrive to enter.
The resort is all-inclusive, which means you eat and drink everything for free. It has several specialty restaurants most offering just dinner but some offering lunch. They are Brisas (Asian, sushi and seafood), Tokimeku and Mizo restaurants (Hibachi and Sushi), Olio (Italian), Sal Steak Café (steaks and traditional meats), and Vento (Mediterranean). The Palazzo (Italian) restaurant is only for the “Reserve” guests and overlooks the hotel’s expansively large and main swimming pool with swim up bar.
There is also the massive Naos buffet dining room which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner pretty much all day and night. The buffet features 8 different food sections including two omelet chefs, meat grills, vegetables, fruit section, bread and pastry and sweet section, and more.
Although all the food is free, there was one exception, at the Sal Steak Café which offered a Tomahawk Steak, and higher end cuts for an extra charge.
You are required to wear a face mask in the hotel lobby areas, and when entering any restaurant. You are required to wear it when you order but can take it off when you eat. The dining staff doesn’t bother you but are ready to help if you need something.
The Paradisus also offers free Internet that is pretty strong and consistent. I was able to get the Internet while on the beach, and to host my weekly radio show remotely from a nice quiet area of the huge main lobby which is more like a large Roman colosseum with beautiful fountains and domed cupolas.
There is also a cigar store, a convenience store with some souvenirs and snacks, and large, clean bathrooms everywhere you walk.
The Paradisus also has its own 27-hole Golf Course, the Cocotal Melia which you can play for free, although you need to rent golf clubs, cart and purchase golf balls. But while on the course, they bring out drinks and food wherever you are at. The course is beautiful. We played 18 holes among the palm trees and soft grass and putting greens. The Cocotal Golf Course was an old coconut plantation and each of the three nine hole courses are named after local flora: Hibiscus, Bougainvillea and Bejamina (ficus). The course is adorned by more than 50 different species of trees.
OCEAN AND BEACH FRONT
Of course, you don’t come to a hotel just for the food. The Bavaro Beach is beautiful and the Paradisus Palma Real sits on one of the best sections of the beach.
The Ocean Front Suites are right on the large beach. Your window opens up into a beautiful view of the cabanas, sand and waters. It is one, three-story building facing the water with about two dozen suites that are long and include a large toiletry area, shower and jacuzzi. A large bedroom area with closet, large bed, and a relaxation area with a foldout coach. It has a large television. There was more than enough room.
The view is a room-wide window and sliding door that open into a nice veranda where you can relax and enjoy the view before starting the day. The verandas are separated by a tall wall so you have privacy.
The sand is powdery and white. It is very clean, and any litter left by irresponsible tourists are quickly picked up by staff that comb the beach areas regularly.
The beach is expansive and not narrow. It’s about 200 yards from the room to the water.
The Bavaro Beach is several miles long and fronted by many hotels. The Paradisus portion is very large and you can walk it forever.
Like all Caribbean beach resorts, seaweed has become a bigger problem than in the past. A special species of seaweed called sargassum is wreaking havoc throughout the Caribbean, a gold colored seaweed that floats on top of the water and it is slowly killing many reefs, causing them to blanche or turn white.
Paradisus has installed a large barrier that blocks most of the seaweed from coming in and also serves as a divider that separates the swimming area from the boats. The barrier is far out there so you rarely get close. There is a lot of area of water to swim in and enjoy. The waters are a clear teal green that darken as the water’s depth increases.
The horizon is filled with parasailing, banana boat rides, a pirate party and drinking and eating ship. There are many small to large catamarans and boats taking tourists out to snorkel and party. Many of the boats even have water slides and go out to a shallow water area out to sea not too far away where dozens of boats moor and tourists swim and drink in the water.
Still, seaweed makes it to the beach but the Paradisus has crews that rake the beaches and cart the seaweed away. And they have a beach harvester that comes out very early to clean up the overnight waves.
Our private beach area offered comfortable and clean cabanas. The main beach area has some cabanas and lounge chairs under beautiful canopies so it really doesn’t matter where you are on this beautiful Paradisus beach.
In the main beach area, a not too far walk from where we were, a chef grilled fresh burgers and hotdogs on the beach every day for lunch and dinner.
Further down the beach the Paradisus offers free water amenities including kayaks, water boards and, they book parasailing and excursions, too.
There are several pools, one private pool on the south end by the Ocean Front suites. A main pool in the center of the hotel between the beach and the entrance way. And there is another pool for the Melia guests further south of us who are connected to the hotel’s Melia casino. That part of the resort requires riding a free, large golf-cart transport that seats a lot of people from the front to the beach. There’s a lot of walking there.
STAFF AND CONCIERGE SERVICE
Another great aspect of the vacation was the assignment of a concierge to guests staying in the ocean front suites.
Our concierge was Wily Mercado. He greeted us when we arrived.
While there, Mr. Mercado used WhatsApp to provide us every morning with a list of the day’s activities and events. He also arranged every dinner reservation, so we didn’t have to rush to book the reservations on our first day at the hotel as you have to do at other resorts. Those restaurants book up fast, but Mr. Mercado was able to get us in every night even at the last minute.
He also booked our excursions. We booked golf, a private snorkling cruise and a private deep sea fishing trip. I wanted to avoid the large crowds. We also brought our own snorkling air tubes and masks.
He also helped us with the travel requirements, booking the free COVID antigen testing for us that every tourist is required to take to return to the United States. The test has to be done within 72 hours before leaving. It is conducted by a medical team provided by the Paradisus for free in one of the rooms at the Melia Caribe Beach.
The medical team confirms your status after a 10-15 minute wait and sends you an email with the certified confirmation form which you must display at the airport. They also have you fill out a form at the airport confirming that you are not ill and you have taken the COVID vaccinations that has to be turned in at airport check-in.
The vacation was itself a relief from the 20 months of COVID restrictions, and a wonderful time. But Mr. Mercado made it even better. His help allowed us to focus on enjoying the hotel, restaurants and the beach.
We also had a beach concierge, Pedro, who every morning reserved a cabana by the private pool and a cabana on the beach. He was very friendly, not intrusive and very helpful. We never had to get our own towels. He did it all.
Normally on a vacation at other hotels, you have to get up at 7 am to put your towels and old book to reserve a preferred cabana or lounge chairs. Then you leave, go to breakfast and hope no one takes your stuff.
I didn’t have to worry about that at all.
Nearby at the private pool was a bar where Wanda the bartender worked with staff to provide a wide selection of drinks. I had non-alcoholic drinks favoring the coconut mix coco-loco, strawberry margaritas and daiquiris.
Wanda also offers her own secret specialty, the Wanda, which tastes phenomenal.
There are many amenities at the Grand Reserve Paradisus Palma Real and if you are looking for the perfect place to vacation with responsible health concerns and a perfect beach, this is the place to stay.
SOME MINOR ISSUES WITH APPLE VACATIONS
Frontier Airlines was the only airline that offered a direct flight. Frontier claims to be ala carte and cheap but it’s not cheap at all. You pay for everything. I mean everything. In the end, you end up paying more for basics than you do with the other airlines.
Apple Vacations has staff wearing blue shirts with flowers that greet you at Punta Cana and transport you for free to the hotel.
The problem is they are understaffed and were never at the hotel when we needed to leave. Mr. Mercado helped us with our reservations through Otium, the on-site hotel excursion company. He also arranged our return to the airport when the Apple Vacation reps failed to show up at the hotel.
Overall, it was a great vacation that I will do again.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. This column was originally published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at email@example.com.)
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