Kosher Vacation in Dominican Republic – Revisited
In 2015 we went to Peurto Plata, Dominican Republic where there is a full time Rabbi supervising two kosher kitchens (dairy and meat) on a resort filled with beaches and pools. In 2019 we went back with the whole family. It’s one of a kind west of the Prime Meridian. Read our 2015 review of the kosher Dominican Republic vacation with information on how to book and who to book with as well as our review of two books on how the Dominican Republic saved the lives of 3000 Jews during the holocaust.
Starting with the point – it’s a fun trip and we highly recommend it. The kosher food is excellent, cooked by the regular chefs and staff of the resort. You’ll find nothing else like it for the kosher traveler in the Caribbean and probably the western hemisphere. The beaches are nice and the canopy beds add an extra nice touch along with delivery of (included) drinks on the beach. The downside is the resort puts out an image of being “exclusive” with “tell only your best friends” and “vip this” and “vip that” but it’s … well, narishkeit that’s only made worse when you need to call twice during your trip to get running water and electricity. More on that below.
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The food (I mentioned that, right?) is the best part. There’s a staff of four by day and four by night cooking and serving your food with a very friendly Rabbi Levine (who’s been there since before our earlier trip) cooking whatever you’d like. One night we had lamb chops – the best I’ve ever eaten in my life (sorry mom), another night red snapper. It’s served buffet style and brought out as you arrive (texting the Rabbi and/or scheduling your meal time at the previous meal ensures that happens). Thus, there’s no wait and there’s a wide variety of food at every meal.
For breakfast, there’s an omelette station (the cook makes sure you turn on the pan to avoid bishul akum), pancakes, plantains if you request them (don’t miss the sugared ones), bagels, lox, cereal, and local milk. The Rabbi watches a local cow be milked so it’s even cholov yisroel! The fruit and vegetables are also local (and found at most meals) but most of the rest is imported from the United States.
The price is and isn’t cheap – it’s $130/person per day for three meals and half price for kids under 12. That works out to $43.33 a meal for adults and $21.67 a meal for kids. It’s not a lot (and I certainly ate more than that in lamb chops which are about $30/lb for them to import!) but a week of that with family and it adds up.
Going in order from best to worst about the trip, in the #2 place are the beaches. There are “VIP beaches” which you have to pay more to access ($25/person) but it’s worth it. The extra price also gets you transportation around a very big resort. For a little more, you also get your own golf cart which seats … well, four, but if you seat eight on it and drive around (some kids on lap), they just smile and wave. (They won’t give you a bigger golf cart or more than one unless you buy a timeshare or properly – we tried.)
Anyway, this is actually a section about the beaches so let’s talk about that. The “VIP” beaches have canopy beds – one of them with double decker beds like something out of the Lego movie. They are also more private and have less people. It was very easy for us to find entire sections of these beaches with no one but us and a few other scattered not too close, though we went both times in the summer during what seems to be the slow season. When you arrive, a waitress takes your order for drinks. It’s all included – alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
The CRC says clear rum needs no hecshur and it’s locally made … mixed with soda or juice it’s great. Whiskey drinks aren’t so much their thing, in my opinion – better you get that in Virginia. (The juice on the resort isn’t 100% … it’s made from syrups and the Rabbi says those at the bar near the kosher restaurant are kosher except the strawberry which the bartender stopped me from ordering once by mistake – there’s also pina colada (with or without alcohol) and Shirley Temple’s kosher – outside of the bar next to the kosher restaurant, he does not recommend getting as they may be mixing with other things).
The beaches, except for “Serenity beach” have a nice feature of being within a “reverse peninsula” (does that have a name?) with a boey-supported rope going from end to end quite a distance, preventing you from being swept out though this is not, to my understanding, a problem in Caribbean waters. See some beach pictures around the text of this article.
At #3 comes the pools. They’re plentiful. The resort is broken up into quite a few sections (“Presidential”, “Tropical”, “Confresi…”) each with their own large pool and ambiance. One is designed to be more regal and quiet, another for parents and kids (with separate tiered pools), another for partying, etc. Jacuzzi’s are found in a few places as well. Our kids simply liked exploring new pools to swim in and finding new treasures such as a waterfall in the large Presidential pool, a water slide in another, and a large not-to-deep pool in another.
In addition, if you rent a villa, you get your own pool. That’ll be discussed below.
If you stay four nights or more, they throw in tickets to “Ocean World” – a cute water park within walking distance of the resort. It’s about a 15 minute walk and you can actually see it from the resort beaches but there’s also a bus that leaves twice in the morning and returns every half hour in the afternoon.
This is classified as a, “honey, none of the kids wants to go…” with my response being, “trust me, they’ll like it” (Geronimo Stilton reference, anyone?). They liked it.
There’s “controlled snorkeling” where you wear a snorkel mask and swim down and back a watery path filled with tropical fish, a sea lion show, a feed-the-birds with birds all over you, a small beach and pool, and water slides (which are $10 extra per person but they didn’t charge us). The kids had a great time with one even requesting to return the next day to do it all again. We spent about three hours there.
There are other “excursions” available as well, but with a four day trip with kids (three of them full days, one half day, and one get-to-the-plane day) we didn’t find the need for them. When we went without kids, we did (see earlier article).
Last time we rented in the “Presidential” section which is quiet and next to the kosher restaurant and shul. Read our prior article for that. This time, since we took the whole family, we rented a “villa” – you know, a house with a fancy name.
Let’s just say the villa didn’t look like the ones they show you in the pictures, but it was still nice. It wasn’t one of those “fancy wrap around verandas with a large pool taking center stage” that they like to advertise, but it did have a very adequate personal pool which was fairly surrounded for tznious purposes and five bedrooms, each with it’s own bathroom. Only the bedrooms had air conditioning while the central room (with a sixth bathroom) had fans.
The house itself was fairly nice … but clearly wasn’t so new anymore. The air conditioning in one of the bedrooms didn’t work and we ran out of water within about an hour of arrival. Turns out each house has a cistern that they have to fill and it’s not that large. With leaky toilets and large family … we figured out how to say “fill the cistern” in Spanish (it’s “ciscerna”) only a few days later. The electricity also went out with kids in the pool … but it adds to the charm of reminding you it’s not a 5 star Manhattan hotel no matter how many times they throw the initials “VIP” at you. Plus, the house rental is $300/night for five bedrooms with your own 80 degree+ pool and security guards everywhere. Again, expensive and not expensive – depending on location you’re comparing to.
Let your pre-driving age teenager drive the golf cart. He’ll be happy. Oh, and you’re supposed to be 18 and have a driver’s license but none of the guards really cared about that our 8 people in a 4 person cart … except for when someone was standing.
Seriously now … other activities really aren’t much for the frum traveler. Go for the food and swimming! You can go on excursions for mucho dinero, You can gamble in a tiny “casino” (I allocated $20 for my entertainment here, but one of my teenagers didn’t look 18 so we didn’t go), there’s a pool table somewhere … there’s a gym … there’s a spa (book massages a day before) … there’s daily Spanish lessons … and there’s “night life”.
I apologize (not really) for not having the desire to go to the “night club” to see what was going on there. The “VIP party” on Sunday nights was loud American music (like “New York, New York … whereas I hear Caribbean salsa music near my home in New Jersey … go figure) with mucho kol isha problems and scantily clad singers that … ugh, just don’t wear a tight sequin something, something and be obese. Ahhh. I digress – basically, it’s not kosher. (I took one look and left, I promise.) We could hear it all from our villa anyway and could see all the fireworks as if they were right next to us.
Night swimming in your own pool is fun though. Right – so basically, go here to swim (ocean or pool) and chill with your family. Oh, and eat. Eat a lot – you’re paying a flat price. Oh, and drink a lot. Not only because it’s all inclusive but because you’re sweating a lot in the heat. They stock your fridge with beer, soda, and water and refill you with water bottles daily. It’s nice.
Here’s the sort of trade-off in going to a place like this – on the one hand, if it were in the United States, well, it wouldn’t be. It’d be too expensive to be profitable. The closest thing I can compare it to would be something like the Sagamore on Lake George. That’s $700/night a person before (non-kosher) food and you get a lake in upstate New York. It’s nice and you’ll have electricity and running water without having to ask for it, but you’re … on a lake in upstate New York paying more than double.
The employees at this resort make about $8/day and they’re probably doing well. The staff was always courteous and friendly. I mean, always. I can’t think of a single case where they weren’t. However, when they’re “too nice” – watch out. Some are looking for “tipo” (use Google translate if you must) and others are trying to get you into the biggest, nicest building in the center of everything adjacent to the nicest “VIP” pool with colored lighting and people on stilts to attract your attention. One employee said they get $20 if they get you in there to watch a timeshare-selling video. (Watch out for the guys with straw hats – that’s their whole job! They come to your house and offer a “tour” of the place, etc. etc.)
From the time you get off the plane the “volunteer” takes your luggage to the car and money changers are negotiating prices with you when you don’t even want to change money (it’s not needed at the resort – everything is in dollars anyway).
While you’re eating your $30/lb lamb chops flown in from Miami, there’s a staff of eight making $8/day to smile and serve you. Those are the ones who know some English. (The “VIP” concierge knows English the best, followed by the rest of the lobby staff.) The ones who don’t are security guards who either a) raise and lower a gate all day or b) sit in a little square booth all day with their only entertainment being Mario Kart – I don’t mean Nintendo, I mean a teenager on a golf cart doing laps around the villas.
Meanwhile, should you want to buy anything – it’s friggin’ expensive. They charge $20 for a small tube of suntan location. $175 to see the doctor ($375 with medicine which our local doctor promptly threw away after some bad side effects which didn’t surprise him). (Beaches are all, by law, public in the Dominican Republic – you can get suntan lotion cheaper from the vendors with little huts on the beach. Jewelry too.)
At the same time, probably to avoid corruption, they are extremely, how shall we say, “exacting” when it comes to your money. The golf cart requires a $50 deposit. Fine. You can also only get it during certain hours. I went to return it – my name was literally the first on on the list of expected returns that day. I saw it right there with confirmation that I paid the deposit. I didn’t have the receipt … no refund. “Sir, if you don’t return your key they’ll charge you $200.” “Why would I return the key when you’re not giving me my deposit back? It’s a nice souvenir.” (I returned the key.)
We found out after our return from the travel agent that locals buy the wrist bands that you need to wear the entire time you’re there. They’re sweaty and annoying and my five year old probably left her’s in the ocean – that’s a separate one for “VIP” access and kosher food … they charged $200 a piece! They didn’t explain this to us the time and let’s just say I didn’t sign the credit card receipt and I’m still disputing the charge. 🙂
In short – it’s a third world country and as much as they want to make you think you’re in some sort of fancy special place, it’s a resort in a third world country. They keep their employees on an even shorter leash than their guests, but it comes out with … dang, this is annoying.
Having said all of the above, if you want a five star Caribbean resort go to Punta Cana. If you can put up with”we want to be a five star Caribbean resort” with amazing, amazing kosher food cooked by amazing chefs fresh each day and (in our experience) nearly private beaches, go to Peurto Plata.