Last time I wrote I was sick sick sick, but then I got mostly better, and then I got sick sick sick again, as did we all. But ... in the meantime we went on a wonderful vacation!
This was Steph's last April spring break* ever (!), and she was finally off crutches, so we decided to treat the whole family to a real vacation in honor of both of these milestones. No sight-seeing, just relaxing. We decided to go to a tropical island and take advantage of one of those all-inclusive resorts we've heard about. But a really nice one, not the kind with dozens of drunk college kids jammed into every room.
Long before we had kids, Andy and I used to go to the Caribbean every winter. We'd always try a new island, and our favorite thing to do was get off the beaten track to explore the culture, see where the locals eat, and so on. We would never had considered a vacation where you don't leave your resort, no matter how nice. How times change: Now the idea of three teenagers being allowed to roam free within the confines of a huge but safe and gorgeous resort was just the ticket!
We didn't see the need to travel very far, since the kids have never been to the Caribbean at all, so we limited our search to the closest islands—the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. After much Googling, we ended up booking a trip to the DR via Costco.com. I'd never used Costco for travel services, but it popped up in my search and it struck me as not a bad idea to book an international trip under the auspices of a large and well-known company just in case anything went wrong.**
And ... we had a splendid vacation! We ended up bumping ourselves up a level in terms of resort fanciness, and I'm glad we did, because the Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe in Punta Cana was positively gorgeous. It was by far the most luxurious place we've ever stayed. The grounds were impeccably landscaped and maintained, the pools and beach were immaculate, the restaurants were all wonderful, and the staff was friendly and helpful. There are more than 3500 employees there (!), and there was always someone topping off my wine glass or giving me a dry towel or putting chocolates on my freshly made-up bed, and always with a smile.
The place is huge, so even though there are something like 1600 rooms, nothing ever felt crowded. We never had to search for a lounge chair or wait for a restaurant table. There were certainly always people around (it had a very international crowd) to give it a good vibe, but it wasn't in any way crowded.
Everything was beautiful (see hotel website photos here). The lobby and various sitting areas all had beautiful art and sculptures, and there were magnificent flowers everywhere. Each of the restaurants had a different decor, and all were lovely. Speaking of restaurants, there were something like 11 of them, from Spanish to Italian to Japanese etc. At the Spanish one, I had a paella that rivaled those I had in Spain! And Steph got (and enjoyed) her first taste of sangria. (Yes, the legal drinking age is 18 down there!) There were also two huge buffet restaurants that had every possible food imaginable, and then some. And everything was presented so beautifully, with little cut-out veggie shells holding salads and fancy-cut fruit and decorative icing on pastries.
The biggest decisions were which restaurant to eat at and whether to hit the pool or the beach. The beauty of the all-inclusive thing was that we didn't have to carry any money around. All meals and drinks were included. And all (non-motorized) water sports. The only things that weren't included that we did were spa treatments (but at least we had some discount vouchers for those) and wifi (which I thought was kind of ridiculous at a fancy place like that).
We all got to use our Spanish quite a bit, although I inexplicably kept lapsing into Italian. Julie elbowed me every time I said "Grazie!" or "Per favore!" The best was after all these years of speaking very slangy Spanish with his mostly Dominican employees, Andy was finally regarded in a new light! His dialect was right at home. (Years ago, in Spain, the people looked at him askance as soon as he started speaking....)
Wanna see some photos?
Here Steph has her first legal piña colada! I don't know if you can tell, but the pool has tiled lounge chairs and tables just partially under the water. Right near the swim-up bar, 'natch.
Pete and Julie enjoy (virgin) strawberry daiquiris:
One view of one of the pool areas:
And, turning 180°, one view of the beach:
The girls before dinner one night:
Mani-pedis for all!
And decadent desserts:
And now we're back to real life, sigh.
*Here in Mass. (and possibly the rest of New England?), public school kids get one week off in February and one week off in April. Most private schools follow the college schedule of two weeks in March instead.
**For the first time ever, we purchased travel insurance. In the past it never seemed to make sense, since you can usually cancel hotel reservations right up until the day before, and airfare didn't used to be so pricey. But, since everything was included in this trip package, there would be more to lose if we had to cancel. We also used to say, "Why get insurance? What could happen?" Well, after last December we learned that lots of bad things can happen suddenly ... so we figured better safe and sorry. It was the best $400 I ever "wasted" in terms of peace of mind.