from Saint Louis, Missouri
Submitted on 01-07-2016
We visited Excellence between June 23-30, 2016. We booked our travel with Funjet Vacations after our group came to the consensus, after TONS of research and discussion with our travel agent, that this was the best of what the Punta Cana had to offer. Maybe that is the case, for what Punta Cana has to offer...but I found it lacking in the "luxury" promised. That's not to say that we didn't have a fantastic time at the resort; we most definitely did...and there are many redeeming qualities the res...
We visited Excellence between June 23-30, 2016. We booked our travel with Funjet Vacations after our group came to the consensus, after TONS of research and discussion with our travel agent, that this was the best of what the Punta Cana had to offer. Maybe that is the case, for what Punta Cana has to offer...but I found it lacking in the "luxury" promised. That's not to say that we didn't have a fantastic time at the resort; we most definitely did...and there are many redeeming qualities the resort and property have to offer.
Below, I will separate my full review into the following categories which should help to keep it concise and organized: Property, Room, Service, Entertainment & Food. I will also give each section it's own individual 5-star rating. Let's begin...
Property (building & grounds) - 5 STARS
I really can't overstate this; the property on which this resort is built is absolutely stunning!! Let's talk about the beach and move to the front of the property!
The resort sits on it's own little inlet on the Atlantic on the inside of a reef. This positioning offers some fantastic advantages:
- The Atlantic offers much more water movement than the Caribbean does (this is probably an over-simplification in some sense; but in my experiences it is true). This made for some extremely fun boogie boarding (the resort offers free board rentals)!
- The water depth is very gradual. A 6' tall person can fairly easily touch probably 100' out into the water!
- The sand in the water and the beach was very clean and soft; it never crossed my mind that I needed to put on sandals whilst on the beach for protection.
- The beach is in a crescent shape and is isolated from any other resort by about 3/4 mile! There are some little shops operated by native Dominicans just outside of the actual resort property (they don't own the entire beach on that inlet), but you don't have to look at any other vacationers except the ones at Excellence! It's pretty great!
I LOVED the beach! There are a couple of things I'd like to see improved though:
- Light pollution on the beach is horrible at night due to half-a-dozen flood lights positioned facing towards the water. Maybe it's for safety...but I would personally prefer to be able to lay close to the ocean and star gaze at night vs stare at dark, crashing waves. Call it a personal preference.
- There are not nearly enough huts for everyone. While I'm sure this is normal at lots of resorts, we were there during their "slow season" and it basically turned into a game of how to grab and reserve a hut for the day so we had somewhere to recover from the sun.
Moving on from the beach to the buildings. The construction and design of the buildings and their layout was great. Everything was laid out just well enough that it didn't feel like everything was crammed together, but we also never felt we really had to travel that far to get to anything; great use of the space! I believe the resort was built in 2000, and while I feel there are some aging issues (I'll detail in the room section below) it evokes a very open and natural feel. The only odd building was the Club...which isn't labeled, and is the far-most building from really everything and everyone. I'm sure the positioning was done to prevent noise-pollution...but I've been to other resorts that were able to handle this issue and keep the club central. Ultimately, whether due to the season we were there or the location of the club...it wasn't really happening.
The pools were clean, large, and overall fantastic! Plenty of seating and shade to be-had around all of them! Bars were plentiful around the pools as well. There probably needs to be another bathroom around the main pool area...but that was never a huge issue. I wish they didn't close at 6PM though...
Finally - the "Botanical Garden" isn't something that should be missed! It's a natural habitat towards the very front of the resort that offers up-close experiences with several native species of birds, a parrot, flamingos, lizards & chickens. There is a rock-lined jogging-and-fitness trail throughout and is a great place to relax and walk away from the crowds!
Room - 3 Stars
We stayed in room 5001, which is a "Master Suite". This particular room was comprised of 5 individual rooms (living room, bedroom, bathroom, shower, powder room), a small hallway, and a patio that overlooked the "Cascade Pool".
The size of the room was great, although I would have greatly preferred a more open layout. The actual layout of the room though was very odd. When you walk-in, the powder-room and Jacuzzi are directly to your right; so-far-so-good. Walking through the powder room though, you get to the shower. Upon entering the shower, you will notice it has two doors; the on you just entered from the powder room, and another that leads into the bedroom. A little strange, but OK. As soon as you walk out of the shower and into the bedroom, the bathroom (toilet) are directly to your right (in another room). I know this is hard to imagine, so let me put it this way; if you want to get to the powder room from the bedroom, you have to either travel through the living room and the hall to get there, or through the shower. If you want to visit the bathroom from the powder room; vice-versa. It's just not a design choice that I think was very well thought-out; those three places should all be located in generally the same area.
The king-size bed was a little hard but we dealt with it. Pillows were good (plus they allow you to "order" different pillows if you don't like the ones you have!). The comforter was a LOT heavy for a tropical resort...but you'll understand why shortly. Two TV's were in the suite; one in the living room and one in the bedroom. Two suite phones placed very oddly - one on the far side of the bed (basically as far as you can get from the door) and one in the bathroom (basically on the other side of the bed); no phone on the other half of the suite. There was a comfortable couch in the living room and the bathroom and powder room fixtures were very nice. The toilet flushing "buttons" were a little tricky and would catch if you didn't pay attention...but nothing to fret over. The AC on the other hand had a mind of it's own.
When we arrived in our room, the AC was set to 24C (~75F). It seemed cold, but that is what we are used to so it seemed reasonable. After dinner the first night though, when my wife and I returned back to the room, the room was absolutely freezing! I immediately changed both rooms to 26C (~79F) to try and warm things up, and we went to sleep. Nope; we woke up and still freezing. At that point, I really just wanted to cycle off the AC so I set it to 34C (~93F)! FWIW, that is hotter than it was that day, so there is absolutely no reason the AC should have EVER cycled back on. We left for the day, came back, and while it wasn't freezing, it was certainly cold. We decided that it was a decent temperature to deal with though, and just warmed ourselves under the super-thick comforter provided!
Moving outside, we were given a king-size outside bed, a table, and two chairs. No problems with the patio itself of the furniture; all nice. However, getting out there was somewhat of a chore. The sliding-glass door from the living room had a rigged pin-lock in the middle, as well as a normal sliding-door up/down lock; you kind of had to operate both. Then the sliding-screen was really just broken; when it was on the track it made a horrendous sound; when it was off the track, it was just a complete pain to operate (I observed multiple screen doors oddly placed around doors during our visit). And then finally, over the bed and the table...we had what could only be referred to as stalactite formations on the ceiling of the patio above us. These dripped regularly, on the bed and on the table.
Can we talk about the toilet paper for a second?! Actual quote from my wife today (the day after we returned from the DR) - "The toilet paper in that gas station was softer than what was at the resort!" Ouch, right? And to be clear, this was a not a "5-Star Luxury" Gas Station. ;) But seriously - what's with the thin & rough toilet paper?! That's the opposite of luxury for my butt.
While not much could be done about the design of the room, and we never did complain about the AC or the TP, the stalactite formations were a tad concerning. Those have probably been forming for years and no one on the staff ever noticed? We noticed them the first time we ever went on our patio...so that's highly doubtful...unless...
Service - 2.5 STARS
...unless they just didn't care (I know; that was a brilliant segue). So that's not fair, but it's what I honestly thought sometimes. Let's get to the GREAT first though!
There are some absolutely fantastic and great people working at this resort! They are warm, helpful, genuine, and can really go out of their way for you. There was a gentleman that went by the name of "Wander Boy" who helped us out at dinner one night and promised us a reservation for our entire group the next night at a specific time. We showed up to the restaurant the next night figuring we'd need to wait (because no way did he remember to do that right?), but sure enough - our spot was reserved for our entire group right when promised! Fantastic! THAT is the service that I want and expect when visiting a "Five-Star Luxury" resort! Wander did that for me...and that was the only time I felt that way; unfortunately.
To the bad (I really don't want to harp on this, so I'll keep these experiences somewhat free-form in a single paragraph). Requested specific mini-bar changes multiple times; never done and even after the concierge said they'd fix it in 5 minutes...well; still waiting. Ordered specific items from room service only to be told 45m later that only half of my order could be filled. The traditional towel-swans were ONLY given after tipping $20/day (tested over multiple days; my friends who traditionally only tip on the last day NEVER received swans or flowers). A mojito should be made with muddled mint leaves; not blended leaves; no one wants to drink mint pieces. I shouldn't have to re-request a drink at a meal (not a refill; the original). We are specifically told NOT to drink the water in our rooms; make sure we have at LEAST 4 cold bottles in our mini-bar (yes - I rate our mini-bar at 0 STAR service...if it wasn't obvious); I shouldn't have to ration a single bottle with my wife to brush our teeth!
So while we had some GREAT service (guy on the beach with the drinks who always told our wives he loved them when we were leaving - funny guy; front desk guys; various bartenders; a couple of the waiters), the bad ruined the illusion of "luxury".
Entertainment - 5 STARS
I was personally able to watch the "70's & 80's" show and the "Brazil" show...neither of which did anything for me at all. My wife attended the "Couples Game" and the "Michael Jackson" show though and said they were fantastic! I've been pretty harsh so far (and I'm not done yet), so let this serve as the yummy-center of this review! Mmmmmm!
I'm also going to cram WiFi in this section - it works...sometimes. And you know what...that's OK! You are on vacation, repeat after me - I. DON'T. NEED. INTERNET. RIGHT. NOW! You're welcome - moving on.
Food - 2 STARS
I have visited other luxury resorts. I love food, but am by no means a "foody". I prefer casual restaurants over fancy restaurants. I also prefer smaller restaurants to larger chains as you typically get a more personal experience; both service-wise and design wise with the food. I set all of this up so you know where I'm coming from from a culinary perspective. I would put me right in the middle-of-the-road of experimentation and comfort.
My first thought when looking back on my dining experiences at the resort was - "Spice was good, but I really can't wait to get back home and get some decent meals." I know that food is incredibly decisive - some will love it, and some will hate it. HOWEVER, I feel that Excellence straddled the line that you shouldn't: just bland enough not to offend. Like I stated early, beyond "Spice", I really can't even remember what I had the rest of the trip for dinner. And to back up my thoughts, several in my group had the same general feelings as I. Sad.
Moving onto lunch (not sure why I'm doing meals in reverse; it just happened that way). I only had lunch at "The Grill" and on the beach at the restaurant down there. Both were decent and fairly non-offensive. The grouper at "The Grill" for lunch is really good - try it!
Breakfast is only worth it if you want an omelette - the rest is a disaster. We went to "Toscana" (sp?) each morning for breakfast - it is the buffet option of the two breakfast options, not counting room-service. They have two omelette stations of which are both pretty great and staffed with some nice guys! (The omelette's are "EGGS-celente"! Get it?) For the rest...let me just list what was basically cold everyday...that was SUPPOSED to be HOT: French toast, pancakes, waffles, & scrambled eggs. You can power through the first three when they are cold of warm...but NOT scrambled eggs. The bacon was NOT cooked well, and the pastries were not fresh.
There was a good selection of "fresh" breads though, a DiY yogurt bar, a large selection of juices, and a decent selection of cereals as well. The omelette station was the ONLY redeeming factor of the breakfast, but I can't eat those every day...so...I was disapointed each and every other day.
Bar service was pretty good (except for those mojito's - come on). I discovered the "Dirty Monkey" (SO good) and a couple of other drinks. El Presidente is a pretty run-of-the-mill pilsner beer - it's fine but nothing to write home about (although I'd say the same about some other VERY popular beers others would call out blasphemy for...so to each his own).
So here we reach the end of the review. I think an overall rating of 3 STARS/Average is entirely appropriate because while the resort offered me flashes of luxury, the rest of the time I just felt like I was at a mid-range hotel with all inclusive benefits and some SWEET views!