I have a tendency to get a bit flowery with my posts about life, travel and just about anything I ponder for more than a minute. So I am going to try to stick to the facts on this blog. I won’t belabor the point about how my recent trip to Club Med Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) was the best vacation I have taken since becoming a parent. I won’t go on endlessly about the wonderful food, people, childcare, camps and resorts services that I enjoyed during my trip. Well maybe just a bit. What a vacation!
My husband and I (me) finally decided that we needed a trip to the Caribbean and we also needed to have childcare during our vacation. Childcare was a critical part of the equation. After all, our days and weeks are so full and we seldom enjoy any down time without the kids. I am sure many of you can relate to our plight. Without any local family, we don’t have any regular childcare and the heavy lifting is left to my husband and me. It is an exhausting schedule and frankly one worthy of a true vacation that affords some downtime for husband and myself.
I must admit it truly took an act of God before I could recognize that it was time to plan a vacation that would include childcare and adult time! Last summer, after a Derecho hit the DC Metro area, I had an epiphany. Well actually I had a meltdown. Our family was without power for 5 days during my birthday. My then infant was so stung by the heat in our home that we had to retreat to a hotel. My infant wasn’t adjusting to all of the change and decided to get me up every hour on the hour the day of my birthday. I was DONE! To reward myself, I promised me, myself and I that a BIG trip was in order in 2013.
I started researching a number of resorts and kid-friendly properties. I was able to whittle the list down in no time. My needs were clear. I had to have some level of childcare for a toddler. Most resorts start childcare services at the age of 4. I wanted a direct flight from the DC Metro area and I did not want to pay a small fortune! Plus, if possible I wanted an all-exclusive property. There is nothing worse than constantly pulling out a credit card or room key to pay for a meal. Plus the anxiety grows by the meal with respect to the final bill on the day of check out!
I read through the web, Trip Advisor, Parent’s Magazine and a number of other online resources. I landed on Club Med Punta Cana (Dominican Republic). Direct flights from Dulles were available. It was an all-inclusive resort and they offered childcare for children as young as 4-months-old. Done and done! Book it!
I thought the resort was gorgeous. The endless views of white sand and light blue water were pretty easy on the eyes. The staff was a mix of International GOs (translated means - Gracious Organizers) from France, Canada, and the United States as well as locals from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The primary language was French. I actually loved the anonymity that came with speaking English. Other than a “bonjour” or “bonsoir” here and there…we didn’t have any lengthy conversations with the other guests. We did trade Spanish with the wait staff and made some fast friends at Bar Celeste. It all worked for us. My husband and I were really looking to reconnect and have some down time. Having said that people were very friendly and there were other Americans at the resort that did speak English. My daughter and one little boy became big buddies at Petit Club Med. She was sad to say good-bye.
In additions the stunning beach and endless pool, the resort also offered an excellent L'Occitane Spa. There was a large theater that hosted both kids’ show and family-friendly shows every evening. The main resort bar welcomed all ages and really came alive at night. Bar Celeste offered an after-hours beach bar vibe complete with a disco ball in the late evening/early morning hours.
For sports enthusiasts, there were tennis courts, a trapeze (I actually did it!), basketball courts and running/walking trails. Early risers enjoyed yoga and Pilates on the beach and they even had a 5k on the property during my visit. For those that wanted to leave the property and see a bit more of Punta Cana, there were a number of offsite excursions including: horseback riding, catamaran pleasure cruises and diving expeditions.
Petit Club Med & Baby Club Med:
Bring on the childcare! Each day we checked our 7-year-old into Petit Club Med for a day of camp. We then checked in our 19-month-old toddler into Baby Club Med. The support staff was absolutely lovely! While my toddler had some apprehension (she is a Stage 5 clinger), she warmed to the staff and her new routine within a day or two. Feeling a bit guilty I even went back to get her on the first day around naptime. What a surprise to find out that she was already asleep and down for her afternoon nap. Wow! I guess it is back to the beach! Thank you Catherine and Miss Mimi!
My 7-year-old daughter enjoyed archery, kayaking (think shallow water, counselor on hand, life vest on), pool time, tennis and the trapeze! She was so excited to get her legs over the bar and do a backflip on the trapeze by Day 7. She also practiced and participated in the final kids’ show. The Club Med GOs did an amazing job. They put together an awesome show replete with costumes, stage make-up, an extended dance routine and a full audience! There were lots of proud parents on hand for the final show.
My toddler spent her days at Baby Club Med. Babies 4-months to just under 2 years old can be enrolled at Baby Club Med. My little one had playtime, a morning walk, dancing, lunch, naptime followed by either a walk or playtime in a private playground. Again, it took some getting used to, but my husband and I would occasionally sneak a peak at our toddler only to discover that she was smiling and very content in the care of the Club Med staff.
My 7-years-old had an absolute blast at her Caribbean camp a.k.a Petit Club Med. We would often eat lunch in the same restaurant as the campers. We would use this as an opportunity to check in with her. She never wanted to leave her new friends to go with us. Note, there were a few days when we picked up the kids a little early around 3pm and went for a swim and a walk and then got ready for dinner.
On most days I dropped my toddler off at 10am and came back by 3pm but I could have taken advantage of an earlier check-in time of 8:30am. I also think that my toddler would have adapted a bit faster had she attended any type of daycare program or had a caretaker other than myself at home.
For parents who don’t want to use the services of Baby Club Med or Petit Club Med you can always take advantage of the evening Pajama Club program for an additional charge. Kids can be taken care of while parents have dinner, a drink and maybe a walk on the beach. Since our girls had such a long day, we choose to forgo the PJ Club and have dinner as a family. We then took a walk on the resort trail that hugs the beach. If the timing worked out we would head over to the kids’ show at 8:30pm and then have a final nightcap while the girls danced as the band played at the main resort bar. Time for bed!
My husband and I soaked up every minute of alone time. Once the kids were dropped off we headed to breakfast. We would eat at the open-air Hispaniola Restaurant and watch the endless blue waves. We had made-to-order omelets, fresh banana shakes and chocolate crepes. It was all so good. From there we would take a walk or go to the gym. The morning ended at the beach and then onto the pool. After finally catching up on life (it has been a long year), we would head over to the Samano Restaurant for lunch. There we would check on our 7-year-old who was dining with her group.
After lunch we returned to the pool or made our way over to Bar Celeste to sit and enjoy the beach and the waves while sipping on a Mojito. Eventually it was time to pick up the kids. Oh what heavenly days!
After reading endless reviews on Trip Advisor, I made a request for the Colon Building. The building is toward the front of the resort and is very quite. That worked for us. We had a pocket door that separated our bed from the kids’ beds and pack n’ play. Truth be told our toddler ended up sleeping with us in our King size bed. The bathroom was spacious and the closets more than accommodated our clothes. The room was light on drawer space. I was happy I packed the kids’ clothes on the small hangers that are in their closet. It made it easier to find a place for the kids’ clothes when unpacking.
I was thoroughly impressed with the food offering. I read a few cranky reviews on Trip Advisor and was pleasantly surprised to find the reviews to be off. Full disclosure, while I am not a full-fledged foodie, I can appreciate a good meal and can pretty quickly recognize bad or mediocre food. I have been to the Inn at Little Washington and Citronelle on a number of occasions. I have hit many DC Metro hot spots. I am well acquainted with 4 star dining. Having said that I can also enjoy a trip to Chick-fil-a. I would like to think I have a diverse palette=;)
All that being said, I found the culinary offering to be well above any other all-inclusive package that I have purchased in the past. Further, I found the food to be far better than most of the kid-friendly hotels (yes I am talking to you Grand Floridian) that I have dined at in the past. Of course there was a standard offering of French fries, chicken nuggets and plain pasta but there was also an endless assortment of fresh fish, beefs dishes, gourmet pastas and an insane pastry and dessert offering.
For lunch, I would normally grab a plate of the fresh fish and my husband and I would grab a bottle of white wine. There are a number of wine refrigerators filled with bottles of red, white and rosé wine. Take as much or as little as you want. The buffet was brimming with options. One must love a resort that is run by the French! Despite the fact that it was a buffet, servers had tables ready and waiting and assisted with drinks and clearing plates. For our gala dinner we even enjoyed amazing lobsters tails. The food and wine flowed throughout the course of the meal. Alas my scale told me just how many times I went back for seconds!
I would also like to take a minute to point out some items that you should bring with you to make for an easier trip. While some of these items are available at the resort, I would recommend stocking up, as you will pay a premium at the property. The stories of $25.00 suntan lotion are true. Be prepared and save yourself some money!
While you may not need all of the above items it is best to be safe rather than sorry. Save yourself the time, energy and money and come prepared with your own supplies. We did not need the Pepto-Bismol but I read enough online reviews to know that I didn't want to be without it if the need had arisen. Also, I reiterate the need for electronics for the flight and for downtime in the room. It can really help when you are suffering through the last hour of the flight. It also helps when everyone is trying to get ready for dinner. ALWAYS ENSURE THAT YOUR DOORS ARE LOCKED AND THAT YOUR ELECTRONICS ARE IN A LOCKED SAFE!
Don’t forget that each member of your family will need a passport for International travel. You will also need immunization records for your children if you wish to have them participate in any of the Club Med Kids programs.
I would start your planning now! Direct flights to Punta Cana go quickly. Carve out your desired dates and start checking the airlines for flights. We flew United Airlines direct from Dulles to Punta Cana. From there we were at the hotel in 5 minutes.
As a final note, if you have very young children and are a bit nervous about International travel, Sandpiper Club Med, located in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, is a fantastic alternative.
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