Our review has information on getting there/going home info at top, then reviews/details about all aspects of the resort and vacation, followed by a comparison to the Riviera Maya Iberostars.
So here's the setup, 2 adults, and 2 boys ages 9 and 13. We were staying in the Iberostar Punta Cana for 11 days. We have stayed at Iberostars in Cozumel and the Riviera Maya before. This was our 4th stay at an Iberostar resort. For this trip we used Apple Vacations so you will see comments below about their part in our vacation.
Please note that we have traveled in Europe and some minor stints in Asia. We, above all else, have reasonable expectations and go well informed so that we do not expect too much or too little. We know the part of the world we are going to and understand that the standard of living is vastly different than that of the United States. Given this, we rate our vacation and give our opinions based on how much we enjoyed our time given fair expectations.
Enough of that, let’s get into the good stuff.
The airport in Punta Cana is small which means we got through fast as well. We did have to buy the Visitor Card for US$10 which is funny, since you buy it at a little counter and walkabout 15 feet to hand it to another guy. This is simply a tourism tax. In any case, after getting our luggage we were approached incessantly by gentleman wanting to take our bags for bucks. This is typical of the region’s airports so not unexpected. They would typically approach us saying something like "Apple" as if we would go "Yes, take our bags!"Just remember that these guys will hit you well before you even see the brightly colored shirts of the Apple representatives which are around the corner. The Apple reps told us what bus to get on and out the door to the parking lot we went to our bus. The buses were air conditioned nicely and we were on our way to the resort fairly quickly.
The ride to the Iberostar Punta Cana/Dominican/Bavaro was about 35 minutes. The country side is what we would expect for the Caribbean, jungle like, lots of trash in some open spots, and a ton of construction.
Check-in at the hotel was fast. After having read a post by someone who says they tipped US$20 to get a better room I tried the same. For the tip we got our room immediately as opposed to waiting an hour (since we arrived at the resort at 12:30PM local time). We also got a room on the 2nd floor which in the U.S. we would call the 3rd floor. It was 2 rooms away from the elevator and right at the pool down at the beach end. I am not sure there really are many different room types beyond garden view and "view of the other property" so I think we got a great room. Through the vacation having a room right by the pool so close to the elevator was very very nice.
On the return trip, please note that once the bus gets to the airport the baggage guys who want your tips grab out all the bags willy-nilly of breakables and try to grab but similar type so that they can stand by a set and get that family’s tip money to carry the bags 50 feet to the terminal check-in counter. You do not need to use them so just be firm and so ‘no’ if you do not.
U.S. dollars accepting as well as most major European currencies. Prices would be written in Peso and sometimes in US$.
The room had 2 double beds and a 2-seater couch that could be used as a bed for a shorter person, such as our younger son. We had thought we read somewhere that the resort had cots but the staff at the front didn’t know what a cot was and in the end they just brought up another double bed that we used for our older son. Since I like softer beds and most resorts in this region of the world do not have soft beds we brought along a queen size foam bed pad that I had cut in half to give me double the foam. This is nice in that I could sleep better, plus, since we leave the pad there at the end of vacation, the luggage space it used coming to the resort is now available for all our souvenirs.
The mini-fridge was colder here than in the other Iberostars we have stayed at. We left a note for the chamber maid to simply fill with water and cola, i.e., no beer or orange/sprite soda. Which took two notes to get clear (I simply sat all the non-desired items outside of the fridge and she understood well enough at that point).
The room has a safe which the in room notes say you have to rent. We went to the front desk to rent it and got the instructions on how to use it for the $2/day. In the end, I don’t think they charged us for it. Simply tip on how to program it: push reset button on inside of door until beeps. Enter 4-6 digit code then press enter button to hear “happy chimes.” Then press combo button, enter code, press enter, and turn knob to lock/open. Hope that helps.
Same as North American power grid. Note: electrical outlets in rooms have the English style round plug support as well as the U.S. flat prong style. The big issue is the receptacles are recessed about 1/4 to 1/2 inch and are not polarized. This meant that our curling iron and DVD player cords which are polarized (one flat prong wider than the other) would not go in. This also meant the Nintendo DS plug would not go in because that adapter uses the "swiveling prongs," similar to Motorola cell phone charger cords, so it cannot handle the recessed access. The solution cost US$1 in the gift shop as they had adapters for flat prong to round which also removed the issue of the recessed receptacle for the Nintendo DS plug.
Being used to the Riviera Maya and Cozumel tipping we figured this would be the same but it was actually quite different. I would say that we say no other people tipping at the bars and restaurants. We would usually leave a couple dollars each night at dinner in the main restaurants. We would also leave a dollar or two for breakfast or lunch if we used the lobby restaurant (which has more service staff). There is no swim up pool bar so no tipping there. I’m sure the staff would like more tips so I don’t know if it is because of the clientele or that it is just not expected as much.
By lobby (opposite end from beach) they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner as buffet. At breakfast they make omelet’s to order. At dinner they have pasta made to order. French fries and pizza were always available at lunch and dinner.
By lobby are the formal restaurants: Japanese, Mexican, and Gourmet. We had reservations but did not go as the menu did not thrill enough of our family. We must have felt less adventuresome this time around.
Beach Grill: outside the south beach restaurant is a huge grill used daily. Seafood/rice bakes, carved beef, chicken, menu would change daily. Food from big grill very popular and would end up with a line at times, especially when it was seafood (crab claws, rock lobsters, mussels, and shrimp). Food served generally from this grill between 1Pm and 1:30PM. I band would typically play around this time and the staff would get a little dance party going as well.
South Beach: the south beach restaurant serves a late smaller breakfast followed by a lunch buffet. We ate lunch here a lot since it was right next to the beach grill and we thought it was better than the lobby restaurant. This restaurant has a grill area which has one side open to beach boardwalk side and inside of restaurant so is nice when you are wet and just in your swim suit. This restaurant doubles as the International restaurant at night which is semi-formal. Literature says long pants but golf shorts would work as well.
North Beach: the north beach restaurant is smaller and serves burgers, fries, chicken, and taco fixings. This restaurant has a tiled central grill area with seating around that which is under a roof. Between seating and the food is sand so it is made for those in swim suits, wet, etc. This restaurant has a soft server ice-cream machine which was a nice treat several times a day (sometimes 5 times ;). This restaurant doubles as the steakhouse at night which is semi-formal. Literature says long pants but golf shorts would work as well.
Note: since the south and north sides are only about 1-2 minute walk apart, we would eat from both as the boys would like to be close to the soft serve ice cream.
Star Café: in the Commercial Central there is the Star Café which is air conditioned and serves burgers, fries, chicken, and some desserts. Get there early or you will have a wait as it appeared to be first come, first served and people would be waiting outside for the opening time 9which was 6:30PM when we were there);
As for the common mans fare at the buffet restaurants, we found the food to be very good. We do not expect it to be a 5-star restaurant since it is buffet, but it had plenty of tasty items and about 10 items changed daily while others were staples (pizza, burgers, fries, etc.). As we are cautious of stomach ailments when traveling in this region of the world we avoided the many cheeses laid out, sushi, and vegetables that had an outer skin still attached. I’m sure it would be fine but we found plenty of cooked veggies to eat instead with our main entree’s.
Between pools there is a health drink shack which serves fresh fruit juices from their own juicer. Nothing else, i.e., no alcohol or soda, just juices.
At beach on boardwalk by south restaurant is an ice-cream bar serving iced cappuccino and scooped ice-cream with about 8 flavors. Some of the flavors are European/English (I know, the U.K. is in Europe but some things are just English vs. European). But chocolate and vanilla were generally always available.
Lobby bars are on both sides of the Punta Cana and Dominican. A bar is at the beach buy the south restaurant and a bar is in the north beach restaurant.
The beach was a good stop for us as the boys liked to ride the waves and dig in the sand. If you want a beach cabana you had better get there early. We did find that you could get some cabanas around 1:30PM and on big travel days like Sunday. As there are many Europeans here there are topless women on the beach. It really did not bother us as we used it as a chance to let our 13-year old son realize it is not so mysterious. Our 9-year old son didn’t even really notice.
The pool has a zero depth area as well as some deeper areas. The pool area is really two pools which are both the same shape and depths just mirrored. The pool on the south side is used for the daily water activities.
Per the usual Iberostar way, they have an activity board down by the south beach restaurant showing what and when. Usually there are activities going on every 45 minutes or so which includes archery, horse shoes, rifle (pellet gun), bocce ball, water aerobics, pool games, etc.
Nightly shows for kids start early based on Lucy's club getting to the theater and doing their thing. The major production ach night would start around 9:30PM and go until about 10:30 or so. We saw about 5 of the shows. Some are just dancing and singing (Latin Show) while some or audience interactive (Variety/Tutti-Fruity). We liked the interactive ones best for the occasional humor. Please not that some things can be a bit adult oriented given the innuendo and provocative motion they may ask a participant from the audience to do. As adults we thought it was funny. Our younger son didn't quite understand some of it but our older son did. Although nothing was worse than television past 8PM in the states. The shows each night are at the theater/stage which is open air to the bar and one end of the lobby of the Dominican.
Lots of excursions are available as you would expect. We went on the Caribbean Festival which was swimming with nurse sharks, snorkeling, and time with stings rays. I got to feed our stingray so one bonus point for me. We also went to Manatee Park which is a tiny version of Sea World in the U.S. It was a nice time. You should go for the shows mostly as we caught the dolphin show and parrot show. Too much rain the night before meant no horse show when we were there.
At the beach we did the Banana Boat which is a large industrial floaty for 6 people pulled behind a boat. It was fun and tiring. We about killed ourselves trying to climb back on when we fell off after 15-20 minutes of riding at that point.
You can get snorkeling gear but the beach is not really a great snorkeling point. You would have to go wait out for better spots which I would not advise for safety reasons since it would be by the break water almost.
There is a disco in the Commercial Central which has kid’s hours and then more of an adult flavor (so we heard as we did not go) later in the evening. After the show in the theater area the staff from the show would go over to the disco.
This gets its own little heading since we look forward to this part of every vacation.
Down the beach from the resort is a hut village for shopping. This was about a 20-minute walk down the beach. We checked this shopping out first but bought nothing so as to compare prices.
In between the Iberostar Dominican and Bavaro is Caribbean Street which is about 8 shops perhaps selling items similar to down the beach and in the gift shop.
The Commercial Central has a handful of stores to shop at while waiting to enter the Star Café.
We took a taxi into town for shopping. We shopped in town at Palmal Real, an outdoor mall, which was an upscale mall and nothing we really wanted to buy or hardly look at since being upscale it would be seen at upscale stores in the U.S. for the most part. The mall was also a fixed price center so that took out part of the fun we like in shopping, the hope of getting a great deal out of someone.
We also shopped in town at the Plaza Bavaro and Punta Cana shopping area. These were more to our liking as they were like the beach shopping full of bartering, and each shop keeper wanting you in there shop.
A little side note here. We called for a taxi to take us to the shopping village (Plaza Bavaro/Punta Cana). After in the car, the driver told us shopping at the mall was much better prices but was an $18 ride vs. $13. So we bit, and took his advice. Once at the mall we realized he just wanted a higher fare. So, if you like the bartering type shopping typical of Mexico and the Caribbean, don't go to the mall. Bottom line on shopping: the gift shop in the lobby area (there are 2,the Dominican side one is a wee better) had very close pricing to the beach and in town stores. We bought just as much from the gift shop as we did from anywhere else at that point.
Comparing Dominican Republic/Punta Cana to Mexico/Riviera Maya:
The beach in Punta Cana has a finer softer sand but you can hardly find a shell, hence the fine soft sand. As our boys like "shelling" they did not get to do this on this vacation.
The pools were bigger in Playa del Carmen which we found to be better, but the pools in Punta Cana were closer to the beach which was also a nice
The grounds are beautiful and well maintained at all Iberostar properties. All properties are clean and full of beautiful plants, flowers, and local animal wildlife (parrots, geckos, flamingos, peacocks, chickens, etc.) When you are on the property, I felt like it is a tropical paradise.
The food was very similar, albeit the ice-cream flavors were different. The food stations and food variety on the beach were better in Punta Cana. Playa del Carmen offered a late night snack buffet which was not offered at Punta Cana.
The service was excellent and all staff members were very nice and helpful always. No difference between the other Iberostars we have been to.
Shopping better in Playa del Carmen but the shopping in the gift shop and at the beach in Punta Cana was more convenient.
Bottom line is that the two are very similar but we give the edge to the Riviera Maya Iberostars because of the shopping Center that is part of the Paraiso Beach/del Mar, Lindo/Maya .
If you have read to this point then you have read a lot and I apologize for the length of this post.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Directly on the beautiful, sandy beach of Bavaro (Punta Cana). Friendly atmosphere. Beach restaurant. Set in a palm grove. Attractive pool area. All inclusive (generous, varied buffets for all meals). ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Iberostar Punta Cana Hotel Punta Cana
- Punta Cana Iberostar