Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Caribbean
Fly in/out: Punta Cana (PUJ)
Recommended ages: 3 and up
Ball Park Price: $1,100 per person (airfare not included)
Currency: Bring US dollars for tips
Time Zone: EST +1
Best Time to Travel: December – May
This family of four traveling with a special needs child found the right all inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic providing fabulous care, relaxation and entertainment for the whole family.
We’ve traveled to different parts of the world to all inclusive resorts and this spring break vacation was among our favorite. Traveling to this area of Dominican Republic is relatively easy and affordable. There are many direct flights from major cities in the US to Punta Cana with an easy drive to the string of Punta Cana resorts located on the eastern side of the island. The Dominican Republic occupies two-thirds of Hispaniola, a mountainous island shared with Haiti but is known for its expansive white sandy beaches and warm, sunny days.
Selecting an all-inclusive resort that provides on-site and almost round-the-clock kids clubs that can accommodate special needs children was key to our selecting Now Larimar Resort in Punta Cana. The kids club team was competent and caring and seemed well trained to care for a special needs child. We used the kids club for drop off periods with activities that matched the interest to our child. On a given day, kids could enjoy choices in the kids club with easy drop-in to enjoy games, and organized kid-friendly entertainment. The teen zone room was also equipped with electronic equipment for that child who just needs some downtime. The one downside was that no adults, including caretakers are allowed into the kids club at any time.
The adults could select from a variety of excursions with or without children provided by Amstar, the on-site excursion company providing exclusive destinations for Now Larimar guests. We had a variety of cultural choices including a day trip to Santa Domingo and a ½ day learning about Dominican Republic’s coffe plantation and schools. There were many adventurous activities to choose from that would accommodate our special needs child including horseback riding, boat trips and beach activities.
We would equate this resort to a stationary cruise ship. Lots of entertainment and activities to choose from for all ages. On a nightly basis, we were treated to some fabulous entertainment including one of a kind dance and acrobatic shows and music. The shows were often on the late side with a 9:30 p.m. performance, but we didn’t have any problems adjusting to island time and sleeping in.
DAY ONE: Take a direct flight to Punta Cana (PUJ). Arrange transportation through hotel and drive twenty minutes to Now Larimar Resorts. Explore the resort and work with concierge to make dining reservations in advance for a set time for the whole week.
DAY TWO: Select from the variety of activities and entertainment provided daily at the resort. Excursions both adventurous and cultural were offered daily for families and adults only. The entertainment team seemed on deck 24/7 with shows, dance lessons and games.
DAY THREE: Arrange transportation through the resort for the twenty minute ride back to the Punta Cana airport.
- The excursion company, Amstar, a destination management company, runs all the excursions for the Now Larimar guests. Although our family was perfectly content to stay at the resort the majority of the time, we took a half-day tour on a glass bottom boat and snorkeled near Bavaro beach which was beautiful. There was enough entertainment and swimming for our special needs daughter to enjoy in a half-day.
- The older family members enjoyed a full day adventure called Outback Safari. This was a great way to understand the Dominican people. We met kids at the local schools and visited a typical Dominican home and stopped at a coffee plantation. The tour ended with boogie boarding at a secluded beach.
- Another adventure company offering more thrill seeking adventures are provided by Scape Park.
Places to stay
- Built in 2007, Now Larimar Resort, Punta Cana is a family-oriented four-star resort with 700 yards of private beachfront property and 5 giant size pools on beautiful Bavaro Beach. The resort welcomes children with two kids clubs-Explorers Club for age 3-12 and the Core Zone for teens. Parents can enjoy the spa, a fitness center, and all kinds of activities including our favorite, Zumba classes. We sprung for prefered club rooms for the extra space and being close to the beach. All rooms have furnished private patio or balcony which was a major plus.
- When making a reservation, call the hotel directly to request adjoining/connecting rooms. They are available for families. There are not any 2-3 bedroom suites only adjoining rooms.
We stayed on the resort for dining with six a la carte restaurants, two buffet restaurants and a poolside grill. We made reservations to not have a wait time through concierge when we arrived. The menus had gluten free options. There were sister resort dining options, but we stayed on the resort for convenience. There were dress code requirements which are posted on the website.
- The Explorer Club (kids club) at Now Larimar provides a pager/beeper system for the parents while their kids are using the club. This provides great comfort in knowing they can reach one of us at any time in case any problems occur. All the employees are CPR certified. Take some time to complete paperwork to explain likes/dislikes of your child and they will be very accommodating.
- We always notify the airline when we are traveling with a special needs child. All airlines have a system for notifying them of specific traveling needs. Here is the sample of the way we requested assistance through United Airlines.
- You can not drink the tap water in all of Punta Cana. Bottled water is provided everywhere in the resort. Stick with bottled water even for brushing your teeth to avoid getting sick.
- Many of the forecasts call for rain in the Dominican Republic, but if it rains it’s only for a short time. In most cases, from what we have read and experienced, the rain forecasts go away and change to sunny the day before. So, don’t get discouraged.
- There is a minor language barrier. Most servers and staff speak english, but it is a benefit if there are any spanish speaking family members.
- Carry small change with you for tips. They seem to help ensure service and secure favorite servers for drink and food.
- Because you are in a poor area, lock all valuable things in your safe including kids electronics. Although this did not happen to us, you can easily have electronics taken poolside or even from the hotel room.
- There are some specials or deals to Punta Cana when booking a resort and flight at the same time. Often the deals can save up to 50%. There are often great deals through Jetblue and Travelocity.
Before You Go
It is recommended that your passport is valid for at least 90 days following your departure date. In addition, most destinations require that you have adequate un-used pages in your passport, allowing for any necessary stamps upon arrival and departure. At press time, there was no travel alert for the D.R. For more information, go to travel.state.gov.
- A great book providing an introduction to special needs travel is STARBRITE Traveler: A Travel Resource For Parents Of Children With Special Needs. It states, good planning is key, a process broken down into the five Ds: Dream, imagine the kind of trip desired; Determine, figure out what special provisions will be needed; Dry Run, practice potentially difficult situations; Departure, draft a timeline and checklist; and Destination, list last-minute details, tips and reminders.
- Another book to help prepare a child for a plane ride is The Noisy Airplane Ride, by Mike Downs.
- A website for comprehensive accessible travel for wheelchairs is Emerging Horizons. Insider tips and useful information about traveling with a wheelchair.