It was sometime last fall when Shane and I were following our usual Sunday routine. He was in his office playing a grueling day of online poker tournaments while I was in the living room reading up on the hottest travel destinations. OK, maybe I was also catching up on my Real Housewives of [insert city here] reruns. Late in the afternoon he called me to his office (it’s so official around are home) and told me he was sitting at a final table in a tournament that included a free vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. If you know Shane, you can probably guess how this turns out.
I’ve heard a lot about Punta Cana in the past from friends who spent their honeymoon in this tropical destination, but I must say my heart has always and will always belong to Maui, Hawaii. But no girl can complain about an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid vacation to the beach, especially in the Dominican Republic! Shane notified me as each guy dropped while I nervously waited in the living room for the results. About 30 minutes and five guys later, it was he who was the last man standing. Just four weeks later, we found ourselves boarding a flight from LA to Punta Cana.
The commute to Punta Cana wasn’t easy and it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. We stayed overnight in Puerto Rico (not recommended) because we couldn’t make it to Punta Cana in one day flying from LA. We landed in Puerto Rico just days after Hurricane Earl hit, which left the island in ruins. In addition to dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane, we decided to fly in without reservations at a hotel or any knowledge of a hotel in the city (because sometimes we like to mix things up like that). We asked the cab driver at the airport to take us to the closest hotel, and upon arriving at this hotel, or more like brothel, my sixth sense kicked in and I immediately shared my worries about our decision to stay here. And in true form, Shane responded with an optimistic “It’ll be fine.” Once we stepped out of the cab, two local women came running out of the hotel yelling that their room was broken into and continued to rant and rave about their misfortune. Check please. We hurried across the street where we found a nice and familiar Comfort Inn.
After a short 30 minute flight the next morning, we arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, but sadly our luggage did not. One flight a day from Puerto Rico to Punta Cana left us without clothes and toiletries for 24 hours, which only meant one thing: new bathing suit! As much as we’ve lost luggage and yelled at the airlines, we were not going to let this setback ruin our free vacation, especially one that included tropical cocktails and fresh flowers upon our arrival.
The Hard Rock had recently switched hands from the Moon Palace Resort and transformed into rock star motif that you would find in any Hard Rock around the world. The resort was gigantic; golf carts escorted guests day and night from pool to pool and to the main house, which housed the casino, restaurants, shops and the spa. Another perk of staying in the resort was the all-inclusive food and drinks. Although you think we would have taken more advantage of the free amenities, one can only indulge in free anything before the appeal wears off. I did take advantage of a day at the spa while Shane played a round of golf on the resort course with his new friends he made at the poker tournament, which was hosted by legendary poker pro Doyle Brunson. I’ve seen my fair share of spas, but this one had one of the best ambiance and hydrotherapy treatment I had ever seen. Although the massage therapist didn’t compare to my all-time favorite Spa Grande at Grand Wailea in Maui, it was relaxing to say the least.
The next few days were spent lounging poolside and under the umbrellas on the beach drinking the cocktails from the pool bar. As always, my job is attached to me at the hip so it was writing for me for the next few days while Shane played in the tournament, which he didn’t end up placing in. At night, we chose from a variety of restaurants that offered first-class dining options. Our favorite was Ipanema, which served Spanish-style tapas and drinks. The nightlife was sparse, but a few bars were open with live music and pool tables.
Overall, the resort was classy and modern but a bit deserted (we visited during the low-end of the tourist season, also known as hurricane season) and the food and service for the most part were first-class. A similar tournament will be held later this year in Punta Cana, and there have been talks of us visiting again. This time we hope to fly direct with our carryons and will be expecting that piña coloda and tropical bouquet of flowers when we land.