Punta Cana fits the definition of a tropical paradise to the letter, and after all the planning and booking and the long flight we landed at this quaint airport which even has a thatched roof!
Through the airport, we were at the spot where we were supposed to get our pre-arranged airport transfer. The staff were very courteous, the transport felt exclusive (a massive 7-seater Chevrolet Suburban for just the two of us, seems every group got a suburban to themselves, even though it was just 6 of us on that flight to that resort!)
Champagne at the resort gate while our bags were unloaded, we were escorted to the front desk where we were given the all important WiFi details (no password even!), key cards to our room, and the link to download the app through which we could get all the information we could need - restaurant and bar timings and menus, dress codes, etc. We were told what's included (basically knock ourselves out with the mini bar in the room, everything in the fridge, 24 hour room service etc.) literally everything!
It's a strange experience, when you can eat and drink everything on offer. Don't like something? Ask for something else. Can't decide what to drink? Order both! 5 or 6 restaurants, 3 or 4 bars, 3 swimming pools, Jacuzzi, a private-ish beach (open to the public, but there's no other resort around so it's pretty much exclusive). Sun beds, staff walking around to make sure food and drink is in constant supply. Courteous and attentive staff. Your belongings are safe anywhere you choose to leave them (and you obviously don't even need to carry anything besides your room card around). Shruti had looked up the menus of all the restaurants and made a list of what we should eat at which one. A list of cocktails/drinks we should try. At some point I stopped caring. The food was all passable, but nothing was truly great. Some of the drinks were uniformly good, others were hit-and-miss. There were so many activities, but at some point I wasn't really feeling like doing any of them. I realized it had reached a tipping point when there was a game organised in the pool where the staff threw dominoes into the pool and people took turns to fish out as many dominoes in a single breath (ie without surfacing) - something I'd normally love to do, but I just didn't feel like it it. I literally stood by in the pool for 15 minutes and watched people give it a try.
Of course, I did enjoy the company - it was great to spend time with Nisha and Pieter, couple of their cousins I haven't met in decades, a few of their friends who we got to know over the period, interesting conversations, including one night we were up till 3am because the conversation was so interesting we lost track of time! But generally, by the end of the 5 days, I think we were ready to leave. I guess the only event we really enjoyed was the "Dominican Republic festival" they had one evening, which was a buffet of local dishes, with a live band, some traditional dances - I would honestly have preferred to eat local food every day, but there was no such option (except for a few measly offerings at the buffet restaurant which seemed neglected by everyone I saw!). My only regret was not eating at the Mexican restaurant which actually seemed authentic - it seems Shruti didn't really look at the menu when she was planning our meals, or maybe I didn't sound very enthusiastic about Mexican food when she read the menu out to me the weekend before we flew?
By the end of our stay we stopped eating lunch and instead would snack on coconut pulp from the fresh coconuts we were regularly drinking - something I noticed most people weren't doing. I stopped trying new cocktails or even looking at the menu.
I realized I was eating and drinking way more than I should - not more than I used to say 10 years ago, but more than my body is currently used to. But given there was nothing much else to do, I had no way to assess how happy or unhappy my body was with the treatment. I felt mentally un-stimulated. I was feeling like taking naps instead of lazing in the pool.
I felt a bit of guilt about being in this centrally air-conditioned room with the thermostat set to a cool 20°C while the rest of the country suffers from blackouts that lasted hours. Of drinking bottled water because that was the only option. I felt sad about having staff at my beck and call, doing everything to make my stay enjoyable.
When we were in the taxi to the airport, I was excited to actually be able to see the country outside of the resort.
I thought to myself - that one experience was enough for me. An all-inclusive resort certainly made it stress free when it came to organising and spending time together, but I definitely don't associate it with travel or a vacation. It's hard to put a name to the feeling, but I somehow feel like I must put some effort in order to enjoy things... in fact, I don't think I can fully enjoy experiences if there is no degree of discomfort involved. Maybe that's why I enjoyed my first night the most (if you disregard the wedding evening itself, for obvious reasons), because we were exhausted from the flight and I felt some discomfort in pushing myself to attend the "silent disco" after over 16 hours of travel!
Anyway - one more experience ticked off my list. Next up: Puerto Rico!