My husband and I grew up with plenty of love but minimal money, so family trips were rare. Yet as young adults, we were able to travel for work, and living in and visiting different parts of the world was transformative for both of us. There is nothing quite like travel to expand your worldview.
So four years ago, when spending money on travel wasn’t exactly the wisest thing to do, we decided we would go somewhere at least once a year, even if just a short drive to a neighboring city. In the same spirit, we now give our kids an option each birthday: an experience (plus a sleepover with a close friend) or a birthday party. Our oldest, who has a winter birthday, has chosen an experience every year since we started this tradition. This year we went big for his tenth birthday: all-inclusive Barcelo Bavaro Palace in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with our close family friends.
Shockingly, staying at an all-inclusive for a week in the beautiful Dominican Republic (DR) ended up being cheaper than a week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida or Phoenix, Arizona (hotel + car rental + food). January is one of the cheapest months to travel, so the DR resort was nearly half price: just over $2500 for 6 nights and 4 people with an additional 15% off thanks to a Memorial Day sale. Flights were low enough that we were able to use our miles from our Delta Skymiles credit card, so the only other expenses were tips, memorabilia and our boat excursion.
Barcelo Bavaro Palace Room Review
This resort may not be as fancy or as new as some of the others we have been to over the years, but it may be my favorite. There is a logic to this resort that made our stay easy and homey.
First of all, we stayed in the family section, which meant we had two rooms separated by a bathroom and entryway. The kids’ room had two double beds and their own patio; our room had a king with a large jacuzzi tub on the patio.
The rooms had lots of little things that make vacationing easier, like drying racks on the patios and lots of hooks for hanging towels in the bathrooms. Each room had its own TV and closet and plenty of counter space.
At one point, our air conditioner stopped working. The HVAC guy was up within ten minutes and had it fixed in probably 30. Our TV remote battery also died, and a woman was up with spare batteries in literally minutes. So the resort may not be brand new, but it is well cared for and beautiful.
Accessibility: This resort has more regularly-placed ramps than any other resort we've visited. There are first-floor hotel rooms as well as elevators in the main section, and I saw at least a dozen wheelchair users.
As for Deaf travelers, I personally find visiting foreign countries easier than American cities because a common language is not assumed, so therefore people are more accustomed to visually communicating with gestures or relying on phone translation apps.
I always mark myself as Deaf/hard of hearing when booking a flight, but so far the only difference I've noticed is that I can board with Main Cabin 1. Other than that, there is no additional accessibility and I have actually missed a flight because they changed the gate over the loudspeaker, which I obviously didn't hear.
As for this trip, when we landed in Dominican Republic and exited the plane, I saw a woman holding a sign with my name...and a wheelchair. When I said I didn't need that because I was Deaf, she stared blankly at me. In Spanish, I said, "Yo soy sorda" (I am Deaf). She quickly crumpled the paper and I walked away hurriedly. It was embarrassing, but a common experience for Deaf travelers.
Barcelo Bavaro Palace Food Reviews
We ate at the buffet for breakfast and lunch every day. Breakfasts were fabulous – omelets, eggs, French toast, churros, roasted potatoes, plantains, croissants, fresh juice – but lunches were hit or miss depending on how fresh and hot the food was. It was never bad, and if you grabbed something you didn't like, buffet-style made it easy to remedy.
You have to make dinner reservations for the restaurants at Barcelo Bavaro, so we made dinner reservations at Steak House Santa Fe, Mexico Lindo, Dolce Italia and El Hoyo 19 immediately upon arriving. They were all okay, but the joy of not having to grocery plan, cook or clean up made the lackluster food no big deal.
If we were to do it again, we’d only make 1-2 reservations and eat at the buffet other nights rather than be tied down to a reservation. When you are in a tropical paradise, the more time outside, the better.
Punta Cana Excursion: Hispanola Aquatic Adventures
When Alex and I visited DR on our own, our two favorite excursions were the 4x4 Open Top Jeep Wrangler Safari Experience through Just Safari Tours and a boat snorkeling tour through Hispanola Aquatic Adventures.
While the Jeep tour is an absolute must-do, the stops are decidedly geared toward adults, so we opted for the family-friendly catamaran trip. It was hands-down the favorite part of our trip for everyone, and since we booked it for my son’s actual birthday, he declared it the “best birthday ever.”
Before boarding the boat, we learned about the depleting coral reef and what Dominicans are doing to improve the situation. After a stunningly beautiful (and windy) ride out to a snorkeling area, we jumped in the water with our snorkeling gear. The waves were pretty strong and a struggle for the little ones, so we didn’t stay long and headed to the next spot.
Once anchored on calmer waters, one of our guides handed pieces of coral to each child, who then zip-tied the coral to a dome that was then jettisoned into the water. My daughter was thrilled to learn she had a small part in helping to rebuild the coral reef in that area. It was a neat and educational experience for all.
We then hopped in the water with our snorkeling gear and fed the fish. They literally ate out of the palms of our hands while we observed them right before our eyes. Some of them were so close I felt their fins and tails gently brush against my legs and hands – a strange and beautiful sensation.
After we’d had our fill of snorkeling, our guides cranked the music and we took turns sliding down the slide attached to the top tier of the boat. Next was a delicious lunch. Our kids devoured the kids meal – a combo of cheeseburger, chicken strips and fries – and Alex and I both ate so much seafood we felt close to bursting.
The boat ride back was filled with dancing, singing and a happy birthday song for my son. Baby (our guide) gave us the option to leave immediately or shop at the flea market for 15 minutes. Since we had walked to the flea market the day prior (it’s a lovely 15 minute beach walk from Barcelo Bavaro), we all went straight home, exhausted from a day of sun, swimming and seafood.
What to pack
For our past travels, we each brought one carry-on to avoid fees and the added time of checking and collecting a bag. You could easily do this for a weeklong stay at a resort in Punta Cana. You need a swimsuit, cover-up, clothes, sandals, toiletries and pajamas. Towels are provided at the resort, and the catamaran boat trip provides snorkels, flotation devices (if needed) and fins.
Some resort restaurants, including a couple at Barcelo Bavaro, require shoes and pants for men. We bypass packing these items by wearing our sneakers and pants while traveling, but the restaurants that require shoes/pants at Barcelo Bavaro were not phenomenal, so you wouldn't be missing out if you skipped them in my opinion.
This year, for the first time, we checked a carry-on bag because as a Skymiles member, we are allowed a complimentary checked bag. We bought one large suitcase and filled it with non-essentials that would make our stay more enjoyable, including:
Clips to secure towels to chairs
Small water toys for playing games (used daily by kids and dads!)
Flotation chairs (which we didn’t use at this time but used daily at the adults-only resort)
Large insulated cups, which saved us repeated trips to refill the tiny plastic cups they provide
Sunscreen (because it’s 3-4x the cost at the resort)
Apple AirTag in case our luggage was lost (which it was)
Thankfully we put all of our essentials in our carry-ons because our checked bag never left Detroit. Communication from Delta regarding the delay on their end was poor. We waited in baggage claim for over an hour with antsy kids before we finally contacted Delta to ask what the issue was. Delta then told us they would call us the next day at 11AM to update us on the bag’s whereabouts – they didn’t. Over 24 hours later, it was finally delivered to our hotel, and the only reason we knew was because we had included an Apple tag in our checked bag.
After this experience and a lost checked bag that was never recovered, I will only check when absolutely necessary and will only include items I could live without.
When traveling to an all-inclusive resort, which resort you choose is important, and we’d return to Barcelo Bavaro without hesitation. The low point was the food, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t great, but not having to plan for meals, cook or clean up outweighed the mediocre restaurant experiences. The resort is clean, the staff attentive and kind, and the pool and beach are just a short walk from the hotel rooms.
Weather: 80s daily with quick, 5-10min bouts of rain 1-2x/day
Hotel: Barcelo Bavaro Palace
Room type: Family Room (two separate bedrooms)
Activity: Snorkeling + boat ride with Hispanola Aquatic Adventures
Worth the walk: 10-15min beach walk to the outdoor shopping area
Kids’ fave to eat: Breakfast buffet
Best time to go: Winter to avoid hurricane and hot seasons
Flight: 4 direct round trip flight from Detroit to Punta Cana for 52k miles + $115 (~4.5 hour flight duration)
Family or adult trip: Stay in the adults-only section of the hotel if traveling without kids
Multi-cultural resort: Languages overheard at the resort: mostly Spanish (many bilingual Spanish/English speakers), English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese