Thursday, 31 May 2018

Dominican Republic Family Holiday - Sensatori Punta Cana Resort Review



Gourmet Village


An All Inclusive Holiday with a Toddler and Baby in the Dominican Republic


Beachside

In March this year we finally got a chance to go on our first holiday as a family of four, Bubs has always been a fabulous travelling companion and although we were fairly certain his little sister would follow in his footsteps, you can never be too sure as all babies are different. Taking this logic into account we decided the best holiday for us to test the waters with would be an all inclusive resort based break. Surprisingly my brother and his wife also wanted to come along too, having recently purchased a house and being in the middle of a huge renovation project, a relaxing sunshine break was just what they needed too.

Great Travelling with Family - so much help with the Kids

Destination

We decided on the Dominican Republic, as the flight time was reasonable, it offers great value for money for all inclusive resorts and all year sunshine. Me and my brother had both visited once before, on our own family holiday around 18 years ago as teenagers and remembered having a lot of fun in those two weeks.
When it came to resorts my favourites which matched my criteria of having lots of a la carte restaurants, family friendly and large rooms were:

1.The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real
2.Now Onyx
3.Tui Sensatori Resort Punta Cana

V
First Taste of Sand - Yummy
In the end we chose the Sensatori Resort mainly due to the more modern feel of the resort and rooms which personally we preferred rather than the more laid back carribean chic some of the other resorts had. This hotel can only be booked via TUI, so although I normally shop around a lot for the best price in this case that was not possible. We did chose to fly with BA rather than Tui due to the better flight times, children and baby facilities and airmails we collect.

Once all the big decisions were made all that was left to do was shop for ridiculous cute baby swimwear and count down the days.

Flight


Ready for their flight

We had an afternoon flight meaning we could wake up as normal and leisurely make our way down to gatwick airport, I managed to pack all our gear into 4 suitcases and 4 hand luggages plus a stroller, I enviously looked on at my brother and sister in law with their tiny little rucksacks and one rolling suitcases making airport travel look effortless. On the upside though, this also meant thought they could help us out lots with all our extra pieces of luggage and children, as much as I try to pack only essentials with kids and babies it seems everything is a must.

Me and my luggage
We had a quick lunch at Nandos and after grabbing a few snacks, sandwiches and water for the flight we managed to board nice and early. My brother however somehow left his boarding pass in Nandos and had to board towards the end, make sure you hang on to those little pieces of paper people they have a purpose.

Fast Asleep
Unfortunately the BA plane on our outbound journey was a very old plane and showed signs of wear and tear. The kids however were more than happy, playing away in the bassinet and Bubs had a good nap to using his Kids Inflatable Bed Pillow. The staff on this flight were great, despite witnessing some passengers behaving very rudely to them. Maybe being confined in a metal box makes everyones tempers flare but I just think there is no need to be rude when the staff are doing their best to help you.

Enjoying her front row seat

Arrival

Upon arrival at Punta Cana, one of the first things you will need to do is pay your $10 visa entrance even for children and infants. You will then need to queue again for immigration and for a final third time for customs, however by this point the staff were ready to leave for the day and just whisked us through the last stage. The transfer to the hotel took around 40 minutes, although it was not a private transfer booked there was only one other couple on our large coach which I am sure cut this time down and we reached the hotel fairly speedily.

Hotel Check In


There is nothing like the feel of that cold towel and taste of bubbles after a long day travelling, and this one was very much welcomed. The lobby area was large with an adjacent bar that Mr S took a seat at whilst holding both the sleeping babies. A straight forward check in and along with our copious amounts of luggage we were promptly whisked away to our new rooms on a golf buggy. The driver also gave us a very useful tour of the resort. Although the restaurants were still open for dinner we decided after baths and showers to order room service instead before falling asleep in the large queen size bed.
Fast Asleep

Sliders for room service


The Resort

The next morning due to the five hour time difference we were up very early and made it to breakfast in good time too, this was a large busy buffet with lots of options, my favourite being the chocolate pancakes with crispy bacon. The staff were all great in setting up high chairs and providing hot drinks  and cold juices.
Ready to face the day - Balcony photoshoot 

After fuelling up we decided to explore the resort, the Sensatori actually shares this large resort with Nickelodeon and is basically split down the half with either resorts rooms on their own sides. The hotel shares the large infinity pool, beach and Gourmet Village area. The main difference in the rooms were the colour schemes and Nickelodeon also offered two large villas which sounded amazing.
Gourmet Village

Each block was two storeys high with lifts and just outside each one was a small gazebo where your concierge rep would sit to help out with any issues you may have during your stay. For example leaving your foldable toilet seat behind in the toilet. They also checked each morning as we would leave the room that everything was ok, it was great service. One morning I asked for another stroller to use while we were there and it was promptly delivered to the room a few minutes later, and cleaner than our existing one.
Best Babysitters Ever

Hola

Starting at the lobby area, the path naturally leads into the Gourmet Village which is where all the restaurants, theatre and evening entertainment happens. Just past the gift shop and spa was the kids club and pool area, which leads into the main blocks of rooms. Rooms are divided into three classes, family, adults- only and premium, each with their own smaller pools and swim up bars. The end of path leads up to the infinity pool and large main bar which looks over the beach area. In total it is probably around a seven minute walk, depending on how many inflatables and babies you are carrying.

All the staff you would meet whilst walking around were very friendly and often stopped to ask us how our stay was and chat to the kids.

Ready to place her order
The Nickledoen resort also has a separate kids play area and water park reachable via shuttle bus or a ten minute walk just on the opposite side of the lobby.

The grounds are all kept beautifully with lots of gardeners working throughout the day to keep it all looking neat and tidy with many tropical flowers. Bubs often returned from his walks with his Papa with a flower for me, I hope he will stay like that forever.

Doppio Courtyard

Nick Lobby
Although it is a large resort with a family focus it always seemed very calm, never busy, so peaceful and tranquil.


The Rooms


Giant Bed

We had a family room, a whole new world to us since Bubs2 has come along, I guess due to now having four bodies in our family these are the only option available to us. This was a beautiful and very large room, the bathroom had both a walk in shower and free standing bath along with twin sinks.

Twin Sinks, a freestanding bath and separate shower

The main room could be closed off using sliding doors and housed a large bed along with a tv. The cupboards in some reviews I heard smelled musty however ours were fine and all clean.

Sofa bed and cot
A separate dining table, sofa and cot along with tv was available in the adjacent room, making a great play space for the kids, this then led out onto what must be the largest balcony I have ever had in a hotel room before. The large, spacious, modern room and balcony were fabulous and made the time we spent indoors much more pleasant.
Huge Balcony and new dinosaur toys

It also meant the kids had an area to play in whilst we got ready each morning and evening, Bubs was in love with having two tvs so close by and lots of his favourite programmes available.


Food and Drinks


Overall all the food and drink we had over our time there was delicious, including the buffets. My favourite out all was probably the burgers, nachos at lunchtime and fresh passion fruit mojitos. We were lucky enough to try out all the restaurants across both resorts. The majority of these are located in the gourmet village, the main square that comes alive in the evenings with live entertainment, children's actives, pop up bars and food stalls.

Evening drinks


Restaurants


WokWok

Sushi Platter
Chinese/Asian cuisine, the main courses and starters were all very tasty especially the spring rolls. Desert and sushi however I could have done without, both lacking in flavour and finesse. Decor and ambience was very glamorous hong kong, all red and dark - both babies fell asleep for this meal so I even got to enjoy it using chopsticks.

Fast Asleep
Fast Asleep Part2

BRGRS.PH



Delicious, my two favourite burgers were the Dehli Truck and Domicana. The chicken sliders were however not crispy enough and the sweet potato fries were actually more like crips. Stick to the wings and burgers and you will be pleasantly surprised.


Kitchen 23 by Le Chique


An adults only dining experience consisting of a 7 course tasting menu based on traditional dominican flavours presented in a very modern way. We were lucky enough to have my brother and sister in law babysit for us that evening to allow us to experience this. I was really impressed and loved all the pomp and ceremony to the way the dishes were presented and explained to you. Very much in line with a michlen star restaurant. The black bean soup, prawn starter and desert were my favourite courses. Would highly recommended trying to make a visit here.
Chicken wings and watermelon bites
Crispy Fish Skin

Prawns and Scallops
Octopus and Black Bean Soup
Pork Belly
Main of Beef
Desert Platter

Verdello

Italian - who does not enjoy Italian food wherever you are in the world. Mains were a lot tastier than the starters but the winner for me was the tiramisu desert.

Starters

Spacewalker

Space helmets
Dinner on a spaceship
A very random space themed restaurant, where to be honest i was not expecting much from the food, however I ordered the chicken tikka masala which was actually delicious. For desert we had the chocolate explosion, which actually looked better than it tasted. Not my favourite restaurant but Bubs loved trying on the helmets.

Intergalactic menu

Fresco

Fresco Menu
A small snack and lunch bar which produced some of my favourite lunch items, I actually went back. Prawn skewers, ceviche, chicken donner and fish and chips were all my favourites.

Lunchtimes

AquaBite

Hotdogs and flatbreads in the Nick WaterPark - good for an afterpool snack.


Doppio


Coffee Stop
Coffee shop similar to big chains, great for hot and cold coffees. Also delicious cakes, on the days that desert failed to deliver for me I would pop in and get a slice of the carrot, red velvet or chocolate cake. On sundays they have a chocolate buffet, sooooo much chocolate it could send anyone into a sugar high just by smelling it.

      

Lighthouse

Adults only breakfast buffet and a lunchtime buffet for all. Good ice- cream selection and hot rotisserie chicken.

Zest

Chilling outside Zest
Character meet and greet breakfasts along with buffet lunch. Very close to the pool with a large outdoor  terrace overlooking the beach, spent many hours here enjoying the pizzas, nachos and paella dishes.

Sugarcane

Main buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, huge choice with all items being replenished quickly.

Breakfast discussions
Breakfast - my favourite were the extra crispy hash browns, fresh omelettes and pancakes with crispy bacon.
Fresh Juices

Lunch - freshly cooked steak, burgers and fish on the grill were all delicious
Dinner - only visited on one night when the theme was global and tried a selection of dishes from all over. Even if you dined here three times a day you would not get bored.

My only issue with the restaurants was the pointless booking system involving visiting a gazebo three days before, it would be much easier to just email ahead and book out for the week.

Chilling in the Bar before kids kick out time
The resort had three main bars plus several smaller ones located around the pools and courtyard so you are sure to never go thirsty. We probably spent most of our time at the main pool bar Papaya enjoying the soft serve ice creams and cocktails. The resort also offers sun lounger and beachside service to so you don't even have to visit the bar to get a drink if your feeling far to relaxed.


VinoVino
Papaya
Shaken


Kids and Baby Facilities


The restaurants were all fully catered for kids and toddlers with high chairs and boosters seats.
The buffets each had a kids section with comfort food favourites, along with a baby section of purée and pre made packets available. A separate kids menu was also available in the a la carte restaurants or you could easily order off the adult menu too. 

Pool Fun

Kids Club

Kids outdoor play area 

We did not use this however several sessions were provided, we did visit on a play and stay session when the Bubs were the only ones inside and had fun playing with the toys in the cool. They also run evening sessions so parents can enjoy an evening whilst the kids catch a movie.

In room

The hotel has an extensive list of baby items they are happy to provide in the room, including bottle warmers, steriliser, baby changing tables, monitors etc. This is great and means you can travel a lot lighter, all we ended up using from the hotel in the end though was a second stroller which was very useful in the evenings when both would end up falling asleep at the same time.

Changing table and Baby Bath
Kettle, Monitor, Bottle Warmer and Steriliser

Beach

Beachside Toys
Although the water is quite rough, Bubs had lots of fun splashing around in it and running around the sand. There are plenty of beach toys available for the kids to borrow, aswel as a trampoline and water sports for older kids.

Poolside

Kids Pool, water guns and mini loungers

A dedicated kids splash pool located just outside the kids club was great fun for young toddlers, lots of different water toys and mini sun loungers. My only issue is this pool is quite away from everything else, including drinks so it did feel very secluded. Would have been nicer next to the main pool area.

Kids pool and spray area

Nickledoen resort

As the resort is linked to the Nickelodeon resort you are also able to go over to this section which includes a larger kids club and indoor soft play area, along with meet and greet with popular Nick characters such as paw patrol, Dora and Spongebob square pants.
As much as Bubs loves Chase and Marshall I think he got scared of the life size versions and refused to go and meet them, much rather spending his time playing inside the kids club with their toy counterparts.

Chilling in indoor Nick Kids Club
Lots of large cushion, ball pits and toys to play with

The Nick water park is also a part of this area, however Sensatori guests need to pay a premium to use this, around $30 each. This seems unfair as all other facilities are shared between guests. We only spent a few hours here as the majority of slides are for older children, I would say if they are under 5 this is probably not worth the money. 

The Beach


Beach Days
Sandy Toes
Lots of Bali day beds that can be reserved the previous day or if no one turns up by lunchtime you can ask the staff to use them. Great as they were large enough for us to all fit in and Bubs2 to take a nap. They also have a daily bbq on the beach which is great for a mid morning snack hot dog or burger, all freshly grilled the smell normally makes it hard to turn down.

Chunky Thighs and Pretty Eyes

The sand was soft and clean more golden than white though.  A large stretch of private beach with lots of available seating, on a few days however it was very windy by the sea making it very choppy to even paddle in.

Unicorn Days

The Pool


Infinity Pool - spot Bubs
My favourite area to relax, similar to the beach lots of Bali beds available too, we never once woke up early to reserve these and always went down to the pool after breakfast and there were plenty of beds and sun loungers available.

Regulars at the Bar

Spot the photoshop edit
Great drinks service, background music and an  uncrowed pool made this the perfect spot to while away the hours.
The actual pool was always chilly when you got in but soon warmed up.
Matching H&M swimsuits

The Spa


Vassa Spa

I treated myself to a massage one rainy afternoon and was extremely impressed. Having had massages all over the world this had to be one of the best ones.
It started with being shown to the waiting area where a heated neck weight was placed around me along with a comfy blanket on a cosy lounger, the therapist then arrived to collect me and show me to the room. The actual massage was amazing and sent me off into a deep sleep, it was one of those hours I did not want to end. I think when your feeding and holding a baby for so many hours a day you don’t realise how much you put your body through until you fully relax. 
I was then shown back into the waiting area and given another heated neck pillow along with a herbal tea and shown where the other facilities were also located. I did not use the sauna and jacuzzi but it looked wonderful too.


Return flight

Check out from the hotel was all straight forward and something I did the day before our actual departure to make it easier the next day. Tui had sent all guest a standard departure letter stating the time of the coach transfer however I then received a text with a later time, luckily I spoke to the on-site rep about this as we were actually on the later transfer due to being on the BA flight and not the TUI one. One family got the earlier transfer, they ended up at another terminal and wasting far more hours at the airport so make sure you double check.
Punta Cana airport was actually pretty good with lots of American fast food outlets, I got to have a Taco Bell fix and a small kids indoor playground too that helped Bubs burn off some extra energy.

Our return plane was only a few days old, having just been picked up from Singapore. Lovely seeing the future of BA especially as some of their planes are very dated now, much comfier seats and touch sceeen TVs are a welcomed addition. Unfortunately despite being brand new our bassinet table was already broken, luckily we were able to kindly swap seats so Bubs2 could nap lying down otherwise it would have been a problem. 
The flight was nice and empty so we were able to spread out and the hours back home flew by fairly quickly. Before we knew it we were landing into a grey gatwick on a cold Friday morning. The upside being we all manged a family nap that day from 11-5pm to try and overcome the jetlag. The kids also kindly had lie ins for a whole week after returning. 

Overall Experience


Poolside Chic
I loved it and would return in a heartbeat. The modern colourful decor, the delicious food, the smiling staff, the beautiful grounds and laidback luxury style which made everything effortless over our week holiday.

I would highly recommend this resort to families and also to couples who don't mind seeing children on holiday as there are plenty of areas to escape to. It was the first time we stayed at a Tui Sensatori resort and I was extremely impressed.

More impressed than they look in this pic



Although this time around we did not see much of Dominican Republic it was a very much needed week of resting, recouping and real family time.


One last drink before we hit the road on the way back