Hotel Face-Off: Excellence Punta Cana vs. Excellence El Carmen

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Aerial View of Excellence Punta Cana/Oyster
Aerial View of Excellence Punta Cana/Oyster

If you've been researching the best adults-only luxury hotels in Punta Cana, you've likely come across the sister properties Excellence Punta Cana and Excellence El Carmen. The two beachfront beauties are almost neighbors -- you can get from one gated entrance to the next in a five-minute drive. However, the resorts don't share amenities, so you'll have to pick one. Luckily, we've done the legwork and stayed at both resorts. They have a lot in common (luxe spas, delicious restaurants, and multiple pools), and rates are about the same, but there are a few key differences that might sway you either way. Read on and decide whether Excellence Punta Cana or Excellence El Carmen is the right all-inclusive resort for your next Punta Cana vacation.


Beachfront Honeymoon Suite at Excellence El Carmen/Oyster
Beachfront Honeymoon Suite at Excellence El Carmen/Oyster

Excellence Punta Cana underwent a $45 million renovation in 2017 that included all of the rooms. There are six different suite types housed within three-story pastel-colored buildings, and each unit is similarly decorated. The contemporary rooms have a midcentury-modern twist, thanks to wood paneling, pendant lamps, and powder blue sofas. Almost all units feature king-size beds, though there are a few rooms with two double beds. Stocked minibars have free beer, wine, liquor bottles, and snacks. Flat-screen TVs have a few English channels and Wi-Fi is free. Electronic panels control room temperature and do-not-disturb signs. Jetted tubs are placed near most of the beds — a romantic touch. Upgrades to swim-up suites are available. The downsides? Closets are small and some rooms overlook the grounds.

Excellence El Carmen opened in 2016 and its suites are some of the most attractive that we’ve seen in Punta Cana. They’re big and breezy, with marble floors, walls paneled in hardwood and neutral fabrics, and glass-enclosed whirlpools that overlook private balconies (most with some sort of ocean view). The whirlpools are ideal for enjoying the views and a soak, even in rainy weather. Rooms have one king bed or two queen beds that are framed by boxy nightstands and telescoping chrome reading lights. Tech features include iHome docks, wall-integrated USB plugs, and big internet-ready flat-screen TVs with satellite channels. Huge walk-in closets are fully shelved. All rooms also provide Nespresso coffee makers and free minibars stocked with beer, water, soda, and snacks (plus, full bottles of whisky, rum, and vodka). We love the open-plan bathrooms, which are spacious and include tan granite or black marble vanities plus double sinks. Glass-walled stand-up showers feature massive rainfall showerheads and all bathrooms include generous toiletries. Guests can upgrade to rooms with private rooftop pools or beach-facing swim-up pools.

Overall, El Carmen has built-in whirlpool tubs enclosed by glass while Punta Cana has soaking bathtubs in the rooms. We like the modern style of the rooms in El Carmen, but Punta Cana has a beautiful, traditional colonial style that might be more appealing to some tastes.

Style and Vibe

Grounds at Excellence El Carmen/Oyster
Grounds at Excellence El Carmen/Oyster

Excellence Punta Cana has an elegant colonial vibe, with tropical touches. Its open-air lobby is one of the few in Punta Cana with a view of the beach, so guests get an immediate introduction to paradise. You can smell the salty ocean as soon as the taxi door opens on arrival — at which point you’ll be welcomed with a glass of Champagne and a chilled towel. Wedding groups are popular (there are a few key spots around the property for ceremonies), but they aren’t the only guests. The partiers in celebration mode add some fun and liveliness to the resort. There’s no need to claim sun loungers at the beach or two pools (there’s a third private pool and dedicated beach area for Excellence Club guests), since the main pool runs the entire length of the resort and the beach is spacious. Overall, the architecture and landscaping are evocative of the Caribbean, with pastel colors, swaying palm trees, and manicured grounds. The front entrance of the resort is home to a gorgeous park-like space with lush foliage and bird-watching areas — the flamingos are worthy of a visit.

Excellence El Carmen exudes a modern and hip vibe. Parts of it even resemble a chic indoor/outdoor gallery space. Once inside, it’s all about sharp neutral decor, tranquil vibes, and breezy ocean views. Arriving guests step through the front doors into a hip lobby that’s more evocative of Miami than Punta Cana. The space features swish elements like funky, high-backed armchairs, sleek couches, and floor-to-ceiling shelves full of oversized art books. While interiors are sharp, it’s the hotel’s lush grounds that give it its away-from-it-all atmosphere. The grounds are dotted with four-floored buildings (designed to maximize ocean views) that are surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns, towering palm trees, and blossoming bougainvillea. Sculptures and outdoor lounging areas add a touch of chicness. It’s definitely not a party resort — the vibe is more about sipping martinis than pounding shots.

Overall, both properties don’t allow guests under the age of 18, so the ambience is relaxed. Excellence El Carmen tends to attract more millennials, while Excellence Punta Cana sees its fair share of baby boomers — many of them are repeat guests. You won’t find a full-blown party at either spot, but drinks flow heavily and guests are jovial.

Food and Drink

Magna at Excellence Punta Cana/Oyster
Magna at Excellence Punta Cana/Oyster

Excellence Punta Cana serves a variety of cuisines from around the world, divided into distinct and lovely restaurants. Best of all, all meals, snacks, and alcoholic drinks are included in the rates. Kitchen Table is the impressive buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch. Options cover everything from Dominican favorites to a la minute options like omelets and carved roasts. There’s a huge selection of desserts, plus a self-serve Bloody Mary and Bellini bar. Agave serves Mexican and Tex-Mex fare for dinner, including seafood options — tableside entertainment is a fun touch. Chez Izabelle mimics a French bistro, complete with a courtyard dining room — open for dinner. The Grill serves a la carte burgers, sandwiches, and salads in a thatch-roof palapa. The dinner menu upgrades to prime steaks and shrimp. Flavor Market has a cozy Spanish-style ambience and tapas for dinner. The Lobster House is one of the most popular restaurant choices for breakfast and dinner, since it has a plethora of seafood and lobster dishes. Las Olas offers casual beachfront dining overlooking the waves, but is only open for lunch. Spice serves specialties from Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand and has teppanyaki tables for live cooking. Note that teppanyaki tables require a reservation. Sports Bar offers giant flat-screen TVs and pub fare. Oregano overlooks the main pool and serves a casually elegant spread of pizzas, pastas, and salads. This is also the spot for late-night dining, as it’s open well after midnight.

Excellence El Carmen has almost all of the same restaurants as Excellence Punta Cana, but adds a few trendier offerings. Food Shark Food Truck serves tacos and nachos from a vintage bus. There’s a full juice bar with fresh veggies and fruits to be squeezed on demand. Aroma Cafe (which is also at the sister resort) upgrades to a rotating ice cream wheel instead of a regular display case of ice cream. Also, the Club Restaurant (only for guests who upgrade to Club level rooms) at El Carmen is more modern and the bar has beautiful views.

Overall, the two properties come standard with all-inclusive rates that cover top-shelf liquor, lobster, and room service. Both resorts have several bars, including swim-up pool bars, martini bars, beach bars, and sports bars. However, if you’re looking for current foodie obsessions, like fresh juice and a food truck, Excellence El Carmen is the winner.

Entertainment and Pools

Pool at Excellence El Carmen/Oyster
Pool at Excellence El Carmen/Oyster

People who want a prime beach without the crowds can relax and enjoy the setting at Excellence Punta Cana, or walk closer to Bavaro Beach for slightly calmer waves in which to swim. Walkers will be in paradise, as the beach continues for miles in either direction. Guests can lounge on comfy sun loungers under thatched umbrellas, and there are nearby bars for coconut cocktails and beer. There are two pools for all guests, plus a private pool for Excellence Club guests (though we didn’t see staff questioning anyone’s credentials on our visit, and none of the pools were crowded enough for it to matter). The main pool runs almost the entire length of the resort and fronts the ocean, plus it has a swim-up bar. This is where you’ll find the animations team organizing games and blasting pop music, but there’s ample space to get away from the party if you prefer. The second pool is in a garden setting, and has a waterfall infinity edge. The third, Excellence Club pool, is shallow and has partially submerged sun loungers, as well as ocean views.

In front of the resort, just past a row of cigar and clothing shops, sits the superb fitness center with modern Technogym cardio equipment and chlorophyll juice. The attached yoga studio has floor mats for stretching, as well as daily yoga/Pilates classes. There are also free activities like 30 minutes of horseback riding, tennis lessons, bike tours, Spanish lessons, and an intro to scuba diving. Check out the newsletter delivered to rooms each day for the schedule. Nightly entertainment rotates on a weekly basis, so there should be a different show every night for seven days.

Excellence El Carmen isn’t the largest resort in Punta Cana, but it certainly packs in a mega-resort’s worth of features — the most exceptional of which are outdoors. The property’s secluded beach is one of Punta Cana’s best. The sand is soft and the oceanfront is lined with palm trees, lounge chairs, and thatched umbrellas. Free water sports include kayaks and Hobie Cat catamarans. If lounging by the pool is more your thing, 23 freshwater pools are scattered throughout the resort, including one with ocean views.

The gym is modern and loaded with Technogym equipment. Free daily classes like yoga and stretching are available, and personal training sessions are included in nightly rates as well. The resort has tennis courts and free lessons. Ping-pong, pool tables, and a life-size chess board also add to the fun. Plus, bike tours, Spanish lessons, beach volleyball, archery, pool games, water aerobics, poker tournaments, and bingo are scheduled regularly. Nightly entertainment like live music, Michael Jackson impersonators, dance performances, and the weekly Dominican beach party (held indoors during inclement weather) get mostly positive reviews, but don’t expect to have your mind blown.

Overall, the resorts offer similar features (and almost identical spa and fitness centers), but Excellence Punta Cana has a slightly nicer beach and Excellence El Carmen has more swimming pools. Both resorts have late-night discos with dedicated DJs, but we found more people dancing at Excellence El Carmen.

What to Bring: A YETI Tumbler

Look like a pro on your all-inclusive vacation with your very own tumbler you can bring back and forth to the bar for refill after refill.

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