“Prepare to be pampered,” says Carolina Valentín, regional marketing manager for Meliá Hotels and Resorts in the Dominican Republic, as she guides a media FAM, including PAX, through several big changes at three of their five properties in Punta Cana.
I worry she’s underestimated my willingness to be spoiled until we walk into the open air lobby of Meliá’s “signature” Punta Cana resort, the Paradisus.
A staircase descends into a courtyard of white, semi-circular couches, fountains, and gold statues, which fill me with a sense of serenity.
That feeling magnifies as I gaze beyond, at a shimmering blue swimming pool, swaying palm trees, and Atlantic waves gently tumbling onto a sandy beach.
“That view, that wow effect,” Valentín smiles, not immune to its magic herself. “We’re very popular for weddings because the whole property is very photogenic.”
Meliá’s attention to little details lets my OCD central nervous system know it’s OK to unwind because I don’t have to sweat the small stuff. They’ve got me covered.
This ranges from the fully stocked toiletries (including toothbrush, toothpaste, and razors) to an umbrella in the closet, and a personal concierge texting me the resort’s daily activities on Whatsapp.
This “iconic” property has been the “jewel” in the Meliá collection since the 1990s and recently got a refresh.
“We just finished renovations a couple of months ago,” Valentín explains, which includes all 596 rooms.
The Paradisus now has nine restaurants and 11 bars, including the lobby bar that’s open 24 hours for cocktails and my early morning cappuccinos.
One of the biggest changes to the Paradisus is the addition of an adults-only section, called “The Reserve,” that’s an oasis of calm and quiet.
But my favourite chill area is Bavaro Beach, which I stroll to several times each day to bob in the warm and gentle waves, swim to the seaweed barrier that helps keep the waters clear, or just sit on a lounger while taking in the sunrise.
“We are very proud of our beaches and this one is very special,” says Valentín, explaining that UNESCO-designated Bavaro Beach is a world heritage site for its white, soft sand, and clear turquoise waters.
I enjoy both more deeply when a catamaran pulls up onto the beach. No need for dreary bus transfers.
The friendly crew helps us on board and after a 20-minute ride through salty surf, we disembark at a secluded beach with swings, hammocks, and mats for our beach-yoga retreat, an excursion that’s included for all guests of the Reserve and the resort’s “Nikté” luxury suites.
It’s one way Meliá is working to provide guests with opportunities to explore more of the country.
Our yoga instructor, Amalia, guides us through a breathing exercise and a beginner’s yoga practice.
The sand offers an additional challenge during the light balance work as well as a massaging touch as we sway side to side on our backs.
Where wellness lives
The real massage comes when we visit Meliá Punta Cana Beach Resort, an all-inclusive with a wellness focus.
Inside the spa, hanging plants, pools of water to either side of a polished wooden boardwalk, and the warm breeze, help me descend further into relaxation.
I opt for their deep fascial release massage, which admittedly is painful as my therapist uses her elbow and forearms to break through the knots paralyzing my shoulder blades.
By the end, I’m the perfect level of goo for a group sound-healing session led by Jessica Borraccino, who provides holistic services through her wellness company, Jandala Soul.
She uses three sounding bowls, for the gut, heart, and third eye chakras respectively, a rain stick, and a gong to take us through a resonant journey to release tension and trauma while tuning into our higher selves.
“The gong has a 5,000-year history of healing in many cultures,” she says.
The vibrations make me twitch, jerk, and finally settle onto my mat.
From pampering to play
We end our stay with two nights at Falcon’s Resort by Meliá.
It has a Miami-feel, with airy geometric-blue privacy partitions, modern design, light fixtures reminiscent of an upscale lounge, and strategic splashes of colour.
When gracious Concierge Gustavo offers to draw me a bubble bath in the massive outdoor tub on my suite’s back patio/pool walkout, I immediately say yes. When else is someone going to do that for me?
As I go from the hot Caribbean air into the hotter water, my muscles surrender, and Gustavo is dangerously close to getting a wedding proposal.
Again, it’s those little touches that take the Meliá experience into a whole other dimension.
So when it comes time to take a short shuttle ride to Katmandu Park, Punta Cana’s only amusement attraction, which doesn’t seem to fit with the pampering, I wonder if we’re going off brand.
My attitude shifts inside the park as I admire the variety of posters in a geometric art style, depicting mythical mountain-top towers, retro spaceships, and fantastical floating lands, all transporting me to other realms.
Combined with the gregarious staff bedecked in steampunk goggles, hats and vests, I experience a growing sense of whimsy and wonder.
“The character of the Dominicans is among the best in the world,” says Katmandu Acting GM, Simon Hirst. “They have the theme park attitude.”
A lot of nerdy love, attention to detail, and money ($75 million it turns out) went into making the park a reality.
The guardian yetis with cudgels atop fanciful columns glare with beautiful intricacy, posters warn to “look before you flush” “to prevent any interdimensional incidents,” or extol the benefits of lava, such as “skin, scale, and membrane exfoliation.”
There aren’t any roller coasters; the rides are more like Universal Studios, taking us through an adventure of portals to mythical lands using a combination of 3D projections and solid environments.
The more physical activities have been curated to include a range of options, from low-key mini golf to a full-on American Gladiator-esque padded obstacle course.
I’m so into it, I return on my own to experience the “High Point Adventure,” where I strap into a harness and walk up three stories to clamber across nets, balance along narrow wooden beams, and propel myself from one crow’s nest to another in a wooden half-barrel.
I curse repeatedly, but can’t stop myself from doing all three levels.
Back at Falcon’s resort, the adrenalin from my High Point Adventure continues to pump lightly through my veins.
I wander the grounds, pausing at the hotel’s aquatic park. As kids laugh and splash, I am paradoxically energized from Katmandu and relaxed at the same time.
I didn’t know these two feelings could so wonderfully co-exist.
It’s thanks to Meliá’s unique and special Punta Cana experience where adult me got pampered, and my inner child got to play.