I could have easily titled this post, “Top Million Most Amazing Honeymoon Moments.” My wife (it’s still strange saying that…) and I really had a great vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: it was the perfect paradise escape after months of planning and worry, all leading up to the big day. The article would have started with something like catching a blood red lunar eclipse at three in the morning, and then moseyed over to watching the sun rise over the Caribbean Sea every day. The tropical beaches, the wild hermit crabs, the white herons pounding down the shore would have to be in there. Of course, the swim up bar, all inclusive buffet and restaurant menus with real Dominican food, plus starting and finishing a book on the history of the island of Hispañola would have rounded out the list. I might have even thrown something in there about getting to spend some time relaxing after our big, ol’ wedding with the woman I love. It would’ve been a swell piece.
The reason I’m not writing that post, however, is because I think more people are interested in reading this one: the few times when things got screwed up. Link bait, plain and simple. Is it cynical? Perhaps. But you’re the one reading it, so there might be something to the theory. Either way, enjoy our honeymoon snafus. They did absolutely nothing to take away from the rest of the trip.
A Sunny Disposition
Over the course of a week in the sun, lovely Sarah’s skin slowly changes from her usual, fair olive to the most golden brown, attractive tan that anyone could ever hope for. She sports a few freckles across her cheeks, but mostly just slowly crisps and hardly ever burns.
I’m not so lucky.
Within a few minutes of being in the sun, my pasty body starts blotching red and prickling with pins and needles. There’s nothing smooth or even about the process of my skin baking into different colors. I end up with large swaths of doughy white where an inexplicable shadow settled, situated directly beside tomato red sunburns that almost immediately begin to peel and itch. The tan lines last for months.
Easy enough to prevent, though – right? Just apply a little sun block and I should be set. Except, it seems, I have to relearn this lesson every year. I’m past the frivolous days of youth when I would deceive myself into thinking I’ll just get “a little color” if I don’t wear sun screen. These days I always rub on some SPF 30 before I head to the beach, head to toes, and I try to stick to the shade while I’m out there.
My problem now is reapplication. Sweating, swimming, and the general lapse of time render my initial efforts moot. My vigilance when it comes time to reapply has waned due to a heady cocktail of heady cocktails and a general intent to let my cares drift away. In fact, within the first 24 hours of lying on a Punta Cana beach resort, I was looking pretty lobster like, as the staff was giddy to point out.
It kind of worked out in the end, though, because that first day forced me to be conscientious about keeping myself protected from then on. I knew from experience that the next step was blistering, to be avoided at all costs. By the last day, my Santa Claus red complexion had kind of faded to a brownish brick, and folks back at home complimented my “tan” when I returned to work.
Forgetting the Essentials
We packed just a few hours before the trip. We were married on Saturday, slept off the post-wedding pub crawl on Sunday, and hopped in a taxi on Monday morning at 4:30 A.M. For as close as we cut getting ready for the trip, we didn’t forget much: just sunglasses. I used Travel Smith’s handy packing checklist to make sure I had everything, but shades aren’t on there. Whoops.
When we fly, we like to stick to carry on luggage. That way we don’t have to wait for our checked bags to float down the conveyor belt and slowly spin around the carousel like, as Sarah says, some kind of weird parade. For my part, I was able to stuff everything I needed into a small knapsack. Sarah, who cares about wrinkles for some reason, neatly folded her clothes up into a wheelie tote and also brought a backpack to keep at her feet on the plane. No checked bags meant there was no waiting for the fun to start.
The downside, however, was that we couldn’t bring as much sun block as it turned out I actually needed, once I’d decided that reapplication was necessary (see above). The three ounces of liquid rule really hampered my carrying a large tub of goo onto the plane. Once we were there for a day or two, we decided to take a walk along the sandy, palm lined beach to the next resort, which, we were informed, had a gift shop. Souvenirs, sun glasses, and sun block were the goals, and maybe some aloe for my stinging legs.
Sure enough, they had everything we wanted. We spent a few minutes trying on the dollar store sunglasses, laughing at each other’s bug eyed faces, and finally settled on a pair each. We opted for two small bottles of sun screen instead of one big one, just in case we ended up having to bring some home. I also picked up a small bottle of aloe, a magnet, and a couple of post cards to send out. With a bit of quick tallying, the cashier showed us our total on a calculator: $113.
“American?” I balked, flabbergasted. Indeed. We had expected to overpay, but not to that extent. We didn’t even think to budget for small extras on an all inclusive vacation. We put back both pairs of $30 sunglasses and resolved to continue squinting, put down the aloe because I decided right then and there to stop being a baby, and we replaced the two small bottles with one medium tube, guessing that it would probably be enough to last. Of course, we ended up having to buy another one from the hotel again later in the week for another $30. All told, $50 in sun block later, it might have been more worth it to check a bag for large tub of goo purposes alone.
Forgetting to Pay
We’ve never done an all-inclusive before, and so we only had vague notions of what to expect. I knew that tipping was neither encouraged nor discouraged, and that the room, food and drinks would be covered under the price we paid upfront. With that in mind, I felt like I was getting an amazing deal through Orbitz: $850 for five nights at Alsol del Mar — a brand new, all inclusive beach resort, with a two floor apartment and an ocean view balcony. Should the alarms in my head have sounded? Probably. But I was busy with a wedding, and I had no other experiences with which to compare.
From the moment we checked in, the service was amazing. A “welcome home” glass of champagne, an attentive and cheerful staff, strong drinks at the bar, and a restaurant with expertly prepared local dishes – just what we were hoping for. We were afraid the menu wouldn’t even reflect the fact that we were in the Dominican Republic, but that just wasn’t the case. It was right after my fresh caught lobster and steak (mar y tierra) and my third glass of wine that I said to myself, “I’d better double check that I’ve got the right package.” It all seemed too good to be true.
It was a blessing that I listened to my gut. Here’s what happened: having booked the honeymoon so long ago, months in advance, and then put it to the side as something we no longer had to worry about or plan for, I was unaware that the initial price we paid was for the room only, and that the all inclusive package would be another $65 per person, per night. That information wasn’t available through Orbitz – we would have had to contact the resort directly. Otherwise, I was informed in the most polite manner, I was paying for all of the food and cocktails as I went along.
Quickly tallying in my head the drinks and food we’d enjoyed that day, I asked with dread if it wasn’t too late to sign up for the all-inclusive deal. Of course not, they said, and they apologized for the miscommunication! They even waived the first day’s consumption, since we had barely arrived before lunch. One swipe of my international credit card, and we were back to where we thought we’d started. Now everything was truly paid for, and though it still felt unreal, I was comforted that I had the right package – and glad that it was still a great deal.
I think that if this trip hadn’t been planned in the midst of making sure our wedding went off without a hitch, I’d have caught the pretty glaring error that two people’s room, food, and drinks for 6 days were not going to be covered by $850.
Tricked into a Timeshare Pitch
For a long time we’d been looking forward to doing absolutely nothing besides drinking on the beach and eating buffet style in a tropical destination. However, we also wondered if going in such a completely opposite direction from our previous vacations might result in boredom. We resolved to look into off-resort excursions if we felt the need to do something in addition to practicing hedonism.
As we hopped off the plane and a bag handler grabbed Sarah’s tote, rushing along behind him toward the exit, we followed until we reached what we thought was our taxi stand, where a man behind a counter called out to us and asked to see our receipt. The bag handler, who spoke no English, looked pissed that we’d stopped before he did. I wish we’d just followed him to where he was going.
As it turns out, this wasn’t a taxi stand at all, but a guy offering excursions. Sarah and I know as well as anyone else that at that point we should have kept walking, but we were still confused about whether this was our ride or not: in fact, we were tricked. As he got into his pitch, we realized that he was offering free excursions in exchange for touring the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. We’d been given a free snorkeling excursion in Mexico, so we continued to listen, thinking it would be the same deal. But it wasn’t.
The free tour would take about 90 minutes, he said. A taxi would pick us up from our hotel and drop us off back, at no charge, and after the tour we would be given tickets for horseback riding and a boat trip to Saona Island. It seemed like a fair deal, and so we agreed to sign up, assuming we could just back out if we didn’t feel like taking an excursion after all. That’s when he asked for a $50 deposit. It would immediately be returned once we showed up for the tour, he promised.
Sarah and I both had reservations about handing over the money, but we didn’t communicate them with each other quickly enough: she was (unlike me) uneasy about walking away since we’d already agreed to the deal, and I thought she was into the whole thing once she reached into her purse. After all, we had talked about excursions, and this was free. We gave him the deposit.
Feeling dirty about the whole thing, we followed our baggage guy who brought us directly to the correct taxi stand a moment later, and we realized that in order to get our money back, we’d have to leave the resort, pick up the tickets, go back to our resort, and then leave the resort again the next day to go on the excursion. This was turning out to be really hectic. Our ill-ease was further exacerbated once we reached the resort. Our concierge explained with a frown that we had not simply agreed to a tour of the hotel, but a timeshare pitch. Ugh. How did we get fooled so badly?I suggested just letting them keep the $50 and forgetting about the whole mess, but Sarah would not have any of it. No way, she said, and then she called me a gambler who was too willing to throw away good money. So, a couple of days later, with an agreed upon plan to just keep saying no, get our free tickets and get our money back, we climbed into our free taxi and went all the way to Hard Rock – a half hour away. For the most part, the tour was what we were promised. The cab was free, they gave us our $50 back right away, and the tour was about 90 minutes long and included lunch. They ended up not having the horseback riding tickets because, strangely, they received an email that morning which said “all excursions were cancelled for Easter.” But they would still give us the boat tickets and a gift basket instead.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was like Disneyworld for drunks. Thirteen pools, non-stop DJ beach parties, and crazy high prices: it was definitely not our style. I was overwhelmed and a little bit disgusted at the footprint this place had smashed into paradise. The pitch that followed was laughable: they wanted $40,000 for lifetime vacations to Hard Rock Hotels all over the world. It wasn’t hard to say no. In the end, as we were trying to get our boat tickets and the woman who gave us the gift basked tried to sell us on another “deal,” we walked away without the tickets at all. We just wanted to get out of there.
With the ugliness of that place behind us, we left, and we were so happy to go back to our little resort with the pool and the lagoon, with no one else there but a couple of other honeymooners and some Dominican families on vacation. Seeing our other options helped us appreciate what we had accidentally stumbled across in booking a small honeymoon. We spent the rest of the time doing exactly what we’d planned to do: napping, eating, drinking and reading. Our visit to that other resort was excursion enough.
In the End…
Our wedding and honeymoon couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather held out, our friends and family had a great time, and we did it all our way. We both agreed that while there’s still a lot of world left to see, going back to Alsol del Mar in Punta Cana, D.R. for an anniversary or two is something we’d like to do.
What do you think?
What was your all-inclusive experience like?
Where is the best honeymoon destination?
Did you have any snafus on your honeymoon?