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Spring Break 2019

A Comparison of Resorts

sunny 80 °F

We stayed in the Family Club section at the Barceló Bávaro Beach Palace. This was our first time in Punta Cana, but it was our 4th time at an all-inclusive that catered to families and our 2nd at a Barceló property. As such, I thought a comparative review would be most helpful. I'll be comparing the Barceló Punta Cana with the one at Riviera Maya (where we stayed last year) and the Grand Palladium Riviera Maya (where we stayed twice before).

Rooms: The rooms at the Barceló Bávaro Beach Palace Family Club were spacious and lovely. You walk into a foyer with the minbar and safe. To one side is the kid room. It has 2 double beds, so it will fit up to 4 kiddos. It has its own balcony (with a slider that you can lock). To the other side is the parent room. It has a long bed and a balcony with a hot tub. The seating turns into a twin bed if necessary, allowing for a seventh person in the room.

The bathroom is in between the bedrooms and accessed from the foyer. It is nice, but perhaps the weak point in terms of layout. First, there is a shower, but no bath. This could be tough for some families with very young kids, especially because the bowl sinks may not be a great tub substitute for a baby. Second, even though there are dual sinks and a toilet that is partitioned off, privacy is at a minimum. The sliding door that separates the toilet is frosted glass, and the shower partition is clear. As a result, a setup that should be extra-efficient for families--one person brushes teeth while another showers, etc.--ends up not being that way in practice because people may not feel comfortable with it.

Staying in a Family Club room came with a couple of other nice touches, like milk and juice in the mini-bar, small robes in the kids' room, and a nightly turn-down with cookies for the kids and chocolates for the adults.

Winner: The Family Club in Punta Cana. We appreciated the extra space and separate room so that the girls could have lights out before us. It was nice to have them in two different beds because it spared us the typical vacation-night ritual of one or both girls complaining about the other kicking her. The junior suite in the White Sands section of Grand Palladium Riviera Maya offered space and separation, but both girls had to share a pull-out sofa. The Barceló Riviera Maya did have some family suites, but I don't remember their details. At the time we were buying our vacation, they were more than we wanted to spend, so we were there in a standard room with 2 double beds. Of course, prices fluctuate at resorts based on season and promotions, so someone might score a deal on those Riviera Maya rooms that beats what we saw.

Room location: The upside is that the Family Club rooms are near a kid pool (Barcy water park seen here from the girls' blacony),

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the kid club, and the (extra fee) pirate water park.
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The downside is that you're more removed from the main pools
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and beach. We felt like the great room was worth the walk, but the calculus might be different for other families.

Winner: Grand Palladium Riviera Maya (White Sands section). You're a short walk from the beach and both of the large pools. The kiddie pool is adjacent to one of those large pools. The kid pool at Barceló Riviera Maya also was closer to the main pool than at Barceló Punta Cana.

Food access: in theory, you should not have to go hungry at an all-inclusive. In practice, there were some "dry spells" in the food service at the Barceló Punta Cana. That's because their buffets close down for an hour or two between meals. There is a sports bar that serves food nearly 24-7, so you can go there during one of those gaps, but it's far from the beach. There is no easy way to get between-meal snacks on the beach or poolside; although the buffets are poolside and definitely would let you walk in for a snack, you have to be dried off, with your suit covered up. One exception is the bar at the Barcy Water Park, which has popcorn.

Winner: Barceló Riviera Maya. They had a poolside buffet where you could be in your suit and grab lunch or just some chips and guacamole. Honorable mention to Grand Palladium: although their beach bar was mediocre, it at least had some basics. Plus, they had a hot dog cart occasionally circle the pool and a nearby bar that served ice cream.

Buffet quality and variety: The food at Barceló Punta Cana was fine, not terrible yet not amazing. There was variety at every meal, but from day to day, the spread was about the same.

Winner: Tie between the Barcelós for small touches like a kid section of the buffet, a carving station or meat being cooked as you wait at the lunch buffet. The Grand Palladium isn't far behind, though. In all places, breakfast was the best meal of the day.

A la carte restaurants for dinner: The number of a la carte dinners you get at Barceló resorts is based on the number of nights you stay. You must make reservations in advance, and you're best off if you do that ASAP. We ate at 4 in Punta Cana: México Lindo, La Fuente (Spanish), La Dolce Vita (Italian), and Coral (Seafood). Our preference for them was in that order, with a tie between México Lindo and La Fuente.

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Winner: I feel like this category is a push. Even though we liked food at the Barceló resorts somewhat better, I think our best meals at Grand Palladium are on par with our favorites at Barceló.

One factor to consider is reservations. Barceló requires them and allows you a specific amount of them based on the length of your stay. At the Grand Palladium, every place except the hibachi is walk-in. Your preference will probably depend on the specifics of your family. With young kids, we eat dinner early, so the Grand Palladium system worked well for us: we never waited long for a table because we arrived before the big rush. However, if you prefer to eat between 7 and 8 PM, you might find yourself waiting. Reservations at the Barceló can fill up fast, so you need to book ASAP, but once they're made, you can rest assured that you have a table.

Another thing for families to consider is the kid menus. Barceló and Grand Palladium on the Riviera Maya had kid menus with many options that were the same at each a la carte. Barceló Punta Cana has a different kid menu at each a la carte with 2 or 3 options connected to the restaurant theme. I don't think one way is inherently better than the other, but it helps to know the available options. If you go to Barceló Punta Cana, you can use the My Barceló app to scope out adult and kid menus at each place so that you can take your children's preferences into account.

Beach: Bávaro Beach at Punta Cana is gorgeous, with calm waters and plenty of palm trees for scenery and shade.

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Winner: Barceló Punta Cana. The other resorts also are on lovely beaches. They don't have as many palm trees, but there are palapas for shade. However, they have some rocky stretches under the water, so you need to be careful if you're not wearing water shoes. The waters are calmer in Riviera Maya than in Cancún, but not as calm as the stretch of beach where we were in Punta Cana.

Kid club: In theory, the Barcy Club is for ages 4-12. In practice, the oldest kids there on the days we used it were no older than 9. It's not surprising, then, that my daughters had different feelings about it.

DD1 was resistant to trying the club. She went once to participate in their water gun fight, which she seemed to enjoy. However, she didn't like the rest of her afternoon there; even though they had video games (one of her favorite things), she said that the staff allowed kids to leave their games and run around the club and that nobody else could step in and play.

DD2 had a more positive experience. She went three times and enjoyed each visit. She went with them to the kid pool and water gun fight, and did activities at the club itself, playing on their playground equipment, going in their ball pits, coloring, and watching movies.

Winner: This is a tough category to assess, because the kids were different ages on every trip. I will give the tentative win to the Barceló Riviera Maya, at least as compared to Barceló Punta Cana. When asked to compare the two, both of my girls said that they preferred Riviera Maya. I think that this might be because of the differences in scheduled activities. The Barcy Club at Riviera Maya had activities centered around a different theme every day, and handicrafts were always involved: for example, on "Mexican Day," the kids made their own maracas. At Punta Cana, there is a schedule, but no themes, and our girls didn't do any handicrafts. What's more, kids always have the option to decline and do one of the other options in the room instead, such as video games or the ball pit; I imagine this option existed at Riviera Maya but wasn't utilized as much because they did not have a ball pit or video games. In the end, I think Riviera Maya had a more structured feel that my girls preferred.

(Note: I didn't ask the girls to compare their experience to Grand Palladium because that was 3 years ago. They visited Barceló Riviera Maya last year, so I trust their memories of that much more.)

In general, I think the 9-12 age group is a tough one. Even though they may enjoy some of the same things as younger kids (video games, trips to the kid pool, etc.), they often think that doing things with them is babyish. I think it can become a vicious cycle, with older kids reluctant to join in, and the clubs understandably adjusting the activities towards the younger set and therefore making the older kids more reluctant to participate. It's a challenge for parents and resorts. On paper, at least, Grand Palladium Riviera Maya had separate schedules for their 4-8 and 9-12 year-olds. However, our girls were too young for us to see firsthand what the 9-12 group actually did. The idea is promising, but I'd love to hear from other families about how it worked in practice.

All-ages activities: There was a lot available near the pools, such as ping-pong and board games to check out. There also were scheduled activities, like Zumba and sports competitions. The staff was very friendly. DD1 especially liked the options here.

Winner: Grand Palladium Riviera Maya, but I am going to admit that this might be more my preference than anything. Every place had fun activities and nice staff. What set Grand Palladium apart for me was how the staff would walk around and invite people to activities. They were always friendly and never pushy; all you had to say was "no, thank you" and they'd keep moving. Some people may not prefer this, but I thought it was a good way to know what was happening.

Service: We had positive interactions with everyone who worked at the hotel. Special shout-outs to Rafael in Guest Services, who made our dinner reservations, and Yohan at Miramar, who ran the happiest omelet station at the resort.

Winner: Tie. Like I have read in other reviews, the Punta Cana staff used more Spanish to start conversations than at the Riviera Maya resorts, but we speak Spanish, so we didn't mind this at all.

So, there you have it. I think you can have a great family vacation at any of these resorts. I hope my comparisons are helpful!

Posted by amikulski 19:03 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged beaches children hotels

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