A team of Oyster reporters spent weeks exploring 82 hotels in the Dominican Republic. We slept in the beds, lounged by the pools, ate in the restaurants, and even sampled the nightlife, all with an eye toward selecting the most distinguished properties. Here’s a list of our favorite hotels for a party-hearty spring break — places with great beaches, free-flowing booze, a party atmosphere and fun activities. Just keep in mind that the Dominican Republic is more popular with Europeans than Americans, so like-minded spring breakers won’t be as prevalent as at other destinations (like Negril, Jamaica).
With 1,790 rooms, 13 pools, 23 bars, an on-site theater, nightclub (with constant concert schedule), and the Dominican Republic’s largest casino, the word “huge” doesn’t even seem big enough to describe the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. But the Hard Rock isn’t all about size — the massive luxury property also happens to be one of the nicest all-inclusives in Punta Cana.
For a massive, hyperindulgent all-inclusive mega-resort, the Iberostar Costa Dorada is the best in Puerto Plata -- great buffets, activities, entertainment, liquor, and service. Most guests, even those with kids, like to party. Drinking starts at about 10 a.m. and ends around 2 a.m. Buffets stay open for late-night sandwich gorging. The Iberostar pumps veteran drinkers from around the world with top-shelf booze, signature cocktails, and even espresso (when the evening looks like it could fade). Sure, there's no gym and the giant pool can get a little chilly. But to the many guests who come back every year, those are just petty details.
An affordable all-inclusive near the happening kite-surfing town of Cabarete, the Viva is a great option. But its hip location on one of the north coast's best beaches is the draw -- not its weak buffet, worn rooms, or scarce features. Plan to head off site for better food and a great party scene. At night, the cafes lining the Cabarete beach turn into fun nightclubs where young locals and expats come to party.
A giant step up from most Barcelo resorts, the Barcelo Premium comes with some newly renovated Deluxe Rooms, three pools, name-brand liquor, waterslides for kids, and a fantastic beach. Standard Rooms are dingy and the restaurant reservation policy can be maddening, but for the rowdy groups of 20-somethings who take over the property in February and March, the lively, late-night bar scenes, jumping disco, and quality booze more than compensate.
Attracting party-focused youngsters in search of pre-noon cocktails, the Bahia Pricipe San Juan is one of the liveliest (i.e., loudest) all-inclusives in the D.R. It's in the middle of nowhere, so guests stay on-site -- drinking begins early at the swim-up bar and ends at the disco or the karaoke bar. The rooms are worn, but fine for passing out.
Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach is a young European party resort year-round, with hot Italian guests (Viva Wyndham is an Italian company), salsa dancing to live music by the bar, an all-day snack bar and all-night pizzeria (perfect for when the drunken munchies hit), and white canopy beds on the stunning soft-sand beach. Plus, fun activities like free trapeze lessons from circus performers, racy adult games led by the enthusiastic staff (such as the Kama Sutra, a relay race in which guests have to form suggestive positions to break a balloon), theater performances, a late-night disco, and weekly trips to a local club will appeal to party-minded 20-year-olds. But the taxi ride from Punta Cana International Airport is about $110 each way.
Garden rooms (half of them renovated in late 2008) with marble, Jacuzzi-equipped bathrooms amp up this otherwise ho-hum all-inclusive. An enormous pool, a nice spa, name-brand liquor, and reservation-free restaurants are other perks, but the crowded, less pristine beach isn't ideal, and the buffet and entertainment are mediocre. Still, for Puerto Plata, it's a great value.
The 262-room property attracts young couples who want to party with its loud music, dirty dancing, and lots of spots to grab drinks. Since its '08 renovation, the IFA has brought a Jacuzzi bar, a huge lake-style pool, clean rooms, the best pizza this side of Punta Cana to one of the greatest coasts in the D.R. -- all for an uncommonly fair price. The beach is a 10-minute walk, though.
All rooms at the 425-room Punta Cana, part of an 1,825-room mega-resort complex, feature in-room Jacuzzis, but the real draws are the clean white-sand beach, access to four free-form pools, and eight reservation-free restaurants with some of the D.R.'s best all-inclusive fare -- a good value, if you don't mind scrounging for a rogue lounge chair. With spontaneous dance parties and a disco that can stay bumping until the wee hours, it's a great place to party.
At 700 rooms, the Catalonia is one of the D.R.'s largest mega-resorts. It's fun, and roomy enough that guests can party at the big pool or lounge quietly at the beach. Rooms are big, too, each with a Jacuzzi tub, but food options, as at so many Dominican all-inclusives, are not great.