Feeling less like a hotel and more like
its own little utopian town, this 1,139-room, 120-acre all-inclusive mega-resort is
like three different properties rolled into one: a kid-friendly
family place, a understated adult-only hotel for sophisticated
couples, and a nature-rich preserve where guests share their
vacations with sea-turtle eggs, flamingos, and a branch-level ropes
course. Guests can expect to take trolleys to get around the sprawling property; for somewhere with a more compact layout, consider the Majestic Colonial Punta Cana.
A sprawling mega-resort with a a cartoonish kid's corner, a
serene, flamingo-inhabited pond, and an adult-only section
mega-resort feels less like a hotel and more like a small community
unto itself, complete with its own public transportation system
(train-shaped shuttles) and class system (the Level members have
their own pools, restaurants and beach areas). Depending on where you
are, it can feel like an adults-only resort that caters to young
couples (at the Level Adults Only section); a kid-friendly family property where the happy yelps of
children running amok are never far away; or a serene nature preserve
filled with large stretches of natural ponds, mangroves, and
wilderness, as well as peacocks, flamingos, and turtles of both the
land and sea variety. (During our visit, part of the beach was roped
off to protect a clutch of sea-turtle eggs expected to hatch in a
matter of weeks.) The peacocks and flamingos aren't native but certainly act like they're the bosses of the place.
The style is similarly eclectic, from crude
approximations of classical columns and statues (including some
freakishly muscular men with the bottoms of snakes) to the
understated modernity of the Level VIP areas to the cartoonish feel of the cave-like kids' club (which
was being transformed from a Flintstones theme during our visit). Overall, though, the resort is more stylish than some competitors. The
majority of guests are American and Canadian families and couples,
followed by Spaniards and other Europeans. They seem a tad more genteel -- hard-boozing spring breakers have been replaced by families and groups of adults reclining peacefully on the resort's plentiful loungers. Late at night, though, the disco can still get hopping.
At 1,139 rooms, the resort is much larger than the still-daunting Bavaro Princess, though not as over-the-top ginormous as the Gran Bahia Principe. The resort is roughly divided into two parts by a swath of mangrove forest and swamp. This is a common feature of beachside resorts in the Dominican Republic, as the government forbids the cutting of mangroves and the draining of their ponds. Shuttle buses are constantly winding their way up and down these boulevards, ferrying guests to their rooms or out to the beach. Past the mangrove thicket, the paths start curling up on themselves and shooting out branches in seemingly random trajectories. The street signs and maps don't quite match up to the reality on the ground, and the resort's pools and two spas are built to be practically mirror copies of each other, which can also be confusing. Part of the reason for the sprawling layout is that buildings and paths are designed to blend in seamlessly with the natural environment -- there is nothing higher than three stories, and no elevators.
A 25-minute drive from the airport, dead center in Punta Cana's main tourist resort zone
Hang a hard right at the busy roundabout by the Palma Real mall to reach the front gate of the property the resort shares with the Paradisus. The resort is about 10 minutes to downtown Bavaro in one direction and squarely in the center of
Punta's Cana's tourist activity. And that relatively posh mall? It's owned by the same
people who own the Melia and Paradisus, and is essentially across the
street from both properties' front steps.
Beach-wise, the hotel's bit
of shoreline (1 kilometer long) is smack-dab in the middle of a
series of similar resorts --step in one direction, and you're in IFA
Bavaro territory. Go the other way, and you're at sister resort
Spacious, modern rooms with balconies and free minibars, but no ocean views
Rooms start at a spacious 450 square feet (42 square meters). They're also a good value for families, considering the Family Junior Suite can fit five; it comes with a king-size bed or (upon request) two doubles, plus a sofa bed and pull-out bunk bed. Amenities such as a step stool and baby kit can be provided, and there's a curtain separating the sleeping areas for privacy.
Decor is modern and understated: Most have shiny marble tiles, streamlined dark wood and whicker furniture, and fabric accents in cream and beige. Bathrooms have walk-in showers with rainfall showerheads, but the lower category rooms (even the ones for families) lack tubs. Some of the higher category rooms have in-room whirlpools. Other amenities include free minibars (stocked with soda, water, juice, chips, and candy), coffeemakers, and closets with safes and robes. Wi-Fi is available but for a fee. Every room has a furnished balcony but views are of the garden or pool, not the ocean. It's worth requesting a building near the pool and beach -- otherwise expect to take the shuttle (though it does run regularly). Rooms near the theater can be noisy in the evenings.
Broad, picturesque beach with powdery sand that's not crowded
The Melia has a very long, broad white-sand beach (a little like Miami Beach), that has the fluffy, powdery quality of which dreams are made. It's a slower slope into the ocean than at some other Dominican resorts, so guests can easily wade in. As with all beaches in the area, seaweed can sometimes be an issue.
Unlike some other busy beaches in the D.R., the Melia's beach is relatively empty, with no thoroughfare of guests from neighboring resorts going back and forth across the sand. There is a portion of the beach with vendors for guests who want to buy tchotchkes, but guests shouldn't expect to be hassled.
The resort has two main pools at either end of the beach that are basically mirror images of each other. Both are lagoon-shaped and have swim-up bars and large patios with a thick cover of palm trees overhead. There are also other pools scattered about, such as the rectangular pool in front of Agora Grill.
The Melia has two spas, both of which are, once again, mirror images of each other. There are tents in the gardens for massages, several treatment rooms, men's and women's lockers, and a co-ed hot tub (flanked by pseudo-Grecian statues). Only one has a gym however. Fitness buffs will be happy to know that the gym is a fairly large room with an extensive array of cardio and weight lifting equipment.
Guests have access to the Cocotal Golf & Country Club, a five-minute drive from the hotel. The hotel offers a free shuttle to the club, which leaves every 45 minutes. Green fees are inexpensive for 18 holes, not including the cost of the golf cart.
The Melia has an actual money exchange counter where you can exchange pesos for dollars, and vice versa. Very few resorts offer this (most only covert dollars to pesos, and not the other way around). Pretty much every ATM only doles out money in pesos, yet cab drivers overwhelmingly prefer being paid in dollars. In other words, the Melia can be a lifesaver.
The Melia also features a genuine casino with several game tables and a lounge to go with the slot machines, one of the few resorts in the D.R. to do this. The lounge houses several flat-screen TVs turned to sports channels. Definitely one of the major draws for guests, the casino is often full and buzzing well into the night.
For nightly entertainment, shows at the theater are PG, but things can heat up at the disco, which is open late and can turn into a meat-market later in the night, with singles looking to get lucky.
Two buffets and 11 beautifully decorated restaurants serving decent food, plus 14 bars
The Melia has two buffet restaurants, one out by the beach and one around the corner from the lobby in the "Restaurant Market Place" -- a corner of the resort where you'll find most of the resort's a la carte restaurants and three of its bars.
The buffets served at all three locations are basically the same, and the options are a bit scarcer than at other, comparably priced resorts. Apart from an ample dessert table and breads selection, the buffet basically relied on burgers and pizza to take care of all the guests. Good for kids, but a bit dull by adult standards.
The a la carte restaurants all require a reservation in advance. Staff and guests alike said they liked the Italian La Gondola and the Japanese Hokkaido best, but are less happy with the Dominican fare at El Guarapo or the French food at Ma Maison. Other options include La Pagoda (Thai), Le Gourmet (international), Capri (Caribbean seafood), American Grill, Hacienda (Mexican), and Gabi Club (for The Level guests only, but not the Level Adults Only guests). The Level Adults Only guests in turn get exclusive access to Restaurant Cuatro. Most a la restaurants are included in the all-inclusive plan, but some may require surcharges, such as the Japanese restaurant and the steak and lobster dinner.
Kid-friendly rooms, PG entertainment nightly, and a kids' club
Melia Caribe Tropical is an excellent choice for families, given the Family Junior Suites that sleep five, the three kids' clubs (one for babies 8 months to 4 years, one for kids 5 to 8, one for tweens and teens 9 to 14), and the fun activities like zip-lining. Note that some of the kids' clubs options may only be available seasonally.
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