In the world of travel, few phrases come as loaded with unintended meaning as “all-inclusive resort.” Hoteliers hope you’ll hear it and envision a poolside paradise where the bronzed and gorgeous indulge in gourmet dining and constantly flowing cocktails. What you actually imagine: a cast of cheesy Hawaiian shirt models saddled up to a buffet, slipping bagels in their fanny packs (“in case I need a snack”) and slurping down vaguely alcoholic sugar-water.
“These are not my kin,” you sniff with the indignation typically reserved for those distant high school classmates who send Facebook invites to play Candy Crush. “Who do you take me for?”
Pause, please, and consider the case of Paradisus Palma Real, a fanny pack-free zone in the Dominican Republic’s sun-smothered Punta Cana that strives to show the “all-inclusive” experience in a more luxurious light. The property sprawls like a tropical Versailles across Bavaro Beach and greets guests with a sunken courtyard with towering arches, from which marble- and stucco-lined paths snake their way around the brilliant 37,600-square-foot swimming pool (the largest in Punta Cana), amid tropical gardens, through open-air cocktail lounges and toward white sands dotted with big thatched umbrellas and day beds. Want a casino? A theater with nightly shows? Free golfing at a nearby country club? Check, check, check.
Well-trod all-inclusive resorts tend to chip, peel and show their age, like cheap flip-flops that got tossed in the wash after you hurriedly unpacked. Paradisus Palma Real feels crisp and new, because a large chunk of it is. A $12 million winter renovation has just added 42 luxury suites associated with the resort’s new Family Concierge service. Despite the name, and although it does offer a few relevant amenities (like adorable mini-me bathrobes that set your biological clock to “aww!” mode), no rugrat or proof of marital status is required to book the Family Concierge service. It’s simply the most tricked-out in a tiered (and slightly confusing) approach to all-inclusive packages, encompassing the elements of the standard and Royal levels of service (like a “walkie-talkie” for calling your own personal butler) while adding access to exclusive spaces—like a private check-in lounge, restaurant, pool and beach area. Plus, you get the sleek new suites with ocean views and Jacuzzi-equipped balconies, draped in sheer linens and the soothing color palette of light coffee. Yes, even you, childless, youngish urbanite.
On that note, it merits mentioning that this isn’t the kind of sleepy all-inclusive geared toward the AARP set. When you’re not out on the water—kayaking, windsurfing, on board a sunset cruise or snorkeling excursion—you might find your tanning time accompanied by EDM beats dropped at Gabi Beach, a new oceanfront lounge where 30-something Financial District denizens on vacay bop to Rihanna remixes well into the night. In their hands are drinks devised by the bearded, suspender-clad Miguel Lancha, a booze guru of note (particularly in his native Spain) who oversees Palma Real’s beverage program and offers the kind of metropolitan mixology that’s unusual in Caribbean resorts. Palma Real boasts nearly 20 bars and restaurants in total, and other spots that shatter your bad-buffet stereotypes include Rare, a newly opened modern steakhouse for juicy cuts and red wine, and the four diamond-awarded Passion, Michelin-starred Spanish chef Martin Berasategui’s rosebud-covered refuge that emphasizes tasting menus. Passion dining does fall outside the all-inclusive packages, but it’s worth the extra bucks.
Also deserving of a few extra dollars are body treatments at Palma Real’s two Yhi Spa locations. A tidy menu of Eastern-inspired services is available at the smaller of the spas, a series of slatted wood bungalows that dot the pond of an “oriental garden” like lily pads. The second, larger Yhi, a sandalwood-scented compound of massage rooms, saunas and hydrotherapy baths, is located at The Reserve at Palma Real, a neighboring concept that is billed as a “boutique resort” within the larger resort: a scaled-down, more sedate version that lacks the nightlife buzz and immediate beach access, but feels more forested, secluded and romantic.
Wholly separate, but also worth considering, is sibling property Paradisus Punta Cana, a 15-minute drive from Palma Real. The beachside Paradisus Punta Cana is likewise all-inclusive, with five pools and facilities that mirror many of those found at the Palma Real: It has its own Yhi spa, its own Passion restaurant (among 11 others) and its own Reserve spinoff. But there’s an even higher-end sheen here, a stronger sense of privacy, less subwoofer thumping and more teeming tropical gardens for exploring on loaner bikes dispensed from scattered Hubway-style racks. Confused yet? Let us break it down: Think Paradisus Palma Real now, Paradisus Punta Cana two marriages and a stronger stock portfolio later. But please, even then, leave the fanny pack at home.
-Wave hello to the 1 percent while visiting Cap Cana, a gated resort and real estate community with a massive yacht-filled marina, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a few publicly accessible attractions, like zip-lining and eco-tours at the lush forest- and lagoon-filled Scape Park.
-Maximize your vacay time: JetBlue offers direct flights between Boston and Punta Cana International Airport.
Paradisus Palma Real Golf & Spa Resort Playa de Bávaro, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (809-688-5000) paradisus.com