I’ll put my hand up and admit I’m not normally a resort holiday kinda person. All that relaxing by the pool and worry-free dining? It isn’t really my thing. I prefer my overseas adventures to be a bit more challenging! But sometimes you really do need a proper break from all the stresses of life and after my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I’m starting to see why resorts are so popular.
I was lucky enough to spend a week at Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic this April and it really is picture postcard perfection. Palm trees sprouting out from white sandy beaches, with a calm, clear sea sparkling nearby. It’s an adults-only oasis with four of its own restaurants, a private beach, a pool with a swim-up bar plus another large ‘lazy-river’ style pool, complete with hammocks. Sounds pretty dreamy right? In addition to this, the neighbouring Now Larimar resort is also available for all Secrets guests to use, adding a further four restaurants, a casino, nightclub and bowling alley to your options. As it wasn’t school holidays during my stay, I didn’t really notice that many children at the other resort, but this is perhaps different at other times.
My trip was an easy 8 hour flight from London Gatwick to Punta Cana airport with British Airways, who currently fly to the Caribbean destination twice a week. To be honest, I wasn’t hugely impressed by BA’s service. The plane was definitely one of their more ancient aircraft, which was starting to look pretty tatty and had a vintage entertainment system that needed rebooting multiple times at the start of both flights. BA also apparently don’t offer any snacks for guests for flights under nine hours which made for a pretty hungry five hour break between served meals. I really did expect a little more from them but it was a welcome relief to be able to fly direct rather than stop-over via the USA.
Upon arrival at the resort, I was warmly welcomed which really set the tone for the rest of the trip. All the staff at Secrets were exceptionally friendly and attentive, which was one of my favourite parts of my stay. My luggage was quickly deposited in my room, leaving me to relax after my journey. The rooms are typical of beach hotels: cool tiled floors instead of carpets, breezy air-conditioned rooms with large balconies complete with your very own jacuzzi. My double bed was huge and the room equally spacious. Whilst Secrets is currently rolling out inclusive WiFI as part of the package across all of its resorts, it isn’t yet available at this location, meaning a very costly additional purchase. Personally, I thought the absence of the internet made the stay more relaxing but free WiFi is pretty standard these days.
Speaking of inclusive, that’s what your package is here: all-inclusive. You pay for all your food and drinks up front so that every guest has access to everything. No pesky wrist bands or trying to remember what you can and can’t have at certain times. This was really great, especially considering you spend basically all your time at the resort. The included booze was quite watered down but as you spend most of your time lying in the sun, this wasn’t always a terrible idea. Plus it definitely was possible to ‘hack the system’ if you wanted your drinks stronger: at the beach bar I’d ask for a double shot in my drink later in the afternoon and at dinner I’d ask for another shot on the side with my cocktail. Plus you could always request the top-shelf alcohol brand instead of the house option at no extra charge. What this meant was I wasn’t ever really drunk all holiday but the option was always there if I wanted it, because to be fair I’d already paid for it.
Food wise, I had pretty low expectations after a previous trip to a resort. Being gluten-intolerant with a vegetarian husband, I’m always keenly aware that we make a pretty challenging duo to cater for. I asked the concierge upon my arrival about gluten-free dining and was presented with a card to show any restaurant staff whenever I wanted to ask for options. My husband was told he wouldn’t need one as vegetarian options were always available. Sadly, this actually wasn’t the case for him. Vegetarian options in the buffet restaurant tended to just be side dishes (vegetable and salads) with no decent mains. This is something you can put up with for a day or two but when you’re staying for a week (and you’ve paid in advance) it makes for some pretty meagre meals. In terms of gluten-free options, it was great in the buffet restaurant that they marked some menu items with a coeliac symbol, but this seemed to be pretty random with items only being marked some of the time, whilst dishes that were surely gluten-free being not labeled other times. Still, I always found something to eat and was usually left more satisfied with my meals than my husband. Breakfast is always a bit of a challenge for gluten-free diners, but here you can have omelets and smoothies made fresh for you each morning, plus eggs, salmon and fresh fruit from the buffet. There was even some polenta cake available for the first couple of days. At the non-buffet restaurants, I tried a number of options at the adjoining resort where all menus had a clearly marked gluten-free and vegetarian option which was a welcome relief! It made picking where to eat so much easier for us both and these restaurants were also beautifully fitted out to match the cuisine style, be it Mexican, French, Asian-fusion or grill.
To work off all this eating and drinking, I was surprised at what an active holiday I had! You can lay on the beach all day if you fancy but I was really pleased to discover that the kayaking, snorkeling, beach volleyball and windsurfing equipment was all free to on the beach. I was also treated to a parasailing experience by lovely mum which proved to be quite an experience! There are lots of sporty and cultural excursions that you can book via the resort’s official tour operators Amstar or through the other companies that work from the beach. None of them are cheap, with our parasailing experience being the cheapest at about US$30-40 each. There is also, as mentioned above, a bowling alley at the resort, situated in the sports bar of the adjoining resort. A game costs US$10 and it was hardly ever in use, mainly because it was constantly breaking down, but I still had fun there!
I was a little confused before I arrived about what currency to bring. Obviously the national currency is Dominican Pesos, but most of the prices for activities were listed in US dollars. If you’re staying in the resort and not venturing elsewhere, I recommend just taking US dollars. I took Pesos on this trip and whilst it wasn’t really a hassle to get prices converted, dollars were the standard. I also went offsite to the Hard Rock Cafe Casino to one evening, which was definitely worth venturing out to, and the currency used there was also dollars.
Overall, I had a very relaxing stay at the resort. I couldn’t believe how beautiful this part of the world is and it made me eager to go and check out the rest of the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean too! Thanks to Secrets Royal Beach for a wonderful trip.