You've worked hard, saved your money and now you deserve the best vacation ever. Whether you are traveling to Punta Cana for 3 days or 2 weeks, your time is important to you so I have put together some tips to make the most of your vacation time.
Throw away your watch
You are going to be on Dominican time which runs anwhere from 1/2 hour to 2 hours behind the rest of the world. Learn to be patient, enjoy the weather and your relaxation time and don't fret because it took 2 hours for the maid to bring your towels. Most Dominicans do not have the sense of urgency in their day that we are acuustomed to and think nothing about arriving late. When they say they will do something right away, automatically add on a couple of hours in your head so you are prepared.
Arrange private transportation
How much did you spend on your vacation? Yes it may include complimentary transportation to your resort, but why would you want to wait in a bus for all the other passangers, then arrive at your resort where you have to stand in line with all of the other people on your bus. Why not pay out $50 or so for a taxi and be delivered straight to your lobby, where you can get your room ( if it is ready) and be sitting by the beach enjoying the sun when the rest of the passengers on your plane arrive.
Make time for rest, play and learning
Take some time to to do nothing and unwind, read a book, laze in the sun, take naps. We all need to have our batteries recharged and your vacation time is a perfect time to do that. But if you are going to sleep your whole trip then you might as well save your money and stay home. Try some different experiences like scuba diving, dance the bachata or para sailing. Get away from your resort and learn more about the wonderful culture and and view the beautiful scenery, you can even combine that with another activity like horseback riding or zip lining. Taste some of the local cuisine, the food of the Dominican Republic is varied and dates back to the recipes of the Taino Indians, Spanish and African influences.
Do your research for activities
Check out trip advisor for the top sites to visit and activities in Punta Cana, Bavaro and the surround areas. Reviews by real people will give you a look at which places and which tours are going to interest you the most. Always keep in mind that everyone has different opinions but you can get a great sense overall on how the excursion will be. By waiting until you arrive at your resort you are depending then on your representative to sell you the tour he makes the most commission from, rather than you telling him which tour you would like to receive.
Eat your meals off the peak times
Head out early to the breakfast buffet, late to the lunch and dinner buffets. By choosing the less busy times, you will get through the buffet lines quicker and receive better service at your table for a more enjoyable meal. Take time to interact with your wait staff, they are usually extremely friendly and can make your dining experience more pleasurable.
Limit your sun exposure
Don't think you are imune to the stronger rays of the Caribbean sun. Use your sun screen and head for the shade after a reasonable time. Don't forget some of those little thought of areas like your feet and armpits when applying your sunscreen. There is nothing worse than suffering with a sunburn on your vacation. The oceans reflectiveness can increase the UV intensity to 50% so reapply often and be smart, cover up or get out of the sun.
Watch what you drink
All inclusive means all you can eat and drink but use your common sense. When you factor in the heat with all of the alchol it can lead to one nasty hangover. A little known fact as well is that the coconut drinks you are downing are a natural laxative so if you have too many you could find yourself with a nasty bit of diarrhea. Limit your intake so you don't loose time on your vacation feeling horrible.
Remeber you are in a developing country
The Dominican Republic is not like crossing the border from the United States to Canada or vice versa where you can't tell that you have changed countries. There is more poverty there, different standards and as well a different culture. Don't expect all of the staff to speak fluent english, your key personal such as front desk and wait staff will speak english but the majority of workers do not. Expect your room to smell musty, you are next to an ocean everything will be damp. Outside of the resort, expect people to try and sell you things at inflated prices or to beg money from you. It only takes one person a day to give in and overpay or give money and they have their weeks wages, of course they are going to try! If you are firm in your responses, they will leave you alone and try to find someone they know they can have success with. Do your part to help keep their country clean but remember, our countries programs of education and awareness to make people recognize the need to not throw trash at the side of the roads started in the 60's and 70's. The Dominican Republic has only started this education process.
_Okay so you've finally arrived at the vacation of your dreams. Now all you have to do is get out of the airplane and get to the resort so you can start enjoying all that sun. Luckily, Punta Cana airport is not that large so its easy to maneuver your way through it.
When you arrive, you will be off-loaded directly either into the terminal or on to the tarmac. If to the tamac, most times they will bring a stairway to both the front and the rear sections of the plane to make it go a little quicker. You'll step out of the plane and immediately enjoy the warmth and the sun on your face. Once a fair amount of people have deplaned, one to the airport workers will lead you over to immigration.
On the plane your stewardesses will have given you forms to fill out for the immigration process. Some airlines and tour companies will also provide you with a tourist card. Check with your airline if it is supplied otherwise you will need to purchase one when you arrive at the airport or you can purchase one on-line directly through the Dominican Republic Government website for $10 US
As you arrive at immigration, if you have a tourist card go to the line that says Residents where you will hand over your tourist card if you have one, otherwise go to the other line and purchase one if you don't. A customs officer will stamp your passport and take one of your forms and then you're off to collect your luggage. There are television screens that will direct you to the correct area for your baggage. There are many porters available to help you with your luggage for a small tip and they will also help you find where to go with your tour company or to get a taxi.
You will then pass through a final check where you will hand over your second form that you received on the plane. These forms are also available as you head through customs. It is possible they will do a search of your luggage at this point but if so it is usually very quick. We frequently bring a large number of suitcases with us so we get searched quite often but I've always found the customs officers to be very friendly and polite - even if you don't speak Spanish!
So now you're finally through the airport and the taxi and tour companies are waiting directly outside with signs. If traveling with a tour company they will take care of everything for you from here. They will get you loaded into your bus and take you directly to your resort for check in. If traveling by taxi, an English speaking representative will discuss with you where you are going and give you the cost. They are pretty much standard rates from the airport to each hotel depending on the distance and non-negotiable. It can cost you anywhere from $20 for the close resorts to $80 for resorts that are further away.
All that's left to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery on your way to the hotel!
Next post - What to Expect from your Resort.
Kathy Buttigieg is the President of HorsePlay Punta Cana and HorsePlay Niagara. A former competitor and instructor she now devotes herself full time to managing HorsePlay Tours.