A Cheapskate’s Guide to Barcelo Dominican Beach

Envision a world where I have a full time job with my art degree; a job where the checks clear and the snow days are plentiful. Where a supervisor is reluctant but not pissed off when two employees from his department buy tickets first and ask permission later.

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This image sums up how I felt about not going to work for an entire week.

This review is long over due, but on March 13th I embarked on my first spring break trip with a friend from work, Kristen. We found an irresistible deal on Travelzoo from Apple Vacations to Barcelo Dominican Beach resort in Punta Cana. $1000 for seven days, all-inclusive! What a week.

I had never traveled all-inclusive and didn’t anticipate the amazing service that we were about to receive. The reviews were ominous, so I packed for a cross between Appalachian site camping and an Atlantic City La Quinta Inn. By day two, Kristen and I realized that there are some spoiled-ass punks on Google Plus and Trip Advisor. At Barcelo we found a place with upbeat people, delicious food, three swimming pools and a long stretch of sand, plus endless Mama Juana to help white folks learn to dance the bachata.

If you find yourself heading to Barcelo Resort in Punta Cana with Apple Vacations, here are a few travel tips—

Do:
Pack granola bars in your carry-on. These are handy if you don’t want to spend seven bucks on a mystery snack box from Xtra airlines. The attendants mention free snacks before takeoff but I think they mean that the snacks are free because they are imaginary. Spend three bucks on a box of Kashi and be happy.

Bring your own beverage containment unit and save $12 at the Barcelo gift shop. You will get tired of the small plastic cups that they use at the bars on site. We saw a lot of savvy resort guests with their own large cups full of Cuba Libre.

Pack an outlet converter. The outlets look similar to those found in the USA, but do not be fooled by this.

Have you heard of Poopourri? Good! The bathrooms don’t have exhaust fans.

Make a reservation at Don Quixote and order the salmon. It is delectable.

Tip in American dollars to the porter. We were fresh off the plane and tipped in pesos without understanding the conversion rate, so we definitely under-tipped and felt horrible once we realized what had happened. I felt slightly less horrible since I understood with my limited Spanish skills that the guy had talked some smack about us while we were standing right in front of him.

If you are with a travel company, visit your guide right after check-in. The guide will give you valuable advice about excursion planning, and can answer all of your questions about the resort. Ours told us about how the water at the resort was safe to drink after we had already bought giant jugs of Dasani from the Barcelo Mini-Mart. You can find the guides next to the Pizzeria and Photo Hut area.

At the towel bar you can pay $5 for a ten-minute catamaran lesson. Pop some dramamine and go for it.

Get iced coffee or Irish coffee at La Café. These drinks were so good I couldn’t believe they were included.

Play bingo before dinner. It is a fun multicultural experience because everyone is yelling the letters and the numbers to each other in their own language.

Make a left out of the front gate and walk one block South to Posada de Gladys. Fried fish, chicken, beans, rice, free wifi, and beer. Ask for sliced avocado; they are gigantic and cost less than a dollar. YES YES YES.

la-posada-de-gladys

Walk a few paces North on the beach until you see what I call “The Russian Store.” They sell souvenirs, alcohol, jewelry, clothes and cigars; this place had the best prices and selection by far of any shops we visited. They also don’t hassle you while you shop. Come prepared, they only accept American dollars and if you use a credit card there is a 7% surcharge.

Make your dinner reservations ahead of time in the lobby. No one told us initially that reservations were required for all of the restaurants on the resort, so we were relegated to the buffet on our first night.

Go to the nightly dance extravaganzas near the lobby and casino. They are incredible! I am a bad dancer but I still went up on stage every night to participate with the dancers and other audience members. The shows are different every night and the costumes are incredible.

Don’t:
Pay for photos with animals on the first day. The resort keeps the photos the entire week and you will probably see more animals and get photos for free.

Assume the toilet in your room works. Check first before you get situated. We had to ask for another room due to a broken toilet and it is a common complaint about Barcelo on review websites.

Blame the resort when you get diarrhea. Instead, consider how often you actually eat Dominican food in your normal life. More than likely you are sleeping with the enemy (your digestive tract). Pack some Pepto Bismol.

Expect a hot shower. Sadly, the showers on The Bloque were no bueno. Prepare for low pressure and fluctuating temperatures. After a day on the beach it will serve you well to rinse off at one of the many outdoor pool showers to get rid of all of the sand before you shower in your suite for the evening.

Drink unpurified water. This is where a reusable bottle comes in handy. Free agua potable in bottles is readily available. The ice cubes and water served with meals is also safe at Barcelo. Produce is safe as well because it is rinsed in purified water.

Pay full price from the local vendors. Most places let you haggle. Get your friends a bunch of wooden sculptures and roll on. We couldn’t figure out a pattern but several nights there were tables set up around the resort with people selling paintings, sculptures, Mama Juana and cigars. If you buy a sculpture usually someone will carve your name, Punta Cana and the year for free.

Do a full day excursion in the second half of the week. Do it when you first get there and are still pumped and full of energy. Once you’re on island time, you will be in relaxation mode and thus too lazy for a 12 hour day of travel. I highly recommend a visit to Manati Park; skip Isla de Saona.

Go to the casino to gamble. The house always wins, unfortunately. However, if you are overheating after the nightly theater performance, they do blast the AC in there.

Bring your fancy DSLR camera. I have a Nikon but I left it at home in favor of a Go Pro and my Cyber Shot. Easier to carry, fits in a purse, and less potential for damage. This of course is subject to personal preference.

To reiterate, we purchased this trip all-inclusive with airfare for $1000 on TravelZoo. The reviews were bad but we couldn’t resist the price. I am so glad we went because this was the best vacation ever and ultimately I am the kind of a person who can tolerate cold showers and infrequent gastrointestinal distress for an amazing life experience. As I reflect on this now I am reading my notes from our second hour trapped in a hot plane on the Punta Cana runway because of snow in Baltimore. Bonus two hours of vacation for free! \__(^_^)__/

The people who work at Barcelo Dominican Resort are so customer service driven and thoughtful. They really want you to have an amazing time and it is easy to do when everyone you meet has such a positive outlook and good sense of humor. I don’t know how they select the employees at Barcelo but they are truly a fun group. The front desk called us in the middle of the week just to ask how things were going, and people around the resort quickly learned our names and always joked with us and answered our questions. I want to give a special shout-out to Angel, Shadow Black (Daivis), Ramon, Lino, Carmen, Fernando, Jean and Monkey Black, for being so amazing and showing us a great time.

I don’t know what people get at a five-star resort but Kristen and I had such a memorable and overwhelmingly positive experience here, I would come back again any time.

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Seriously, this place is just the best.
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