By Bob Schulman
The Dominican Republic, Island of Hispaniola – Foreigners have been coming to this central Caribbean country for over 500 years, at first on the rickety caravels of Christopher Columbus and today on jets from around the world. Covering the eastern two-thirds of the island (Haiti is on the western third), the Dominican Republic has become the Caribbean's top tourism destination, boasting pristine white beaches, hundreds of lavish resort-hotels and eye-popping historical attractions – including the oldest colonial cities in what the Spanish invaders called “the New World.”
One of the country's big headline-makers these days is an immense development among the 90 or so hotels on Bavaro Beach, a 30-mile-long strip of powdery sands running down the east coast of the Republic. Called the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort, the new property occupies a five-square-mile site and has three hotel sections, all told offering close to 2,000 rooms.
Technically, the Barcelo Bavaro is a reborn resort, having been originally opened in 1985 – but as something several notches down from the top-of-the-line property it is today. Completely facelifted over the last year at a cost of $250 million, everything on the property has been dramatically upgraded, from turning its lodging areas into tropical palaces to remodeling its 1,300-seat theater and its 5,000-person convention center, now one of the largest in the Caribbean.
And for many guests, the frosting on the Barcelo cake is a brand new 18-hole P.B. Dye Signature golf course.
The first of the resort's three hotel sections is the Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe – the Palma de Mallorca-based chain's premium lodging product – with 1,366 posh rooms, mostly with two-person Jacuzzis on terraces looking out on a mile and half of beachfront. The other two are the adults-only Barcelo Bavaro Beach and Convention Center with 388 rooms, and the 236-room Barcelo Bavaro Casino section.
Getting hungry? Thirsty? Guests staying in all three sections have a choice of 17 restaurants and 13 bars, all available on on all-inclusive plan -- which means your room tab covers all you can eat and drink until the cows come home. It also gives you comp access to all kinds of land and water sports, and at night free shows in a theater straight out of the big rooms in Vegas. (Don't miss their Broadway-quality production of Cats.)
Several of the restaurants feature international gourmet-class dishes with long names sprinkled with al's, alla's, avec's, con's, de's, di's, e's and the like.
Part of the fun of staying at the resort is getting to know fellow guests from countries around the globe. Listen close, and you'll hear people chatting away in dozens of languages. English and Spanish are heard a lot, but you might be surprised at the numbers of people soaking up the Caribbean sun while speaking in Russian, German, French and Italian.
Right now most Americans get to the resort on nonstop flights to the nearby Punta Cana International Airport from major air hubs in the east and south, such as Chicago, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami, having either begun their trips at those terminals or made enroute flight connections there.
With the recent opening of the Barcelo Bavaro and other new developments there, resort officials are hopeful of getting nonstop air service from western U.S. hubs as well. “Los Angeles would be a real winner,” said one marketing executive.
The Bavaro resort is one of more than 180 Barcelo properties in 17 worldwide countries. The company has four other locations in the Dominican Republic.
Photo credits: Images by Bob Schulman unless otherwise noted.
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