The good news is that travel exists, and if you're able to swing a vacation or two each year, why not migrate to a place where the sun is still shining and the air conditioners are still on full blast?
I recently returned home from a 6-day trip to the Dominican Republic with my boyfriend. A country I had never been before, but always had on my list as a top destination to eat as many sweet plantains as my little heart desired. While I didn't get stuff my ever living face with arguably the greatest food on this planet, I did get to visit one of the most magical resorts that I have ever seen. Let me precede that I have never taken part in an all-inclusive sort of deal before now. That being, an all-inclusive deal where both your food and drinks are included, and everything you want and need is at your beckon call. The type of deal where you'll come home with a 2-week hangover and an extra 10 lbs on your waist. Although not to be confused with your first semester of college.
We discovered The Excellence through a travel agent while inquiring about a trip to Aruba. She informed us that if we were looking for a romantic getaway for two, not only was Punta Cana the way to go, but we'd be making a huge mistake (insert Donald Trump voice) if we chose any other resort besides The Excellence. Now, I know what you're thinking: A) people still use travel agents? or B) people still use travel agents? Apparently they do, however I must say, as old school as it may seem, I have yet to see The Excellence listed anywhere else besides our agents recommendation. It may just be worth bringing this 1996 way of traveling back to life, and stopping into one of your local offices to discover a hidden gem.
Arriving at The Excellence Punta Cana is something of a dream. As your shuttle drives through those wooden gates to paradise, you're immediately greeted with smiles and cheers from every staff member that you pass along the way. "Welcome home, familia", said by the lovely gentleman waiting to open our door and take our bags. Two glasses filled with champagne were handed to us, and we were escorted to the front desk for check-in. Check-in is as smoothed as check-in can be. It's your usual routine of signing papers, showing passports, and hearing an overview of the grounds. You'll also be presented with the option to upgrade to The Excellence Club, which we opted out of at the time, but will likely indulge in next time after hearing from other guests how lovely it is. It's a bit more exclusive in terms of privacy (most rooms in the club have their own pools), as well as access to a self-serve indoor bar equipped with big-screen TV's and top shelf liquor.
There's a few different sections of the resort where the rooms are located. Where the standard rooms are and where The Excellence Club member rooms are. (as well as the honeymoon suites, etc) We were in a junior suite with a garden view, up on the 2nd level of a two-story complex, equipped with a large in-room jacuzzi tub and our own private balcony. Sounds amazing, right? The good news -- that's their standard room. Reason #1 why we didn't feel the need to upgrade, and truly, I don't feel you need to for your first trip there. Experience the standard package first, and then upgrade the next time if you want. Because trust me, there will be a next time.
We didn't arrive at The Excellence until about 4pm, so our first night there was mainly to feel out the grounds, grab a cocktail, head to dinner, and then enjoy the complimentary live show that they put on every night. Which by the way -- are all fantastic. Shoutout to the Michael Jackson show that happens on Tuesday nights. I'm convinced that MJ is still alive and well, establishing a new life in the Dominican Republic as an impersonator of himself. Seriously, the dude is that good.
As mentioned above, our first activity at The Excellence was to marathon drink every beach-y cocktail that we can get our hands on. We stopped at Las Olas, their beachside tiki-hut bar, which had a mixed crowd of people still taking in the sun and fellow pre-gamers like ourselves grabbing a drink before dinner. John, the bartender who ultimately became our go-to guy for most of our trip, made me the best Miami Vice that I have ever tasted in my life. For real. Like, ever. And while it could have just been a stroke of bartending luck, Johns drinks remained consistent for the entire week, even if I was only ordering something as simple as a vodka-soda. We went to Las Olas every single day of our trip, usually multiple times a day, and a big part of that had to do with the amazing staff behind the bar. You can sit there and shoot the shit with these guys for hours, and that's exactly what we did.
*Also try the Electric Lemonade drink to lay by the pool with.
Speaking of alcohol, you will be drunk for the entire duration of your trip, and if drinking isn't your thing, I would recommend checking out a different resort. I say this only because the drinks here are stern, and they have a ton of different Dominican specialties to try. Mamajuana being one of them. Stay away from the Mamajuana. You do not want the Mamajuana. Just kidding, you totally fucking want the Mamajuana. I myself got to enjoy a morning of hugging the porcelain thrown after a few shots of the stuff, but it was well, well worth it. **however it 100% tastes like DayQuil with a tsp of oregano sprinkled into it but just ignore that and embrace the power that is Mamajuana**
For dining, there are a ton of different options to choose from, however I will say I do wish there was a bit more variety in terms of each menu. A lot of it seems like the same sort of thing, just cooked in the form of a different cuisine and served on an ethnically appropriate place depending on which restaurant you were dining at. You have your seafood dishes, your chicken dishes, your meat dishes, and your veggies dishes ~ the usual suspects of most restaurants. We enjoyed Agave the most, and had dinner there 2 out of 7 days of our trip. Spice was good if you're going for a more Asian-Indian style fusion, and pizza served as Las Olas during the day is surprisingly delicious for lunch. The Grill wasn't our favorite, but I think we just ordered wrong. There's a breakfast buffet every morning at Tuscany which offers a wide variety of breakfast & brunch foods. Also, I've gotta note -- room service was fantastic. We surprisingly had some of our best meals just eating outside on the balcony. Sometimes you want to eat your bok choy noodles and chicken fingers w/ fries in your bikini with no judgement, and that's exactly what we did a couple of times. My boyfriend didn't wear the bikini, though.
To dive a bit deep into the aforementioned entertainment, they put on a live show every night at 9:30pm in the theater. The shows range from burlesque, latin dance sequences, magic, Michael Jackson (!!), and a cirque du soliel-type performance. All the shows we attended were fantastic, and the staff and performers truly put their best talents forward. So much as to make you wonder what they're doing performing at a resort, and not on a world stage somewhere. You can tell they really put a lot of effort into making their guests enjoy themselves, and I think that's a very special feat. Especially on the nights that we had torrential rain, we didn't miss being outside one bit.
After the nightly show which lasts for roughly 45 minutes, they put on another live show at the Martini Bar, which is usually a singer performing a wide-range of top hits and oldies. When that show is up, everyone heads to the "disco", which is basically your usual nightclub. We went to the disco twice, and both nights there were only a few people inside, however we made our own fun with the other couples that we became friendly with throughout our trip.
Which by the way, shoutout to Tom & Jane from Scotland. You two are fucking awesome.
Aside from the nighttime entertainment, there are a slew of daily activities that the pool and beach staff hold for anyone and everyone to join. Bingo, beach aerobics, horseshoes, soccer, darts - you name it. They will get you on your feet and you will make a fool of yourself at some point. I learned that I have no idea how to play horseshoes, but I also learned that watching the beach aerobics instead of actually participating is a lot of fun. I still have the warm-up song in my head. A man by the name of LG runs most of the outdoor activities, and he had us rolling with his commentary and overall great personality. Please please please play bingo with this man. It was a blast.
As all good things must come to an end, leaving The Excellence is within one of the top 5 worst days of my life. We truly did not want to leave, and I think I developed clinical depression walking through the lobby one final time and saying goodbye to the staff who ultimately became our friends. If I was only allowed to choose 1 good thing to say about The Excellence, it would be the amazing people that work there and put their hearts into making SURE your vacation is a memorable one. And that's exactly what they did.
Overall, I'm giving The Excellence a 9.5/10. A few things I would change, like more variety in the food, but other than that this place is perfect. Whether you're honeymooning, celebrating an anniversary, or just want to get away with your boyfriend or girlfriend, this is the place to be. If (when*) I return back to Punta Cana, I won't even consider another resort.
I love you, Excellence, and I can't wait to be inside of you again.
Next stop: one of their many other locations.