It was the new kid on the block that was given one hot minute to make a good impression.
Then COVID-19 hit and pulled the plug on the party.
Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana, a newly-unveiled “Unlimited Luxury” resort in the Dominican Republic geared towards families and couples, opened on March 12, only to close its doors shortly after due to mounting coronavirus-related restrictions.
Call it a case of bad timing – the pandemic, by then, was just gaining steam.
But who could have known that a then-unknown virus (OK, we knew a little about COVID-19 by then, but not much) would decimate the travel and tourism industry within a matter of weeks, even days?
“We started off really strong for a new property,” Brian de Jesus, director of sales at Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana, told PAX on recent tour of the USD$150 million-dollar compound. “The summer months were looking good.”
However: “We didn’t expect it, [the pandemic], would be this bad.”
Sanitize, then soak up the view
PAX is currently in the Dominican Republic, getting a first-hand look at the country’s tourism recovery and how health and safety protocols have changed (or haven’t changed) the vacation experience.
Located about 40 minutes from Punta Cana International Airport, Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana, like all properties in the AMResorts family, is supported by a new program called CleanComplete Verification – “360-degree,” third-party approach to elevating hygiene and quality. (You can learn all about it here).
In the face of elevated safety rules, all guests must undergo temperature checks and apply alcohol-based sanitizer to their hands upon arrival (this routine also applies to when entering speciality spaces, such as kids clubs and fitness areas).
As we put it last week while reporting from the reopening of Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana, another AMResorts brand: “Sanitizer is the new welcome cocktail.”
Mask-wearing staff, diligently, extending squirts of clear sanitizing goo is the first thing you’ll see when you pull up to Dreams Macao Beach’s lobby – a modern, open-air foyer with marble floors, wooden shutters and pops of baby blue and pastel pink furniture.
After disinfecting your hands, it’s all about soaking up views of a turquoise-blue ocean in the not-so-far distance. (Yes, you can see water from the lobby).
Playa Macao, the buttery beach that this Dreams sits on, is a desirable stretch in Dominican Republic for its roaring waves, soft sands and cove-like coastline.
Staff touch nothing
During your stay here, you’ll encounter several new cleaning and hygiene protocols. Many of these procedures always existed (but perhaps were not as obvious as before).
Table tops, bar counters, luggage carts, suites (all surfaces that are frequently touched) are subject to rigorous and frequent sanitization.
Staff touch nothing with their bare fingers. They use tongs to pass items, like napkins, in restaurants, for example.
Capacity at venues, too, has been lowered to prevent crowding.
It’s very, very detailed, so much so that The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) knighted this program with its Safe Travel Stamp of Approval.
“We’re very careful about how we do things here,” de Jesus explained, noting how guests – which consist primarily of locals and Americans these days – have lately leaned towards the property’s Preferred Club and swim-up suites because it guarantees exclusive space away from others, making social distancing easier.
There’s also 18 tropically-decorated, two-bedroom villas, all of which have their own plunge pools, offering up another option for travellers who prefer vacationing around those within their bubble.
Built for social distancing
Still, while social distancing markers are utilized, it’s not like Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana was designed for heavy crowding.
With just 500 suites, the site’s many amenities disperse guests and prevent them from assembling in one single area – this is, of course, referring to the property’s four pools, two waterparks, lazy river, rock climbing wall, ten restaurants and seven bars.
No one could have predicted how COVID-19 would change the way we interact with one another, or how travellers would interact with hotels.
But really, it’s almost as if Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana was accidentally built for a global pandemic.
It’s small (alright, big, but not huge) and its contemporary design, which was devised long before COVID-19, lends itself to the practice of spreading out.
There’s breathing room in between the waterparks, main lobby, restaurants, villas and suites, which are no more than four-storeys high.
(The suites, notably, are built on an angle to promote better privacy and, of course, collective views of the ocean).
The design at this Dreams is a dream – airy and open-concept to the point where you can always-almost see the entire property, at all times, regardless of where you’re standing.
It’s easy to see when other guests are nearing or where crowds are potentially forming. Nothing gets passed you here.
This is the kind of weird security and peace of mind that travellers – whether they admit it or not – need these days. Even if it sounds a little neurotic.
And, oh, Dreams Macao Beach had contactless room service long before buzzwords like "social distancing" and “touch points” were a thing.
Cubbyholes that serve as a “secret passageway” between the interiors of suites and the hallway outside are used to deliver food, for example, relieving guests of having to actually open their door when staff come a-knockin.’
No face-to-face interaction is required here – the idea was originally pitched to solve the problem of guests having to put clothes on to answer their door for room service, de Jesus told me.
In today’s climate of reducing human interactions, I’d call this an accidental win.
No parents allowed!
Being new, Dreams Macao Beach has tablets in the rooms for ordering room service and accessing details about the resort and destination (an upgrade AMResorts may, in due time, introduce at all of its properties).
But this Dreams will be a boon to parents vacationing with kids thanks to enhanced programs for youngsters.
The Core Zone Teens Club is a cool spot for teens ages 13-17 to relax and enjoy activities in a supervised setting.
But it’s the fully-supervised Explorer’s Club for kids aged 3-12 that will make parental guardians sing hallelujah.
With a “No Parents Allowed!” rule, the program provides youngsters with their own space – a sprawling clubhouse with game tables, beanbags, climbing walls, and even a theatrical stage – during the day, blessing Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle (whoever) with a little break.
After all, parents need social distancing time too.
PAX is currently on location in the Dominican Republic, reporting on travel as it evolves during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for more exclusive stories and updates.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!