We made it! We just returned from a week at the Catalonia Royal Bavaro (CRB) resort in Punta Cana.
First, who are we? We’re Teresa and Tim, and we live in Columbus, Ohio. Teresa is an esthetician and in her mid-30’s...Tim is an accountant and is closing in on 50 real fast! We enjoy traveling and have been on several cruises, as well as Las Vegas, Mexico, and Punta Cana once before (where we stayed at Royal Suites Turquesa). We also are Disney Vacation Club members and have been to DisneyWorld approximately 5 times.
Our last trip to Punta Cana was 3 years ago where we stayed at Royal Suites Turquesa (RST). We were sort of torn when we began to do some trip planning. We had a great time at RST and would have loved to have returned, but we also were anxious to try some of the other resorts that we read so much about. Inevitably, we’ll probably end up comparing the two resorts to a certain extent.
This trip was “extra special” for us because it will mark the first vacation since Teresa’s heart/kidney transplant. We knew “something” was wrong when we went to RST back in 2010, and spent the next two years preparing for and waiting for the opportunity at another chance at life. Teresa received her transplants in July, 2012, so we were simply waiting for that 1 year milestone before we could celebrate in earnest.
When planning, we knew we wanted adults only, a quiet resort, nice restaurants and a great beach. Did CRB deliver?...sort of...read on for the details.
I initially booked a superior suite through Expedia. They offered the best prices and best flights when I was ready to commit. After a few weeks, I began to consider upgrading to a deluxe suite, since it was only about $30 more a night. This would still make the vacation much cheaper than rebooking at RST. Well, the more I thought about it and the more pictures I looked at online, we decided to upgrade and reserve an exclusive suite with private pool--best decision I made on this vacation!!! We also reserved a wi-fi device through Gobecon and also arranged for private round-trip transfers through them since Expedia doesn’t include them as part of the package. This was the second best decision I made on this vacation. We loved having internet access on our phones whenever and wherever we wanted. We found that the free wi-fi provided by CRB was “spotty” at best, and non-existent in our suite or near the beach.
So, let’s break it down into sections...
We had a 5:30 AM flight out of Columbus, connecting in Charlotte and arriving in Punta Cana at 11:30 AM on Saturday, September 14, 2013. We ended up not sleeping Friday night, which was a bit rough, but the flights went off without a hitch. We landed on-time in PUJ and had our tourist cards purchased ahead of time, which only saved us about 5 minutes in line. We love the airport at PUJ, it really seems to be an efficient operation. We were through immigration in about 15 minutes and our bags were already waiting for us. A porter had them in hand and had us out of the airport in mere minutes after that. The Gobecon rep was waiting for us with the driver and our wi-fi device. This was a very easy process and we were on our way and actually at CRB within 45 minutes of landing.
The Resort and The Room
I had emailed the resort the week before and requested a Suite between 3402 and 3405. I was thrilled when we were assigned Suite 3402. WOW. This is the first Exclusive Suite right next to the Grand Suite. What a location. You can actually see the Caribbean from the patio! We were already checked in and it was only 12:15! We were told to go have lunch and then hopefully the room will be ready...WOW again. We checked back around 1 PM and the lady simply smiled at us, handed us our keys and directed us to the bell desk. We were in our room by 1:05 PM. Now THAT’S a great way to start the vacation. This was without a doubt the simplest check-in process we have ever experienced! Everyone was so efficient, organized and friendly!
We’ve read some reports that the lobby was “unimpressive”. We thought it was perfect. There was plenty of room to relax as well as conduct your business. One end had the entrance to Thalassa, and the other end had the entrance to the piano lounge/lobby bar. The entire back wall was glass, and this led to an outdoor patio overlooking the main pool. We enjoyed relaxing in the lobby or lobby bar before dinner while waiting for a table.
While we thoroughly enjoyed the suite, the layout seemed a bit “odd”. We’ve never stayed in a two-story hotel room before so it seemed a bit unusual. As soon as you entered, the main hallway consisted of the sink/vanity and mirror. There was also the doorway to the bathroom, that consisted of a jacuzzi tub, a commode room and a walk-in shower complete with two shower heads. The first level also had the closet (with ample shelves and hangers), a living area, minibar and a huge flat panel TV (Panasonic). A stairway led upstairs and consisted of a very comfortable king size bed, an armoire for additional storage (we didn’t need it), a half bath and another, albeit smaller flat panel TV. A point of contention for us was the extremely poor lighting. The suite seemed “dark” all the time, and it was virtually impossible for Teresa to get ready using the vanity and mirror. The fit and finish of the suite was “good”...not great, but “good”. It could use a bit of refreshing and some routine maintenance. Nothing extreme, but when you consider the cost, you may expect a bit more. The primary selling point of these types of suites is clearly the outdoor living space. To us, this made our vacation. It was incredible. The entire back wall of the suite is all glass, and when you walk out the patio doors, you step onto a nice patio, complete with a glass-topped table and seating for four. Beyond this area is the private pool deck, where you have two chaise lounges, two side tables and an umbrella. Beyond that is your own, private infinity pool. This was INCREDIBLE. It was about 4 to 4.5” deep and probably 10 feet wide by 30 feet long. It was actually bigger than I expected it to be, and deeper, too, which was nice. What was especially great about our location is that we were right in the middle of the infinity pool and Sea Blue, which made for some great people-watching. We spent the majority of our time simply relaxing outside!
One surprise for me was the lack of “US-style” electrical outlets. All but two outlets (one by bathroom sink and one used for the upstairs TV) were the “round hole” type of outlets. I realize that we are in a different county, but I was surprised because we did not encounter this when staying at RST three years ago. Not a big deal, I just needed to be a bit creative about charging up our iPhones, Gobecon, camera batteries and MacBook, LOL. The “US-style” outlet by the bathroom sink was perfect for Teresa’s flat iron, so all was good!
We enjoyed the layout of the resort, and it seemed a bit bigger than we expected. We were disappointed when we discovered that the main pool was closed for part of the week for refurbishment because that meant that the infinity pool became the “defacto” party pool. That really wasn’t the “vibe” we were looking for when we reserved an exclusive suite. But, we feel that CRB did a great job of completing this work as quickly as possible, and also realize that maintenance work must be done “sometime”. It was funny to watch how the “vibe” changed on Wednesday, after the main pool reopened. By noon, on Wednesday, the music by the infinity pool changed from Reggaeton to Flemenco guitar music, there were open palapa beds, and probably fewer then a dozen people in the pool at any one time. It was SO RELAXING once the “party crowd” moved to the main pool. I thought the main pool looked GREAT and CRB did a wonderful job of refurbishing it. It looked like a fun, energetic atmosphere--something we probably would have enjoyed 20 years ago, LOL!
We loved how the resort had a tropical feel to it, with a LOT of palm trees. They really seemed to keep a lot of natural beauty when they built this resort. Living in the midwest most of our lives, we absolutely LOVE palm trees...they are a sure sign that we are ON VACATION!
We did venture over to the “sister property” a few times. I went walking once to take some pictures and then we went over there one evening for dinner. In all honesty, as pretty as this other resort is, we weren’t impressed with it. We just didn’t like the commotion, (or all the kids), and were grateful to return to the CRB very quickly. To me, the resort looked “cookie cutter” and one you have probably seen before in any other tropical destination. To me, it looked remarkably similar to the Iberostar resorts in Playacar (large, open-air lobby, lots of blocks of rooms in a natural setting, a large pool complex, then the beach). It wasn’t ugly at ALL...just seemed a bit “ho hum” to me. I guess it comes down to what you are looking for in a vacation resort. For us, Punta Cana is all about romance and reconnecting as a couple. When we want a family vacation, it will usually be Disney World. So, that being said, I’m sure that plays into why we feel the way we do about “the dark side”, LOL!
Restaurants and Food
This is a tough one because food is so subjective. We realize that this resort caters to a clientele that is typically not from the USA. We understand that and even appreciate that. We do enjoy trying different types of food, but our tastes do tend to trend towards the conservative end of the culinary spectrum. At the end of the day, I think the food was “OK to good”. Some dishes were very good, others missed the mark. I don’t think it was great, and I think in some instances they may overextend themselves a bit. Typically, we would order room service for breakfast, and then have lunch at Sea Blue. Dinner would be either Thalassa or Cata Tapa. I guess I felt that there simply weren’t enough choices. Granted, guests of CRB have the option to eat at any of the restaurants at the sister resort, but I don’t think that was really much of an option. First, they’re quite a far walk, and I simply don’t think the quality is worth heading over there. We did try to eat at the Teppanyaki restaurant one evening, but would have had to wait 2 hours for a table! We ended up eating at the buffet, and it simply wasn’t good. In making this claim, I’m comparing it to comparable resorts in Mexico, cruise ships and even the sister resort to RST--they all had better buffets than this one. Quite simply, we were disappointed. So, that being said, that leaves you with room service or Thalassa for breakfast, Thalassa or Sea Blue for lunch and Thalassa or Cata Tapa for dinner (room service is offered 24/7, but we prefer to venture out during the day to eat).
We thought that the room service breakfast was mediocre at best. We have pretty simple palates-we’re not picky eaters, but the fruit plates and continental breakfasts simply lacked any imagination! The fruit plate is limited to cantaloupe, pineapple and watermelon...no mango, papaya, guava, etc. The pastry selection was a corn muffin, a chocolate muffin, a plain croissant and toast triangles. It got old after a day...not to mention after several days. We tried to order their egg selections, but the idea of eating eggs from room service after they’ve sat for awhile to be delivered to our room by a bicycle just doesn’t appeal to us. Now, I’m not dissing the room service. I realize they have limitations and based on that we chose to limit how we utilized them. To their credit, room service was always prompt, friendly and very efficient.
We did go to Thalassa for breakfast a few mornings, and were actually very impressed. The pastry selection was incredible, and made me jealous that we couldn’t get that type of variety from room service! Their eggs were always well prepared and the other buffet selections were fresh and plentiful, including lots of tropical fruits.
We also enjoyed the Dominican buffet for Sunday brunch at Thalassa. Teresa has strong family ties to Puerto Rico, so we are very familiar with this style of cooking, and it was very good (Rice and Beans/chicken/roast pork)...it was GREAT!
Other than our arrival day, we chose to eat lunch at Sea Blue, because it was so convenient to our room and very casual. The menu, in our opinion, was “OK”. It wasn’t great, but they did try to have a nice variety of dishes. We especially enjoyed the mixed salad, and some of the sandwiches.
Dinner was a mixed bag...but overall, I think it was “good” with some OK and a bit of “really good” thrown in for good measure.
Let’s start with Cata Tapa. This is a beautiful restaurant. My problem with it is two-fold. First, their entree selection is very limited, consisting of approximately six entree selections and their appetizer “tapas” selection is too pretentious. At the price-point of this resort, I question preparing food utilizing methods that consist of molecular gastronomy, including gels, pearls, and foams. If I’m going to a 5 star restaurant in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, I get it...but at a mid-level all-inclusive resort---it doesn’t quite seem appropriate. Their entrees were “good” but didn’t really wow us. The pork ribs are a nice, slow-cooked rib with a sweet glaze. The veal is “similar” to osso buco but lacked some of the flavor and the quality of the veal used seemed lacking.
There were several fish dishes offered, but we passed because I noticed that I simply wasn’t fond of how this resort prepares fish. This is on ME, and not a slam towards CRB. I prefer my seafood to be “well done”. I’m not a fan of cooked fish that is still translucent. I tried it for lunch both at Thalassa and at Sea Blue, and opted to just pass on fish for the rest of the trip.
That leaves us with Thalassa. Overall, we enjoyed Thalassa. We felt their dinners were well-prepared, tasty, and presented at a relaxing pace.
One area we can’t find any fault with is the desserts. Wow! They were incredible! We loved “Chocolate 5 Ways”, the Sacher Torte, the Coconut Toast...all of it! Probably some of the best desserts we’ve ever seen at a resort. Oh, and the coffee. The Dominican Republic has some of the best coffee in the world, and CRB is no exception! It is always served nice and hot, with warmed milk if you desire, and they offer a wide range of coffee beverages (lattes, caps, etc).
Ok, this is tougher than tough. This is where we simply must disagree with most of the trip reports on CRB. We thought the beach was terrible. Pure and simple...bordering on nasty. I grew up on the beaches of the Great Lakes, and have spent time in the Carolinas, both coasts of Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas, both coasts of Mexico, Bahamas, and several other caribbean islands. Other than Galveston (sorry, Texas), this beach was the worst...we were so disappointed. First, we thought the beach was too narrow, with not enough sunny areas. The sand lacked the “sugar white” consistency that we’ve read so much about in Punta Cana , and even experienced at RST. The water clarity seemed way too murky and cloudy for Punta Cana. When I’m chest deep in the Caribbean or that part of the Atlantic, I should be seeing my feet. Then there is the sea grass. I understand that the staff is raking it up all day long...I applaud their efforts. But something just isn’t “right”. I’m not a scientist...but it just seems strange that you can go 10 miles north or south and be in crystal clear water with white sand, but here at CRB...it’s beige/brown sand, murky water and sea grass...acres and acres of sea grass with a LOT of it washing ashore 24/7. The beach appears to be almost in a “natural state”, which is fine...but I think it needs to be called what it is. It’s not a great beach for swimming, or frolicking or snorkeling...even with the sunken pipe. We’ll take a sugar white beach with clear water any day of the week, and book a snorkeling trip offshore to see some fish. End of rant!
The beach did seem quiet, but we didn’t notice many people enjoying the water. We’re wondering if others feel the same way we do, and opted simply to not go in the water.
We only encountered two beach vendors the entire week, and they were very unobtrusive and were actually very pleasant to speak with.
For being such a quiet beach, I wished the guy in the “glass bottom boat” would stop blasting Michael Jackson!
Service and Misc
We commend CRB for their INCREDIBLE service. Without a doubt, the best service we have had at any resort, and we felt it rivaled some cruise ships. Everyone was pleasant and friendly and the service when dining was very professional. We didn’t encounter any language problems that we read about beforehand. We were very impressed!
Teresa was also very impressed with the spa. As a licensed esthetician, she’s a harsh critic, and was very pleased with the quality and selection of services they offered.
We did attend the weekly beach party--and it was INCREDIBLE. The food was great, the service was flawless and the music was a lot of fun...”every day I’m hustlin”! The staff clearly made this the event of the week...! It was extra special because there was a full moon that night, which simply created the best atmosphere!
We did notice a few mosquitos at night if we were out on our patio, but it didn’t seem like a significant issue at all.
We were very glad that we opted to utilize the Gobecon wi-fi service. We had flawless service throughout the entire resort--beach, pool decks, room and restaurants. We noticed that we only had a CRB free wi-fi signal in the lobby. When I would scan other areas of the resort, I couldn’t even find the signal. If wi-fi is important to you while on vacation...use Gobecon--great service and very reasonable rates!
Overall, we had a good time at CRB, and it truly was a “worry-free” vacation for us. Would we return to Punta Cana? Of course we will...we’re hooked! Will we return to CRB? Hmmm, based on the cost of upgrading to the exclusive suites, I think we’ll try and find some other adults-only resorts, including a possible return someday to RST. In all honesty, the exclusive suite made our vacation. Since we were so disappointed in the beach, we ended up spending most of our days by our own patio and pool...and we loved it!
At the end of the day, we are beach people, pure and simple. For us, our “wants” and “needs” consist of white sand and clear water.
We’d recommend evaluating what your “wants” and “needs” are for a vacation resort. Do your homework, study pictures, and ask a lot of questions. If people keep bringing up the same “topic”, there’s probably a reason why.
Enjoy your trip planning, and we’ll hopefully see you sometime in Punta Cana!
We commend the management at CRB, because they are clearly doing something RIGHT. It’s a very well-run resort, with fine amenities and a GREAT STAFF. We only wish your beach was nicer.
Upgrading to a private villa with pool made our vacation!!!
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.