- No all-inclusive packages available
- No organized activities
- No gym
- No spa
- Public beach with persistent vendors
Early to bed, early to rise in this manicured, 103-room beachfront apartment complex (half vacationers, half semipermanent residents).
It’s more of a time-share than a hotel, but the property books 50 of its 103 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments to average vacationers. There’s no swim-up pool bar, all-you-can-eat buffet, or organized activities, unlike the vast majority of Dominican mega-resorts. However, this serene refuge makes up for its limited features with impeccable cleanliness, cheerful and spacious apartment-style suites (each with a full kitchen), and proximity to great local cuisine.
It's ideal for a longer stay, and some residents keep their rooms for as long as three months. Guests I spoke with said they were lured by the property's anti-all-inclusive nature and the constant peace and quiet. I didn't see more than five people hanging out by the pool at once. By 9 p.m. all was silent save the whistling wind passing through the courtyard. The only partying comes from the beach, where the woots and howls from a passing pleasure boat can often be heard poolside. Most guests are too absorbed in their books to even notice.
Located at the center of the tiny village of El Cortecito, an extension of resort-heavy Bavaro, the Stanza Mare sits alongside other small hotels popular with independent-minded travelers. Guests appeared to enjoy this tiny enclave, a quiet home base for exploring the area beyond the hotel.
Relatively small resort, focused on personal care for both the guests and residents.
From checking me into my room 45 minutes early to calling a cab for my departure (and very accurately explaining all of my complicated travel requests in Spanish to the driver), I never felt neglected -- or misunderstood -- during my stay. Requests made to the front desk from my room were responded to promptly; I asked for extra towels and more bottled water and got both right away.
Though the Stanza Mare doesn't have any scheduled activities, the hotel staff is happy to help arrange sport excursions, cruises, horseback rides, and the like. This is a welcome alternative to haggling with vendors on the beach to get a good deal on a joyride.
A 20-minute, $25 taxi from Punta Cana International Airport, five minutes by car from dining, drinking, and shopping at the upscale Palma Real.
The hotel is located in the tiny fishing village of El Cortecito, about 20 minutes from Punta Cana. Though most of Punta Cana is packed with mega-resorts, El Cortecito remains the anti-Big Resort vacation spot. It’s homegrown tourism here, meaning guests might have to parasail from an old, rickety boat or get accosted by merchants eager to unload a couple of wooden masks on a gringo.
Next to the hotel, there's a plant shop and several other small hotel/time-share hybrids. But there’s also an eye-opening level of poverty -- some run-down houses and locals trying to get in on the tourism with their own homegrown type.
Five minutes away by foot is Plaza Dorado, where I found a well-stocked supermarket and a bakery that made me feel right at home. For a Tommy Hilfiger fix, the Palma Real shopping mall is a 10-minute cab ride away (for about $8).
Visitors should be aware that the area around the hotel can feel a little gritty. Women, especially, should use caution when exploring on their own, even in daylight. When I went for a walk, I got a little frightened by the large trucks trundling down the skinny road a little too close to pedestrians, and I was not fond of the occasional catcall and leering stare.
Public beach with lots of vendors, clean sand, and relatively few guests.
This beach has soft white sand and clear water. But as soon I hit the beach, a few water-sports salesmen began hassling me about parasailing. In the late afternoon, there was a heavy odor of fuel due to all the motorboat activity. Beach vendors selling souvenirs peppered the area. I met one woman selling jewelry and paintings about 50 feet away from the Stanza Mare. She had a big smile and an adorable dog of an undetermined breed. (There are also a number of stray dogs on the beach.)
From the modern foldout chairs and updated wicker furniture to the red coral pattern throw pillows, the whimsical little sailboat sitting beside the 32-inch plasma TV, and the seashell chandelier, I loved my immaculate one-bedroom apartment. The overall feel of the place was West Elm showroom swirled together with a bit of sea glass. Other suites have unique design elements like little bedside lamps that resemble African drums and antique mirrored doors leaned casually against the living room wall. They're all modern and well kept, which is rare among condo hotels, notorious for rooms that date back to the '80s.
The airy living and dining room includes plenty of lounging space, a dining room table set suitable for four people, and a high-quality iPod docking system as well as a DVD player. There’s cable (in English), and most channels come in clear, but there are no movies on demand. Guests may want to bring along their favorite DVDs to take advantage of the DVD player in the living room. Unfortunately, there’s no in-room Internet available -- you’ll need to go to the lobby to access the free Wi-Fi.
All rooms come with a fully equipped kitchen, with an oven, sink, toaster, coffee maker, and full-size fridge. There's plenty of space to prepare a meal and a full set of pots, pans, utensils, and place settings. The “mini-bar” was actually a partially stocked full fridge, plus a basket with chocolates, chips, chewing gum, and other snacks on the kitchen counter.
Even the one-bedroom suites have two full-size bathrooms. One has a bathtub, and the other a shower stall. There are plenty of bath products and towels for a family of four (and the staff was happy to bring me more).
The bedroom includes a very comfortable king-size platform bed with good-quality cotton sheets and eye-catching throw pillows, and a brand-new, thin, beige-colored quilt. There was another TV set in the bedroom, though it wasn't a plasma, as well as a safe deposit box, tucked away inside a very roomy closet. Though suites vary in size and décor, most had all of these elements.
All of the apartments have balconies that look out onto the pool, and some also have beach views. The sizable balcony in my one-bedroom had a pool view and could be accessed by the entrances in both the bedroom and the living room. The three-bedroom unit has an especially large balcony with a picturesque view of the beach.
The pool area was especially clean and well maintained. The number of people poolside didn’t go over five during my stay, which made this spot great for getting some vacation reading done -- and not really much else.
Internet access is free in the lobby but not available in the rooms. Guests may use the hotel's PCs or obtain a code from the front desk and connect to the sometimes-slow -- though also free -- Wi-Fi service.
A small hotel shop and convenience store sells Punta Cana paraphernalia (postcards, beach bags, jewelry, T-shirts) as well as beverages, snacks, and toiletries. Many of the same items are available in each room (the "mini-bar" is kept in the full-size fridge) -- and I was surprised to find the prices fairly reasonable.
Kiddie pool and huge, multiroom apartments with full kitchens and DVD players -- but no kids' menus, activities, or child-care services available.
The Stanza Mare mostly attracts older, childless adults in dire need of rest and relaxation. However, it will happily welcome the rugrats. A crib can be put into a room at no extra cost.
There is a kiddie pool, and the small, contained nature of the hotel would be ideal for sunbathing parents who want to keep a close eye on their kids. But entertaining the kids becomes a D.I.Y. endeavor. Don’t forget to bring some DVDs.
Super clean and well maintained, since there’s no partying to mess anything up.
Toscana, the hotel's restaurant at the center of the property, serves well-prepared, Italian-inspired continental fare like grilled chicken sandwiches and omelets. Lunch and dinner are a la carte and can be charged to the room. A daily choice of breakfast is included with the stay. The small kitchen and limited number of guests make special food requests possible. Unfortunately, there’s no room service.
Each suite has a well-equipped kitchen with place settings for four (or more, depending on the apartment size), as well as cooking utensils, pots and pans, a coffee maker, and a toaster oven, as well as a regular oven. The well-stocked supermarket five minutes away by foot sells fresh meats, fish, produce, dairy products, and dry goods. There are also useful basics for sale at the hotel's store, such as canned goods and condiments.
There’s great (very interesting) local fare nearby, but these restaurants can be adventures unto themselves since the food tends to be more inventive and less generic than the fare offered at most resorts in the area. West Indies meets Italy at the Huracan Café, which is 20 feet from the resort on the beach. There, I enjoyed my dinner of a fresh green salad and a heaping plate of linguine with lobster, porcini mushrooms, and truffle oil, followed by a chocolate crepe for dessert. The owners of this little expat slice of heaven moved to Punta Cana from Italy more than a decade years ago on a whim and opened this relaxed eatery, popular among locals and visitors alike (though, with entrees between $25 and $30, it’s also one of the most expensive restaurants around).
Soles Chill Out Bar, a great lunch spot for sandwiches, meat, and fish dishes, is also right outside the hotel.
Those starved of Americana while on vacation can head to Hard Rock Café Punta Cana, located at the Palma Real shopping mall, five minutes by taxi from the hotel, though it’s certainly not the best place to sample local fare.
The Jellyfish Restaurant, another popular eatery within five minutes of the hotel, serves Italian-style seafood and is set inside a cnidaria-shaped building with a view of the ocean.
I also enjoyed seafood paella made with shellfish at Pulpo Cojo, or "the Lame Octopus," also about a five-minute walk away.
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