Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Excellence in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic


I chose Dominican Republic in 2011 after debating for weeks over the best value and best location. After reading reviews about Excellence Punta Cana and the Excellence Resorts company I was sold. I was so in love with the country, the people and the price that I had to go back. Words and photos can't even begin to give you a total sense of how wonderful the place is. The people alone are a reason to go back. We made so many friends, upon leaving we felt like we were leaving home instead of going home. 

Here is my 2013 review of Excellence Punta Cana:

“2nd Visit, Even Better Than Last Time”
5 of 5 starsReviewed September 21, 2013 
To start off I want to say this is my 2nd time to EPC. Last visit was in 2011 and it was amazing then and even better now.

Please take any negative reviews with a grain of salt. People like to nit pick and rant. People are overly dramatic and exaggerate. Everyone has different taste buds and standards.

I am from Los Angeles, Beverly Hills to be exact. I consider myself a foodie. I have high standards on food and service. Excellence PC blows away any service I've ever experienced anywhere at home or in my travels around the world.

I will break down this review to cover everything.

We upgraded to the Excellence Club. We think it was worth it mainly because we used the beds on the Excellence Beach everyday and loved them. We also took advantage of the dvd rentals for club memvers and iPad rental. Rafael at Excellence Beach is our bew "hermano" and was amazing helping us with any and everything we requested.

Airport:
It is small. It is easy to navigate. Once you grab your luggage from one of the baggage claims, yes most likely a porter will ask to help you with your baggage. They are not there to steal your stuff. They just want a tip and will help you find your transportation and only costs you a dollar or two if you decide to tip. A simple no thank you and they will leave you alone. Others may approch you to ask if you have transportation. I said yes, they said ok and walked away.

Transportation:
Excellence is 40mins to 1 hour from the airport. Time depends on your driver, how many stops and time of day. There is construction going on which causes delays. We used Coco Tours and they were on time, friendly, and drove well. Yes there are crazy drivers and I'm sure the laws are much different in PC than where you are from. They can drive on both sides of the road and pass each other and it may freak some people out. They aren't bad drivers, they just have different laws and customs. We never felt at risk or unsafe. Lots of people complain about the travel time. Its vacation. I know you are tired of traveling but its a beautiful countryside with greenery and animals and time flies and you are on vacation. If you are worried about bumpy roads most is now paved but there are potholes. This is a poor area and potholes being filled is not likely on their list of priorities. I tend to get carsick so just for good measure I took a Drammamine.

Arrival:
Upon check in you will be greeted by porters who will take you luggage. We kept our carryons and let them take the rest. Cold towels and champagne will be waiting for you along with a "Welcome Home".

Staff:
Front Desk:
Reynaldo and Emely made our stay perfect. Ask for them, even message me for their contact info as they will personally make sure you are well taken care of and try their best to accommodate any desire or request. Reynaldo and Emely really go above and beyond for people. Every request we had was filled and they did it all without asking. Even after check in everytime they saw us they made sure everything was perfect and asked us if we needed anything. They bend over backwards to help you and I will dearly miss them as if they were close friends. We had emailed in advance to request a higher floor room and either building 7, 8, 10 or 14. Since I had been before I knew which I preferred since the higher room are less bug accessible and you don't get any noise from the pool or pool/mildew/chlorine smell.

Entertainment Staff:
Luz is an amazingly person and staff member and I consider her a friend. She made Bingo fun, arts and crafts and activities a blast. She is genuinely a nice person and will keep a smile on your face.
Julio loves his job. He makes the shows come to life and danced the night away with me.
Chely is so fun and energetic. He made the Crazy Games and all the activities so fun. He never runs out of energy and his smile is contagious.
Kassandra taught us Salsa and is also so sweet. I got sunburned and she came to make sure I was ok and if she could get me anything.
Bernie and Juan are amazing as well and a great asset to the staff.

Bartenders and Waitstaff:

Carlos, who works mostly at Agave, Lobster House and sometimes room service made us feel at home. He is our "Primo" now and we genuinely will miss having him around during meals as he makes it an experience not just dinner.

Mr. Esteban Brown is a sweet guy with a heart of gold who made our dinners at Agave and The Grill amazing.

Roberta at Spice went above and beyond. I wanted to order the fried rice but it had onions (I'm allergic) she had a special batch made for me. Upon our second time at Spice 5 days later she remembered and once again did it without me even saying a word. This is great service
Amilton at Lobster House often served us breakfast and dinner. He loves sports and kept us in the loop and was really great about recommendations on menu items and is super sweet.

Kelvin at the swimup bar should be your go-to pool bartender. He has a smile that will brighten your day, amazing service and one of the staff that we will dearly miss. He remembers your favorites, your name, and will make your day.

Fransisco at Stars bar took care of us at night. His service was friendly and prompt, always smiling and making you feel like you were his only guest.

Martini bar makes a killer Excellence Martini, Chocolate Martini and Expresso Martini.

Room:
We had room 8208. I was in this building last time and loved it. Next to the excellence club and also right in the middle of the pool, but far enough away from the front and swim-up bar to have quiet.

Food:

Spice:
A combination of chinese, thai and Japanese that will not dissapoint. We loved the Thai Beef Salad, Spring Rolls, Pad Thai and New York Terikyaki which is tender and flavorful. Restaurant is well air conditioned and it is one of my favorites. Open for dinner only.

Agave:
Chicken Tostada, Calamari, Chicken Fajitas and their salsas and gaucamole are not to be missed. Restaurant is not air conditioned completely and can get warm but it is not bad. Open for dinner only.

Chez Isabelle:
We had our Romantic Dinner here and it was pretty good. This is a higher end restaurant, well air conditioned, but portions are smaller but its the most fancy on the resort. I wasn't in love with the meal I had but it was not bad. The Creme Brulee was the highlight for me. Open for dinner only.

Lobster House:
This is an open air restaurant. Fans only. They also have a few tables with ocean view which we took advantage of for breakfasts and dinners. The Steamed and Grilled Lobsters with butter and garlic sauce are amazing. Not sure why some reviews say small lobsters....they are huge. The breakfast here I ate almost daily was the Mexican Breakfast ( huevos rancheros) which were amazing. Open for Breakfast and Dinner only.

The Grill:
Lunch I couldn't get enough of the sweet potato fries, club sandwich and zucchini soup. Delicious! For dinner the Filet Mignon was perfectly cooked to my request of med-rare and the sauce is amazing. Farmers Salad was great as well. This is an open air restaurant as well, fans only located next to Lobster House overlooking the pool. Open for Lunch and Dinner.

Las Olas:
Is an open air grill located on the beach. The view is amazing. You can get burgers, fries, hot dogs, pizza and they are open 12-4pm and everyday they have a special menu item such as ribs, paella, kabobs and more. Great for a quick bite for lunch.

Oregano:
You cannot leave without having a pizza from Oregano. Truely to die for and open until 2am. I am still craving it now. We never tried the rest of the menu due to our obsession with the pizza.

Toscana:
Fully air conditioned, Breakfast is buffet style breakfast plus an omlete, pancake and waffle making station is great. The omelet station staff will also make you eggs any way you want. Dinner at Toscana I have to say is the downfall of EPC. Oregano is great Italian. Toscana....I cannot recommended. All four of us did not like our food. My advixe would to let Oregano be the italian place and redo Toscana to be something else. This is literally the only thing we didnt like the entire trip.

Barcelona:
We ran out of days on our trip to try this place. Its fully air conditioned but we loved other places so much we went back to others twice before giving it a chance.

Room Service:
Room service is 24/7. However after 11:30pm until 5:30am it is a smaller menu of available items. We loved the fresh fruit as late night snack.

Maid Service:
Maid service comes between 9am and 5pm to clean. You can place do not disturb if you want them to come later or not at all. Mini bar service will also come refill anything you need and you can request certain items. I requested Apple juice and club soda and everyday they remebered. They will also come in later after 6pm for turn down service to leave a card with the next days weather report, chocolates and a schedule of events and activities for the following day.

Pool:
Don't miss the Crazy Games at 4:30 everyday. Its a blast! Floaties are grabbed up quickly but we never had a problem finding them as they usually are found at the far end of the pool by the Excellence Beach end past the swim up bar. You can always ask a pool concierge to help you find an open bed by the pool if you can't find one and they are glad to.

I have uploaded all our restaurant photos, meal photos, room photos and a video to help. Please feel free to message me with any questions.
Here is his review of Excellence Punta Cana:

“Excellente Experience.. Ready to book again!”
5 of 5 starsReviewed September 23, 2013 NEW
My wife and I just left from 8 nights/9 days stay (9/10-9/19) and I must say that this place will blow your mind! Everything from the food and activities to the staff and bedding was absolutely the best! I was actually nervous about our stay from reading hundreds of reviews since we've booked. To expect the worse and best I've read 1 star reviews to everything between and up to the 5 star reviews and let me just say, some reviews were a bit dramatic and most were very helpful.

Arrival/Departure:
Countless reviews expressed a lengthy process for going through customs, paying the $10 entry fee to the country and the staff haggling to assist with luggage. We arrived after a 12hr flight from California and literally spent 30-40 minutes in the airport. First, complete the customs form on the plane before entering the airport and that will take a lot of time off your check in and have $10 in hand per person. The airport was practically empty and we were one of the first 10 couples to make it past customs. On your way to baggage claim and baggage check the airport staff will approach you after to help with luggage but they don't just come up and grab your bags w/o asking first and a simple "no gracias" will end that all together. Once you're outside in the pick-up area, which was not hard to find at all, 20 different companies will begin approaching you to offer travel to your destination if you don't have that arranged already and it does become a bit annoying but again a simple "no gracias/thank you" will end it all. I've read that there's a $20 fee to exit the country and expected to pay but found out that's was not true. Not sure if that's for everyone but Americans do not have to pay that fee but still has to fill out another quick form to submit to customs before leaving. Be sure that your transportation service drops you off at the right part of the airport when you're ready to leave because ours didn't and we had to walk to the opposite side of the airport to find our departing flight.

From the airport to the resort:
45 minutes was the max time it took to get from the airport to the resort and it's far from as bad some reviews made it seem. There's no real traffic laws so drivers do weave in & out of traffic a lot and that can make the ride a bit nerve wrecking but maybe the experience depends on the company and drivers you book to get you here. I've honestly experienced worse driving conditions here in L.A. There's a lot of construction as they're working on expanding the roads and building a new highway to get from the airports to the resorts much faster and it's coming along good. We've booked through Coco Tours and they were late picking us up from the airport and was also late to pick us up from the airport when we checked out. The driver who picked us up from the airport got us to the resort in 45 minutes and the driver who took us from the resort back to the airport took close to an hour but still wasn't that bad as they gave us a history lesson about locals and businesses during the drives.

Check-in:
Once you arrive at the resort you're greeted with a cool towel and a cold glass of champagne and welcomed as "family to your new home" rather than guests. We met Reynaldo and Emely who took excellent care of us since our rooms were upgraded and wouldn't be ready for another hour. These two are the most amazing people I've met in my life next to my wife and I appreciate the genuine love they've expressed to us throughout our stay. Reynaldo made sure to recommend his favorite restaurants and advised to make sure we never had any worries to always speak with him and by the end of our stay we've become hermano's. Emely is a sweetheart and her service is impeccable! We've decided to upgrade to the Excellence Club package as well as one of the many Honeymoon packages for us and another couple who traveled with us.

The Excellence Club:
is a must if you stay here as it includes an exclusive lounge with butler service, breakfast-lunch-and dinner snacks, shoe shining and a library, movies to rent and a big screen tv for sports and a self serve bar with butler service. Also included with the upgrade is a private beach with covered beds and beach concierge ran by my hermano Rafael who's an awesome guy that loves to make your visit comfortable and excellente. Being in the Excellence Club has great perks for your room as well. Upgraded BLVGARI shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotions that are restocked daily. Fresh flowers in the room and an upgraded room service menu that's pretty good.

The Room:
We stayed in room 8208 which was a third floor room with vaulted ceilings and that makes the rooms amazingly huge!! The glass shower was great and we thought it was cool to look in from the bedroom actually. It has the rainfall shower head and also a detachable head as well. The design of the shower door prevents you from having a clear view to the toilet as some reviews made it seem like privacy was non existent. The tub was a huge Jacuzzi style and we had a cool display of love birds made out of bath towels and rose pedals on our king sized bed. The mini fridge stayed stocked up daily and they'll fill it with whatever beverages you'd like from Sprite and Coke to Apple juice and club sodas. Flat screen tv with 100 channels, some English but mostly Spanish and was happy that HBO and ESPN we're part of that. We're not fans of the first floor swim up rooms that we've read about since people start the day off early to party.l and it may be hard to sleep in plus I can imagine those rooms would have bigger issues with bugs and actually overheard a few couples complain about that throughout our stay. I would also avoid buildings 6 & 7 as we heard there's a bird that chirps all night long making it hard to sleep lol. We've walked through those buildings at night to get to ours and thought it was funny to hear that nerve wrecking chirp. We did have a small problem with ants around the faucet area and had the room sprayed twice but since we've only spent about 25% of our stay in the room it wasn't a nuisance at all to us so other than that the room was superb!

The Food:
We've decided to make it a must to try all of the restaurants to rate them all fairly. Our first day we've tried Las Olas for lunch and Toscana for dinner. Las Olas was pretty good the first two days but became very repetitive and the burgers seemed to have became worse by the day. The pork ribs they serve on Wednesday's are great but the pizza was always undercooked and the burgers were getting dryer by the day. Toscana was a complete miss for dinner and was just okay for breakfast. We only ate Toscana once for dinner and I had the tempura veal which was disgusting and other members of the resort confirmed. We never ate dinner there again and I'd like to suggest having an Italian guest chef to provide a training session for the dinner menu. The breakfast at Toscana is buffet style and the omelettes (the guy farthest to the left is the best) and pancakes are too good. Spice was amazing and tied with Oregano and The Grill for best dinners. The pizza at Oregano is to die for and I suggest to eat pizza there rather than Los Olas which always came out a bit undercooked and the zucchini souo and jalapeno poppers is a must at The Grill for lunch. Lobster House had the best breakfast and we had their Huevos Rancheros for breakfast every morning and sometimes had seconds lol. Chez Isabelle had good steaks but not as flavorful as The Grill for dinner but the duck at Chez Isabelle was superb. Agave was great and my primo Carlos made both dinner visits a night to remember. Late night room service was horrible and the menu changes throughout the day. We tried the continental breakfast in bed one morning and it was amazing. The lunch room service menu is decent and I recommend the Excellence Club but the late night menu was a fail as the food quality was poor but we did like the chicken quesadilla.

The staff and off resort activities:
Again I must say Reynaldo and Emely were amazing and made sure our stay was one to remember. They're always smiling and looking for a way to make your stay an excellente experience. The entertainment crew made our trip so friggin' fun! Chelly and Bernie had the pool turnt up at all times and those two guys are funny. Luz made "bingo-bingo, bongo-bongo" the highlight of our days. Kassandra is an amazing host and taught me really how to salsa dance so thanks for the moves they really came in handy. Kelvin, Mario and Francisco were our go to bartenders and made the Mama Juana's fun. Carlos at Agavé is great at his job and is an amazing reggaeton artist. Rafael at the Excellence beach concierge was a great dude who made sure our beach beads were cleaned and laid out in towels every day and I thank you for that hermano. I don't remember everyone's name but the entire Excellence staff was beyond Excellente! The 30 minute horseback ride on the beach is a must. The horses here do look exhausted and a tad underfed but they're definitely healthy. The shops next to the resort are decent but the owners are very pushy and get into your personal space except for Nancy's. Her shop is amazing as they don't haggle you during your own visit and had great prices on the same items you can purchased at the resort shops. There are two or three excursion guys in Orange polos that walk around the resort and other reviews made it seem like they hassle you all day but we declined their services on our first day and they never bothered us again.

Overall:
We will definitely be back to visit again and again as we're already planning on another visit in March 2014. I've never met people with such great guest service and attitudes until I came to the D.R. I've learned quite a bit of spanish from my stay and now that I'm back in California "Excellente" is part of my everyday vocab now lol. It was great to meet people who just absolutely love their jobs and the guests and I must admit you guys at Excellence Punta Cana definitely work harder than I do and we praise all of you for making our stay amazing!


We only booked 1 excursion while we were there and it was well worth it. I have to say anytime you visit Punta Cana, HorsePlay is a must!


Here is my review of HorsePlay:

“Best Excursion I've Been on EVER”
5 of 5 starsReviewed September 21, 2013 NEW
4 of us booked HorsePlay together and we were a little wary to leave the resort. There were 8 people in our excursion total. Jose personally picked us up on time from Excellence Resort in a Air Conditioned SUV and he spoke great English, was very friendly and informative about the activities we would be doing, history about the area, and all about everything we passed on the ride. It took about 45 min to get to the ranch from our resort. 30 minutes of paved road and then about 15-20 dirt road. We felt safe and the ride was not bad at all.

We did the River Ride and loved it. Ziplinging was great as well. I fell in love with Jose, the staff, his wife's cooking and everything about Horse Play.

The horses are well cared for and healthy. The ranch itself is huge and well maintained. The staff speaks english and makes you feel safe.

If you are a rider and want to ride fast you can, or if you are a newbie you can go slow. They take care to make sure you are happy and comfortable. The ride was great. We went through the river, let the horses drink, rode to the cigar factory with was amazing to see. No pressure to buy anything and you get to see them roll cigars.

Jose will show you all the different things that grow in the area, including cocoa, coffee, tobacco, and all types of fruit and avocado.

Jose's wife made the best meal we had in the DR. Pumpkin/Squash soup which I would never have tried ...I fell in love with it!!! Spaghetti, Salad, Bread, Chicken and more. We were all stuffed and couldn't stop raving about the meal. I am still trying to figure out the recipe to the soup! After eating and resting we got a zipline lesson.

They make you feel very safe. The equipment is state of the art. Nothing is old or scary. I ziplined twice, my husband, 4 times.

We saw raw cocoa made into roasted cocoa, sugar cane, coffee, and learned so much. This was by far the best thing I've ever done!


Here is his review of HorsePlay:

“This excursion is a MUST!!!”
5 of 5 starsReviewed September 23, 2013 NEW
Jose and the staff at Horseplay Punta Cana are amazing hosts! My wife and I booked w/ two of our friends and I must say I was very nervous leaving the resort and wandering of into a country I've never been to before but it was definitely one of the best decisions I've made in life.

Jose personally picked us up from the resort and two other couples which we've later found out was a plus to our excursion as we were allowed to partake in everything! Jose and most of the staff speaks perfect English and his ranch is about a 45 minute total drive to and from the resort but we got to enjoy and site see the beautiful country side of the D.R.

The size of this ranch has to be 500+ acres of beautiful green land and rivers. All the horses are happy, well-fed and well token care of and there's chickens, geese, wild horses and all at the property. They also have a sweet dog which I've forgotten her name but it mean black mouth in Spanish lol. Jose and the staff took us to a local cigar factory where we were able to see how authentic D.R. cigars are hand rolled by three guys and was able to sample a few delicious smokes. The ride around the land is open to all levels of riders from beginners to intermediates. We were able to heard cattle from the river to an open field to eat and also had the chance to race against a few staff members.

Once back at the ranch after about an hour and a half ride Jose's wife cooked a darn good meal for the eight of us and the horseback staff. I must say Jose your wife threw down in the kitchen my friend. Fried chicken to squash/pumpkin soup to spaghetti and fresh baked bread had a brotha feeling special lol. Jose even picked my wife and I a fresh avocado the size of our heads that melted in your mouth like butter!

Also included in the trip was zip-lining and I went around on that thing at least 3 times since our group was small I found it to be nice and courteous they allowed me to go so many times. Jose gave us a hands-on experience on how cocoa is made as well. This excursion is a must and I can't wait to book again and again so I highly recommend it to everyone visiting Punta Cana.

Thanks Jose!
Photos:









HorsePlay Website: http://www.horseplaypuntacana.com/

If you are interested click HERE for my 2011 review of Excellence Punta Cana.

If you have any questions or want tips on getting a deal booking please send an email to LetThereBeTravel@gmail.com (NONE of these reviews or posts are paid for or an advertisement.)