Our Family Vacation at the Iberostar Dominicana in Punta Cana
Punta Cana’s Bávaro Beach is a resort-lined, beach tourist’s paradise, with the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea gently lapping at soft, white sands. Massive resort complexes take up most of Bávaro Beach, and the tropical beauty is punctuated with the clean lines and meticulous aesthetic of luxury hotels.
Iberostar lays claim to one such stretch of this beach, their waterfront properties comprising the Punta Cana and Dominicana hotels, the all-suites Selection Bávaro, and the adults-only Grand Bávaro hotels. Also on-site is the Bávaro Golf Course (and while highly-regarded, not of interest to our non-golfing family). The hotels feature a sort of waterfall of access, which Grand Bávaro guests able to take advantage of all amenities across the hotels, Selection guests able to partake in what’s offered at their own hotel as well as the Punta Cana and Dominicana, and guests of the latter two with privileges limited to just those properties.
After our first-ever stay at an all-inclusive resort a year before, we had a list of things we wanted out of the resort we chose.
What we looked for in an all-inclusive resort
- A minimum 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor
- Family-friendly accommodations comfortable for a family of 5— so either a 1+ bedroom suite or connecting rooms.
- Kids’ and Teen programming
In addition to our minimum requirements, we also had some wishlist items:
- Some sort of premium-level upgrade for extra amenities, like a private lounge, a designated beach area, and upgraded concierge services
Iberostar Dominicana fit the bill! With our budget, we looked at booking two suites at Iberostar Selection Bávaro or two Star Prestige junior suites at the Iberostar Dominicana next door. With the additional amenities promised with a Star Prestige upgrade, we opted for the Dominicana. We booked our trip through Delta Vacations, which offered the best-priced package with included air from JFK and airport transfers from PUJ to the resort.
First Impressions and our Star Prestige experience
The entrance to the Iberostar resort complex is grand and beautiful. Once inside the gates, the views are lush, sweeping, and downright bucolic. The drive from the gate to the lobby of the Dominicana takes about 5-10 minutes. This complex is huge, and each hotel enjoys a bit of privacy from the other properties.
Once inside the gates of the Iberostar complex, the views are lush, sweeping, and downright bucolic. The drive from the gate to the lobby of the Iberostar Dominicana takes about 5-10 minutes. This complex is huge, and each hotel enjoys a bit of privacy from the other properties.
We booked two Star Prestige Junior Suites, and about two weeks before our arrival, I sent my room requests to a hotel contact. My research told me that the Star Prestige Junior Suite category did have some connecting rooms available, and that’s exactly what we were given at check-in!
*Note that room requests are just that— requests! Unless a hotel allows you to guarantee a room in advance, requests are honored at the discretion of the hotel and are based on availability. Iberostar does have this service available, but only if you book directly with them and not with a tour operator like Delta Vacations or Funjet Vacations.
Our rooms were located in Villa 91, just a 30-second walk from the Star Prestige lounge and the beach.
Standard room categories are located in the sprawling, 4-story main hotel building. Star Prestige Junior Suites are located in “villas” identical and adjacent to Iberostar Selection Bávaro hotel villas. These suites are super roomy. When you’ve got two connecting suites, it’s downright massive— the perfect size for a family of five to spread out!
We ate most of our meals at the buffets and often picked up snacks at the Star Prestige Lounge. The two a la carte restaurants we dined in were La Cana, the steakhouse, and Maria Bonita, the Mexican restaurant. The ribeye at La Cana and the tacos al pastor from Maria Bonita shone, for sure, but the standout food items across the resort were their perfectly flaky, soft, and buttery pastries. We were especially fans of the chocolate croissants! We also loved the coffee served at the buffet and the espresso served at the Star Prestige lounge. For you beer drinkers, Presidente is the cerveza of choice.
The Star Prestige Lounge is an exclusive area to hang out and relax. Aside from check-in, grabbing snacks, and the occasional question, we didn’t spend much time there.
A few additional perks of Star Prestige
- Welcome wine and fruit platter in each room shortly after arrival
- One bottle of wine per room from the wine cellar
- Top shelf liquor and additional bottled beer options at the Star Prestige bar (Stella Artois, anyone)
- Spa access, starting with access to the hydrotherapy area free of charge to complimentary massages with longer stays (P.S. Having spent most of our time at the beach, we never made it here!)
And that exclusive Star Prestige beach area? Absolutely GORGEOUS. You’ll need to wake up pretty early to stake your claim on one of the coveted Bali beds. But hey, it’s worth it! And you get to enjoy the early morning sun rising above the sea.
One thing we prepared for but did not have to deal with was the vacation club (aka timeshare) upsell. Star Prestige access can be purchased outright as an upgraded room category, as we did when booking, and members of Iberostar’s The Club can get access to these amenities at all their properties as part of their membership. Straight to the point though: vacation clubs like this are just timeshares by another name. I prepared myself to politely decline, but aside from one mention during check-in, nobody asked us to sit through a sale presentation.
- Upside: While I wonder what sort of upgrade, amenity, or experience they would have offered us to get us to attend a vacation club presentation, we got to keep all of our precious vacation hours safe from the threat of high-pressure sales.
- Downside: I’m pretty sure the resort coupons we were promised ($300 each room) come from that preliminary meeting with a salesperson— that pre-sales moment when they try to entice you to join a presentation.
The Pools and Beaches
The twin pools of the mirror-image hotels are nestled between the gardens and the beach. Flanking the pools are the main hotel buildings of the Iberostar Punta Cana and the Iberostar Dominicana. There’s always something going on around the pools. The hotel’s Star Friends— the entertainment team— chatting up guests and leading things like dance lessons and beach games throughout the day.
And the beach— wow, the beach! The sand is soft and fine, and the water? The water here is that refreshing and dreamy shade of blue that makes your breath hitch in your throat. Sure, sargassum can be an issue, but the all-inclusive resorts that line La Playa Bávaro have processes in place to keep the shores relatively seaweed-free. Iberostar does a particularly great job at this. A tractor comes around early in the morning, and if needed, again throughout the day.
Vendors walk the shore, bearing collared uniform polo shirts, IDs, and their wares. These folks offer everything from parasailing and banana boat excursions from right off the beach to cigars, saris, and hair-braiding at your beach chair. A friendly no thank you (or simply avoiding eye contact), is enough to keep folks away if you’re not interested.
What we liked
Every hotel employee we encountered was helpful and genuinely friendly! The only time we experienced even a hint of saltiness was from the head server at one of the RSVP-only restaurants— but we were 20 minutes late for our reservation! I can’t blame them for being mildly annoyed. They accommodated us despite our tardiness, and we can’t find fault with the service after the initial encounter. We tipped the folks we encountered throughout the day, but we never felt that employees expected a gratuity. This did, ironically, make me want to tip folks even more.
The service at this resort was exemplary! Everyone we encountered was clearly experienced in the hospitality business. Even when our lack of fluency in Spanish impeded communication, the team members at Iberostar and the third-party vendors in the on-site shops all exhibited so much patience and kindness.
This property’s gardens and landscaping are all supremely on point, and the pools are wonderful! Sometimes finding a pair of chairs could be a chore, but the pools themselves are large and expansive, leaving plenty of room for everyone to enjoy without being on top of each other.
Pinnable images 📌
What could be better
One of our rooms had a king-sized bed, and the other had two full-sized beds. Otherwise, their layouts were identical. The decor in both rooms could use a refresh from the mid-90s look they currently sport. There were some minor maintenance-related inconveniences or inconsistencies: different fixtures, a bulb being out in one of the rooms, and the shower curtain in one of the bathrooms being a tad too short, leading to some wet bathroom floors. A few villas were being renovated (totally gutted!) during our stay, so Iberostar appears to be rolling out some changes already.
By the time the nighttime shows happened after 9 pm, we were worn out! We did manage to drag ourselves out one evening to watch one of the shows, however, the entertainment on the Dominicana side was some sort of game show. We didn’t find that to be particularly entertaining, and I’d imagine it’d only be so if you were a) participating, b) related to a participant or c) already tipsy. With three sleepy kids, we chose to hang out back at the room most nights rather than shuffle back and forth between the Punta Cana and Dominicana to see which hotel had better evening entertainment.
We enjoyed our stay at the Dominicana and recommend this resort for families and extended family groups. If you’re traveling as a couple, I recommend choosing an upgrade to the adults-only Iberostar Grand Bávaro, instead.
The value we received for what we paid was wonderful! Based on this experience, I highly recommend the Iberostar family of resorts. Iberostar clearly sets high standards! Their dedication to creating a lovely experience for all their guests is evident in staff interactions. In addition, Iberostar helps protect and re-grow the reefs of the Caribbean through their Coral Lab initiative.
As for any language barrier, we felt comfortable enough communicating. Even with our limited command of Spanish, we only had to whip out Google Translate once or twice. If anything, I’m reminded of how learning a language is practical and personally fulfilling! (Especially Spanish, since it’s the 2nd most widely spoken language in the entire world.)
Most importantly, we felt (and were) totally safe during our stay in the Dominican Republic. We ate the food, drank the water, sampled some drinks, and enjoyed the pools and ocean. We came away with a ton of family memories to treasure. From the airport to the resort and back again, everyone we encountered treated us like valued guests, and that’s the cherry on top of our blissful beach vacation.