Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Our Club Med Home Away From Home

La Nina

TRAVEL THERE: GENEROUS AND GRACIOUS SPACES

Since I’d won our trip to Club Med from CTC Travel, we had no idea what kind of accommodations to expect.  How bad could things be at a five star resort, right?  Still, I’ve usually pored over the available information and carefully selected our rooms to be as economical as possible, while providing what we need.  We made out just fine in what they provided – in fact, better than fine.

The Big Picture

Most of the entertainments and dining facilities are centrally located on the property.  If you go one way from there, you’ll reach the Zen side of the resort.  That’s the more exclusive, adults-only part.  If you go the other way, you’ll find building after building after building of more family-oriented hotel rooms.

Our Accommodations

I can’t speak for the rest of the rooms in any of the other buildings, but I can tell you 662 La Nina is a nice place to stay.  When you enter the door there is a hallway.  On the right is a room with a toilet and next to it is another room with the balance of the bathroom facilities, a huge walk-in shower and a large two-sink vanity.

The view from our front door

On the left side is a huge, and I do mean huge, closet.  Along with plenty of hanging space and hangers, there were two stacks of roomy shelving.  If I would have had my druthers, I would have preferred a dresser with drawers, but that’s just me.  The shelves worked fine.  There was also a shelf all around the top of the closet that was great for hats and such.  There was room for everything and to spare.

The room came with some equipment, a hairdryer, a frig, a coffee maker, an iron and an ironing board.  There’s also free wi-fi, not the fastest in the world, but more than adequate for the usual stuff. The Dominican Republic is on the same power grid as the US, so they had the same kinds of power and plugs as we do.

After you get past the bathroom facilities and closet, the room opened up.  To the right was a nice bed, queen-sized, I think.  It seemed a bit smaller than at home.  To the left was a secondary space with two sofas that could be made into beds.  We didn’t have to guess that this was great for families, a pungent smell told us someone had recently had an accident there.  As soon as we notified housekeeping they took care of it, but they had points taken away for it nonetheless.

The view from our balcony

There was also a nice balcony.  I wasn’t really roomy, but there were two chairs, a table and an ashtry, which we no longer see in America very often.  I spent some quality time out there, but had to be careful to wear socks, because if my ankles were bare, some invisible pest would begin to gnaw on me.

We were very comfortable there.  The rooms are not what I consider luxurious, but they weren’t spartan either.  Nicely, but not opulently furnished – it was a beach resort after all.  We especially appreciated the bonus room.  I’d retreat there in the mornings before Bill woke up and he liked to enjoy his online games there.  We slept well every night without any interruptions.

The Fitbit tells the story

We also walked a million miles or at least it seemed like it!  La Nina was sort of in the middle of the cluster of buildings with rooms.  I’m guessing there is a premium to pay for rooms which were closer to the entertainment section, but there were buildings which would have doubled our steps taken.  I hope they are a bargain.

At the reception area they tell you that you can call whenever you like and a cart will come and transport you back and forth.  On our first day we tested that theory and attempted to grab a ride to our room.  So, had everyone else on the property.  Well, not everyone else, but enough someone elses that we weren’t going to wait – especially when we watched an aggressive group jump on a cart and zoom away, rather than allowing the ladies who had been waiting ahead of us to take it.  In other words, we didn’t plan to fight that battle on a regular basis.  While I did see a lot of carts whipping around the property, it was rare for them to have guests as passengers.  Usually they were toting bags or equipment.

So that’s it for our accommodations.  Come back next week and we’ll go to breakfast.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, TRAVEL

Let Club Med Punta Cana Entertain You

Cirque du Soleil

TRAVEL THERE: ENJOYING THE EVENING PERFORMANCES

If you were looking for it, there was always something to do at Club Med.  As I said earlier, live music entertained the guests in the Cielo Bar before dinner.  After dinner there would be more live music, often from a different band.  And so it would go into the the wee hours of the morning, but we can’t tell you much about that, because we usually turned in after the evening show.

Not Broadway, But Not Bad

Perhaps you read some of my reviews of our recent Royal Caribbean cruise which included scathing remarks about the on board talent, or lack of it.  At Club Med, the performers weren’t pros (with a few exceptions) and they didn’t try to pretend they were, but the entertainment was completely enjoyable.  Most evenings, some time in between the end of dinner and the beginning of the hard core partying, there would be entertainment.  We found it quite fun.

Michael Jackson Tribute

Our first night featured a tribute to Michael Jackson.  A professional performer danced to familiar Jackson tunes and he was accompanied by a cast comprised of Club Med staffers – known as GO’s (Gracious Organizers).  We discovered a large number of the GO’s are interns on a stipend.  Pretty much slave cheap labor, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The pro had the right build to play MJ and had someone doing great make-up.  His wardrobe was very convincing and so was his dancing.  While I can’t say it was just like watching MJ himself, it was high-energy, fun and entertaining.

After the MJ tribute there was something very familiar – an introduction to the staff.  I felt like I was on a cruise – but without the trays of champagne.  The intro went overly long I thought, but the Chef du Village (the guy in charge of Club Med Punta Cana) was embarrassing people who left early, so we sat in our seat until he was through.

Balloon Party

Creactive Demo

Creactive is the name of the Cirque du Soleil (CDS) trapeze training school at Club Med Punta Cana.  There guests can pretend they’ve run away and joined the circus.  Bill wasn’t the least bit interested in taking a high-flying class and I’m a little acrophobic, so we didn’t take advantage of Creactive at all – except for the show they put on one evening.

The show was great.  Performers, alone and in pairs, put themselves through their paces high in the sky.  If you’ve ever been to a CDS show or seen one on TV I don’t have to tell you of the aerial feats of skill and awe they performed.  However, it was also different from the usual performance.

There was no plot or theme and I missed it.  I love the crazy costumes and surreal stories featured in the CDS shows I’ve seen previously.  There was also none of the floor acrobatics, juggling and magic that make a CDS show so fantastic.  As I said, it was a great show and this isn’t meant as criticism, just a warning about what to and not to expect.

After the show, there was a Balloon Party in the Rondele, a circular patio next to the Cielo Bar. Whatever they called a party at Club Med, it contained a lot of singing and swaying.  There’s a song they sang all the time that started out “alle’ alle'” and included hand signals that everyone seemed to know – but us.  It was called the Crazy Dance and they gave Crazy Dance lessons every day, but since I don’t know my right from my left, I stayed away.  This was the Balloon Party, because they dropped balloons on the crowd.  The White Party was white, because they dropped white confetti on you.  The Red Party was red because…well you get the idea.

The Brazil Show

Another evening we were entertained with a show featuring Brazilian music and dance.  As far as I could tell, there were no professional performers for this one, just jiggling GO’s giving it their all in skimpy costumes.  I’m not complaining.  It was a lot of fun.

Then out came the Chef du Village (CDV).  This guy really needs his own TV show.  I don’t think the stage at Club Med is big enough for him.  He had on a knock-out Carnivale costume and performed some “magic” that were actually gags, which poked fun at his victim, but entertained the audience.

From Carnivale, the CDV moved on to world peace.  (See I told you his stage was too small.)  He recognized all the countries represented by staff and then moved on to the audience to see how many other countries were represented.  Then we all sang, “We Are the World.”

No Dominican Show 

We were disappointed on our final day that there was no show.  It was supposed to feature the Dominican culture, which I would have enjoyed.  The show had been on the schedule I took a picture of that first day.  The show was on the schedule I picked up in the lobby.  However, the schedule at the Cielo had been changed somewhere along the way and the Dominican show had disappeared.  The only people to show up were Bill and I and one other group.  There’s being prepared and being over-prepared.  I think I was over-prepared – as if that’s a surprise.

Sometimes after the show we would head over to Cielo to check out the action, but usually we were worn out by so much relaxation, so we’d head to the room.  Come back next week and I will tell you about our accommodations – and as always, thank you CTC Travel.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Dinner is Delightful at Club Med Punta Cana

Dessert was Divine

TRAVEL THERE: SAMANA, THE INTERNATIONAL BUFFET

I have no complaints about Club Med Food.  I liked some things better than others, but there was not a thing available that was anything but good.  Meals were delicious all day long, but dinner at Samana was something special.

Bon Jour & Bon Appetite

After our visit to Cielo, we’d stroll across the patios to Samana and climb the stairs.  Just inside the doors we’d be greeted by a delightful lady we came to recognize by sight – even if we doubted she recognized us at all.

We’d tell her there were two of us and she’d find us a table.  You could sit wherever you wanted, but we discovered we needed the hostess.  One night we arrived and she wasn’t standing there, so we wandered around on our own.  A bit later we came back to the door, happy to see her waiting, feeling quite silly for having tried to seat ourselves.

As soon as we had a table, a server would appear and offer us a beverage.   Bill would get red wine and I would get white.  Then we’d disappear off to the many, many buffet table.  We didn’t stick to a particular order for our food.  We’d wander about and pick the things that interested us most.  I think the first night was by far the best, Beef Wellington, escargot, veal and much more.

Confession, I ate more cheese, morning, noon and night, than anyone probably ever should – but it was SO good.  There’s a reason I don’t keep a variety of cheeses in my frig – I would eat them.  Mozzerella, Blue, Gouda, Swiss, Emmantala, Tontine, Farmers, Feta, Brie – along with amazing breads, dried apricots, nuts and more.  I ate enough that it should have been all I ate, but this was vacation, right?

The menu rotated every night. Around the central area,

  • a huge section for appetizers, mostly fresh seafood and shellfish
  • cheese and bread
  • the next section would vary by evening.  The section next to the bread would vary with the evening and then the desserts would begin.
  • An inner circle would offer very international dishes, like tempura, sweetbreads, Mongolian bbq, schwarma, enchildas etc. etc. etc.

The back wall had

  • a salad bar
  • a pasta bar
  • a section for grilled seafood
  • then grilled meats and other entrees, like the Beef Wellington or Halibut Oscar
  • one corner had a pizza oven offering fresh slices – very popular with the kids
  • a section with Dominican foods.

In my youth I went with a group of my college friends to an all-inclusive resort – a Jack Tar Village on Grand Bahama.  Eating was no problem.  You couldn’t eat all the food they offered, but beverages were a whole ‘nother thing.  The beverages were supposed to be included and you could usually manage to get one, but good luck getting refills.  Thankfully, we discovered a rum factory nearby and dosed ourselves quite liberally with coconut rum, but could get little of anything beverage-wise from the staff.  We also discovered the vending machines had beer.  I didn’t have any of that, but I think our group had cleaned out every beer out of every vending machine before the week was over.

There was no stinginess with alcohol at Club Med.  All throughout dinner the waitstaff kept our glasses filled – both the wine and the water.  It wasn’t fine wine, but it was fine – if you know what I mean.  The guest population of the resort was primarily French, if you remember, so I doubt Club Med could get by without the good stuff.  I noticed that most people were drinking rose’, something that surprised me.  I knew it was becoming a thing over here, but apparently the French like it, too.

After dinner there would usually be entertainment, so come back next week and enjoy the shows with us.  I can’t sign off without another thank you to CTC Travel.  Thanks so much, we loved Club Med.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Drinks at Cielo Every Evening & All Day Long

TRAVEL THERE: ROCKING WITH A TROPICAL RHYTHM

When they raise the traffic gate and welcome you into Club Med Punta Cana, you enter another world.  It took me a few hours to slither out of the daily grind and figure that out, but I did.  I was still in a bit of a rush as I hobbled back to our room and then headed out again for dinner, but by

dessert, I was on island time.

Denim and White Night

Dressing for Dinner

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel, warned me they had themes each night at Club Med.  It wasn’t a have-to thing, but something to add to the fun.  She’d mentioned a pirate night, but if they have one of those at Punta Cana, it didn’t happen while we were there.  Our first night was White Night.  I wore a mostly white top and some white jeans, but if you are into themes, be warned, don’t take any shortcuts, especially on White Night.  Your fellow members have spent a lot of money on gorgeous white sundresses, white linen suits and all things white.

Saturday was Denim & White, Sunday Red & White, Monday Flowers, Tuesday 45 & Fluorescent – then we went home.  The 45 thing requires an explanation, but it can wait.

Meet You at Cielo

Cielo Bar is a large, circular, open air, (wait for it) palm-frond-roofed bar/cafe/coffee shop/living room sort of place that takes central stage in the entertainment section of Club Med Punta Cana.  We were wandering in and out of it all the time.

During the day they had salsa lessons and various games.  The bar was always open for coffee or drinks.  A serve-yourself soda fountain sat at one end of the U-shaped bar.  A very convenient restroom was around the back.  Though we never quite figured out a schedule, there were often snacks available – pastries in the early hours, chips, salsa and guacamole during the day and at night hors d’oeuvres.  Comfortable sofas and lounge chairs hugged the outer edges.

Red and White Night

Most of our evenings began on the white sofas of Cielo.  A live band would entertain the crowd.  We’d try to make conversation with some of our fellow GM’s (Guest Members), but most of them were French.  We grew to absolutely love the French Connection.  We also discovered we weren’t particularly proud to be associated with the other Americans on the property.

We didn’t usually bother with evening hors d’oeuvres, because the fabulous buffet meals kept our hunger at bay, but we would have a drink.  The first night I tried a rum & coke, which was fine, but I’m really a white wine girl and that became my regular.  Bill would get a beer with a tequila shot chaser.  He really was on vacation.

Many of our French friends would arrive at Cielo in family groups, but unlike the usual situation with American families, the children were not the center of attention and they didn’t sit staring into a tablet or phone.  French children of all ages were expected to sit quietly in their seat, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and sodas, while the adults chatted with one another.  We were very impressed by this.  Temper tantrums and meltdowns just didn’t happen.  Americans are doing something wrong.

Eventually, we’d leave Cielo and head over to Samana, the dinner buffet.  Dinner officially began at 6:30, but the Cielo experience began at 7, so Cielo is where we began our evenings.  Then we’d wander across to Samana.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Falling for Club Med Punta Cana

The Evening Line-up

TRAVEL THERE: LEARNING HOW TO BE CLUB MED MEMBERS

Though I was pretty put out that the orientation tour had fallen out of my grasp, I had to admit we had landed in paradise. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to CTC Travel? I still can’t believe I won the trip.

Learning Our Way Around

As I marched all over the campus trying to get my bearings we made some important discoveries. The tile around the pool was pretty slick when it got wet. We found Samana, where the evening buffet would be served. We found the Cielo Bar, which was sort of the living room of the property.  We found the auditorium where we would have met the tour and where the evening’s entertainment would be. We also found the gift shops and the area where we could get pool towels.

Perhaps my best find was  the schedules for every day of the week, posted on a wall in Cielo. I took pictures of them, because the Club Med app was not only sssslllllooooowww, it also ate up a lot of battery.  I suddenly didn’t feel so frantic.  I’d gotten the general lay of the land and even if the app wouldn’t serve up the schedule as fast as I wanted, I had a back-up plan.  Later, I would also discover a place in the lobby where they made printed schedules available every morning.  My hysterical anxiety began to abate.

 And Then I Literally FELL for Club Med Punta Cana 

A quick look at my watch said dinner was not far off and I wanted to freshen up a bit beforehand. The rain started falling more seriously and Bill told me to watch myself on the slick tile.

We headed towards our room in the rain. I took off my flip flops, because they seemed to add to the slickness of the tile. As we came to some steps, four at the most, Bill grabbed a hold of me to be sure I didn’t slip. I was being really careful, but suddenly there was no traction and I was down.

I hit so hard that Bill was convinced I must have broken my hip. He kept trying to roll me over to see the damage. I knew I hit an elbow and one of my arms, but my buttocks was well-padded.  No problem there.

Everything else paled in comparison to what was going on with my foot. Since my foot had come out from under me without any traction whatsoever, I couldn’t imagine why it hurt so much, but my big toe and my fourth toe hurt like a cuss word I am not going to say.  After I got home I decided my foot had hit a wall next to steps as I came down, but it had all happened so quickly I couldn’t figure what had happened.

So, rain was pouring down and my foot is killing me, but right that minute all I wanted to do was get to the room. I put on a brave face and limped away as Bill tried to convince me I should instead be figuring out what was broken.  Come back next week and find out what happened.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Starving in Paradise

The view from our room

TRAVEL THERE: CAN I PLEASE EAT?

There was no Indian restaurant on the beach.  It was a beach bar named Indigo.  We found our way back to the reception area and got directions to the nearest place to get food at that moment in time, which was the Indigo.

Finally Food 

The Indigo Beach Bar and Grill is an open-aired restaurant, right on the beach.  Initially the charm of it was lost on me, because I was starving.  We were seated and handed some menus.  Speed was not of the essence to them, but my blood sugar had hit rock bottom.

They wanted a drink order.  I remembered all drinks were included, which brought a smile.  I ordered a margarita on the rocks with salt.  The waiter wandered off, so we could peruse the menu.  The margarita returned and it wasn’t exactly as I imagined it would be.  There would be no cigars, because it wasn’t even close.  Scratch margaritas off my drink list.  We gave them our food order – hamburgers.  The waiter wandered off and I realized if I didn’t get some food soon I was going to start chewing on the palm-frond roof. 

I gazed around the restaurant, thinking I might spy some crackers or a basket of bread, but to my relief there was buffet of sorts.  It was a salad bar and had a few other edibles.  The salad wasn’t all that fresh, but it would have to do.  FOOD!

It wasn’t all that long until the burgers arrived.  I inhaled that as quickly as I had the salad.  I was ready to figure out where we were and what we were supposed to be doing.  As the calories from lunch began to connect with my brain, I decided to check into the Club Med Punta Cana app and see if I could figure out what was going on.  After all, the welcome crew had told me there would be an orientation tour at 3.  I just had to find out where that would be.

Then Everything Changes

This is about the time it started raining.  Said orientation tour was not on the app. Bill has his quirks.  I have mine.   One of mine reared its ugly head.  I obsessively need to know my way around and I want to know what’s happening.  Bill is much more laid back about that sort of thing than me, willing to wander about aimlessly, not wondering if he’s missing the best activity or not.

After 24 years, Bill and I are getting better at this traveling stuff.  I had allowed him to play computer games on the sofa, even though I was starving and he followed me around the grounds to get my bearings, even though I was behaving like a chicken with my head cut off.  Isn’t marriage wonderful?

We’re about to take ourselves on an improptu, self-led tour of the grounds. Come back next week and join us as we get our bearings for the coming days.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Our Punta Cana Pals

TRAVEL THERE: ARRIVING IN PUNTA CANA

Punta Cana is one of those open air airports.  It was lovely on the day we arrived, but I couldn’t help but wonder how miserable it might be if it was storming.  You disembark onto the tarmac and ride a bus for such a short bit that you wonder why they bothered.  Then you leave the bus and enter the palm-frond-covered terminal.

Happy to be There

Most everything in Punta Cana is palm-frond-covered, but the picture you see was not taken at the airport.  That’s Club Med’s lobby and it was taken several days later.  We did not arrive quite so happy and carefree, but we were happy to be on the ground again.

I was starving, because I had used up all the calories from my morning cookie a long time ago.  I was also not too happy about the fact that somewhere during my sojourn with Spirit Airlines I had managed to get gum on the divided skirt I planned to wear several times during my Punta Cana stay.  I had enjoyed better traveling experiences.

We shuffled along in the terminal, following the rest of the people from our plane.  We waited for our luggage and then something odd happened.  Remember those fees Bill doesn’t like to pay.  Well, he’s not fond of tipping either, so I was surprised to discover that somehow we’d inherited a porter to push the luggage cart we’d wrangled on our own. That’s not our usual MO, but I’m not complaining.

Our porter ushered us through customs and hooked us up with a taxi.  Most taxis in Punta Cana are white vans, not the yellow vehicles that usually come to mind.  A short ride later and we were at Club Med.

Welcoming Ritual

They do things nicely at Club Med.  We were helped from our vehicle and ushered over to a sofa.  A smiling young lady offered us a cool cloth with which to wipe our face and hands.  An inviting fruit drink waited on a nearby table.  Our luggage was unloaded.  We were ushered to a comfortable sofa to enjoy our beverage.  I realized I could get used to this relaxation thing.

While we sipped our fruit drink, a dark-skinned gentleman with a sing-song voice chatted us up.  He pointed one way to tell us about Samantha, Banana or Sama-something where we would have dinner.  He pointed another way to tell us about Hispanola, which was closed.  And then it sounded as if he was telling us there was an Indian restaurant on the beach where we could get snacks.

Snacks sounded good, but then a fresh-looking young lady came to show us our room – La Nina 662.  Rain was in the forecast, but while it didn’t look as if that was possible, heavy humidity whispered that it wasn’t only possible, but probable.  Our guide across the property was an Israeli, but her family lives in Canada.  She’s an intern.  We’d soon figure out that there were a lot of interns from all over the world.

Getting Settled In

Our Canadian/Israeli friend had no sooner shown us to our room, than a bellman arrived with our luggage.  This was one of those situations in which a vacation can go awry.  Damn the luggage, I was starving, but Bill wanted to rest a little.  I’ve learned to let him settle in his way and there is no telling what that will be.  Sometimes he’s ready to go exploring, but not this time, when I would have loved to find the first viable source of food and feed my face.

As he laid on the sofa playing his favorite game on his tablet, I used the time to get unpacked.  That’s usually the first thing I want to do, but this time all I could think about was how hungry I was.  Once everything was unpacked and organized in our room, I looked out the window and decided on a change of clothes before heading out.  I wanted to get out of the gummed skirt and in the humid heat, even the short-sleeved top I was wearing felt like too much.

Bill was still playing his game, but I could wait no longer.  I convinced him it was time to go find that Indian restaurant on the beach.  Off we went!  We tipped our sunhats to our friends at CTC Travel who had given us this great trip.  Come back next week and let’s have snacks on the Beach.