In his January 30, 2011 column, White Tie and Tiaras, renowned NY Times social photographer, Bill Cunningham, introduced the 51st Annual Quadrille Ball—a charity ball held annually at The Plaza Hotel, and benefiting the Germanistic Society of Columbia University and the Institute for International Education, and on whose Junior Committee I sit—by saying: "In the late 19th century, before people could fly to the tropics, New York society held balls in the winter."
Fortunately, we find ourselves in an age where, if we want to, we can do both.
With all of the snow dumped upon New York City (nay, the entire Mid-Atlantic and Northeast) this winter, some temperatures at a mere 6 degrees Fahrenheit, and storms predicted for what seems weekly, I would bet two tickets to St. Thomas that both ball-goers and clubbers alike are longing to ditch their open-toe dancing heels for open-toe sandals.
Should the Palma Paradisus Real in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic be on your list, a few insights from my own visit last year might be of interest.
To be fair, the resort itself is lovely.
Some features include:
- grand white columns
- a tiled terrace with nightly, lively musical and dance entertainment
- rooms with canopied beds and multi-jet shower and jacuzzi
- a swimming pool that might as well be an acre wide
- and a truly relaxing, Thai-themed spa with soft water pools, and an attentive, well-trained, kind staff.
Breakfast is a full, international and local mixed buffet, served al fresco with a friendly smile, all the passion fruit you can eat, and an Atlantic Ocean view.
There are a few items, however, that can make you forget the beauty of your setting and its positive amenities.
Upon our arrival, Guest Services assured us that securing a reservation at any of the resort's ten or so restaurants, beginning at 9 on the morning of the evening we wanted to dine, wouldn't be a problem. "Even with a party of thirteen?" we inquired. "No problem," they repeated.
Let's now introduce the following caveats:
1. Guest Services must wait for all pre-booked reservations to load. Pre-booked reservations are ones made by travel agents.
2. Our travel agent, David Temple of Apple Vacations, never offered us the 'pre-book' option and rudely responded to my mother's complaining e-mail on this subject.
3. The dinner booking system was often down until 11AM. The back and forth from beach chair to Guest Services route became all too familiar to and loathed by us all.
4. The icing on the cake? When we finally arrived at these coveted dining establishments, for the first half of the week, we found them only half full.
I could get change for $100 and my new Belgian friends could get their first dollars ever at a small bank in Thailand’s Rongulua Market.
Yet, neither the Cambio Exchange, the Casino or the on-site luxury shop at Palma Paradisus break even smaller denominations. That’s not entirely true. At 7PM, the Casino could, but our cash-only scuba class was at 10AM that day. And, the luxury shop would “if you buy something." The front desk finally did do our exchange. We had to wait in line with all of the new arrivals, but they did it.
While we ultimately got our desired outcome, pray tell, what were the Cambio employees being paid to do all day?
"Free" Water Excursions
Let me clarify free. Free at Palma Paridisus means included in the “All-Inclusive” Resort all-encompassing fee, and anything that does not require a motor.
Thrilled there were so many good ones, we booked them for every day. Sunday? Cancelled due to weather. Monday? Cancelled due to weather. Tuesday? Cancelled due to weather. Welcome to a stay on the Atlantic side, where the seas and your stay are much more weather impacted.
To be fair, this is one thing that the resort can't control, and they are liable for their guest's safety. Yet, somehow, the same day that the visibilty was deemed "too poor" for our ‘free’ scuba excursion, it was not so for the paid scuba lesson participants...
My older sister and her two little children were part of our group. To ensure their good time and her own relaxation, she had spoken at-length with David Temple of Apple Vacations, about which of Paradisus Palma Real's two resorts were most family friendly. He had assured her that the one we ended up choosing—the larger one with the ocean view, not The Reserve—would best suit our needs. I guess he missed that The Reserve has nightly, included, organized activities for kids, a supervised jungle gym, and a children's pool on his tour.
All in all, we made our own fun. You have to laugh at making English words from a Spanish Scrabble board! We did manage to go on one (paid) excursion. And, two of our group did get certified in Open Water Scuba. We also developed a...passion for passion fruit and learned how easy it was to get antibiotics in DR: a phone call to a local pharmacy, $30 and a tip. Finally, to reinforce, the spa was lovely.
In sum, it was unfortunate that our Apple Vacations representative was so incompetent, and that so many of the amenities that had drawn us to Palma Paradisus Real were not executed to their advertised level.