Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Day 1, Getting there is half the fun!

Flip Flops

These days I’m too paranoid to post vacation photos while I’m actually on vacation for fear that someone will break into my house while I’m gone. Why? Because the last time I posted about being on vacation while I was on vacation someone left a comment saying it wasn’t wise to do that because someone might break into my house while I was gone. CREEPY.

So it’s only now that I am letting you know I recently traveled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for a three-night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. While I was there I didn’t post photos on Facebook or tweet about it or anything, which was sort of hard because when you’re in the Caribbean it’s very tempting to brag about the fact that you’re in the Caribbean. Vacation: A great way to make other people feel bad about their lives!

Getting There

The first step in getting there was having a brother who was one of the top salesman in his company, thus winning a free trip along with several of his coworkers. I got to be his plus one, which was nice payback for that time I brought him along on my free ski trip to Breckinridge, Colorado in which I was supposed to report on the oatmeal festival for Quaker Oats who paid for the trip, but was sidelined by the super scary mountain pass of doom. (Total tangent: I still feel bad that I never made it to the oatmeal festival. I did the best I could at the time, but I wish I’d been able to do better.) Not having significant others to bring along on our free vacations has paid off for both of us. Unlucky in love, but lucky in resort credits!

I live in North Carolina and my brother lives in Indianapolis, but we were able to take the same connecting flight in Atlanta to Punta Cana. Little did we know we were boarding the Party Plane!!!! (Quadruple exclamation points totally necessary.) This flight was like no other flight I’ve been on. Damien, the head flight attendant was like a tour guide with a well-practiced comedy routine. There was also a bachelorette party on board and every time I turned my head it seemed that the flight attendant was swiping another credit card to charge someone for the alcoholic beverage they’d just ordered. People were standing up two rows ahead of me chatting with the people behind them. It was kinda crazy. Here’s a bit of Damien’s spiel that I recorded so you can get a sense of his game-show-host delivery style. It also allows you to experience how sad everyone was that the bar was closing:

His best bit was when he told us to check the pockets in front of us because one pair of free travel vouchers was hidden on board. After ten seconds he said, “No one found the prize? Well maybe you did find your own trash which you can throw out as the flight attendants walk down the aisle.” Well played, Damien. Well played. I don’t know if all flights to the Caribbean are like this one or we just stumbled upon the one where the flight attendant was on uppers.

The sky or the ocean?

I specifically requested a window seat because I’d never been to the Caribbean before and wanted to enjoy the view. I loved looking outside and not being able to tell if I was looking up at clouds in front of a blue sky or down at clouds above the blue ocean. The captain came on intermittently to let us know when we were flying over points of interest like The Bahamas. I also happened to see a cruise ship sailing down below. It looked so itty bitty, but I know those ships are essentially floating cities.

Cruise ship

As we got closer to land I saw teeny tiny white specks in the water near shore which I think were much smaller boats. As we got closer and closer to the Punta Cana airport we started to fly over land and it was surprising how much of it is completely undeveloped, just like it probably was 100 years ago. When I’ve flown places in the US every inch of land is typically taken up by farms or buildings or something.

Aerial view

The Airport

After we landed and were taxiing on the runway, I looked out the window to see these things:

Air bridges

The Punta Cana airport doesn’t have jet bridges. Instead they roll the stairs up to the plane and then you take a bus to the main airport terminal. My biggest piece of advice is for those of you with long hair: keep a scrunchie handy! I wasn’t outside in the hot, humid air for more than two minutes before I wanted to dig around in my bag for a hair tie.

I was a little nervous about this trip because the last time I went to a foreign country was five years ago when I visited London and France. I kept imagining scenarios where I forgot my passport or my headache meds were mistaken for cocaine. Surprisingly, going through customs was easy. The line moved at a quick pace and they didn’t ask me any questions like they did when I’d entered London. The official just checked that our passport photos matched our faces and then stamped us in. We had to pay a $10 fee for a tourist visa, but they accepted US money so that was easy to do.

After customs, we got funneled out into the main baggage carousel area. My brother and I followed the crowd toward the exit. By this point we’d lost track of the other people from his company that had been on our flight. I hadn’t even been sitting next to them on the plane because I’d checked in at a different time at a different airport. We started to get nervous because we couldn’t figure out how to find the bus that would get us to the hotel, but one of several officials in the area came up and asked us what our group was. I had no idea, but Little Bro showed him the travel itinerary and the guide pointed us to the right place. Thank goodness for friendly staff!

The Bus

Once we got on the bus we had a 30-minute ride to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. There are lots of resorts located on the eastern shore of the Dominican Republic that have been built in the last 20-30 years to draw tourists to the beautiful white beaches and blue waters. These lush, luxurious locales stand in dichotomy with the rest of the country which is much poorer. The resorts have guarded front gates and sometimes barbed wire around the edges to keep the locales out. So it’s only on your ride to the resorts that you get a feeling for the “real” Dominican Republic. I saw people on motorbikes or just plain bikes. There was a billboard for plastic surgery featuring a woman covering her breasts with her hands that was not something I’ve seen in the states. Yellow school buses seemed to be used for general transportation there, not for school kids.

The Hard Rock is one of the northern most resorts, so our bus stopped at two other resorts on the way to drop off other people. I actually liked this because it got us through the gates and let me see what the other resorts were like. It also reminded me of when I rode the bus in high school and was one of the last people dropped off. I knew where everyone else lived, but they had no idea where the bus went after they got off.

The Resort

Once we arrived, a woman literally shoved a mimosa in my hand as I entered the lobby, which really set the tone for what the Hard Rock resort is like. There will be liquor. Lots and lots of liquor. There is also the illusion that it is free because the resort is all inclusive. When you check in they snap a wristband on you that you don’t take off until you leave. As long as you’re wearing it you eat for free at all the resort restaurants and can drink as many mimosas as you want. Of course it’s not really free because you pay to be at the resort, but I guess in my case it really was free because I’m a freeloader.

Wristband

When we checked in the receptionist greeted us as “Mr. and Mrs. Fulda,” which caught my attention because I am NOT Mrs. Fulda. It prompted me to ask, “We have two beds, right?” I earned huge points with my brother at that moment because they were about to give us a room with a king bed, but my vigilance saved us from a nightmare incestuous sleeping scenario and we got a room with two double beds instead.

The Hard Rock is evidently one of the larger resorts on the island, so they have a couple electric cart trolleys you can hop on that are continually driving around the main path. We weren’t completely sure where our room was, so we got on one and waited for our building number to be called out. This is the path we ended up taking:

Trolley tour

We ended up taking an accidental tour of the resort when we could have walked 100 yards to get to our building. I was ok with that because we got a sense for how big the resort was and we got to see lots of palm trees and pools and other stuff you find in paradise. We got to our room roughly 12 hours after I’d stepped out the front door of my apartment. We were both kind of wiped, but after a bit of rest we attended a mixer where I got to meet Little Bro’s coworkers.

And that was how my first day in Punta Cana went. I’ll let you know about the rest of the trip as soon as I actually write about it, hopefully sometime in the next week. These entries take a lot of time, almost as much time as it takes to get to Punta Cana!

More in this series: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  1. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Day 1, Getting there is half the fun!
  2. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Part 2 – Being there is the other half of the fun!
  3. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Part 3 – I’m out of halves, but I still have fun left!
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Comments

  1. JenFul says

    @KalynsKitchen – Thanks, Kalyn! I’m never sure if I’m boring people to death about my travels, but I like writing them so I’m able to read them again years from now and remember the fun I had.

  2. says

    I’m intrigued about what the maid was trying to tell you with the numbers on paper. How much to tip her? What time of day she would be cleaning your room (and locking you onto the balcony)?

  3. JenFul says

    @Margaret S. – I think it will forever remain one of the great mysteries of my life. The best guess my brother and I could come up with is that when I left for my excursion I interrupted her before she’d completed her checklist of tasks. So maybe she came back to see if we wanted her to finish? I really don’t know.

  4. Cristy says

    Have you considered being a travel blogger? I found myself really looking forward to parts 2 and 3 of your adventure to the Dominican Republic. I would read about your travel to anywhere!

  5. JenFul says

    @Cristy – Well, I’d have to travel a lot more to be a travel blogger. And I assume I’d have to actually review places instead of just telling people what I did when I was there. I dunno. I’m not against it in principle but I don’t see how it could actually happen.

  6. AquaMarine says

    Yay! Glad I stopped by the blog to see if you’d written some new entries. I’ve missed reading your blog. You’re a talented writer and I enjoyed reading about the DR. Keep the stories coming!

  7. Cristy says

    @JenFul – You are right, perhaps I’m being naive about travel blogging, but I still think you have something here. In my opinion, reading about what you did in NYC, Pigeon Forge, and Punta Cana was both helpful for travel prep and entertaining. Definitely better than reading a boring “review” about those places. For example, I now know to anticipate an hour pre-show with tiny $4 drinks if I ever go to the Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction- totally informative, but made me laugh! Is there a market for a book of informational, yet humorous, personal essays about travel? I would read it!

  8. Kathy says

    Jen, have not been following for a while. I come back to you struggling with weight. I’m sorry. I have issues too, albeit not as big, but you need to get a grip. You know what to do. Do it.

  9. JenFul says

    @Kathy – Hi, Kathy. I did a search for your email address in the comments left on this blog as well as on pastaqueen.com. I noticed that they have almost always been preachy, giving me advice I did not ask for on how to live my life. I’d appreciate it if you stopped reading my blogs and no longer left comments. You will no longer be disappointed by me and I will no longer be annoyed by you. I think it’s best for the both of us. Thanks.

  10. JenFul says

    @kathy – I tried to email you about this, but I got a bounce message, so I’ll post it publicly instead:

    I accept your apology, but I also want you to know why I find your comments annoying. After doing a search on your email address I found these examples:

    You criticize me for eating fish and chips in London: http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2009/05/european-travel-journal-day-2-london-city-tour-and-greenwich/comment-page-1/#comment-23034
    You tell me I have “weirdo feet”: http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2009/03/explain-the-shoe-thing-to-me/comment-page-1/#comment-21739
    You call the strawberries I bought “suspicious”: http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2010/05/a-winner-and-mutant-strawberries/comment-page-1/#comment-39051
    You tell me I shouldn’t be wearing the same shoes as my mother. This one particularly pissed me off because I thought this experience was very endearing and showed the close bond my mother and I have: http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2010/06/i-am-my-mothers-daughter/comment-page-1/#comment-45016
    You tell me I am wrong to be annoyed that people can’t spell my name properly: http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2011/04/what-name-can-be-spelled-only-one-way/comment-page-1/#comment-186131
    There are also several about my weight and how I should be managing my weight http://www.jenful.com/2014/03/punta-cana-dominican-republic-part-3-im-out-of-halves-but-i-still-have-fun-left/#comment-15026 , http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2011/03/igigi-by-yuliya-raquel-review-and-50-gift-certificate-giveaway/comment-page-1/#comment-185686 , http://pastaqueen.com/blog/2010/01/happy-fifth-fativersary/comment-page-1/#comment-26919 , http://www.jenful.com/2011/10/my-injury-free-segway-tour-of-charlotte-nc/#comment-4988

    As you can see, there is a pattern of critical behavior here. No single comment particularly stood out at the time (except for the one about my shoes), though they all irked me to some degree. But when you look at them as a whole I hope you understand why I felt the need to call you out on it.

    If you do continue to read my blog and leave comments, please refrain from leaving messages like this or I will ban you.

  11. kathy says

    Dear Jennette,
    In my defense, I honestly was trying to be helpful and honest. Although, that has pissed people off before. Again, I believe you are smart and funny. Take care.

  12. Deb K says

    I find your writing about your travel experiences to be descriptive and enjoyable. I am not bored in the least and like the details you share. Then again, I think these remarks apply to all of your entries. You have a way of making the ordinary interesting, not that going to Punta Cuna was ordinary – I meant that about other posts!

  13. VeeGee says

    I’m kinda late to be commenting on this, but I guess my OCD brain is making me! I was thinking about your resort experience and happily reliving my own holidays in Bali when it occurred to me: the maid was probably asking you what time you wanted the Turn Down service in the evening – like when they come back and fluff your pillows and turn down the blankets etc. In Bali it was memorable because the maids left frangipani flowers with “Good night” written on the leaves. Ahhh…

  14. JenFul says

    @VeeGee – That is the best theory I’ve heard and sounds fairly plausible. I’m trying to remember if the numbers on the paper could have been times, but it was too long ago for me to be sure. Thanks for possibly solving that mystery!

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