Yes, we're well into January and I'm just getting around to writing this recap of our awesome honeymoon from October. I promise it's a reflection on how busy life has been and not a reflection of our trip. The hardest part of this review was choosing which photos to share because there are so many!
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Want the short version of this review? You can see it over on TripAdvisor.
When we first started looking for honeymoon destinations, we were overwhelmed. We eliminated Mexico because we wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been before. We also wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't take a really long time to travel to from our home in Kentucky, and we were firm with our budget since we were also in the midst of spending a lot of money on our wedding. On the hunt for our tropical, all-inclusive, preferably adults only vacation spot, we turned to Carey of Beach Bum Vacations to help with recommendations. I'd first reached out to Carey when we briefly explored destination wedding options, and she was immensely helpful, quick to respond, and had a lot of first-hand knowledge from traveling to so many of these resorts. When it became clear we were going to do a local wedding, I knew we'd turn to her for booking our honeymoon. After going over our budget and wish list, she recommended we go to Excellence El Carmen, outside of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. She booked the resort and transfers for us, and we booked our flights using some existing points with Southwest. It was great knowing she was there taking care of most of the arrangements, including resort requests, sharing tips for the airport, etc.
Excellence El Carmen: The Resort
Excellence El Carmen is about a 40-minute drive from Punta Cana International Airport, assuming you do a private transfer without any stops to drop passengers off at other resorts. Excellence does have another property in the area, Excellence Punta Cana, but we picked this one because it was newer and had the room type available that we wanted.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with champagne and a cool hand towel. Check in was swift, and we waited in the very spacious and modern lobby to be taken to our rooms along with two other couples who had just arrived. We had a mixup with a missing backpack, but they quickly remedied that and we were on our way. Along the trip to our rooms, we learned about the locations of the various bars, restaurants, and amenities on the property. It's not a boutique-sized resort, but it also didn't feel overwhelming at all. And even though we heard it was pretty close to full occupancy, it never felt like there were many people there. We wanted a resort that wasn't crowded, was pretty quiet and didn't have a crazy party vibe. While they DID have daily and nightly activities if you wanted to be more social (silent disco, Dominican night, Michael Jackson show, White Party, games at the pool, etc) you could also take it easy if that was more your style. The entertainment team was really fun and engaging the couple of times we came across them, but we kept things really low key. If you're looking for a spring break type atmosphere, this is NOT it!
Room: Suite with Private Pool and Deck
The resort has a lot of room types to choose from, but we booked a suite with private pool and deck, non Excellence Club (I'll get into Excellence Club a little later). Not knowing how crowded the shared pools would be when we arrived, having this private pool sounded awesome. Turns out there are so many shared pools that they're not crowded at all, with the exception of the main pool that had the daily activities (and even then, it wasn't overcrowded in the least). But, I love to swim and float and also didn't want to feel self conscious in my swimsuits should the self-confidence monster creep in. When I learned they had a room type with a private pool, I was pumped. It did not disappoint!
When we got to our room in building 12 (room 12006), we were greeted by a honeymoon banner, which was fun. There are a lot of honeymooners and anniversary-goers at this resort. Inside, the suite was very spacious. The suite had a living room with sofa, club chair, desk, minibar, and large television; as well as the bedroom area with another large TV and the bathroom with 2 sinks, a shower, and a sunken jetted tub. There was also a walk-in closet off the living room with a lot of storage and a safe, as well as a second closet in the bedroom. There was a bowl of fresh fruit and a chilled bottle of sparkling wine waiting for us, along with a bed covered in towel swans and flowers.
Building 12 is in the back of the resort, but it was an easy 5-10 minute walk (at a leisurely pace) to anywhere in the resort. I know some people want to be as close to things as possible, but we appreciated the extra quiet and privacy in exchange for a slightly longer walk.
The Restaurants and Service
There are 10 restaurants at this resort, and we didn't get to try them all! There is also 24-hour room service, which we used a few days for lunch when we didn't want to leave the pool. There are also a smattering of bars (maybe 10?) so you're never more than a few steps away from whatever you want. There is also service on the beach and at the pools, including our room pool! Shout out to William who always provided great service when we were in the pool. He learned what we liked and kept it coming, and also brought me the occasional hibiscus flower:
Overall, we were really pleased with the service. Was it always consistent? No, but you'd expect that with such a large number of staff anywhere. We had one restaurant experience that left a lot to be desired: 30 minute wait (we didn't encounter this any other place on the resort), and then another 20 minutes to get someone to take our drink order water after flagging someone down, and another 30+ minutes waiting for our appetizers. I think it was an off night for everyone in that restaurant as other tables also looked a little annoyed. But it was a minor inconvenience when you're dining by the beach at a tropical location! The food wasn't Michelin star quality, but they had a lot of variety, some of it was very good, and nothing we had was bad. Our favorite restaurants: Flavor Market (tapas and service were amazing), Kitchen Table for their very large breakfast buffet with a lot of options, and Lobster House for lunch by the beach and also their Dominican breakfast. We also frequently stopped by Aroma for coffee, and had room service where we never had to wait longer than 45 minutes – this was a pleasant surprise after having really long wait times at other resorts for room service. If you go to the Martini Bar and like coffee, you must try the espresso martini!
The last tropical vacation I took to Secrets Silversands was disappointing on the beach front. Excellence El Carmen blew me away with the beach! Wide swaths of sand, palapas, plentiful loungers, good service, and swimmable water. The few negative reviews I'd read about this resort had to do with the amount of seaweed on the beach. Considering seaweed is a natural occurrence and a resort can't magically stop it from washing up, I took this with a grain of salt. The staff works constantly to clean up the seaweed as it hits the sand, and I had zero issues swimming. Yes, there was seaweed in the water at times, but it didn't hider our experience one bit.
We never had an issue with finding beach loungers, no matter what time of day we showed up to the beach. Loved not having to fight or reserve a chair.
One thing to note is that all beaches in Punta Cana are public, meaning there are vendors that will walk around selling trinkets, or offering pictures with a monkey or parrot. They were harmless, and a simple “no thank you” was plenty to keep them moving. If you encounter any aggressive behavior, you can tell the resort staff who will help.
A Note about the VIP Cabanas
Prior to our trip, I read in an online review there were VIP Cabanas available for rent. It was an additional $60 for the day, but it was a special area just for your use for the day, with a special concierge, cabana, loungers, and beach access. I was concerned before departing about not being able to get a good beach spot (which I later learned wasn't something I needed to worry about), so we booked 1 day of the cabana in advance via our travel agent, Carey. There are only 2 of these on the resort, so they can book up fast.
We had a bit of a mix up as we received a call from the front desk concierge that our cabana was waiting. We'd actually booked it for the following day, but something got messed up with the scheduling. No big deal since we didn't have any other plans but to hang out!
We stayed in the cabana all
Is Excellence Club Worth It?
I mentioned earlier in the room description that we booked a non Excellence Club (EC) room. Excellence Club is a different class of rooms that you can book at a higher price that give you access to a private EC lounge, private restaurant (Magna), upgraded in-room alcohol, a hydrotherapy session at the spa, and a different beach area. When we booked, all the rooms we wanted in EC were already sold out. I was concerned if we didn't do all of these upgrades that we wouldn't have the total experience. It'd been 3 years since I was on a vacation, so I wanted to go big or go home!
Due to the mix up with the cabana booking, we were generously offered some make-goods. We were offered dinner at Magna restaurant, and complimentary hydrotherapy – 2 EC perks. After experiencing both, I'm going to tell you why I think that it's totally fine and still an awesome experience to go at non-EC level as we did.
Magna: Our dinner was honestly underwhelming, and so was the service. Again, service discrepancies are bound to happen at a large resort like this, and
Hydrotherapy: I'd read a lot about the hydrotherapy at the spa, and was convinced I didn't want to do this. They take you through a set of activities with a few other couples also having the treatment. I may not be remembering the exact sequence, but it's time in a sauna, followed by a literal ice bucket you pour over your head, walking on rocks, sitting in a large pool where you go through various stations of hydro massage on your back and shoulders, and then a hot tub, followed by a brief
Upgraded bottles in room: We weren't that concerned with having upgraded bottles as most of our drinking was done at the restaurants, beaches, or bars, or served to us when we were using our private pool. There is no shortage of alcohol at this resort to say the least, so having upgraded in-room bottles would have likely been wasted. This is saying something as I can really get down with the alcohol on vacation!
Separate beach area: The EC beach area is a little more spread out than the regular beach area. There are also different loungers than the regular beach area. But, we had no issues ever finding a lounger, shade, or service in the regular beach area. We also never felt crowded or cramped – and I LOVE my personal space so I don't say that lightly. Spending the $60 for the day on the cabana gave us
All of this to say that if you can't do EC for any reason, don't let it prevent you from going! Even the lowest room class at a resort of this caliber is going to be wonderful. Whether or not the extra cost is worth it is up to each person, but we didn't feel we had any less of an experience without it.
Tips for traveling to Excellence El Carmen
- Take a yeti or similar cup. The bars will fill these for you, and your drink will stay cold for much, much longer!
- Consider a float. The main pool does have some floats available, but it was easy for us to pack a collapsible float to use in our private pool. When we left, we gave it to the people who had just arrived in the next room over. If you don't bring one, you can likely find extras left over from people who didn't take them home. You can always ask the staff as well and they'll try to find you one!
- Head to the X Lounge after dinner one night to take in the ocean waves and sky view from above and have good drinks.
- Try the hydrotherapy at the spa. As mentioned, this was something I really wasn't going to do, but am so glad I did! If you don't want to do the hydrotherapy, I do recommend looking at spa treatments if that's your thing. They have daily specials, and the ambiance, staff, and service were top notch.
- Consider gratuities. Tips are by no means required, and we didn't notice any difference in service whether or not you tipped. But, we appreciated the service and tipped regularly. There's housekeeping (2x a day), mini bar, wait staff, spa staff, bell boys, etc. The staff really works very hard to keep everyone happy, and in the grand scheme of the trip, adding gratuity doesn't add up to much but can probably make a big difference to those who are making your vacay dreams come true.
- Consider a travel agent. Carey was a great resource to help us select a resort and talk us through all the room options and pricing so we could make an informed decision. It didn't cost us any
more,and was a lot less stress for me. And while on our trip when we had the cabana scheduling mix up, I shot her an email as an FYI and she immediately got the concierge to follow up with us, apologize, and offer us the make-goods. This was above and beyond what I'd expect from her, but it was much appreciated.
- It's been said earlier, but consider the VIP Cabana for a day.
- If you love coconut, try the coco loco! Just remember that coconut is a laxative, so pace yourself! (I was glad someone reminded me of this in advance of going on a coco loco binge!)
- If traveling from the US, download and use the Mobile Passport app before re-entering the US. We skipped the entire line one we landed in the US by using the dedicated Mobile Passport line. This is available for use at 25 airports, so check the website to see if your port of entry uses it. Thanks, Carey for this tip!
A note for travelers of size:
Seeing as I'm a plus size blogger and have written about travel difficulties before, I didn't want to omit this in case it might help others. Being both large and tall, one of the things I quickly noticed at this resort is that the chairs at this resort in the bar areas and restaurants are extremely low to the ground and small. They look nice and