Taking a Break in Punta Cana
I really needed this break. After my realisation over the summer that I wanted to make some changes in my life, I slowed down a lot. I spent more time sleeping (not in a lazy way, just in a wow-I-didn’t-realise-how-tired-I-was-so-I’d-better-rest-my-body kinda way). So when it came time to take this holiday, I had a couple of things planned in order to create the space to be able to do that. One was to turn on my out-of-office messages. Another was to actually TELL clients that I was on holiday, instead of just working from anywhere and never fully relaxing. The final thing was to get back into a regular reading habit. No joke, I packed 5 books. (To see which ones, head on over to this post.)
When booking this trip, what I was looking for was a relaxing beach holiday with my mum. The plan was to essentially not move for ten days, so we wanted somewhere of quality where that could happen worry-free. After a little bit of research, I found a great deal on our ideal dates with British Airways from Gatwick direct to Punta Cana and opted for Premium Economy flights out and Club World (business class) for the overnight flight back. I chose to book the whole trip via BA (for the ease… and the airmiles) including the hotel and transfers and, after a little Google research, I decided upon Secrets Cap Cana as the place to stay.
With only a month to go, it was all booked.
The night before we flew, we stayed at my old favourite the bloc hotel, which is always a quick and easy option for a Gatwick hotel. I wrote about it here. The first flight from Gatwick was pretty smooth. We drank champagne, watched movies (I recommend Late Night with Mindy Kaling & Emma Thompson!) and enjoyed the journey to the DR. Upon arrival, the aforementioned champagne eased the stress of the mania of Punta Cana airport.
We were tired and found it frustrating to watch bags being pulled off the carousel by tip-scouting ‘helpers’, nor did we appreciate that it took an hour to get the bags off the plane, but we eventually got our bags, went through an extra layer of security and found our booked transfer, which was not the private car I had booked, but instead a minibus for two, which was little awkward, but equally a lot easier than being dragged around everyone else’s hotel drop-offs after a long journey, so we took it.
In any case, any stress that we may have encountered at the airport was immediately taken away when arriving into Secrets Cap Cana Resort.
The drive-in is leafy and peaceful. It is an area definitely in the early stages of development. Cap Cana is an exclusive gated community that will surely only grow over the next few years, which may mean that more building work may disturb visitors in the short-term. We passed a few housing developments and other up-and-coming hotels before reaching the grand entrance of Secrets.
The lobby is a little piece of Bali in the Caribbean with views out over the tropical pool and beach area, and we were welcomed with a cool breeze and sip of champagne. Check-in was equally a breeze and we were taken to our beautiful Ocean View room just in time to see the sky turn pink and set behind the palm trees lining the seafront. We had a quick shower, got ready and headed out for tacos and margaritas at the Mexican restaurant, El Patio.
There are 7 different restaurants at the resort.
Over the course of the trip, we tried most of them. And I know that all-inclusive resorts have a bit of a reputation for bad food, so this was something that I did quite a bit of research on before I left, and this seemed like a safe choice. Secrets is well-varied and offers many options for those there for a week or more.
Just note that not every one is open every night, so keep an eye on the schedule on the in-room tablet and plan ahead so that you know when you can make it to each one. Here’s a quick (ok, not really but if you’re anything like me this part is important) rundown of each place:
El Patio – the Mexican place
The first time we went, this was awesome. We had margaritas, chips & fresh guac with pico de gallo and salsa. There was a fantastic taco station. The main courses were to be ordered from the menu. They were fine. The first time that I went I had the steak tampiquena and the second, I opted for the mole poblano (chicken thigh in a savoury chocolate sauce with rice) My mum opted for enchiladas and then the quesadilla on our second visit. On the third time, we just had the taco station. This was one of our favourite places, it was also a nice outdoor atmosphere with a margarita trolley and fun place to spend time.
Portofino – the Italian option
If you’re expecting authentic Italian, then you may be al little disappointed. However, if you want simple pasta and a change from other dishes at the resort, then this is a perfectly good option. What the meals lack are a depth of flavour. I just want a little more richness in the sauces and a slightly better option for house red (read more about wine options below). Starters were fine – small, but good. We liked the bread and olive oil & balsamic brought to us at the beginning of the day. I had the spaghetti vongole, mum had the spaghetti bolognese. When we went for a second time, we both had the Chicken Milanese with pasta. It was, again – fine. Nothing to write home about but not unpleasant.
Market Cafe – the classic buffet.
Market Cafe is a good solid all-inclusive buffet. There is a lot of variety, which is excellent, service is good and I appreciated that there were lots of fresh fruit & veg options, as well as a few favourites from the other restaurant cuisines. It varied a little each day. We ate breakfast here every day, heading straight for the omelette station each time where I piled my plate high with veggies and then browsed the buffet before almost immediately adding bacon and sometimes beans and plantain, two things I fell in love with as basics when I lived in Costa Rica a few years ago.
I also loved the fruit options and towards the end of the trip, ventured over to the pastry section where I found mini chocolate croissants, which reminded me of a bakery I used to visit in Spain when I was a child. They also have Bloody Mary station with Grey Goose vodka on tap. And sparkling wine for those who like a mimosa to kick start the day. Lunch is basically a giant salad bar if you want, or there is also a pizza & pasta area, often a grill, fish & seafood, soup and cooked dishes with rice. Plus, cheese and meats and breads as well as quite the selection of desserts. It was nice place to spend an hour in the aircon before venturing back out into the sun.
Seaside Grill – A beachfront grill
We had fish tacos here for lunch one day. They were good, but like most of the restaurants here, the portions were small. We turned up quite late for lunch, but the service & views were still great. We wanted to try dinner there, but it was raining on the night that it was open and we didn’t get another opportunity.
Himitsu – Pan Asian Fusion.
This is a very popular pan asian fusion restaurant with a teppanyaki area. I was probably the most excited about this, as I love Asian food and am always looking for an opportunity to have sushi, but to be honest, it’s pretty basic food. I had salmon teriyaki with veg and rice after a starter of sushi. In my travel notes here I also wrote, ‘and terrible wine’. This was before I worked out that there was more than one house red option on the resort. The main issue with this place was that it was so loud. They had screaming drunk people at the teppanyaki stations and a very loud show from the chef. I just didn’t enjoy the experience and the food wasn’t good enough to bother returning. But yet, the queues to get in were long every day that it was open.
BBQ Avatar – A lunchtime barbecue on the beach
This is a popup restaurant on the beach that they put on about once a week, from what I could tell. The setting is stunning and as long as you have a bit of a breeze, pretty perfect. The set up is a full bar, a chef-manned barbecue grill, a simple hot and cold buffet with salad bar and a mini dessert table. There wasn’t a huge amount of choice, but it was a nice change from the main buffet and very close to where we were spending the day on the beach.
Bordeaux – the French option
The decor in this place is very cute and somewhat chic and salon-like (French ‘salon’, not hair salon just to clarify). The food is not exceptionally French but it was well cooked and presented. As with the Italian, I wouldn’t call it authentic but it was probably the better one of the two. I opted for the Salade Lyonnaise followed by the lamb rack (which was not exactly a rack but it was well-cooked). Mum had Camembert Chaud, which was again small but fresh, and then filet mignon. We ordered it without the potato puree but it came with it anyway – there is quite an issue with modifying dishes in these restaurants we noticed.
They clearly have a very strict system in the kitchens. For dessert, we went for the tarte tatin and cheese. They were good, but again, not very French. But for an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, I didn’t have a huge issue with it. We managed to snag the good house red and enjoyed the atmosphere & service. It was a nice evening and felt separate to the rest of the resort.
Oceana – the oceanfront grill.
This restaurant is situated in the other half of the Seaside Grill. This was one of our favourite meals of the week. We had scallops and fish and steak and they were well-cooked & well presented. It was a truly lovely atmosphere on the seafront, a little dark but that added to the ambiance. The service was excellent (the same guy from our lunch at Seaside who was full of banter with me once he realised I spoke Spanish). They didn’t have the good red (avoid the Artica and trust me on it), so drank sparkling wine instead. Would recommend.
Just a final note on room service
We ordered coffee and green juice every morning to the room from the tablet (see my Instagram Stories for more details). The staff leave it in a secret compartment cupboard by the door so that they do not disturb you, which is fantastic when first thing in the morning. We ordered one meal from room service and I would recommend that you go for the Mexican options – they just fared best when brought over from the kitchens.
Ok, so this review post is getting hella long so let’s start rounding it up.
Secrets Cap Cana is a truly beautiful resort and location. The staff are all friendly and chatty. The beach is fantastic – one of the best I’ve been to. The water is so warm – I swam every day and enjoyed it immensely. And now that I’m writing about it, I miss it. It also has a great drinks service, comfortable beds, big parasols and the toilets are close and clean. We really enjoyed the experience a lot more than being in the pool area which is pretty, but has a swim up bar and constant noisy games all day long and much less breeze, making it stifling hot at times.
The beach in comparison was cooler and felt much more serene. Our room was amazing. We had a great view and we were high enough to have the views without the noise. The shower was fantastic. I looked forward to it every day. For a rough video tour of the room, head over to my IGTV. A final tip? After a few days we found a daily newsletter print out by the breakfast entrance with a crossword and sudoku on the back of it, which was great to pick up each day.
For those worried about the press that Dominican Republic has got recently for their dodgy alcohol and tourist deaths, Secrets are fully stocked up on high quality international liquor, so no need to worry.
Our margaritas were made with Don Julio tequila and, as I mentioned earlier, the Bloody Mary stand at breakfast have Grey Goose for you to spike your tomato juice with. Speaking of bad press, there has been a lot written on the sargassum (seaweed) being an ongoing problem in this area of the world and they are dealing with it as best they can. There is a barrier holding a lot of it from floating in to the shore and a team who clear the beaches daily. There was a bit in the sea where I swam that varied day by day with the weather but I didn’t find it to be a huge issue. It was definitely in hand at that time (October 2019).
However, as a somewhat reserved English person, I hate being sold to and there is a pretty heavy sales cycle happening around the resort for all of the extras. We were invited to a meeting on our first morning. They try to sell you trips & excursions and give you vouchers that you are unable to spend without spending more money. It was a little annoying, but quite easy to politely avoid and we just sat watching people coming in all week having breakfast with the sales staff, in exchange for a free massage, which in my opinion wasn’t worth a two hour presentation and sales breakfast.
Having said that, the spa is SHOCKINGLY expensive, so you may disagree.
But – quick tip: keep an eye out for the pretty regular 40% discounts days on the tablet in your room OR simply pretend there isn’t a spa, like we did! The shop is also really expensive, so try not to forget anything necessary like I did – bug spray was over $20 and it hurt to pay that. It also hurt to buy tampons for $18. I did however buy some Havaiianas when my flip flops broke (again… why do Havaiianas have such a short lifespan?!) and they are great value. I also went on a 30% off day, which was a nice bonus. There is also a premium wine list that does the rounds around the restaurants – it’s pretty easy to say no and move on, so there was no pressure there.
There are also a lot of Americans tipping every five seconds and that just isn’t a part of our culture (and makes me incredibly uncomfortable) so we just decided to tip at the end of the week to people who had made an impact on us. Some we managed, others were on a day off so I couldn’t see them. So hopefully that was ok. Most staff were just happy to chat and be friendly though. I also didn’t feel that they were looking for a tip from everyone, which I appreciated.
I bunched all of the not-so-positive stuff together there.
But it really was a bit of an aside if I’m honest. I’ve had quite a few messages on whether I would recommend Secrets Cap Cana and I absolutely would. We had a really fantastic time and would absolutely recommend the resort for a quiet week away. (Just follow my tips above!)
P.S. This is the VIP Airport Lounge at Punta Cana airport. Not bad, eh?
Got any more questions for me? Drop them below! I’d be happy to answer!