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All-inclusive hell in the Dominican Republic

I’m a tough critic and I know that.  People ask me my opinion not to hear if something was good, but how much I disliked it or the reasons why.  Let’s face it, not all trips are pleasurable or even meet expectations.  I dismiss the review of a person who always seems to say “it was phenomenal” for any destination put to them.  Equally annoying is the post journey revisionist who explains a week of rain as “a unique opportunity to see things when they were all wet”.  In contrast, discussing my family vacation to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic puts me at risk of being labeled a nitpicking crank.

What’s not to like?

It was an all inclusive resort with all the fixins’.  Hassle free to get to, priced right and in a beautiful setting.  So why is it every time I think back to that trip at the end of the 2007 summer, that all I remind myself of is “agua tonica”?

We are a family of four, mom, dad and two now teen daughters.  We had been to other all-inclusives’ over the years which we have enjoyed.  I like the structure of an activity sheet so I can plan on when I will be in the belly flop contest or what time poolside mambo lessons start.  Mostly, so I’ve heard from those traveling with me, I like ever present buffets lining my sight of vision.  Honestly I’m not at all certain if I care about the food quality, as long as I need a snow shovel to lift it into my mouth.  I’m not even hampered by the constant request to get a clean plate for each return trip to the various slop stations.  Maybe as I age, I’ve come to realize the things that I have a preference for.  Unfortunately, as I age, my children age.  As those two age, the less and less they want to travel with their parents or even attempt to try anything we’d suggest at the resort.  They were so cute in Cancun years ago when they were both under 10 years old.  So easy to please (plus obedient and not yet making disparaging remarks about me, but that has nothing to do with this story).  When (if) they ever read this, there will be outcries of protest: ”what?  We had fun!!!… just because we don’t do the same things you do…vacations are for resting!!…hey, we were just back from eight grueling weeks of sleep away camp”.  I’m not shocked that a 14 and 12 year old wanted to sleep late, but the going to bed early at night got to me.  I expected to reel them in from evening exploits no earlier than midnight.  I could live with that though, nothing wrong with getting a good night’s sleep for the next day’s excitement.  Some of the next day’s excitement invariably included getting acquainted with in room viewings of Law & Order, which seemed to run continuously on a given channel.  I guess they were unfamiliar with the series from our home television.  I still refer to this vacation to family members as the “watching Law & Order trip”.  Although I must admit, when I found a cartoon channel that let me view old Pink Panther and Mr. Magoo episodes that I hadn’t seen since the 70’s, I was mesmerized all night (neither being my current taste in shows, but highly nostalgic).

When we travel internationally, we do our best not to be the stereotypical ugly American.  We try our darndest to be on our best behavior but we haven’t exactly mastered the Berlitz offerings.  We don’t speak a lick of Spanish.  We do okay in French Canada, because that is the course that all four of us have taken to various degrees of success in school.  The aforementioned Mexico was no problem.  Everyone there was only too eager to speak with us, or help us understand the language.  Our experience in the Dominican Republic may not be typical of most (or might be, I don’t know), but English was treated as a second grade version of cooties.  No one wanted any part of it and ran from it to the corners of the schoolyard.  Mind you, this was in a notable resort.  The entertainment staff was indifferent whether I knew what they said over the microphones or not.  I swear that the afternoon ice cream guy was loudly carrying on yelling at me with scoop in hand.  I’m not finicky, I’ll take a cup of anything…”dude, chocolate or vanilla or tuti fruity patootie, whatever”!!!  Surely he understood one of those.  The worst occurrence was at one of the many bars.  Mostly I had cervesa.  Not only could I pronounce that, but I could point to the draft keg.  One hot afternoon I switched it up to a refreshing soft drink.  I ordered“tonic water” to no response.  Once again tonic water, this time pointing to the soda dispenser.  A shrug and a look were my reward that time.  Now almost stretching over the elevated bar counter to reach out to the dispenser, I stated “tonic water, tonic water, right there”!  Success, something connected in the bartender’s mind, and he audibly corrected my order …”oh, agua tonica”.  SHEESH.  Really?  Was it me?  I find it hard to believe that I was the first English speaking patron in this part of the world at a hotel that housed many Americans as well as UKers.  I just got the feeling it wasn’t so much of a language barrier as much as an attitude of – I know what you want (to put it in my parlance) but you ain’t gettin’ it.  It’s like teaching a little kid how to be polite; say your pleases and your agua tonicas Johnny, or no dessert.  For the most part in these places, sodas and juice drinks are a self serve affair.  Why didn’t I walk through the nearby dining area and just spare myself the whole incident?

Although I was picked from the audience every evening to participate on stage, I never did realize what they were asking of me.  I can’t help but think it was some sort of public punishment for a faux pas I might have committed unbeknownst to me.  It must have been some sort of perverted subconscious payback when the Whitney Houston gown they poured me into shredded under the pressure of my human form reverting back to its normal state without constraint.  I harbor no illusions that I resemble Whitney at all, but my day to day appearance is closer to her than the erupting jelly filled balloon wearing a wig that I was purported to be.   Must have been easy to pick me out sitting at an impossible to get front table.  Leave it to some fellow New Jerseyans to make that happen.  You see there are no reservations, actually no existing seating system whatsoever.  The only way to get a decent position was to park yourself down there hours before the show at a nightclub table.  Not too bad if you bring a deck of cards or something to entertain your group during the wait for the band to strike it up.   This one evening, it was our good fortune to arrive a little later than usual and yet still find a prime table unmanned right at front stage.  It did have a couple of old warm cocktails on it, which I suppose was enough to ward off the rest of the throngs.  No matter, a quick removal of the discarded beverages and we were sitting pretty.  We enjoyed all of the pre-show dancing, the day’s sport trophy presentations and a good hour and a half of the headline entertainment uninterrupted.  At that point in the darkened filled to capacity room, some inquisitors joined us.  In the middle of the performance, they prodded us asking if we had seen their drinks.  I assured them that they needn’t worry that we were drinking them; we ordered our own a long while ago.   It turned out that they came there in the early evening, left the glasses on a table top that they selected to view the show from, went out and had dinner and did whatever the rest of the night without leaving a single representative to watch their seats and expected to walk in at that hour and boot us from our rightful spot.  Luckily even in the Caribbean, New Jersey residents know how to communicate with each other.  They were given a nice bye-bye with a helpful suggestion that they come back at breakfast and leave a dirty napkin in order to claim the table for the following night.    

I could go on about the un-fun, unhelpful staff, but remember I don’t see myself as a complainer and wouldn’t want to appear that way.  I’m just critically minded.  Believe it or not, there are many more positive aspects of our Punta Cana excursion than negative.  As far as I’m concerned we always have great trips wherever we go.  Okay forget that, I can’t lie (thinking of Williamsburg, Virginia makes me downright hostile).  Well maybe it is just easier to spot the missteps and point them out.

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