My wife and I stayed for a week in an Ocean-view Junior Suite, obtaining a good price at BookIt.com. All rooms appear to have some combination of wood and stone, and they are attractive. Our enclosed balcony was large, with two arches that opened onto a view of the sea. One was totally blocked by a strategically placed palm tree, but the other gave us our ocean view. Our room was large and comfortable, with a great bed (the largest King bed we’ve ever seen, with very nice linens). Maids changed the towels twice daily- it seems like a waste, but nothing dries very well in this high-humidity air. Our room was passably clean, but don’t expect any thorough daily cleaning of your suite. (One of our new friends requested cleaning materials and disinfectant so that she could clean her own room properly.) My wife brought little gift bags of Bath and Body Works lotions and toiletries for the maids. The ladies appreciated them, but I’m not sure it made any difference in our service. The bathroom had two sinks, a tub, a separate stone shower, and a separate toilet plus bidet. We agree that the rooms are musty, but that’s mostly because of the humidity. And you leave your sliding door open only if you don’t mind sharing your suite with the many mosquitoes that live here. (Night walks on the beach invite ankle-feasting no-see-ums, unless there is a nice breeze to blow them away. Take lots of insect repellant, and even then expect some bites.) There is an LCD TV and a DVD player, but no iPod dock. The mini-bar is stocked daily with regular and light Presidente beer (the only free beer at the resort), bottles of water, and regular Coke and Coca-Cola Light, as well as Fanta Orange and Sprite. We had an espresso machine (uses coffee pods), but no regular coffee maker. Our air conditioner worked well the first two nights, then inexplicably would not cool our room below 26.5C (79.7F), even when we kept our room card key in the slot. Then, on our last night, it worked again, giving us the distinct impression that our temperature was being controlled by some central computer(?), not by us. Some guests said they had no hot water. We did have hot water, but only after we discovered that the shower control turns counterintuitively.
Many guests experienced the room key enigma. When we checked in we were told that management was having problems with coding the card keys, so we couldn’t get a key until the next day. That required us to get someone to let us back into our room every time we went out. Then, when we got our key, it was nothing more than a plain white piece of plastic, nothing fancy, no logo or anything. And we were restricted to one key- no explanation why. (We suspect that it’s because they don’t want one of the keys left in the air conditioner slot when guests are out of the room.)
We arrived at the airport around 10 p.m.; it’s a nice, modern, open-air facility. As soon as we claimed our luggage it was grabbed by one of the many white-shirted attendants, who led us through the passport check and $10 per person tourist tax checkpoint to the VIP desk. We were glad that we had pre-purchased our VIP airport transfers to Secrets Sanctuary. We were immediately escorted to one of the Mercedes buses in the nearby lot and were the only two riders. Our driver whisked us to Secrets in less than 15 minutes. We entered the beautiful lobby and were greeted with a “Welcome home!”. Except for the key weirdness, check-in was quick and simple. We were satisfied enough with our room that we didn’t ask to be relocated, although we talked to many other guests who did make such a request. US dollars are in use throughout the resort, and the front desk can make change easily. No need for currency conversion for Americans.
The grounds are beautiful, and the original owners obviously spent a lot of money building the resort. The china, glassware, and flatware are Villeroy and Boch. However, the building materials are showing some wear, probably because a lot of soft stone and brick was used. Thus Secrets is constantly repairing and maintaining the infrastructure. The Blue Marlin restaurant was completely closed for renovation, and some unfinished buildings were being roofed. There are several shops, some with merchandise by Prada and Chanel. There is also a mini-mart that sells sunscreen, beer, sundries, candy bars, books, etc., albeit at elevated prices.
This is truly an all-inclusive facility. You can eat at the buffet, order from the menu, order 24-hour room service, or practice any combination of these, and the food is fresh and generally pretty good. Each restaurant actually has a distinct menu, not just a reworked version of a generic template, and all have indoor and outdoor seating (but don’t expect air conditioning indoors at dinnertime). Casa Bella is the place where everyone has breakfast, and most guests also lunch there. Portions are big; my wife’s request for some bacon was answered with a plate of 10 strips. Made-to-order omelets, papaya, mango, pastries, lox and bagels, cereal, oatmeal, orange and passion fruit juices, cold cuts, and cheeses are some of the choices every morning. Lunch always includes a choice of outdoor-grilled burgers or chicken or other meats. You can also have food brought out to the beach or pool if the 50-yard walk is too taxing. The other restaurants are open on different days of the week. WOK and Seaside Terrace are both at the far end of the resort, at the Castle/Fortress. If you wish to dine at one of WOK’s two teppanyaki tables you will probably need reservations, but no other restaurant requires them. Don’t pay extra for a lobster dinner if you’re going to be there on a Thursday evening, since the Lobster Fest at Seaside Terrace is included, and the grilled half-lobsters and grilled shrimp are tasty and all-you-can-eat. The David Crockett Steakhouse (yes, David) is popular. I ordered Prime NY Strip, but found it inedible; Prime clearly doesn’t mean the same thing here as in the US. On the other hand, the filet mignon was delicious. My wife enjoyed her grilled salmon. The (free) house wine, Monty’s Hill Chardonnay or Monty’s Hill Shiraz from Australia, is typical $5-a-bottle vino, but will not satisfy the more discerning wine palate. If you want a finer beverage, you can pay the inflated prices on the wine list. 2007 DeBoeuf Chateauneuf du Pape is $111 (with tax and mandatory gratuity), and Dom Perignon is more than $350 (at least that’s better than the more than $400 you’ll pay for room service delivery of the same bottle). No complaints, though, with the hard liquor. Many call brands, generous pours, lots of specialty drinks, all included. Capriccio is an elegant Italian restaurant, a little dressier than the others. The Love Bar is smoky, noisy, and unpleasant (at least to us). The Casino is open at night, has Blackjack, Roulette, Poker, Craps, and Spanish-language slots. It is smoky, even though usually sparsely populated.
A word about smoking and over-imbibing. My wife and I are dedicated nonsmokers, and we chose to eat indoors many times to avoid the cigarettes and cigars. If you are like us, choose your beach chairs carefully so that you are up-wind from the smokers. We tried to avoid the large group of Chileans who chain-smoked and threw their cigarette butts on our pretty beach, but they were not the only rude guests. Many Americans, especially some of the honeymooners, smoked at outdoor tables, the beach, and all around the pool. The main pool has a swim-up bar that acts as the social center of the resort during the day. Cigarette and cigar smokers alike stunk up the bar, and used the pool as an ashtray. (One older Texan actually held up the end of his always-present cigar and blew his ash stack into the pool).
Nonetheless, we met a number of really fun people with whom we visited and ate dinner. You are almost guaranteed to find someone that you’ll enjoy (Hi, Linda and Amy and Neel and Mike and Jessie and Brad and Denise and Stu and Gina and Corey!). All adult age groups are represented, with a slightly older clientele than most typical Caribbean party hotels.
It rained two of our days, but we still had a blast visiting with people at the pool bar, watching the bartenders dance, playing cards, and not worrying about the warm tropical shower. The other days were sunny or partly cloudy, and it’s always humid here. Also, don’t forget your sunscreen- this is a genuine tropical sun.
The main beach is small, but nice. There were plenty of lounge chairs and towels, but the resort was less than half full until our last day, when 115 people arrived from Brazil. (We’re certain that many of our observations would be somewhat altered if we had been at a full hotel.) As you face the sea, there is a deserted beach to the right, past all of the cottages; no chairs, though. To the left, past the Seaside Terrace, is a beautiful sugar-sand public beach that is wide, long, and exceptionally uncrowded. The ocean is beautiful, with those perfect Caribbean hues of shimmering deep blue and luminescent turquoise, and a water temperature in the 80s. A gentle slope allows one to venture well away from shore and still be only waist-high in the surf. Prepare to have your legs tickled by small fish or larger “Liza” fish (mullets). The Lizas occasionally launch themselves and become airborne.
The Secrets staff is uniformly polite and cheerful. When they asked us how we were doing, they seemed disappointed with any answer less than “Excelente!”. They only want to please the guests, and will do almost anything that you ask. Most speak English well enough to communicate clearly, but they always appreciated our attempts at speaking Spanish. While we don’t know how much salary they are paid, the DR is a poor country and jobs are very valuable commodities. Therefore we tipped frequently and somewhat lavishly, even though it was never expected by staff members. It was warmly appreciated, though. Although everyone was delightful, we naturally became more attached to certain service people: Raul (looks like Obama) and Maria and Yillian at Casa Bella, Carlos and Junior and Denis and Willien at the pool and beach. They were all so wonderful and embracing, with great senses of humor and a love of life. Secrets would be a sterile hotel without these lovely people.
We very much enjoyed our stay, and would love to return someday to re-visit our Dominican friends. We give Secrets a “thumbs up”.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Its inspired design combines the charm of a Spanish colonial village with the laid-back sensuality of the Caribbean and the stylish sophistication of streamlined, modern design accents. Bougainvillea-lined pathways lead guests through the resort grounds to 176 expansive, private suites housed in replicas of a tower, colonial buildings and fortress. Within the resort are 5 exceptional restaurants, 5 bars, an elegant casino, a half-mile private beach with sugar-white sand, and meeting space for up to 500 guests, while just minutes away lie all the world-class recreational appeals of Cap Cana. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Sanctuary Cap Cana Hotel Punta Cana
- Sanctuary Cap Cana Resort