Travel Weekly heads across the Atlantic to test out two all-inclusive resorts

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Certain regions are synonymous with all-inclusive holidays, while others are just starting to become better known – but either way, it’s crucial to know what’s there so you can recommend them to the right clients.

Travel Weekly got the lowdown on two very different all-inclusive resorts: Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, and the new Iberostar Playa Mita in Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s lesser-known Pacific coast.

They’re both about to get easier to reach too: British Airways has introduced a twice-weekly non-stop service from Gatwick to Punta Cana, while from May, Thomson Dreamliners will fly weekly between Glasgow and Punta Cana, and direct from Gatwick and Manchester to Puerto Vallarta.

TRIED & TESTED: Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic



Features reporter Katie McGonagle joins her first Club Med fam for a few thrills and spills

I like a good challenge, so on arriving at the sunny shores of Club Med’s Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic, I set myself two of them. First was to work my way through the lengthy list of activities at this sporty resort, which goes from A and B (archery and basketball) to Y and Z (yoga and zumba), with plenty more in between. Number two was to work through its equally extensive cocktail list.

Sadly, I didn’t quite manage to make it through either – our four-day fam trip simply wasn’t long enough to fit everything in – but I certainly had fun trying!

This is Club Med’s second-largest resort, holding 1,700 people at full capacity in 550 low-rise rooms plus 32 suites in the exclusive 5-Trident area, similar to a hotel’s ‘Club’ floor. That can mean a bit of a walk from one side to the other, but its two restaurants, two bars, spa, swimming pool, football pitches, tennis courts and other facilities are dotted around the resort, and golf buggies are on hand if needed.

I could have used one as I raced around as many of the included activities as I could, from the springy tennis courts and a first go at dinghy sailing to sea-kayaking and aqua gym led by an enthusiastic instructor.

In fact, all the staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Windsurfing instructor Andre was unbelievably patient as he showed me how to stand up on the board, surf in a straight line, then turn around to come back. I managed the first two but wasn’t so good at the third – fine if you want to windsurf to Venezuela, but not so great when you need to return to shore.

My lack of coordination also became glaringly apparent on Club Med’s signature activity, the flying trapeze. The nerves were tingling as I waited my turn, watching lithe little children climb monkey-like to the top then swing off without a backward glance; yet before I knew it, I was climbing rung-by-rung up a terrifyingly tall ladder.

After a few deep breaths and some reassurance from another friendly instructor, I was clutching the trapeze bar and hanging off the edge, ready to jump.

And before I knew it, I was flying through the air, swinging back and forth on the trapeze.

Phew! Giving myself a mental high-five, I thought: I’ve done it, time to get down. “Now flip upside down, hook your knees over the bar and let go,” said the instructor.

Seriously? This is beginner level? But while my mind screamed ‘no chance’, my body somehow turned upside down, my feet found the bar, and I felt myself letting go with nothing but a net far below to catch me if I fell.

Once I was right side up again, smug smile in place, there came the next challenge: “Now back-flip off the bar and land on your feet.”

“Is there any other way to get down?” I asked hopefully, but there was nothing else for it but to have a go. Swinging my feet back and forth, with the help of a bit of momentum and a lot of luck, I was soaring through the air and landing on the netting below.

It was undeniably scary, but the sense of satisfaction made it worthwhile – until I saw kids racing up for another go, at which point I decided I’d rather sit and watch.

It’s no wonder they were having fun: with kids’ clubs ranging from Baby Club Med from four months old; Petit and Mini Club Meds for toddlers and under-10s; to teen hangout Passworld, youngsters are seriously well catered for. And while they play basketball and badminton, try arts and crafts, or rehearse for the weekly Mini Club show, stressed-out parents can lie back and relax. Choose from the main pool with Cielo bar next door; try a massage under one of four beachfront palapas at the L’Occitane spa; or grab a bite at relaxed beach bar Le Céleste.

Speaking of food, the grub was top notch. Lack of choice in venue – buffet restaurants La Samana and L’Hispaniola were only open on alternate nights during our stay – was more than made up for by the overwhelming array of food, from scallop and lobster risotto to medium-rare steak and melt-in-the-mouth mahi mahi, plus a well-stocked kids’ station with pasta and pizza for fussy eaters.

Some guests might find buffet dining a tad repetitive, and since Punta Cana’s resorts are pretty far from just about anywhere, there isn’t much they can do to add variety. But for a fun-packed resort to suit active families and friends, it’s well worth introducing clients to the Club Med concept.

Book it: A week departing April 27 from Gatwick costs £1,309 for adults and £1,039 for children including British Airways flights with current promotional fares, or £1,535 and £1,149 without. Children under six stay free, with complimentary kids’ clubs from four years old, and for under-fours at a supplement.

clubmed.co.uk
0845 619 4258

Tried & tested: Iberostar Playa Mita, Mexico



Iberostar Playa Mita

Web editor Tom Irwin tests the water at this new property

Just under an hour’s drive from Puerto Vallarta airport, Playa Mita is the latest addition to Iberostar’s Premium Gold class. Design and construction of the resort cost €100 million, and it’s clear the chain sees the hotel – and the region – as a future star.

This resort opened in December 2013, so it’s brand new and looks fantastic. The grand entrance lobby features a wonderful example of the artwork dotted around the hotel: a colourful beaded jaguar head, a nod to the area’s native Huichol people.

The end of the lobby looks out over the sprawling complex; rows of rooms line the sides of a striking flat interior section of pools, loungers and palm trees, leading to a glitzy bar area perched up above the beach. It’s an extremely classy venue in which to unwind with a cocktail after a hard day’s holidaying.

The 452 rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated and all have balconies, three-quarters with sea views. More expensive beachfront rooms look directly out to sea.

And what a view that is – this area of the Pacific coast is gloriously unspoilt and undeveloped right now, a far cry from the crowds in Cancun, so it would be wise to get in quick before it’s properly discovered.

There are four speciality eateries on site, serving Mexican, Japanese, steakhouse and gourmet meals, the last of which is Pacific Express, a charming themed restaurant laid out like a train carriage. The food in general is excellent, and the buffet breakfast changes daily.

There’s a spa with the usual top-quality amenities, plus a Greg Norman-designed golf course next door. Throw in the two pools, eight bars (including a swim-up), resort-wide Wi-Fi and genuinely enjoyable entertainment, and you’ve got all the ingredients of a first-class establishment.

There’s also plenty to keep children occupied, including a kids’ club and water park with slides.

For clients looking to explore, the local area is a day-tripper’s delight. Before becoming a national park, the Marietas Islands were an air force bombing practice site. This created a crater in the middle of the main island that has a hidden beach. After taking a boat to the island, the beach can only be reached by swimming under an arch through a channel from the open sea – a real novelty. The icing on the cake is the opportunity to spot breaching humpback whales from the boat on the way.

Riviera Nayarit also has the largest number of certified clean beaches in Mexico, including one in the village of Sayulita, a surfer’s paradise with several restaurants, galleries and craft shops.

Book it: First Choice offers seven nights in an all-inclusive double room, including Dreamliner flights, from £1,166.

firstchoice.co.uk
0871 200 7799