--- Advertisement ---
facebook share
twitter share
pinterest share
flipboard share

Follow


Caribbean Paradise in the Midst of a Pandemic

Caribbean Paradise in the Midst of a Pandemic


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 03/24/2021
Posted On 09/13/2021 09:26:47

Destinations | Caribbean | Dominican Republic | Punta Cana | Bahia Principe | Resort | Luxury Ambar | All Inclusive Resort | Pandemic | Accommodations | Butler Service | Dining | Bar Service | Activities | Entertainment | Swimming Pools | Pool Bar | Beach | Sailing | COVID-19 Testing | Couple Travel | Romantic Travel



We have relatives and friends that have stayed in almost total isolation during the pandemic - but that's not us. We have other friends and relatives who have been acting like there is zero risk for contracting COVID - that's not us either. Following the "stay home, stay safe, shelter in place order" issued by our local government between March 25 and April 30, 2020, we realized that we needed to get on with life - but safely! After all, we retired nearly six years ago so that we could see the world.

We tried to support local businesses as they began to open in the spring of 2020 - always trying to be careful. We wore our face masks inside stores, restaurants, etc. as requested. Beginning in late spring, we started traveling again in our RV. We began with a week long stay at a resort in Galveston which we extended by an additional four days in Rockport, Texas.

In early July, we departed on an RV journey which ended up being two months long taking us to, among other places, South Dakota and Colorado. After a short stay at home, we spent five weeks in the southwest US which wrapped up just before Halloween of 2020. Finally, in late-November, we embarked on a road trip through the southeastern states that kept us away from home until mid-February 2021. Throughout all of this traveling, we were able to enjoy the great outdoors (mostly socially distant from others and therefore mask-free). We ate an occasional meal out at a restaurant, but more frequently shopped for groceries and cooked our own meals.

Our Caribbean escape involved so many firsts for the two of us:

  • We experienced our first COVID-19 tests (actually, four tests each);
  • We traveled via airplane for the first time since December 2019;
  • We visited our first international destination in over a year; and
  • We spent time at an all-inclusive resort without the friends that we have traveled with during previous resort stays.

Are we glad that we went? Would we do it all over again? Yes and Yes! In fact, we are already planning another all-inclusive stay for later this year - this time in Mexico. Here's the story of why we decided to go to Punta Cana when we did. You'll find out how we filled our week away. You'll also see evidence of the safety protocols (and sometimes lack there of) that we saw in place during our travels to and from the Caribbean as well as at the all-inclusive resort.

--- Advertisement ---


Vacation Voucher

During the early months of the pandemic, we were longing for a return visit to the resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica that we had enjoyed so much in late 2019. As most resorts were shuttered, many were offering deals to lure customers back as soon as they reopened.

In June of 2020, we pulled the plug and took advantage of one of the offers. We purchased a vacation voucher for a 7-night stay at any of the Bahia Principe Luxury resorts. The voucher was priced at $85.00 per person per night (a 35+% discount on what we paid for our previous stay) and was valid for one year. It was redeemable as soon as the purchased category reopened for business. Our expectation was that we could return to Jamaica in late 2020.



As the world began to slowly reopen, we regularly checked the Bahia Principe website for updates. The closures at most of the luxury resorts continued for much longer than we ever would have imagined. As it turned out, our original hotel of choice in Jamaica was not opening for stays until September 2021.

We contacted Bahia Principe via e-mail requesting an extension of our voucher which was set to expire on June 30, 2021. After a follow-up email, we received a response from Nick which included several questions. We promptly replied, sent an additional follow-up reminder and never heard back again.

--- Advertisement ---


Dominican Republic

We did find luxury level resorts open in both Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and Riviera Maya, Mexico. Additional resorts were scheduled to open on June 15, 2021 and others were delayed until November 1, 2021. With our 15th wedding anniversary fast approaching, we decided it was the perfect excuse to escape to paradise!

Before making reservations, we researched travel restrictions that we might encounter. We learned that there was a curfew (10:00 PM - 5:00 AM on weekdays and 9:00 PM - 5:00 AM on weekends). The only exception was for transportation purposes (i.e. getting to or from the airport for a scheduled flight). Additionally, just like in our home country, social distancing was being encouraged and all riders on public transportation were required to wear masks.

The government of the Dominican Republic was offering a COVID-19 health coverage plan for visiting guests. To qualify for the plan which was being paid for by the government, a visitor must be arriving on or before June 12, 2021 and staying in a hotel. Passengers traveling to the United States after their resort stay also qualified for free COVID-19 antigen testing in order to meet the requirement of having a negative test prior to boarding a flight. (Although the testing was free, some hotels were passing the processing fee on to guests while others, like Bahia Principe, were absorbing the fee.)

--- Advertisement ---


Making Reservations

Once we made our decision to celebrate our anniversary in the Dominican Republic, making our reservation was easy. Redeeming our voucher just required a phone call to let Bahia Principe know that we had chosen Bahia Principe Luxury Ambar. We let them know our choice of dates, and shortly after hanging up the phone we had a confirmation e-mail.


Bahia Principe Luxury Ambar

Bahia Principe Luxury Ambar

(We did a price check to see what our cost would have been if we had not purchased the voucher. Although we did save a few dollars, since travel had not yet returned to normal, resort prices were still discounted. We are still grateful that we purchased the voucher as we likely would have postponed our trip if we weren't faced with an upcoming expiration!)

Our next step was reserving flights. We found plenty of discounted air travel options. As there are no direct flights from our home airport in Austin (AUS) to Punta Cana (PUJ), we decided to take advantage of the $49.00 one-way sale fare on Southwest Airlines. It was the perfect opportunity to visit friends in Fort Lauderdale (FLL) both before and after our resort stay.

With a $75.00 flight credit courtesy of the Rapid Rewards credit card, our round-trip travel to FLL was less than $121.00 for both of us. From Florida, we only needed a total of 40,000 American Airline points to get from Miami to Punta Cana and back again for the two of us. Bargain all the way around!

--- Advertisement ---


Pre-Travel COVID-19 Testing

Although not required to enter Punta Cana at the time of our trip, we chose to get tested for COVID-19 - twice! We knew that, upon arrival, temperature checks were a possibility. Additionally, randomly selected passengers would be required to take a COVID-19 rapid test. But, we also knew that regulations may change at any time - plus we wanted to be as careful as possible.

Since we were staying overnight in Florida, we timed our first test so that the results would arrive in time for us to cancel our trip if either of us tested positive. Our second test was scheduled for 72 hours prior to the day of our flight to Punta Cana, which seemed to be the common time frame for countries which did require testing. Although we had been extremely careful (wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and staying home as much as possible), being tested was still a little nerve wracking!

--- Advertisement ---


Spartan Medical

Our first PCR test was through Spartan Medical, a state supported site that was offering free testing through July 1, 2021. Registering and making an appointment online was easy, and there was no wait when we arrived at the test site. We were both relieved when we had the choice of a nasal or mouth swab. Needless to say, we both chose the mouth swab!

The only downside of our experience was that there was no email or text notification once the results were available. After the quoted 24 - 48 hours had passed, we decided to log in to the accounts that we had set up during the registration process. Our results were indeed posted and thankfully we both tested negative. (Had they communicated that there would be no notification, we would have definitely checked earlier.)

Curative

Our second PCR test was scheduled through Curative. Just like our first appointment, registering and scheduling was easy. There were two big differences between testing at the two companies. First, rather than having an employee collect the test sample, a self-collected swab was performed. (A link to an instructional video was included in the e-mailed appointment confirmation. Once at the site, we were handed a zipper sealed bag with all testing materials. Employees walked us through opening the bag, each step of the test, and preparing the sample to submit for testing as well.)

--- Advertisement ---


The second difference was the communication process. In addition to receiving an emailed appointment confirmation, we received both texts and emails upon our check-in as well as once results were available. We were then able to log in and print our negative test results - just in case they were needed for our travels.

Traveling from Austin to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The day prior to departing from our home city, we completed the Electronic Entry and Exit Form. It's a relatively new "e-ticket" which combines the former Health Affidavit, Customs Declaration and International Embarkation/Disembarkation forms. The form can be completed a maximum of 72 hours prior to arrival. We learned the hard way that you can't start the form early with a plan to answer the health questions at the 72 hour mark. Unfortunately, no changes can be made to the form - you must start over with a blank form!

On the morning of our flight, we drove ourselves to Fast Park & Relax, our preferred parking lot. Scanning our reservation at the entrance column provided touch-free check-in. Once we got parked, it was time to catch a ride to the airport. The shuttle was near full of mask wearing passengers which therefore did not allow for six feet of social distancing between travel groups.

--- Advertisement ---


Flying from Austin to Fort Lauderdale was our first time on an airplane since December 2019, so we weren't sure what to expect. Checking baggage at the Southwest "Self-Service" kiosk had not changed since our last flight. The early morning TSA Pre-Check security lines weren't very long. Passengers did leave extra space (not sure that it was really six feet) between each travel group.

Upon approaching the masked and gloved TSA Agent, scanning boarding passes (mobile or paper) was all done by passengers. Agents still handled passenger identification. To confirm identity, each passenger was asked to briefly lower their face mask. The scanning of baggage remained unchanged - other than having hand sanitizer available!

The Austin airport wasn't overly crowded. As expected, it was much easier to distance from others while ordering, eating breakfast and waiting for our boarding group to be called than it was during the flight!

Southwest Airlines from Austin to Fort Lauderdale

Several days before our departure, we had received communication from Southwest informing us that our flight may not allow for open middle seats. An email that we received on the day prior to our flight included reminders to check-in online and the federal law requirement to wear a mask throughout our entire travel time.

--- Advertisement ---


Boarding ended up being just like it was before the pandemic. Starting on March 15, the day of our flight, passengers boarded in groups of 30. (For nearly 10 months, the airline had reduced the size of each group to 10 passengers boarding at a time.) Once inside the jet bridge, many passengers increased the spacing between travel groups - after all, everyone had "stay at least six feet away" drilled into their brains!

As expected, the plane was quite full - in our estimation there were probably only 10 - 15 open seats. Unfortunately we were not in one of the few rows with an open seat, but it did seem that everyone around us kept their mask on throughout the flight.


Double-Masked on Our First Flight in 15 Months!

Double-Masked on Our First Flight in 15 Months!

Our flight departed in the early morning (7:35 AM). We quickly realized that gone were the days when you could select from a choice of juices and soft drinks after take-off. Flight attendants did offer ice water and /or a small bag of snack mix during their walk through the cabin.

Disembarking felt no different than in previous years. After a flight, everyone is always ready to get off of the plane, and this was no exception. While there may have been some additional spacing between passengers standing in baggage claim, it wasn't easily noticed!

--- Advertisement ---


Dinner & Exploring Miami's Little Havana

After several hours of visiting with our friends, the four of us made our way from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. Strolling by the chickens, cigars and colors of Calle Ocho made the wait for a table at Old's Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina pass by quickly. We were surprised at the number of people wearing masks while wandering the streets - even when staying distant from others.


Exploring Little Havana

Exploring Little Havana

The Chickens on Calle Ocho

The Chickens on Calle Ocho

As we had come to expect, wearing a face mask was required when entering the restaurant and being escorted to our table. Masks were not required again until leaving our table to walk out of the restaurant. All restaurant staff members that we came into contact with were always wearing their face masks.

Lodging in Miami at EVEN

We wanted to be close to Miami's International Airport for what was our second hotel stay since the start of the pandemic. Because of soon-to-be expiring IHG points, we reserved a stay at EVEN Hotel Miami - Airport. Plexiglass separated us from the clerk who checked us in. Our room appeared clean, and we were quite comfortable for one night. We did ride the shared shuttle to the airport. It was not as crowded as our previous shuttle ride, so keeping a distance from other masked travelers was fairly easy.

--- Advertisement ---


American Airlines from Miami to Punta Cana

Being a business traveler for many years does have its perks - even when flying coach on a reward ticket! Once we hit 24 hours prior to departure, I upgraded our seats at no cost to an available aisle and window seat in main cabin extra. We would have some extra leg room and (hopefully) an open seat between us!

Just as we did in Austin, we ate breakfast in the airport before our flight. Dining tables near the restaurant that we chose were empty, so social distancing was easy. Seating near the gate was more crowded in MIA than in AUS, but again, everyone was masked. Just like in the "old days", the crowds swelled near the boarding area. Most of the people standing (or blocking) the area leading to the jet bridge were assigned to the last of the boarding groups. Nothing has changed!


First Plane to Transport us "Overseas" in Over 15 Months!

First Plane to Transport us "Overseas" in Over 15 Months!

The main difference between our flight departing from Miami and our previous flight was that the plane was not near capacity. As we hoped, the middle seat remained unoccupied. Shortly after our departure, flight attendants distributed a large zippered bag to all passengers. Each bag contained a small bottle of water, bag of pretzels and a sanitizing wipe.

--- Advertisement ---


Arrival at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

We deplaned in Punta Cana via stairs (no jet bridge), and walked the short distance to the terminal. After taking advantage of a quick photo op, we immediately got in the immigration queue.


Arriving at PUJ Airport Terminal

Arriving at PUJ Airport Terminal

Our first encounter was with an airport employee who did a temperature check and asked whether we had been COVID tested. Upon saying "yes", we moved to a second queue for our interview with an agent. (A random test of those had not been tested was performed, as well as additional testing on everyone who registered a high temperature. Upon passing the breath test, those passengers moved to the front of the immigration queue.)

With our Electronic Entry Form completed, once we reached the immigration agent, our "interview" was extremely quick. He scanned the E-Ticket that we had saved to our mobile phones, stamped our passports, and off we went. We claimed our baggage, made quick stops at the restrooms and walked to meet a representative for Coming2 who would manage our transit to the resort.

After checking in, we were immediately escorted to a van. Our luggage was loaded on to the vehicle and we were asked to have a seat as there would be a short wait on an additional couple who would ride with us. We never learned what happened, but after very little time passed, the driver started the van and began driving. Unexpectedly, we ended up with private transportation!

--- Advertisement ---


Arrival and Check-in at Bahia Principe Luxury Ambar

A 30 minute drive brought us to the main entrance of the Bahia Principe resort. From there, we transferred to a resort tram for the final distance to Luxury Ambar. After our bags were moved from the van to the tram, our resort driver performed a required temperature check on each of us.


Our Baggage Tagging Along On our Resort Tram Ride

Our Baggage Tagging Along On our Resort Tram Ride

Less than five minutes later, we were finally at our resort - but we still needed to check in! Our baggage was unloaded, sanitized and stood waiting for delivery to our room. Before we were permitted to approach the front desk, we were asked to sanitize our hands and wipe our feet on a mat.

Unfortunately check-in wasn't quite as easy as it should have been. We made an input error on one of our birthdays when attempting to check-in and make dinner reservations online before our arrival. There was no way for us to correct the error. Numerous phone calls and emails were unsuccessful with getting a correction made. Fortunately, the agent who checked us in was able to correct this issue.

--- Advertisement ---


One of the requirements for our stay was to present the credit card used for payment of our voucher at check-in. Several months earlier, we had been notified of fraud on that credit card. We were issued a replacement card and required to return our original. At the time, we completely forgot about this term on our vacation voucher.

Because we didn't have the proper credit card, we were told that our only option was for the resort to charge the full amount of our stay to the new card. Upon our departure, the extra charge would be refunded. We didn't like the sound of our only option ... but we were already in Punta Cana. Ugh - what should we do?

During our conversation, the agent had offered a room upgrade at a discounted rate of $10.00 per day. For an additional $70.00, we could have a larger room on an upper floor with a nice view. Since we were celebrating our anniversary, that sounded appealing. Once we agreed to the room upgrade, it was decided that we could charge only the room upgrade rather than recharging the full amount of our voucher purchase in order to validate the credit card. Whew! (The total charge for our upgrade ended up being $75.32 as the agent chose for the charge to be made in US dollars without asking us for our preferred currency for the charge.)

Our last and final issue at check-in was being told that our credit card was rejected. After calling our bank, it turned out that the transaction had been approved and immediately reversed by the hotel. Not sure what went wrong, but we were finally checked in. After being issued our wristbands, we would soon be on the way to our room!


Wristbands and Room Keys

Wristbands and Room Keys

Horam's Introduction to the Resort and our Room

We were next introduced to Horam, our Butler. As Horam led us to our room, he gave us a brief tour of the resort. After walking up the stairs to our third floor corner room (no elevators in the building), Horam demonstrated how to enter the room using the chips embedded into our wristbands.


Approaching Our 3rd Floor Corner Room with a View

Approaching Our 3rd Floor Corner Room with a View

Once inside, he pointed out many of the amenities that we would be enjoying for the week. Just after entering, we noticed the well appointed bathroom with its large shower. The bedroom, with a king-sized bed, sitting area and even a bathtub was quite spacious. The nightstands on each side of the bed had convenient USB outlets. Between the closet (with shelving, a safe and a rod with hangers) plus a dresser with drawers, there was plenty of storage.


Junior Corner Suite Deluxe with King Size Bed

Junior Corner Suite Deluxe with King Size Bed

Corner Suite Bath Tub and Living Area

Corner Suite Bath Tub and Living Area

The room had a nice-sized balcony with a view of the well-manicured resort grounds. There was even an outdoor rack that was perfect for drying swimsuits!


Enjoying our Resort View

Enjoying our Resort View

Before leaving us, Horam urged us to make dining reservations as soon as possible. When he offered his assistance if we had trouble making a reservation, I let him know that the front desk agent was unable to get a reservation at the steak restaurant for the night of our anniversary. He quickly said "don't worry, I'll take care of it!" (Making or changing reservations for restaurants with available seating was quite easy through the Bahia Principe app. We were able to access the app using the resort's free Wifi without issue all over the resort.)

--- Advertisement ---


Overview of Bahia Principe Punta Cana Resort

A total of seven resorts make up the Bahia Principe complex in Punta Cana. During our March 2021 stay, only three of the resorts were open for guests (Fantasia, Grand Punta Cana and Luxury Ambar).


Bahia Principe Fantasia Water Park

Bahia Principe Fantasia Water Park

Deserted Pool at Bahia Principe Grand Punta Cana

Deserted Pool at Bahia Principe Grand Punta Cana

A member of the Luxury Ambar team shared that, at the time, the three open resorts were accepting reservations up to a maximum of 50% capacity. They were working hard to get approval to increase the maximum to 75% in the coming weeks. (Rumor had it that rooms in one of the Grand level resorts were being used to house people who tested positive for COVID-19.)

--- Advertisement ---


It would have been easy to enjoy our week without ever leaving the Luxury Ambar resort, but that's not our style. We always want to see everything that is around us. There was shuttle service available to help guests get where they wanted to go among the open resorts. While we did ride the shuttle a couple of times, we more often opted to walk. Walking helped us to get a little exercise in an attempt to (unsuccessfully) balance out the calories we took in from drinking and dining!


Bahia Principe Resort Shuttle

Bahia Principe Resort Shuttle

Honestly, it was a little eerie to walk through the parts of the resort that were closed. None of the retail shops or services were open for business in the Bahia Principe Village. Normally a place filled with hustle, bustle and activity, we didn't see a single soul as we walked about.


Strolling Around a Closed Resort

Strolling Around a Closed Resort

Bahia Principe Village

Bahia Principe Village

The Luxury Esmeralda was planned to open on June 15, 2021. Two additional Grand level resorts (Bavaro and Aquamarine) are scheduled to open on November 1, 2021. (The Grand Turquesa will reopen upon completion of in-progress maintenance work.)


Bahia Principe Grand Bavaro

Bahia Principe Grand Bavaro

Bahia Principe Grand Aquamarine

Bahia Principe Grand Aquamarine

Bahia Scouts Water Park at Grand Turquesa

Bahia Scouts Water Park at Grand Turquesa

Swimming Pool and Pool Bar at Luxury Ambar

We spent much of our days either in the Ambar swimming pool or lounging poolside. Chaise loungers and other poolside seating was typically placed in pairs, with each pod spaced six feet or more from the next.


Enjoying our Last Day of Resort Life

Enjoying our Last Day of Resort Life

A "Clean and Disinfected" marker was placed on each chair following cleaning. We found "clean" loungers after breakfast each morning, and shortly after occupying them, a staff member would come by to pick up the blue markers. We witnessed the staff cleaning, disinfecting and retagging loungers after the previous guest moved elsewhere.


Clean and Disinfected Poolside Lounge Chairs

Clean and Disinfected Poolside Lounge Chairs

Bar service was one area that we quickly noticed differences from prior resort stays. No bartenders were stationed at the in-pool bar, previously one of our favorite places to order drinks. Not to worry - there were plenty of drinks available. Getting them required either standing in line at the bar (wearing a face mask and standing six feet apart from other guests) or waiting for a member of the wait staff to pass by. We typically just took turns waiting in line, but when we did order from a wandering waiter, the service was as good as expected.


Miami Vice, Anyone?

Miami Vice, Anyone?

Luxury Ambar Beach

The beachside palapas called our names almost daily during our stay. No extra spacing was necessary as each palapa stood with shading over two loungers with plenty of space in between. Like the poolside lounge chairs, those on the sandy beach were also sanitized and tagged.


Relaxing at the Luxury Ambar Beach

Relaxing at the Luxury Ambar Beach

A walk-up beach bar located near the resort's property line was open during daytime hours. Depending on where we opted to relax on the beach, getting to the bar sometimes required a hike. Fortunately, servers were also available on the beach for those times when we didn't feel like getting some exercise before sipping on an adult beverage!

--- Advertisement ---


One of our favorite ways to spend an hour almost every day was to go out on the water on a Hobie Cat. Interested beach goers can sail on a catamaran or paddle a kayak or paddle board for up to one hour per day. Reservations can be made one day in advance and there is no cost if you are experienced and ready to go out on your own. (For a fee, Scubaquatic staff members are available to go out on the water with those who are less confident.)


Sailing a Hobie Cat!

Sailing a Hobie Cat!

During our stay, only one of the Scubaquatic beach side locations within the Bahia Principe complex was open for business. Lucky for us, guests (including children) of the three open resorts, shared the available water activities offered at Luxury Ambar. We didn't have to walk far to enjoy water activities, nor was there a bothersome increase in traffic or young ones.

The only activity that we did "outside of the resort" was parasailing. For years I have wanted to parasail, and we decided to splurge during our anniversary trip! We compared the rate offered through the resort with the rate that we could negotiate directly with the provider. We were both able to parasail (tandem) and purchase the optional photos for $20.00 less than what we would have paid had we booked through the resort. We left right from the beach in front of the hotel, and after our time flying in the air, we were returned back to the hotel beach.


First Time Parasailer Smile!

First Time Parasailer Smile!

Punta Cana Parasailing

Punta Cana Parasailing

Daytime Activities & Entertainment

Although the vibe was different than during our prior resort stays, a variety of activities were offered during each day of our stay. In addition to the bean bag toss that Scott participated in, bocce ball and mini-golf competitions were scheduled throughout the week. Masks were required and each person was assigned a "mat" in order to ensure that their social distancing was maintained.


Socially Distant Daytime Games

Socially Distant Daytime Games

Spanish lessons as well as traditional exercise classes (HIIT, Pilates, yoga and Zumba) were offered daily. Dance classes (including salsa and merengue), wine tasting, bingo sessions and more were also offered on a rotating schedule.


Luxury Ambar Entertainment Schedule

Luxury Ambar Entertainment Schedule

Happynes Day Photo Frame

Happynes Day Photo Frame

Butler Service

Included in the all-inclusive pricing for all Luxury Ambar guests is butler service. The services of a butler are actually advertised as "upon request". As we previously mentioned, our first request of Horam, our butler, was for a reservation at the steak restaurant. We knew that this might be difficult since our anniversary was the day after our arrival, but he seemed confident that he could make it happen.

--- Advertisement ---


After spending the better part of our first full day near the pool and beach, we returned to our room and were greeted with a big surprise. Our bed was decorated with rose petals and a happy anniversary message plus there was a bottle of bubbly along with 2 champagne glasses sitting on our table. Horam left a note confirming that he had made a reservation for our anniversary dinner as we had requested. (He also called us in the late afternoon to confirm that we had seen his message!)


Happy Anniversary to Us!

Happy Anniversary to Us!

One morning at the pool, one of the other butlers stopped by to check on us. We asked him a basic question about making a change to one of our remaining dining reservations. He asked who our butler was and immediately placed a call in to Horam to alert him of our request. We had no idea that Horam was "on call" even when he was off duty. Of course, once he arrived for his shift, he made our requested change and called to let us know. Each evening during his shift, Horam sought us out either in a dining venue or in the lobby bar to ensure that we were enjoying our stay and to ask what he could do to make it even better. He was nothing short of amazing.


Our Amazing Butler, Horam

Our Amazing Butler, Horam

Dining for Guests at Luxury Ambar

When we reserved our stay, in addition to buffet options, we thought that we would be able to choose from dining at eight a la carte dinner restaurants. As it turned out, three of the restaurants (Limbo, Fish Market and Rodizio) were closed. Buffet dining was open daily, however most a la carte restaurants were open on a rotating schedule. We were able to make reservations for all but two of our dinners. Fortunately, Horam, our butler, was able to fill in the remaining dinner reservations on our behalf.

--- Advertisement ---


No matter which restaurant nor which meal of the day, there were several things that were certain. Upon entering any of the restaurants, each diner was asked to wear a mask (except when eating) and use the provided hand sanitizer. The temperature of each guest's hand or wrist was taken by infrared thermometer before being seated. Tables and chairs throughout each dining establishment had been removed to allow for additional spacing between parties. Just like at beach and poolside resort seating, "Clean and Disinfected" tents were positioned on the table top after being sanitized. (The staff did seem to be vigilant with cleaning - shortly after being seated for one meal, we asked to move due to nearby smokers. Even though we were only seated for a couple of minutes before moving, the table was cleaned again before anyone else was seated.). Finally, menus for a la carte restaurants were accessible online by scanning a QR code. No paper menus were available.


Clean, Disinfected and Ready for Diners at Palmyra

Clean, Disinfected and Ready for Diners at Palmyra

Ordering from the Mobile Menu at M.E.A.T.

Ordering from the Mobile Menu at M.E.A.T.

Breakfast, Lunch and Buffet Service

As expected, buffet service at Palmyra (the main restaurant) and beach restaurant was quite different as compared to our previous resort stays. Rather than diners serving their own food, crowd control belts separated guests from the buffet line. Signage above each dish was small and often rather difficult to read with the increased distance.

Restaurant employees stood between the food and belts, plating food upon guest request. While this worked okay in many cases, personal preferences plus a language barrier sometimes caused inconveniences. For example, it was difficult to communicate portion size - when Scott requested a small salad, his dinner plate was nearly filled with lettuce. As he continued down the buffet line, he asked for some cold boiled shrimp with a cocktail or similar sauce. A large ladle full of sauce was poured directly on top of the unpeeled shrimp (and salad) - what a mess to eat! After this experience, we avoided the buffet for all future dinners.

--- Advertisement ---


Breakfast and lunch options were more limited. For anyone wanting a hot breakfast, the only option was Palmyra, the main restaurant. The coffee shop was also open for pastries, and of course, coffee. In addition to paella plus grilled burgers, hot dogs and the like offered in a small beachside kiosk, lunch was offered in Palmyra and Las Olas Beach House (both buffets). The Pool Restaurant, formerly a combination of self-service and buffet dining, was open for those preferring a sit-down lunch served by a wait-staff. Lunch fare included sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, pastas, pizzas, roasted chicken, fish, sides and desserts.


Breakfast at the Coffee Shop

Breakfast at the Coffee Shop

A La Carte Dining

Of the five restaurants open for dinner, we dined at all but Thali (serving Indian cuisine) during our week long stay. We did overhear a conversation among guests in the pool who were complaining about the food quality. We, however, aren't too picky when it comes to "free" food. Overall we were quite pleased with each of our meals.


Ready for Dinner!

Ready for Dinner!

In addition to our anniversary meal at M.E.A.T. Restaurante, we ate a second dinner at the steak house. Although Scott's rib-eye was very tasty, it did have more gristle and fat than he would have hoped for. He preferred his JC's signature burger from our return visit. My favorite dish was the grilled salmon, but the rotisserie chicken (which came highly recommended by a fellow guest) with a side of the Jack Daniel's sauce that accompanied Scott's burger was also quite good.


Dining at M.E.A.T. Restaurante

Dining at M.E.A.T. Restaurante

We still talk about how much we each enjoyed the cocktails offered during our second meal. (We asked several staff members in the restaurant for the name and ingredients of the drink. Due to our lack of understanding Spanish, we had difficulty understanding their responses. Finally, someone wrote the name of the cocktail on paper! Unfortunately we've been unsuccessful in finding the recipe for a circus so we can try to replicate it at home.)


Circus

Circus

Our entree choices at Portofino Restaurante Italiano were beef lasagne (recommended by a resort guest) and linguini frutti di mare. With Scott's burrata cheese with fig salad and my minestrone soup, plus the assortment of bread and desserts served with our dinner, we had more than enough for a meal.

--- Advertisement ---


Shortly after being seated at Tequila, we were each served margaritas plus a starter to share. Different than the Tex-Mex mix in the menu, the appetizer was quite filling. It's a good thing, because although my fajita entree was plentiful, Scott's burrito was among the smallest we've seen anywhere! Between us, we tried three of the four desserts (chocolate brownie, apple crumble and waffle cone) and left the restaurant stuffed.


Dinner at Tequila

Dinner at Tequila

Although not on the menu, we were served hummus with pita bread as an appetizer to share at The Greek. We both chose the traditional Greek salad as a starter. Scott ordered the beef moussaka as his main dish and the mini Greek yogurt tartlet for dessert. I selected the chicken kebab entree, and for dessert, the selection of Middle Eastern sweets. While our meals were enjoyable, they didn't compare to other Greek restaurants where we have previously dined.


Sampling of Dinner at The Greek

Sampling of Dinner at The Greek

For something different, we chose to dine at the very casual Sports Bar for our final dinner. No reservations are required at this indoor / outdoor bar and grill. From the menu, which primarily consisted of burgers, sandwiches and wraps, we both chose club sandwiches with potato wedges. In our opinion, our dinners were very comparable to standard bar food fare.


Club Sandwiches with Potato Wedges at the Sports Bar

Club Sandwiches with Potato Wedges at the Sports Bar

Evening Entertainment

Our biggest disappointment was the lack of evening shows that we had thoroughly enjoyed during our two previous all-inclusive stays. While the resort's entertainment staff did lead evening activities, they lacked variety. To be fair, a staff member explained that a government mandate prohibited any resorts from offering shows like those which we had become accustomed.

--- Advertisement ---


Three different activities were rotated among the evenings during our week long stay. With guests volunteering to perform from a selection of available songs, evening karaoke mirrored other land and sea singing events. Bingo nights included three rounds played without clearing the board in between. Prizes were given to the first guest with verified single line, two lines and blackout bingos.


Ready to Play BINGO!

Ready to Play BINGO!

Referred to as either trivial or quiz, a selection of multiple choice trivia type questions were projected on to a screen. After registering on smart phones, guests chose from provided responses. Points were awarded based on both speed and accuracy. The concept was a good one, however additional variety was definitely needed. The exact same game (with same questions) was played with just two days between during our stay. In fact, even the winners were the same! (Based on comments that we overheard, the two winners had been playing and winning even before we arrived.)

On a positive note, the lobby bar was open each evening and the wandering bar staff provided excellent service.

--- Advertisement ---


Mandatory COVID Testing

Beginning in late January 2021, all air passengers landing in the United States were required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding an aircraft. On the morning after checking-in, we each completed the paperwork required for the free antigen test provided by the resort. We were told to meet at 9:00 AM on the morning prior to our departure to be escorted from the lobby to the testing site.

Once the departing group of guests had gathered, we were seated in one of the resort vehicles and driven to the medical center near the front of the resort. After a short wait outside of the office, we were called inside for testing via a nasal swab. The test was not nearly as painful as I had anticipated, and it was done very quickly. We were told that our results would be delivered to our room before the end of the day.

When I returned to our room in the early afternoon to get something that I had forgotten, I found two envelopes on our bed. Our test results had already been delivered, and we were COVID-free!


Relaxing Poolside at Luxury Ambar

Relaxing Poolside at Luxury Ambar

Return Travel from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to Austin, TX

It's hard to believe, but only a week after leaving home, there were already some new developments with air travel!

After checking out of Luxury Ambar, we were transported to the main resort entrance (a ghost town) where we waited on our pre-arranged transportation to the airport. Unfortunately, the wait was much longer than promised with no one around to check on the status or to keep us up to date on the shuttle whereabouts. Shortly after we got fed up and finally started making some phone calls to the transportation company, our near full shuttle arrived.

--- Advertisement ---


American Airlines from Punta Cana to Miami

American Airlines is one of a small group of airlines that has partnered with VeriFLY, a mobile health passport. Customers who choose to download and use the VeriFLY app can enter their flight details including origin and destination airports and basic personal information (plus a selfie). From there, users are guided step-by-step through the specific entry requirements.

For our flight to the United States, we entered the requested information about our antigen tests and uploaded a photo of our documentation. Email and push notifications provided updates through the process including a final notice once all of our credentials had been verified. The small commitment of time required for input into VeriFLY resulted in speeding up the flight check-in process at the airport.

Just as we did prior to our arrival into the Dominican Republic, we were also required to complete the Electronic Entry and Exit Form. The form can be completed online a maximum of 72 hours prior to departure from the country.

Although there was no availability for main cabin extra upgrades for our return flight, the flight was not full and we did have an open seat between us. Snacks on the plane were again delivered in large zippered bags filled with a small bottle of water, bag of pretzels and sanitizing wipe.


Snack Pack on American Airlines Flight from PUJ - MIA

Snack Pack on American Airlines Flight from PUJ - MIA

Tri-Rail from Miami Airport to Fort Lauderdale Airport

We had been wanting to try out the Tri-Rail service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale for quite some time. As we planned on spending the evening with our friends who live near FLL, this was the perfect opportunity to ride the south Florida commuter rail line.

--- Advertisement ---


A free ride on the MIA Mover brought us from the airport to the Miami Airport Tri-Rail Station. Once we figured out how to purchase tickets at a kiosk (with a little help from an agent), we were ready to board. For just $3.75 per person, we were able to ride to the Fort Lauderdale Airport Tri-Rail Station in just under 40 minutes. Our 7:50 PM train was not crowded and we had no difficulty finding a space for our baggage. Since a complimentary bus ride is required to reach FLL from the Tri-Rail Station, our friends did not have to deal with airport traffic when picking us up!


Ready to Board at Miami Airport Tri-Rail Station

Ready to Board at Miami Airport Tri-Rail Station

Southwest Airlines from Fort Lauderdale to Austin

Other than our flight not being full, the most exciting change on our return flight to Austin aboard Southwest Airlines was that a limited soft drink offering had returned! Beginning on March 16th, the day after our outbound flight, customers could choose from Coke, Diet Coke, 7-Up and water on flights over 250 miles. Flight attendants walked through the plane displaying a numbered menu. Passengers were encouraged to "communicate" their order by holding up the number of fingers which corresponded to their drink of choice.

Once we had arrived back in Austin and claimed our baggage, we walked to the Fast Park & Relax shuttle stop. The shuttle was again full of mask wearing passengers, preventing any social distancing. Once we had loaded up our car, we headed to the exit where we had a choice of the DIY express lanes or approaching the cashier. By scanning our mobile Rewards Card, we were ready to pay by credit card, exit the lot and drive home.

--- Advertisement ---


Post-Travel COVID-19 Testing

As recommended, we had one more COVID test - this time five days after our return home. Knowing exactly what to expect during the self-collection swab testing, we chose Curative once again. Just like for our pre-travel tests, each step of the process (including notification of our test results) was communicated along the way. After we knew that we had tested negative and had self-quarantined for seven days with no symptoms, we felt comfortable that we had not become infected during our escape!

Riu Palace Macao

Not sure which all-inclusive resort you'd like to reserve for a stay in Punta Cana? Check out our article, "7 Nights at Riu Palace Macao including 13 Free Things to Do during your Stay" to read about our week long holiday just over two years earlier at the neighboring resort.

International Travel Experiences

What experiences have you had with international travel during the pandemic?


Weather:83F Humid

Caribbean Paradise in the Midst of a Pandemic







--- Advertisement ---

Booking.com





Related Posts  


Other Recent Posts  


--- Advertisement ---



Comments    



Passport Stamp Creator
--- Advertisement ---


--- Advertisement ---