Earlier this year, Gerry and I stayed at the new Circle by Meliá Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This is an all-inclusive resort that opened in mid-December 2018; Our visit was at the end of January 2019. The resort was basically empty when we were there, despite it being high season. There may still be deals on the property as of this writing, so if interested, I encourage you to look for them.
We are the owners (I am embarrassed to say) of a Meliá timeshare. The why of our embarrassment is not a subject for this essay, but it was in the booking of our annual week-long vacation with Meliá that we were offered the chance to stay at this new resort. We had some miscellaneous options to dispose of before we lost them, so we used those to stay for 4 nights at the Punta Cana property.
Meliá has several branded hotels in Punta Cana, (Meliá Caribe Beach Resort, Meliá Punta Cana Beach, Paradisus Palma Real, Paradisus Punta Cana, the Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real) some adjacent to one another, and others within a short walk. We could easily visit them all and our all-inclusive meal and beverage privileges extended to some of the other properties in the chain.
The naming of the hotels was extremely confusing – so much so that the taxi driver who took us from the airport had trouble finding the proper hotel! Not even within Melia is the naming consistent. My reservation showed us at Circle by Melia; but when Gerry called to check on the directions to the hotel they told him it was the Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real. Actually the hotel name is The Circle by Meliá Paradisus Palma Real. They both have Palma Real in them – but the entrance to the Grand Reserve and the Circle property are not the same. Are you confused, too?
Conned into sitting through a very lengthy presentation of the timeshare opportunities at the Circle, I realized that this is a property primarily focused on timeshare owners. The good: The rooms are all suites, with both living and dining spaces, as well as ample bathrooms and bedrooms. The bad: Avoiding the timeshare presentation is tricky … Everyone at the hotel is so nice, that when they insist, insist, insist that you go to the presentation (of the ”special features of the hotel”) it becomes uncomfortable to continue to say no (though, if you are not interested in a time share, insisting, yourself, in saying no will save you time and aggravation.) [The long version of my take on this timeshare is at the end of this post.]
The hotel is built in a circle, no surprise there, and much of the decoration around the hotel is based on circle motifs. It is quite elegant and lovely. Most everything happens out of doors, under roofs but not within enclosed walls. There are some restaurants inside for those that like air conditioning. It has a very tropical feel, though a generic one. You could be anywhere tropical, there is nothing uniquely Dominican about the place.
Our room was called a “one-bedroom master suite” and as mentioned above, we had living and dining spaces, and a large bedroom. We actually had two bathroom areas: One had a soaking tub and the closets, the other had the shower and toilet. The were adjoining, but able to be separated for privacy. (Finding my way around in the middle of the night was a challenge!)
Our balcony looked toward the center of the big circle of buildings (four stories). The balcony was furnished with a love seat, a chaise lounge and a jacuzzi, with access from both the bedroom and the living room. Beneath us was a very long pool, that follow the large curve of the buildings. The fist floor rooms were called “swim-ups” and those guests had access to the pool from their rooms through their own sun-bathing patios. Because the resort is new, the vegetation in the central areas was only about a foot high and we could see easily across the resort to some of the buildings in that large center circle – gym, recreation areas and outdoor dining. There was also a main pool in the center – the usual rectangle (80+ meters long) and surrounded by sunbeds. I liked that open view, but within a few years most of the vegetation will be about 4 feet high and there will be shorter vistas and more privacy.
There are also rooms on the outside of the buildings facing away. They do not have much of a view, but we were informed that they are quieter. This is probably because of the nightly entertainment in the interior. It was loud, but didn’t go until late. I doubt it would be a problem for most.
The restaurants in the resort were all good. My favorite was a ceviche place, called Lemon Fish, which was open to all guests when we were there, but to be reserved only for “Circle” members (timeshare owners of that resort). There was another restaurant in the property that already maintained its exclusivity for members, so I cannot tell you about it except to say that there were never very many people in it, and it was only open at prescribed times.
Gerry’s favorite was a restaurant with sushi and tepanyaki. There was a restaurant by the pool open for lunch only, that specialized in ribs; a steakhouse called the Mine that served 16 oz steaks; and a sports bar with lighter fare. The sports bar was our only questionable dining experience while we were there. We wanted to have lunch before going to the airport on our last day, and the host basically asked us to go to the main buffet instead. But we persevered (wanting to try all the restaurants on the property). The place was pretty empty, so it felt like they just didn’t want to work…It was odd, but not unpleasant, and the food we had was very good. One intriguing negative of all the restaurants is a lack of atmosphere. They pretty much all have cafeteria-style lighting.
We had to leave our resort to go to the beach. The Circle is not a beach property, but guests have beach privileges on the Grand Reserve beach and there is a shuttle that goes back and forth. We went by shuttle, but we also walked it. It is less than half a mile and the walk takes you along a natural reserve filled with birds.
The birds were on the opposite side of two chain link fences with an unfinished walkway between them. Taking pictures through the fence was not great. This is definitely a feature of the resort that it should develop. There is a sort of lame “nature trail” along the walk to the beach. That could be developed much more, too. Along the walk, the resort gardener was busy planting shrubs that would block the view in the future, and we found out that the walkway itself is not on resort property. We never did find the entrance to the walkway, and at the beach end it is completely impassable due to plant debris.
Circle guests can also eat at all the Grand Reserve restaurants and the two we tried had good food. One was a beach lunch and the other was a buffet dinner serving Dominican food. The Grand Reserve has a “Dominican” night, with the buffet featuring regional dishes, local artisan booths and a show of music and dancing. We went and enjoyed it very much. Again, the hotels have a shuttle to take you back and forth.
Our evening entertainment was all music-oriented. We watched the show at the Grand Reserve on Dominican night, and went back another evening to see an innovative dance presentation by the same troupe that used wooden boxes, garbage cans and other found items as percussion instruments. At our own resort, one night there was a party for guests with a live band and outdoor bars and dance floor, and another was a Queen-based show with a Freddie Mercury impersonator. That was fun! Sing-a-long!
All in all it was relaxing and fun. The sunsets and dawns from our balcony were a perfect accompaniment to coffee or cocktail. The all-inclusive restaurants served small enough portions that you could try everything on the menu without over-eating. There was no incentive not to try room service (though we didn’t have the time). We were assigned our own concierge who handled our every request and even surprised us from time to time with something special.
However, by the last day, I was ready to leave. Living on the beach for the last 30 years, a beach vacation just doesn’t rock my boat. I enjoyed it for the 4 nights we were there, but that would be just about my limit. There just isn’t enough to do or see for me. Heaven forbid, I should try to relax.
One of the most important parts of travel for me is contact with locals. Our only contact with locals here was with the staff. They had had their Domincan-ness trained out of them, and spoke lovely Castillian Spanish. We, with our Puerto Rico provenance, could talk to them as “locals” and often got to hear about their lives outside of the resort. (Quite a contrast.) If the Melia chain is not generous with its wages, one can be thankful that they are “generous” with their training and grooming of the young people we met. Those are skills that they can never have taken away and that will stand them in good stead in any hospitality job.
Two final notes:
I apologize for any and all mistakes with identifying which hotel had what features we enjoyed. The staff kept referring to everything we went to as the :grand Reserve” but I think much of it was at the Paradisus Palma Real (no qualifiers). If that is crucial for you, my apologies. Please set me straight.
It is interesting to me at how inconvenient the flights from San Juan to Punta Cana are – expensive and untimely. We ended up flying through Miami. Two 2-3 hour flights to accomplish a trip of about 45 minutes.
What about a timeshare?
I am not a fan of timeshares because this is not the type of travel I like to do. Ditto for all-inclusive resorts. However, if I were retired from working, mobility challenged and/or really loved a beach vacation in the winter, then this type of thing might work. As you have read, the resort is very, very nice. The food is really good and varied. You can tip in dollars and pay your cab fare in dollars, so you don’t have to even change money. You can speak English all the time… (I know some Americans are keen on those features of a foreign vacation.) The timeshares at this resort (it would be your “home resort” in the Meliá parlance) are very expensive – very much like owning a house in a desirable vacation area. The annual fee they proposed to us was more than we typically spend for a vacation, for two of us. So, if you typically vacation with children and grandchildren, and pay for them, this might also be a good choice. Meliá has hotels all over the world, so you have many places to choose from.
In our case, our “home” resort was the Grand Meliá in Puerto Rico. IT has been closed since Hurricane Maria, but we never actually stayed there. We have had it for about 11 years, and have used it extensively in Spain, as well as for stays in Madrid, Paris, London and Berlin. Some of the hotels we have loved; others not so much. It was interesting that with 39 years left on our current time-share we were not presented with any incentive to switch to the Circle club. We might have been interested, but what we were offered made no financial sense for us based on our style of travel.