Dominican Dreams

Charles Greenfield visits Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort

Charles Greenfield is a Miami-based travel writer who has contributed to Travel & Leisure and regional magazines/ newspapers. He also is Cultural Arts Contributor to Artsbeat on WLRN 91.3 FM, South Florida’s NPR affiliate, a producer for WLRN Ch. 17’s Artstreet, and has written on classical and jazz musicians for the Miami Herald.

After a visually stunning flight from San Juan west across the northern Puerto Rican shoreline I land at the Punta Cana International Airport with its open-air breezeways and palapa (thatched) roofs. High up, a yellow-throated warbler flits in the rafters. At the eastern end of the island of Hispaniola, Punta Cana has become the fastest-growing zone for luxury megaresorts in the Dominican Republic. Part of 186 properties in 17 countries, the family-owned Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort boasts 1900 rooms and a P.B. Dye 18-hole tropical golf course The Lakes alongside a sparkling white, palm-strewn 1.2 mile beach and shallow coral reef.

The resort has spent over $330 million in renovations and new construction since 2009. This past December they opened their first adults-only section, “Barceló Beach,” with 391 tasteful rooms furnished with wicker and Mexican tile highlighted by a turquoise backdrop. Next door, near the entrance of the main hotel, “Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe,” golfers will relish lush views of The Lakes in the new 234 beige and dark-wood stair-cased lofts with clubhouse, pro shop and lockers. For just the children,
the fun begins with the Barcy Kids Club, Pirate’s Cove interactive water park, wave pool, mini-golf range, private bar (non-alcoholic daiquiris!), and even a disco.

My soothing and upscale “B-room” in the Palace Deluxe featured a rain-style shower, 32-inch LCD with USB port and iPod/MP3, ceiling fan, mini bar and safe, and a hedonistic private terrace with Jacuzzi. For Club Premium members amenities include: private check in/out, “best view” room upgrades, reservation priority for a la carte restaurants, club drinks and snacks, free lounge internet and wireless for rooms, personalized concierge service, express laundry, room service, bottle of rum, access to hydrotherapy section in the spa, and 10% off in spa and beauty salon.

In fact, opposite the 1,400-seat Las Vegas-style Gran Teatro Bávaro and Club Premium lounge, the sleek and extensive U-spa Bávaro contains a private outdoor pool with aquatic therapies and spacious gym for cardio, resistance, cool-downs, stretching, as well as two rooms for

yoga and spinning. Try an 80-minute holistic treatment like a lumi-juma massage or hot stone therapy, a honey scrub or bamboo exfoliant; end up afterwards relaxing in the state-of-the-art wellness center with its hydrotherapy “Scotch” shower (cold-hot-cold); or breath the eucalyptus and purify in the hamam or Turkish bath and two Finnish saunas.

Besides two paddle and seven tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields, beach volleyball, windsurfers, mini surfboards, and pedal boats, The Lakes is a par-72 standout, one of the Caribbean’s superior golf grounds. I had the 6,655-yard course gleaming with 25 inland lakes and 122 bunkers practically to myself one sunny afternoon. Fairways were beautifully coiffed, sand traps neatly packed, and greens, smooth and undulating, all framed by a virgin forest of hibiscus, jasmine, yucca, oleander, bougainvillea and saw palmetto. The last four tricky holes combine a morass of freshwater ponds and mangroves buffeted by sea breezes. The luxuriant course echoes with screeches and bizarre clicks from bright colored flamingos, spoonbills, bitterns, coots and wide-clawed, red-crested jacanas that walk boldly over the floating lily pads.

On my final day we took an excursion from Punta Cana to Saona, DR’s only sizeable offshore island. West on route 106, the massive concrete Basilica of Higuey towers over the bustling regional town. Sugarcane fields spread profusely in the lush valley providing the nation’s renowned caramel-colored mature añejo rum like Ron Bermudéz Aniversario. Nearby, La Romana, luxury enclave for the super-rich like Dominican-born Oscar de la Renta, houses its own replica medieval Spanish village, Altos de Chavón, overlooking a lazy river, ultra-expensive golf course, and outdoor arena. A few miles away on the south coast at Bayahíbe, we took speedboats across the calm waters for a beach barbeque on Isla Saona and returned dancing meringue on deck under full sail by catamaran.

Back at Barceló I could choose from over 10 restaurants (Italian, Mexican, Spanish, and French to seafood, steakhouse and sports bar) and 14 bars before dressing up for roulette and disco inside the Bávaro Casino. After hitting my lucky “14” I took my small winnings back home under a balmy, full moon.

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