a peek inside the fishbowl

21 Apr, 2015

A family holiday to Punta Cana, part one (a bit about the destination)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

I’ve had a pretty lousy week overall, laid up with a cold that’s resulted in a deep hacking cough that’s kept me up every night this past week. This and the weather, well, let’s just say that I’m feeling like a bit of a zombie right now. I am trying to focus on the good things. It’s raining, yes, but the grass is greening up and the trees are thick with buds. It sounds like the birds are having a pretty good time too. Workwise, I may have a couple of new/interesting projects in the works, but it’s too early to tell. I’m ALSO really looking forward to speaking at the BConnected Conference coming up May 2 & 3! I’ve been watching the schedule take shape over the past few months and I have to say, if you’re in the social media space, you’ll definitely find something of value here.

I was talking to someone the other day about our recent family travel adventure and realized I hadn’t yet taken the time to write about it here. Not only was it a really memorable holiday, but we learned a few things along the way. It’s funny. Every time I write about one of our vacations I find myself thinking about what makes a perfect holiday. It’s different for everyone, and it’s taken me years to figure out what makes me happy, but it comes down to this: I like to balance relaxation and great food in a beautiful setting, with a good dollop of adventure and learning. I want to turn off my brain, recharge my batteries, and also make some great memories. I got all of this in Punta Cana.

We booked this holiday through Air Canada Vacations way back on Black Friday and as it turns out (because Mark was tracking it) we got the best possible deal. Woot! But I need to backtrack for a moment to say that Mark and I agonized over our choice of destination long beforehand. We poured over everything we could get our hands on before we arrived at this one. We’ve been to the Dominican Republic before, almost exactly five years ago. I wanted to visit a different country just so I can say I visited a different country but that argument died in the water as we did our research. The Majestic Elegance had great reviews, was right on the beach, and they had swim out (SWIM OUT) rooms that would fulfil our deep-seated vacation fantasies. Let me skip ahead a moment and show you the view from our room:

Our view from the swim out rooms at the Majestic Elegance

Little did we know at that time of booking (a) we were getting a great deal and (b) it was going to be the longest and coldest Ottawa winter in recent memory. Let’s just say we were high-fiving ourselves ALL WINTER LONG.

There is a long stretch of resorts along this particular strip of beach in Punta Cana. It’s easy to understand why. It’s gorgeous here. And for many people, all-inclusives have all the elements of a great holiday: a chance to treat yourself, in a place with a great view and perfect weather.

It was a direct flight from Ottawa (yay!) and after we landed, a reasonable bus ride from the airport in Punta Cana. (It was about an hour and included a handful of stops at other resorts along the way.) I have a whole other story about how our family was split up on the plane and there were issues on the way there and back, but that is neither here nor there. It worked out in the end but it was a bit of a hassle. Sigh.

Part of the reason we chose this particular report was that it had a lot of glowing reviews on Trip Advisor. I should mention that I take review sites with a big grain of salt. Sidebar: I was just reading someone’s review and they wrote, as a negative aspect of this resort, that the cable TV package doesn’t carry any Canadian channels. (!?!) I don’t trust online reviews entirely but I think overall they provide a good measure of a place and also provide some important information.

As I mentioned, the other reason we booked the Majestic Elegance was the promise of the swim out rooms. The concept really appealed to me and I knew the girls would love it. It’s a dream come true! Imagine opening the sliding doors, taking a few steps, and jumping into a gorgeous pool, dotted with islands of green and tall palms. And if you’re up for it, you can take a few extra strokes and order a drink from the swim up bar. (We did this. A lot.)

The down side of the swim out rooms was that there’s no way of securing the room from that side, so you shouldn’t really swim away or out of sight. Although these rooms aren’t easily accessible by the general public, it is possible for people to walk right by the room, including staff members. We had several neighbours and groundskeepers walk right by our back door, and at one point our next door neighbour’s wooden lounge chair was being refinished. (I am still not sure why they didn’t cart it away to do it elsewhere.) Here’s a sunset view looking in the other direction:

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We had lots of people suggest we use the in-room safe, and we did, but I think this is good advice no matter where you travel.

The accommodations at Majestic Elegance did not disappoint. We had originally hoped they could put us all in the same room but what we actually ended up with was better: a second room for our teenagers. I think maybe it’s because there aren’t many rooms that sleep four. Anyway, we were told it’d be adjoining but their room was actually two doors down from ours. We didn’t see the point of complaining so Mark and I took one room, and the girls had their own. (I would travel this way all of the time if I could. It was fantastic.) On the whole, the rooms were pretty good. They were clean and comfortable. Just before we left Ottawa I took another scroll through the Trip Advisor reviews and decided to pack my pillow. This turned out to be a smart move on my part, as I am picky about my pillows. I slept like a baby every night and the pillow was a big part of that. Mark was not so fortunate.

The interesting thing about this resort is that it’s big, but not so sprawling that you feel like you’re hiking for miles every day. The buildings are not as as tall and monolithic as many other resorts out there. They’re only 3 or 4 storeys high here, which makes it a more human scale and comfortable on the eye. Here’s a view of one of the inner courtyards:

Inner courtyard at the Majestic Elegance

The grounds are lush and immaculate, with a constant stream of gardeners and staffers keeping it beautiful. The living quarters are all in the same general area, many of them connected by a series of sparkling pools. It’s quick walk to the beach. And given the hundreds of people who are staying here, I never felt like I was crowded or jostled. There were no lines, and no frustration or feeling like you’re just part of the anonymous herd. I suppose it comes down to the large space that these hundreds have to spread out, and a really efficient system of feeding people.

We were there for seven days, and our biggest decisions every day were (1) where should we eat and (2) should we hang out at the beach or the pool. In a word, it was heavenly.

I feel like the food and the beach deserve a whole other post. As does a couple of excursions we went on. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime you can check out my growing set of photos right here. I’m still adding to them as I offload them from all of our respective devices. :)


5 Responses to "A family holiday to Punta Cana, part one (a bit about the destination)"

1 | Javamom

April 22nd, 2015 at 11:46 am

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I love these kinds of posts, mostly because to me they mean more than a general online review does. Although we have not met in person I feel, through your blog, that I have gotten to know you somewhat and find that our lines of thinking are similar, which would mean to me that your opinions about things would probably be similar to mine.

With that said, food was my next thought…vacation means not cooking, even if you like cooking, but eating has to be a pleasure too for the vacation to be considered successful! I’m sure you see it the same way…

Looking forward to the next post.

2 | andrea tomkins

April 23rd, 2015 at 9:35 am

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Thanks Javamom! You are one of the reasons I keep writing. :) And holidays are all about the food for me, exactly for the reasons you mentioned. Stay tuned!

3 | binkee

April 23rd, 2015 at 4:15 pm

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I like Canadian seasons. I skate in the winter and eat local strawberries in the summer.

4 | andrea tomkins

April 26th, 2015 at 8:26 am

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I do too binkee! But it sure is nice to get away from it every once in awhile. :)

5 | Holiday to Punta Cana, part two. The food! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 26th, 2015 at 9:35 am

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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