2019 was not a good year for the Dominican Republic. There was a slew of sensationalized headlines claiming that the alcohol was tainted and you shouldn’t go to this Caribbean island as you’ll get poisoned.
Well, this is nonsense. There were deaths as there are in any destination (sorry, but bad things can happen on vacation just as often as they do at home) but there have been no confirmed cases linking tainted alcohol to the deaths.
But these erroneous news reports worked. People cancelled their trips to the Dominican Republic. And so now the resorts are empty.
I was invited by ALG (Apple Leisure Group) to stay at one of their resorts so I can experience firsthand the current situation and to prove to you - my dear clients - that the alcohol is safe to drink. I had my fair share of different types of alcohol during my 4-day stay and I didn’t even get a headache!
I stayed at the 4-star Now Onyx Punta Cana Resort which is located on a wide stretch of beach in Punta Cana. It is a a beautiful family-friendly resort with several pool, beach and entertainment areas. For those 18 and up, it also includes exchange privileges with the adults-only Breathless Punta Cana Resort which is right next door so basically it was like getting two resorts in one! Both are less than 5 years old and were exceptionally clean with tasteful (and fun!) decor and beautiful landscaping. We did the Preferred Club room which includes access to private club lounges with upgraded drink options, private beach areas, private pools and our very own butler, Rafael. This was well worth the difference in cost as the preferred club pool at Onyx became our favorite place at either resort. Was worth it for just that!
Now Onyx is family-friendly whereas the Breathless is 18+up. There were many pool areas spread across both resorts, all with different vibes. If you want to party in the pool complete with a live DJ, then head to the main two-story (!) pool at Breathless. If you want something more refined but with the bar facilities, then the Preferred Club pool at Onyx is where to go. The Xhale Club pool (Breathless' preferred club) was a quiet retreat with a meandering pool that never felt crowded and it was right next to the Club lounge that offers snacks and drinks throughout the day.
The buffet is the main option for both breakfast and lunch (besides room service and snacks in the club lounges). The buffets were huge! It took us three days to narrow down what we liked best after a lot of sampling. There was a large salad bar, a wide assortment of breads, cooked-to-order omelettes (breakfast) and pastas (lunch), ethnic foods (including paella), pizza, pancakes, meats, cheeses, desserts, oh my!… There was a decent amount of choices for vegetarians (like me) all clearly marked as being vegetarian so that was useful.
My main complaint with the buffet food was that it was under-seasoned but they did have a spice/seasoning bar where you can spice up the food to your liking. The seating is outdoors for the buffet (open-air shaded space) but the Preferred Club members were able to sit in the air-conditioned dining room - another perk of being in the “club”.
More meal options were available at dinner with Italian, French, Mexican and Asian restaurants - plus the buffet! These restaurants had rotating nights due to the low guest numbers that were currently staying at the resort but I think they’d all be open nightly when the resort figures go back up. They rotated them well though - the Italian was closed one night at the Onyx but the Italian at Breathless was open so we just went there. The menus are different but have some commonalities as well.
If you don’t feel like leaving your room for meals, they also have 24-hour room service.
Now the drinks. As I mentioned above, I did a fair share of taste testing to make sure the alcohol was safe to drink (haha). They have name-branded liquor, wine and beer - no shady moonshines or unmarked bottles. The included beer and wine options were limited (pretty much Presidente everywhere which is a tasty light beer perfect for the hot weather which I enjoyed) but the included wines were a disappointment although I suppose I didn't go to the Caribbean to drink wine (we ended up ordering separate bottles of wine at dinner which they had a sommelier come pour for us (that part was a bit of a surprise! You also get $10 coupons to use towards these bottles of wine)). I’m also a bit of a wine snob, so there’s that too.
They sent us a bottle of champagne for my birthday (yay!), and we also received a small bottle of local Rum since we did the Preferred Club. We had some tasty rum and cokes while sitting on our (huge) balcony while snacking on cheeses that we got from the buffet (buffet hack tip! You can get paper plates to take back to your room).
The beach was wide and long. The sand was very soft although not white (more like a tan color) it was still very pretty. The water was a little too wavy for my liking but my friend took a dip and there were others swimming. They were constantly cleaning up the seaweed (sargassum) that washes ashore so it never piled up or become a smelly problem. (Side note: The waves are calmer towards the Breathless beach as it is in a little alcove and there are calmer waters in other parts of Punta Cana).
There was a LOT of empty lounge chairs including those under the shade (either shade of the palm trees or little tiki-hut like structures). We upgraded one day and reserved a “Private Oasis” which is a two-story beach cabana. The bottom level had a Bali bed (also available to be reserved for an extra cost) and the top level had a couple of loungers which were open to the sun. We liked being able to rotate between the separate areas when we wanted sun or shade (and we would take a dip in the pool when it got too hot as that was just a minute walk away!) The Private Oasis typically goes for $100/day which is well worth it. We even had drink and food delivery right to our cabana. Yes, it was amazing.
All ground floor rooms have swim-out access to meandering pools which are either connected to the main pool or almost connected (you may have to get out and walk across the sidewalk to get to the larger pool - not a big deal at all!). The Now Onyx had three public pool areas: two for preferred club members and one main pool which was very large with different areas - one area had pool games and entertainment (and a swim-up bar) as well as a quieter and more laid-back area. There was also an infinity pool that overlooked the main pool and a small salt water pool. And a kids splash pool. Something for everyone!
The main Preferred Club pool was our favorite. It was so unique that it is hard to explain so instead, just check out my photos!
There were different pool areas at the Breathless Resort as well. The Moet and Chandon pool which had an infinity pool over the ground-level pool - this is where they had a live DJ in the afternoons and it got pretty crazy! Then they have a larger main pool area which was more laid-back and quieter. And the smaller Preferred Club pool near the club house and the meandering pools for those with the swim-out rooms.
There was a plethora of seating options around all of these pools - chairs, loungers, private cabanas… The resort was empty so we never had a problem finding somewhere to put our stuff while we took a dip.
The Room and Staff:
We were in a pool view room at the Onyx which was located on the second floor. It had a great view over the interior of the resort and we could see the ocean through the palm trees (could hear it, too!). The room was spacious with two beds (also available with one king), a separate couch, and an open-concept bathroom (sinks were open to the room - shower/toilet was behind privacy doors). The room had cold a/c, cable TV (with English language channels, and a large balcony with jacuzzi tub (which we didn’t have time to use!)
The staff were all very friendly and welcoming. It does help to learn some key phrases in Spanish but most employees spoke a bit of English (all signage and menus are in English). We definitely had our favorite staff members - such as the pool bartender (Christian!). It helps to build a good rapport with staff by tipping a few dollars as you go. That will help them remember you and you’ll get better service (not saying you have to tip but it helps. Plus they deserve it as they work hard in the heat!)
The Daily Activities/Nightlife:
We mainly were interested in having a few days of relaxation (and eating/drinking) so we didn’t partake in too many scheduled activities. The spa is under renovation so they had a small area set-up as a replacement but we ended up not doing any spa services. There was nightly shows and DJ’s which were a little cheesy but still fun. Breathless has a nightclub on the second floor of their lobby which we only discovered our last night there. It has a large open-air terrace with views over the resort, and it had some pretty cool couches and chairs; you could definitely see Instagrammer’s liking this space!
I would not hesitate to recommend the Dominican Republic as a beach getaway nor would I hesitate to return. The pricing is very low at the moment but I expect it will be back to normal within 6 months from August 2019. The island is usually one of the most affordable Caribbean destinations anyway, but now it is even less expensive! Non-stop flights are available from most major cities in the U.S. Flying time from Orlando was less than 2.5 hours. So it makes a nice quick weekend getaway as well!
I want to thank ALG for the invitation. I highly enjoyed my experience at your resorts and hope to be back sometime soon!
Ready to learn more? Contact me today so we can begin discussing your travel plans!
Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary resort stay (I paid for my flights) but the opinions above are my own. Their only requirement was that I tag photos #iLovetheDR which I do agree with!