We spent a few days a couple weeks ago at the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for a family vacation and I have just a lot to say about the resort as well as the area.
The Long Road to Vik Hotel Arena Blanca
We flew out from Calgary on the Thursday night/Friday morning to Toronto. My wife always gets confused about the times when she sees it is late night. “are we leaving on Thursday night or Friday?” The flight actually left at 12:05 AM so we got to the airport at 10:00 or so as we had to drop the car to the extended parking and get a shuttle across to the airport.
It is funny, when we go to the US we preclear customs in Calgary but in this case we didn’t do anything until we got down to the Dominican Republic because of course there are no agreements in Canada to preclear before going to these Caribbean islands.
Finally at just after midnight we were off the ground from Calgary with WestJet and on our way for our first stop at the Toronto Pearson airport
Some airports are really quiet in the middle of the night but in Toronto it seemed like any other day even at 5:00 in the morning. We had some coffee, My son Jaiden had a SmashBurger hamburger for breakfast and I wandered around while my wife and kids slept in the seats at our gate. Still a little more than a couple of hours away.
Anyway, we sat watching our gate get busier and busier at the Toronto Airport and then finally took the 4 hour flight down to the Punta Cana airport. The trip on WestJet was great again as always and we all really enjoyed a nap to speed up the trip.
Landing in the Sunny Carribean
This was our first time in Punta Cana and we didn’t really know what to expect. After walking off the plane onto the tarmac we were told to get into the bus for the trip to the terminal from the plane. It was really hot and we were not sure how long the trip was – which was only actually 100 feet or so, we waited in a long but fast line to clear customs with a bit of air conditioning to cool us down and hoping that we would be able to make it to the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca.
It has to be stressed I think that the Caribbean all year round is hot and humid and a bit of a shock from the fairly cool and dry environment that we were in during June in Calgary. I break a sweat pretty easily so my wife and the kids had a great laugh as I was dripping wet before we even got through customs.
My wife Michelle had called ahead to the resort and they sent a bus to pick us up as we were waiting to pass customs, we found the guy and got in a very non-airconditioned minivan to the resort.
One thing we got to really see on the 25 minute or so ride to the resort is just how undeveloped the area is and how all the real development is happening only at resorts. I am sure in the early days of Cancun and many other Mexican resorts this was also the same. Given time and demand these things always change as money floods in and infrastructure gets built up for the tourists and hopefully =helping the locals as well.
A strange thing happened on our way to the resort, the driver did not speak english at all and we got a phone call from someone telling us to pay the driver $80, which would be for both ways (to the resort and back) and to write down on a piece of paper what time and day we would have to go back to the airport when we left.
There was a bit of in-congruency here since it was the resort that dispatched the driver and also the resort that would likely be arranging to send us back as well. After some confused conversation between Michelle and I and a bit of nervousness on the way into the resort we paid the driver, hopped out of the hot van, and stumbled towards the checkin. Oh and the guys at the resort grabbed our bags and welcomed us…
Check In to Vik Hotel Arena Blanca
Here we were, at the front desk of an open air building, sweating, smelling all the tropical smells, and tired from the long day getting there. Since we booked directly with the hotel we did not have the “voucher” for the room rate that they were looking for, the front desk staff was having a lot of trouble understanding english, but finally they were able to scan through our emails and get everything sorted and we were off to our room with our bags very close behind us.
Quickly we tipped the staff that brought our heavy luggage and we figured out the sleeping arrangements. (Spoiler alert: the rooms and beds did not work out as I had expected).
There was a couple things that we did not realize were the case at the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca.
First, the safe in the room did not work, we needed some key and after waiting an hour I gave up and we just carried our passports around with us as well as our other valuables.
Secondly, the room internet, which happens to be the internet for the whole resort, outside of the main lobby, has a charge of $2 a day, but that is for each device so more like $8 a day each. I really was not too concerned about having always on internet so my son was the only one initially got internet for the resort. Internet by the way is slow and poor, not sure if this is normal across the Dominican Republic but it certainly was for our resort.
Beach Time and the Sand You Only See In Movies
Finally we made it to the beach. Since our flight arrived fairly early in the afternoon we were able to hot the beach late in the afternoon on the first day and my it is beautiful! Water is warm, the beach is well maintained and clean and all the stress of the last 24 ours quickly slid away from us and the smiles came back to our faces.
The resort has probably 100 or maybe even more lawnchairs on the beach with many right underneath palm leaf umbrellas. The sun is incredibly intense this close to the equator and I am pretty good at sunburning at the best of times so I was really careful of the sun and keeping lots of spray on sunscreen on.
Even though we had little sleep we were energized until about 10 PM and then finally fell soundly asleep to the blowing of air conditioning in our two room suite.
Somehow my son woke up early at 5 AM the next morning and I was up and running around with him checking everything out in the resort. The sun rises just after 5 AM this time of year in Punta Cana so I was able to check out dawn at the beach, find the best chairs by the pool, check out the water temp in the ocean early in the morning.
OK, really I was just wandering around in this new place and trying to see how it worked and finding coffee and food.
One funny and unexpected thing that happened actually was my amount of walking. Usually at home I will get 6,000 to 10,000 steps a day in according to my phone, but on this trip I really thought I was doing a great job of relaxing and still somehow managed 17,000 to 18,000 steps everyday, I am guessing the size of the resort really led me to get a lot of unintended walking in. I can’t complain with the exercise, I didn’t feel like I was moving a lot but I was sure seeing and experiencing lots.
A Couple Basic Problems From The Room
One thing that we noticed on the first day from our room was that the power went out a few times. This was very strange as power is just something you always expect is going to work. You flip a switch and a light goes on. Lights don’t just turn off. But this is what happened a few times on the first two days at the resort.
The second thing was the water out of the taps. Usually we would never think of drinking the water in a resort as the bacteria that the locals are well used to could of course make us sick. The trouble with the water at our resort is that it smelled terrible. The kids said that it smelled like a mix between Sulphur at a hot spring and raw sewage. Yuck. It did seem to get better and worse a few times but even when we checked out it smelled terrible.
Food and Drinks on the Resort
The food and drinks at resorts is always impossible to know before you leave. You go to TripAdvisor and you see that the food is excellent and terrible, I have never been able to figure this out. You would think there would be some kind of general consensus but there never seems to be for any place we go to.
I thought the food was great. Lots of choice and lots of food in the buffet for each meal and there was plenty of restaurants for dinner as well. I was never hungry and loved all the different exotic foods of the Caribbean but also had to laugh that there was certain strange foods that that seemed to cater to groups that visibly stayed there.
We found that there were a lot of Russians, lots of Canadians, and some Americans and the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca seems to try and make everyone comfortable with their own food as well as the food more common in the Dominican Republic.
There is also a food bar that is open throughout the day that had Pizza, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs and French Fries. These were a great snack in the middle of the day when the thought of food hits. I especially liked the pizza which was thin crust and cooked in a big brick pizza oven.
The booze I can say is fine but definitely not top notch, all the drinks are just generic local brands and although there are a few beach style sweet blended drinks most people we saw were just drinking classic rum and cokes or something along those lines.
The drinks at most of the bars seemed to be weak and the pop was flat except in the resort lobby where they seemed to make drinks stronger and actually had a machine the dispensed Virgin Pina Colada and Banana Mama slushy drinks that were definitely a hit with my wife and kids.
Hotels in the Area – And Pokemon Go in Punta Cana
My son Jaiden and I did some exploring at the other resorts in the neighborhood. As avid Pokemon Go players we had heard on the Silph Road that there were not many Pokestops or Pokemon Go Gyms in the Punta Cana area but that turned out to be false and we were able to sneak into all of the nearby resorts to spin pokestops and fight and take gyms. The big catches for us were Heracross and Corsola which are both only available in the Carribean and South America.
It may seem like it would be difficult to get into the other resorts but all we had to do was to walk along the beach and then head up into the resort grounds.
One night we went South and hit 3 places and the next afternoon we headed North and got to 4 different resorts.
One was very difficult to get into because of security on the beach, but I just played dumb and told the security guy that we were playing Pokemon Go and we snuck in further down the beach.
One thing to know is that the resorts in the Punta Cana area were beautiful. Nice lush grassy grounds, large pools, lots of wildlife, and clean with well taken care of public areas. We were not able to get in obviously to see the rooms but all were at least 4 and 5 star for sure.
We also discovered just north of our re3sort that there was a string of shops selling all sorts of goods right along the beach
I have included here a few pictures that we took at these resorts.
I only actually include this section because it was so much fun being a sneaky guy with his kid. Probably not the best thing to admit to but I have found that most of my memories of the kids are just small events that we had fun or learned together, not days or weeks, just events.
Amenities and Things To Do in Punta Cana
As with any resort the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca Punta Cana has almost everything to keeps you busy and having a good vacation. There are all the restaurants and bars of course but after that . there are many things that you can take advantage of with or without the kids.
Pool tables and ping pong – on one side of the resort, just down an outdoor hall from the main buffet building is a couple of ping pong tables and into what is supposed to be the sports bar is a couple of pool tables. I found that the ping pong was used a lot but the pool tables not so much. All the stuff is included right there for both
Evening Shows – there are of course evening shows around 9:00. There are dance shows with kinda racy dances but one night there was actually Karaoke, and very public Karaoke at that, we could hear it from the balcony at our room 🙂
At the same time, one of the things that we noticed in the evening after the sun had set and it was still very warm out, is that there were not a lot of people out. There is no swimming in the pool after 7:00 pm (of course my son and I broke that rule one night as well) but there are couples and families just sitting by the pool in the dark having quiet conversation, maybe smoking cigars or having drinks and just unwinding before bed. It was nice just to sit by the pool or on a beach chair in front of the dark beach. I felt safe at night around the resort, not sure how others feel but it was great and quiet.
Swim Aerobics – Although I was at the other pool it was hard not to hear the guys guiding people through swim aerobics in one of the pools. I don’t know what it is but almost every all inclusive we have been to has some kind of swim aerobics. I may not have partaken this time but I have been known to do it in the past
Booking events and Tours – This may be a service offered by the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca resort but not sure how to look at it. There are two places to book tours. One is right next to the main building where check in and check out happens, but the other is right where you go to get your towels.
Aggressive Salespeople At The Resort
The people by the towel area are very aggressive and will always say that they can get you the best deal. I think I must look like some kind of target as they kept bugging me about it and we actually had to talk to the resort manager about these guys.
Not only would they try and get us to book a tour at the towel area but would also be right outside the buffet, and also on various walkways towards the pool to con front us as we walked back and forth around the resort. Very bad practice considering we paid money to stay in the first place.
And not only are these people looking to sell you tours but they are hustling to do it too.
I talked to one lady on our second day to see about tours to Santo Domingo and the price went from $100 per person to $60 per person in just a few minutes and a phone call. Then when I wouldn’t commit she came back to my poolside chair and told me that the Friday was sold out only to come back 2 hours later to tell me that she had found four seats on the Friday for our family.
Very scammy to say the least.
You Can Buy Anything on the Beach
One thing we had heard about and had a bit of experience with was guys walking up and down the beach looking to sell things. I think you can buy anything on any beach in Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, or Dominican Republic.
The resort actually had security staff that watched out on the beach and the sellers were always pretty quiet and not very bothersome at all.
We saw people selling necklaces and bracelets, fellows walking with exotic birds and a monkey to get your picture taken with, every water sport imaginable, and even Frank, our new friend that sold us Cigars right on the beach.
My son thinks of himself as a star negotiator (he wins all the negotiating in our house) so when he wanted to see if we could get a cigar we walked down the beach and we found Frank. when we told him we wanted a cigar he gave me a Dominican cigar to light and have and offered us a pack of Dominicans for the beach and a pack of Cubans to give away to friends at home for a total of $80 American dollars.
It is hard for me to question prices with Buddy’s cigar in my mouth but Jaiden went for it right away. No we aren’t interested in Cubans, no we don’t need a whole pack of cigars, no we don’t have much money on us just $5.
In the end Jaiden got us the pack of 10 Dominicans for $15 and I talked with Frank while Jaiden went to beg for the money from my wife. It was a lot of fun and I am still not even sure if we got a good deal on the cigars but again it was a good time. Funny thing is I haven’t smoked in over 20 years and know nothing about cigars.
Sick, and Sick Again – The Trip Goes Bad
This leads I guess to the health problems that we ran into. My daughter had a kidney transplant three years ago and I was the donor so we are always having to be very careful with her eating and drinking and she d]needs to keep up with =her meds on a clockwork like schedule. Taylor is 19 so she is very good at being careful and takes care of herself quite well. Actually Taylor has never gotten sick on vacation since she was first diagnosed with Kidney disease 8 years ago.
This time though we had some trouble. We always only drink unopened bottle water when we re out of town, even when we are camping, and our hotel room only came with a couple of big bottles of water a day, not enough for the lot of us. It was so hard to get extra water that my son Jaiden went out looking for water a couple of times, as a game to see how many hotel cleaning staff would give him a bottle, and he did pretty well.
On the third day Taylor got sick. Barfing runs, and no energy and was stuck in the room for the last couple of days that we were there. Then early on the fourth day we decided that since Taylor was not getting any better that we should cut our losses and leave.
From then on Taylor stole my bed so that she could sleep with her mommy. I was relegated to one of the kids beds in the other room with Jaiden.
There was no flight the next day so we had to wait another day to leave and in that time Jaiden got sick. Same symptoms and so there were two down and just Michelle and myself were good.
Finally on the morning we left I started feeling a bit icky after breakfast and just after we got past Security at the Punta Cana airport I threw up.
Both kids told me I would feel better now but then in a half an hour would feel sick again, I wish they weren’t so honest.
Jaiden and I had a pretty terrible trip back home to Toronto and then Calgary and still the next day I was sick but bounced back, only to have the sickness return a few days later.
I am waiting now for bloodwork and a stool sample to come back to see what is wrong with me. I of course have no idea if we caught something from food, or water, or if Taylor brought some virus down with her.
Michelle got sick a few days after we got back which makes me think it was not the resort. So I just wanted to mention us all being sick, and leaving early.
Our Saviour Omar
This part has to sit here. It made things so much better as we moved towards taking care of Taylor instead of enjoying our vacation.
After Taylor got sick we went to the checkout and told the folks at the resort that we would have to leave early. We wanted our money back but did not know how that would work out and what the rules were.
Also, the crazy taxi that was prepaid from the way over. When the staff figured out that we were looking to leave they called in the resort manager Omar.
Omar brought us into his little non airconditioned office and we sat down. Michelle started telling the story and started crying about how worried she was about Taylor and all our troubles and that we had to leave and Omar listened.
Omar wasn’t happy about the aggressive tour salespeople at the resort as they are not supposed to be stalking people and we noticed that this ended right away. Omar apologized for our water and power problems and also refunded us for our terrible internet. Omar made sure that we would have an airconditioned cab back to the airport when we needed it. And finally Omar made sure that we got our refund for our prepaid nights for after we left.
there were a few things that went very badly but I can see that Omar wants to make the Vik Hotel Arena Blanca into a fantastic resort. He really felt for us and checked in with us another couple of times during our last couple days to see if things were better. This is the thing that can make or break a trip that goes sideways.
A manager that takes control of the situation, apologizes and then makes things right. This made us so happy and relieved.
What Are our Final Thoughts of The Vik Hotel Arena Blanca Punta Cana?
So, what do I think now that it has been a couple weeks since the trip? I know I had a great time. I ate and drank to my hearts content. I had a nice relaxing and quiet time which is all I really wanted. And I got to hang out with my wife and kids. It was fantastic except for a couple bad times.
My wife, not so much, she was not happy with the inconsistency from hour to hour.
Water and power in the room was terrible, she was not a big fan of the food and does not drink alcohol at all. She worried about Taylor being sick. And, she was irked about the lack of english speaking staff compared to Mexican resorts which made communication really difficult.
She was happy that Omar tried so hard to make it right so that was a real plus in her mind. But in the end she really just wanted to get home.