Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Puerto Plata, Por Favor: The Sponge goes to the Dominican Republic

Not the DR, but islands sure
do look pretty from the sky.
The Dominican Republic is a beautiful place to go. As soon as I found out that my husband and I couldn't go to visit our friend in Los Angeles, we decided on the next best thing -- an island in the Caribbean. We planned this literally 3 weeks in advance, and it could not have turned out better. Even I, a planner who often gets anxious when I'm rushed for time, can't see how advanced planning would have made this trip better.

Tuesday - Travel

We pulled an all-nighter before we drove 2 1/2 hours to D.C. C and I got home from work around 10ish that night and had a 6 o'clock flight the next morning. I was entirely too nervous/anxious/excited to sleep, so I packed and unpacked, and checked and rechecked my bags until there was nothing to do but leave.  The good news is, our bags (carry-ons only) were perfectly packed. The bad news is, we learned the hard way that all-nighters before a day of travel sucks, and sucks big. Thinking we would sleep on the plane/at the Miami airport was dumb. So dumb.

Rainy first night.
When we finally got to our hotel in Puerto Plata, about and hour and a half later than we were supposed to, it was raining and we flopped into bed until dinner. It was beautiful. Check-in was not a bear like some of the reviews we had read, which had us pleasantly surprised.

Meals were largely uneventful affairs. Food at the buffet wasn't great, but we really didn't eat there that often (breakfast every day, lunch twice, and dinner-- never). We ate at the restaurants most of the time, because we were able to snag reservations to different restaurants each night (tip: go to Guest Services and ask them if there are any leftovers at the start of each day). There are various restaurants at the resort, all pretty good, but they try to be so international that I didn't really feel like we got a feel for Caribbean cuisine, except for when we went to the Dominican restaurant (the only night we got to eat Dominican food for dinner), where I had a pastelon de platanos (described as Dominican lasagna with plantains used in place of noodles). I had a sweet corn pudding for dessert and Chris had some sort of coconut dessert which tasted like the inside of a Mounds Bar. 

Thursday - Lounging

Hello, beaches!
The next day, we were told we had a special welcome package (which we knew was code for "We're going to try to sell you timeshares for an hour," from reading reviews of the resorts and from the advice of a couple we met along the way). We tried to avoid it, but they wait for you outside of the breakfast buffet so that you have no choice. So we were apprehended and taken to the VIP place. Before the guy could give us the tour and launch into his spiel (but AFTER they gave us complimentary butter-you-up chocolates), I asked if we'd have to pay extra. He tried to skirt this question, but I wasn't having it, and neither was Chris, who jumped in saying that he'd lost his job. When he asked us how we could afford our vacation at all, I told them it was a pity trip gifted to us
by our parents. He looked deflated, and then we skipped along and went to the beach.

That first day, we planned our excursions, and then hung around the hotel, relaxing by the pool and the beach, enjoying free drinks and sunshine. Perfect. 

Where do I find that headdress? 
Thursday night we went to the Bravissimo show which was like a Dominican Vegas-style show. Singing, dancing, boobs, and large headdresses aplenty. Complete with their own version of Michael Buble's You Can Dance, and Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. 

Friday - Catamaran trip!

Everywhere we went there was music and everyone ends up dancing along to it, but the guys on the catamaran were maybe the funniest ones. Especially when this especially muscly young guy started dancing up on the 60 year old grandmother on the trip. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my digital camera on the catamaran trip with us. I wasn't sure exactly how big the boat would be, so I didn't want to chance ruining it. We did buy an overpriced waterproof disposable camera that took some pretty shoddy pictures. 
A heart-warming picture of us with the catamaran
 from our overpriced waterproof disposable.

The guys on the boat were ridiculous but lots of fun. They introduced us to mama juana, which they call "Dominican Viagra", which apparently everyone uses down there, because "it makes the ladies so happy." And why wouldn't it? It's made from dark rum and red wine steeped in tree bark, honey, cinnamon, coffee beans, a conch shell, a shark fin, and a turtle penis. They had their own brew on the boat, which they had us sample. 

The trip lasted all day, with lunch (and drinks, always drinks) provided, and snorkeling off the boat in beautiful green-blue waters. C's first time snorkeling!

We also got kinda toasted in the sun, though not quite as bad as the girls from Toronto we met. Today's lesson, bring more sunscreen. Always more.

Saturday - Damajagua Waterfalls!

C taking the plunge!
On Saturday, we went to the Damajagua Waterfalls. You take a little hike up the mountain (it only takes 5 Dominican minutes! -- which they tell you every 5 minutes or so until you get to the top, it's probably about a 20 minute hike or so). The hike up is a bit jungly and absolutely beautiful, and a little breath-taking (you ARE walking up a mountain, so it takes a bit of breath). We brought our own water shoes, but you can also rent them there. They provide helmets, life vests, and tour guides who are hilarious, make amazing animal sounds, and sometimes run ahead to jump out and scare you. They're also really good at making you feel safe, both going up the mountain and walking through inches-thick mud, and coming down through the waterfalls too. 
Tallest jump at 25 feet - that speck is me.

The point of this excursion was that you come down the mountain by actually jumping through and sliding down the waterfalls. There are 27 on the mountain, but we went through 12. The tallest jump was 25 feet, and it was simply exhilarating. I got the DVD of it so I couldn't forget. This was by far the best excursion and well worth the $65 a person (lunch and drinks, again, included). The trip back let us get a good glimpse of Puerto Plata outside the resorts too, which are very poor and ramshackle. Yet people in the DR seemed so much happier than a lot of the people in the US who have so much more. They are constantly laughing, smiling, and dancing. Our tour guide on the waterfalls trip said that the best part about the Dominican Republic is the people, and I believe it! We also met a lot of cool people on this trip from our resort, like the couple from Chicago, and the doctors from Atlanta. 

The resort is owned by a company that owns the adjacent 2 resorts also, so we had access to all their beaches, pools, restaurants, and entertainment too. We went up to Cofresi Palms for entertainment a couple times because they have funny little games where they bring guests on stage and make them do ridiculous things.

Sunday - Ocean World!

The next day we went to Ocean World, where we got to hold a bundle of lovebirds, and watched the sea lion, shark, bird, and dolphin shows. What I really would have loved to do was swim with the dolphins. Unfortunately, that takes about $200 more per person than we were willing to spend... but one day I know I'll do it!  Ocean World was okay, but I think if we came back again, I'd definitely skip it in favor of maybe the Puerto Plata Cable Car tour or some ziplining! 
Sea lion and man, together at last...

Sunday night there was a VIP party with an outdoor party for all three resorts. Set up like an extravagant wedding, there were large tents where they were roasting pigs, making pasta, and cooking up filet mignon, and chairs decked out with servers at the ready (literally, mine had nothing to do and watched me eat while I was waiting for C). There were dancers and entertainers and a live band. The dancers encouraged everyone to get up on stage, and eventually the entertainment devolved into an outdoor concert. When the live band was done, a DJ took its place and it became a giant dance party.

Monday - Lounging

The last day was another day of lounging, and the weather fully cooperated. Actually it cooperated all week after that first afternoon of rain. We chilled out on the beach, played ping pong by the pool, played volleyball with two couples from England, won a water-balloon toss game, and learned a few dance moves. Blissfully uneventful.

Tuesday - Lounging and Leaving 

I said goodbye to our beach and our beach-side bar with sadness in my heart. But I knew we'd be back. On the trip back, I did fair amount of people watching. Although I hate airports for the most part, I've decided they are the most excellent place for people watching. I like to make up stories about the people I see as I go. Not sure they would always appreciate this, but it's also possible I'm making their lives more interesting. So there's that... 

Lessons learned: 

  1. Do NOT pull an all-nighter before your flight. It sucks.
  2. More sunscreen. Always go for more.
  3. Take all reviews with a grain of salt, but still read them. Prepare for the worst, and you'll come out pleasantly surprised when they are wrong.
  4. When something is "free", it's only because they will try to get you to buy more stuff.
  5. Don't fill all your days up with excursions. Leave some just for bumming.
  6. Ocean World is okay, but maybe not worth $55 a piece.
  7. Skip make-up. It's easier. Between the sun-screen and water, it'll just be a mess, so it's best to go without.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear you had a great trip overall! Very neat photos and what a way to cap off your graduation.