As I mentioned in my previous post, Alisha and I have had just a little bit of a busy year. Since about January we’ve been in school/work/wedding mode and are still working our way out of it even though we’ve been back in OKC for three weeks. We’ve done a lot of traveling but not in the good way that is worth writing about here since most of our travel was the trans-Texas slog down I-35 and Highway 6 from OKC to Waco and then Waco to Houston. Even if I wanted to write about those trips there is only so much I can say about the bridge over the Red River and the well placed massive adult video store that smacks you in the face the moment you cross into Texas.
However there is one trip I do want to write about and it’s our first international experience on FW&H. Alisha and I took our honeymoon the Dominican Republic, specifically the resort town of Punta Cana where we stayed at the Excellence Resort.
Why the Dominican Republic and Excellence? The answer for the resort is easy, Alisha’s parents have been there before and my best man had been there last year. Both gave it good ratings and the honeymoon packages and flight costs made it a steal compared to other places we looked at like Aruba or the Lesser Antilles. Why the Dominican? Alisha and I really wanted to go someplace we had both never been to and a place that you don’t hear about that often. We settled on the Caribbean quickly because of the sheer cost and effort to go to Europe or the Pacific. We mutually eliminated Mexico, Belize, the Bahamas, and Jamaica really quick based on this and the Dominican seemed like a great choice based on recommendations and cost. It also just seemed like a really cool and authentic country that has a lot going on in it outside of tourism. As a history nerd, going to the first European colony in the New World was a huge plus ad Hispaniola’s history is worth a post in its own right.
Now let me further preface this, I’m not wired for resort life. I’m the kind of person who reallllly enjoys having a down day where I do nothing but a few hours into the second day of nothing I start bouncing off the walls. This is one of the reasons I push for trips to new places that often involve looking at a cool city or hiking. However you shouldn’t knock something until you try it and I had never even tried resort life and Alisha and I decided after our summer of insanity, doing nothing for a few days isn’t the worst idea. And you know what it wasn’t the worst idea. We were able to spend time with each other, the food was excellent, all-inclusive is the way to go, the resort itself was amazing, we really hit the jackpot all around.
But here is the catch, the resort life adds up. After a week of eating resort food and being lightly drunk the whole way neither of us felt right. Not bad, but not right. Like our bodies were just confused by what was happening. We were there long enough that it didn’t feel like the week blew by but the days do blend together and after drinking in the sun all day you don’t find yourself in a hurry to stay up late. Amazingly grandpa Brett and grandma Alisha were going to sleep between nine and 11 every night no different than we would if we had work the next day. Even going and doing an activity for an hour or two somehow seemed to dominate the entire day. Our perception of time was blurring and it was like we were torn between our work/OKC selves and a rich/decadent version of ourselves. It was a strange experience and while I enjoyed our time there immensely I don’t see how the resort/cruise life is the only life some people live.
That all being said, we did greatly enjoy our time there and I would highly recommend either the Excellence if your looking for a resort or the Dominican Republic if you are looking for a getaway off the beaten path. The country was gorgeous and the people were wonderful. We had a few of the high pressure “if you don’t buy we don’t eat” situations but you can’t escape that no matter where you go in the world and at no point did Alisha and I feel unsafe. What did amaze me was the level of activity that was occurring in the country. Maybe it was because Punta Cana is a booming tourist destination or maybe because the developing world has seen a ton of investment in recent years but the airport and highways were better than what you’d find in Oklahoma City (and that is not a knock on OKC, that’s just the truth) and everyone seemed to be headed somewhere to go build something. We saw countless work trucks, workers in vans and even guys on scooters holding lumber on their shoulders while flying down the highway. The Excellence was building a second resort in the area and many other condos and resorts were being built in their own right. Everywhere you looked there seemed to be economic activity and while it certainly isn’t a diverse economy in the area its, a start that is clearly bringing tons of money into the area. This is backed up in the numbers as well. The Dominican is one the fastest growing economies in the Western Hemisphere and has hit five percent growth or higher every year since 1992. It led the entire hemisphere in economic growth in 2014 and 2015.
The country itself is gorgeous. The beaches are excellent and lush mountains tower just miles away. It’s definitely a quintessential Caribbean location with tons to do. Alisha and I took an excursion where we got to see how chocolate, tobacco and mamajuana are processed and then went to a cenote where you could jump in and swim around in crystal clear water. Unfortunately we were sort of confined to the eastern point of Hispaniola. We contemplated doing an excursion to Santo Domingo and seeing the real Dominican Republic but vetoed the idea because the excursion itself didn’t seem that great. I’d love to see Santo Domingo but I have no desire to be shuffled between three museums and then taken to a buffet. If I’m going to Santo Domingo I’m seeing the old colonial district, the capitol, the museums and the city itself.
And that seems to be an issue for places like the Dominican. In an effort to keep tourists safe and as un-bothered as possible everything is controlled. The resorts are small isolated compounds, the excursions are highly controlled and everything seems catered to showing tourists an idealized version of the place instead of letting the tourists see the country and trying to keep it as safe as possible. Of course we surely could have paid for a ride to Santo Domingo and made a day trip of it or chosen to forgo the resort experience altogether but at that point your building your own vacation with two people that don’t speak Spanish and trust worthiness becomes a major issue. While Punta Cana was perfectly fine and I’m sure most of the country is perfectly fine I wouldn’t be shocked at all if two white-as-can-be tourists who don’t speak a lick of Spanish found themselves in a bad spot roaming around a developing country. When planning a trip you have to make a decision, do you trade authenticity for comfort and extra safety or do those things get emphasized and you have to be more alert and savvy while doing loads of homework before you even land. I’d love to go back and hit up Santo Domingo but not on a silly tourist excursion with a free buffet and not when I’m supposed to be in a resort two and half hours east of the capital. Ultimately, this trip was designed to be about relaxation so that’s what we did.
So what’s my ultimate verdict? A+ all the way around. The Dominican is a gorgeous country with awesome people. It’s also at a very interesting period in its history with tons of development and lots of buzz. I don’t know why you don’t hear about it more often as a “go-to” destination for Caribbean vacationers but color me shocked when I learned our “a bit off the beaten path” trip was the most visited island in the Caribbean with over 4.3 million visitors per year. Alisha and I have a deal that once we’ve knocked a place off the travel list it’s off. We both know far too many people who take literally the same trip all the time or basically the same trip all the time and we don’t want to fall into that trap. It might be a while before we do the Caribbean again but we have both agreed that we want to give the Dominican another go in the future. While this trip was about our honeymoon and relaxing after a summer of insanity I think we both hope the next round, whenever it is, is about the Dominican and not about the resort.