Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Beautiful grounds teeming with happy families and plenty of activity.
Families make their way through a maze of perfectly clipped hedges of red coralillo flowers and walk beneath weeping frambollane trees. Pink flamingos wander among the patio furniture, and plump pigeons look like they've been lunching at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
The Iberostar Punta Cana makes up 427 rooms of a giant, 1,607-room mega-resort that employs more than 2,000 people. Iberostar shares many of its facilities -- among them two pools, several a la carte restaurants, a kids' club, and a gym -- with neighboring Iberostar Dominicana, an almost mirror image of Punta Cana. The more upscale and exclusive Bavaro section has its own restaurants, pools, and corner of white-sand beach.
Still, a warm, joyful spirit pervades this resort, more so than at other resorts in the area. Young parents sit poolside and watch their offspring have lunch, friends enjoy a beer at the Colonial-style lobby bar, enthusiastic staffers lead vacationers on a beachside afternoon dancing twirl, and hungry guests return to the salad bar for a second helping.
Guests have been drawn to Iberostar Punta Cana recently since the section underwent major improvements in 2008. Loyal vacationers have trusted this leading Spanish tourism brand for family fun since the 1930s. And although the resort chain does not have a membership program, many of the guests are repeat customers or have previously taken a vacation at one of the 30 Iberostars located in 11 different countries. Guest come from all over, but like at most resorts in the D.R., the clientele is heavily Canadian and European, with a slight dose of American thrown in.
The entire Iberostar resort is located in Bavaro, technically a neighboring village to Punta Cana. Over time -- and with the proliferation of resorts in the area -- Bavaro has come to be considered a part of Punta Cana, at least for tourism's sake. Iberostar is one of several resorts located on the nearly 10-mile stretch of Bavaro Beach, which is one of the most beautiful in the Dominican Republic.
Iberostar Punta Cana is located at the end of the Iberostar strip and directly next to the Riu Punta Cana -- another Spanish-brand mega-resort. It is so close, in fact, that it's easy to mistake their beachside lunch buffet for the Iberostar's.
Powdery, white sand tells the story of this busy resort beach. The waters and sands may have been crowded with swimmers, beach paddle ball players, snorkelers, and sand castle builders, but the quality of the beach did not seem to suffer. On the Iberostar grounds, sunny yellow lounge chairs crowd the sands. Sunbathers can be found rearranging them in every which direction to catch a ray.
A boardwalk stretching from the Iberostar Grand Bavaro to Punta Cana keeps the area by the shore lively. Along the walk there’s a playground, an ice cream stand, and several restaurants and beach bars, but no drink service on the actual beach.
However, if you're committed to finding two chairs next to each other, let alone a shaded hut, plant your flag early.
All rooms are clean, large, and comfortable (even if they are a bit dated).
The standard rooms have a dresser with plenty of storage space, a small desk perfect for working at (and even situated next to an outlet, which is rare in the D.R.), a closet with plenty of space, and a safe deposit box inside that was big enough for a laptop. The coverlet on the beds, the couch upholstery, and the artwork all exude a Southwestern flair.
Even standard room bathrooms are exceptionally clean and have a large shower stall and sink -- and a toilet with the bizarre wall-mounted flushing button mechanism common to all Iberostar resorts. There are also plenty of Iberostar-brand bath products, which were a step above the foul-smelling soap dispenser at the nearby Barcelo, as well as plenty of plush, very white towels. One small hitch with the bathroom: no divider between the shower and the floor.
Though Punta Cana is considered a seperate section of the Iberostar complex, it shares many facilities -- including two swimming pools, a spa and gym, a kids' club, six a la carte restaurants, an activities program, and some evening entertainment with its not-yet-renovated sister, the Dominicana. Guests of Punta Cana can walk next door to the Dominicana to use its casino or eat in the eerily identical Buffet Higuey, where even the Jell-O appeared to be situated in the exact same place.
This is a classic family resort. Everything revolves around keeping the big and little ones happy at the same time. There’s a little pool for kids, alongside the massive two other pools. A kids' club with a full day of activities keeps the little ones active with everything from tennis to sand castle building to bingo and archery. In the evening, the mini disco has the kids smiling, boogieing, and performing for parents. When the staff started on the dance to “YMCA,” some nostalgic adults couldn't help but join in.
The grounds of Iberostar are perfect -- and maybe even kind of fun -- with a stroller. More than one mother appeared to be having a grand time swerving a baby buggy through the maze in the garden, and young children loved to run through it.
Food shouldn't be a problem, either; the buffet has plenty of burgers, pizza, French fries, and other kids’ favorites. They are also certain to appreciate the ice cream stand located directly on the boardwalk.
Iberostar’s entertainment is similar to that at most Caribbean mega-resorts. The house band, Star Friends (also the name of its animation team), played danceable yet gentle classics by the Punta Cana lobby, which provoked plenty of people to get off their beach bums and dance. Staged entertainment changed nightly, everything from karaoke to Caribbean-themed vaudeville and pageantry.
The lobby bar, Macao, served as the center for nighttime fun, well past the house band's evening gig.
All three sections of the resort share the DC-6 discoteque, which stays open to the wee hours.
Neat as they come, no matter how busy the place gets.
Iberostar is serious about keeping its floors shiny and its gardens well pruned. Everywhere you turn, there is a staff member scrubbing, polishing, clipping, pruning, sweeping -- no matter the time of the day. Even when the resort was booked to 100 percent capacity, the cleanliness of the grounds, lobby, and rooms did not seem to suffer.
Quantity is indisputable, from the huge buffets to the late-night snacks. Quality, however, is debatable.
Buffet meals served in the large Hispaniola dining hall and its neighboring identical twin, Higuey, offer a multitude of choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Enthusiastic diners couldn't seem to get enough. In general, the food at Iberostar was a notch or two better than at many of the resorts in Bavaro. In variety, it rose above Gran Bahia; in quality, it was leaps and bounds above the Barcelo.
Breakfast includes a spread of breads, yogurts, fruits, waffles, and pancakes (including some delicious buckwheat ones), a busy omelet and eggs station, and a hot bar, all of which were fresh and at the appropriate temperature.
Lunch and dinner are both a veritable smorgasbord. Guests can watch fresh meat get grilled in front of them. One buffet worker even showed off the little piglet head she was slicing for many hungry guests. We found 16 different kinds of bread, eight different kinds of pizza, four pastas (complete with a very enthusiastic pasta-tossing staff member), three different kinds of very fresh lettuce (green leaf, watercress, and spinach) an assortment of equally fresh veggies, and a seemingly endless selection of desserts, including four flavors of ice cream. For some guests, however, the quantity didn't always match up with the quality.
The a la carte restaurants are even more popular among guests, though they aren't necessarily better. There is a dress code that does not permit men to wear tank tops or shorts -- though “elegant Bermudas” are allowed. A reservation at one of the a la cartes is a hot commodity, and the staff knows this: Guests are limited to only one reservation every three days, two every five days, three every seven days, and so on. Nearly every resort in the area has a reservation policy, though Iberostar's might be one of the stricter ones around.
The food at the a la cartes varied from good to poor. The steakhouse, for example, served festive plates of smoked and grilled meats, salmon, and corn on the cob, while the Mexican food didn’t look as fresh. The resort also offers seafood, Japanese, and Italian fare.
For late-night munchies, the Higuey Buffet serves pizza and other snacks after midnight, so in between dances at the discotheque and slots at the casino, guests can satiate their after-hours hunger.
Name-brand liquor for free and plenty of places for a cold one -- just not on the beach.
Iberostar Punta Cana has drinks covered with a half-dozen places to grab a boozy confection or cold beer. The liquor here is mostly mid-shelf, and the bartenders know how to pour it, especially in the lobby bar, where guests like to linger and catch a break from the sun.
There is no swim-up bar and no drink service on the beach, but there are plenty of bars and spots for a cold cerveza just off the sand and close to the pools.
Iberostar only has one wedding package, and not a ton of extras, but the prices are right and the planning is hassle free.
Located on an excellent stretch of beach, the Iberostar's clean rooms, immaculate grounds, great service, and buzzing activities morning, noon and night make it feel like a well-oiled machine. Sure, it's crowded, the meat's overcooked, and the rooms and gym are showing some wear, but it's still one of Punta Cana's best deals.
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