Emily’s Birthday Trip to the Dominican Republic: Part 1 – Introduction and Planning

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Emily:  One of my best friends lives in Arlington, Virginia, so I don’t see her very often.  We met in college and have been friends ever since.  The first (and last) time we took a vacation together was to Barcelona, Spain in 2007.

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Kristen & Emily in Barcelona in 2007

 Emily’s Birthday Trip to the Dominican Republic Index:

  1. Trip to the Dominican Republic – Introduction and Planning
  2. Santo Domingto Hotel – Sofitel Nicolas de Ovando
  3. Activities in Santo Domingo –  Zona Colonial and Latin Dancing
  4. Activities in Santo Domingo – Casa de Orientación y Desarrollo Real (CODR)
  5. Eating in Santo Domingo
  6. Bayahibe – Isla Saona and Hotel Bayahibe
  7. Bavaro Hotel – Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe
  8. Activities in and Around Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe
  9. Eating in and Around Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe
  10. Delta Flight back from Punta Cana
  11. Conclusion and Blog Giveaway

I thought it would be super fun to celebrate my 30th birthday with her in the Dominican Republic.  So we planed a trip to 3 locations, including Santo Domingo, Bayahibe, and Bavaro (near Punta Cana) over the course of one week.

Why the Dominican Republic?  There’s lots of Salsa, Merengue and Bachata and we love Latin dancing, so it was perfect for us!  I also wanted to visit a place where I could practice my Spanish and enjoy the beaches.

Last but not least, one of my friends from college (Hardy) started a women’s shelter to help disadvantaged women get an education at the local university, and I wanted to visit!

Daraius told me to do all of the planning, and I was a little nervous.  Unlike him, I have never booked an award ticket and didn’t know what to do!  He plans everything for us!

My first step for planning was getting two different travel guide books for the Dominican Republic.  One had good coverage on Santo Domingo, but breezed over Punta Cana, so I got the Lonely Planet guide as well.

Dominican Republic Miles

I love guide books because they give me an idea of what to do and see in a city and how to plan my trip.  I only had one week to spend there, so I wanted to make the most of it.

My second step was to decide when to go, which cities to see and for how long.  At first, we were concerned about going in August, when there might be hurricanes.  Hardy in Santo Domingo reassured us that it doesn’t rain much in August, and he was right.  It only rained once for just a couple of hours during our entire visit.

I then picked out the hotels and chose the rental car.  Hardy recommended Santo Domingo and Bayahibe in the East, which is also what the guidebooks recommended.  I also wanted to stay at a resort in or near Punta Cana to see why everyone goes there.

Daraius told me to use Delta points, so I went to the Delta website and searched for the flights.

Daraius:  We have lots of Delta points and Delta points aren’t very easy to use at the low level, so Emily could use as many as she wanted!  Kristen had never travelled in First Class, so Emily wanted to treat her to a first class flight.

Many US hotel chains, don’t have hotels in the Dominican Republic, so I asked Emily to book the room via Hotels.com.  She would get cashback for clicking through a portal like Mr. Rebates etc. or 5X Ultimate Rewards through the Ultimate Rewards shopping mall.

And also get another 10% discount because of the Welcome Rewards program which gets you 1 free night after staying for 10 nights via a hotel booked on Hotels.com

You don’t earn hotel status credits for bookings via Hotels.com and many hotels don’t honor elite benefits on reservations via Hotels.com, but it would save us a bit of money.

Emily:  I booked us on the same flights from Atlanta to Santo Domingo, and then from Punta Cana to Atlanta.  The Delta flight search was easier than I expected, but still had some quirks.

The most common quirk was that my search would not hold the check box for award ticket redemption.  Many times I had to go back and re-select the button to show me what the award pricing and availability was.

After finding and selecting my flights, I paid 100,000 miles (medium level) and ~$110 for my ticket, and Kristen’s was the same price.  The low-level price should have been 60,000 miles round-trip in First Class, but I couldn’t find any availability.

Some flights to the Dominican Republic span two days (with an overnight stay required).  There are also a lot of flights that go to the Dominican Republic in one day, but there was no more availability on the day I wanted to fly outside of the US, so we stayed the night in Atlanta.

However, on the way back, I was able to find award flights that got us home the same day without an overnight stay.

Here’s what the trip cost:

 Miles/Points UsedCash Used
2 Delta First Class return tickets from the US to Santo Domingo 100,000 Miles + $100 each
1 Night at the Days Inn in Atlanta~$50 per night
3 Nights at the Nicolas de Ovando in Santo Domingo~$130 per night
1 Night in Hotel Bayahibe~$60 per night
2 Nights at the Barcelo Bavaro Palace~$160 a night

Daraius:  This certainly wasn’t the cheapest way to get to Santo Domingo, but it was better than paying double American Airlines miles for the trip.  It was Emily’s 30th birthday and she was looking to treat her friend, so how could I say no!

Emily:  I stocked up on care packages for the women’s group and toys, books, and games for a nearby kids camp where Hardy was also helping out.

The problem was trying to bring it all with me!  Luckily, Delta allows two bags if you fly First or Business class.  Also, I was allowed two carry ons.  The carry ons didn’t have any weight limit, so I stuffed both of them with as much as I could.

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Donations For the Kid’s Camp

Weighing scales are very handy to judge the weight of your bag before you get to the airport.

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This Saves us Excess Bag Fees!

I had saved a little space in one of my carry on bags in case I needed to remove a few items from my checked bags.

I start my packing with a checklist that I use for international trips.  Eagle Creek also has several checklists customized for the travel type.  The checklist has most items everyone will need.

Packing cubes are also extremely helpful!

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Packing Cubes Keep my Bags Organized

When my luggage is organized, I feel like my trip is more organized, and that gives me peace of mind.  Daraius other people I know pack without packing cubes and I’ve seen what a mess they turn out to be!

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Daraius Sometimes Does This…

This is my finished suitcase.

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A More Organized Suitcase = a More Relaxed Emily!

I also packed two international chargers and luggage locks and keys for the luggage I was checking in.

The week before I left, I printed out all of my itineraries and hotel bookings and put it in one folder.

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My Documents in a Folder

I also included the emails from the hotel managers (which also included names so I knew who to ask for upon check-in) for my food allergy follow-up.

Having this information together helps me easily provide any documentation if needed.  I referred to these documents often on our trip.

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It’s also a good idea to print extra copies of your passport and driver’s license in case the originals get stolen.  I also scanned and emailed these documents to myself.

Despite all of my planning, I was still worried that I had forgotten something, Daraius usually takes care of everything (I’m just along for the ride!) so I was quite nervous something would go wrong.  And…something did go wrong!

Kristen and I thought we might miss our flights to the Dominican Republic due to a Delta fraud prevention policy.

Luckily, we made it on our flights (barely!).

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We Almost Didn’t Make it Here

I met Kristen at the baggage claim in Atlanta.  It was so nice to see each other and we were glad that our flights worked out!  We got our luggage and went to the hotel with the free shuttle.

We stayed at a cheap Days Inn near the airport, but it was a little too close to the airport because it was directly under the flight path, and every 15 minutes or so we could hear flights come in for landing.

Daraius:  Sounds like a great hotel for some plane watching!

Emily:  Also, there were railroad tracks next to us.  I could now understand why the hotel was so cheap at $50 a night.  The room was clean though, and the price was right!

When I went to check in, there were issues with my ticket again, but the agent took just a few minutes to straighten it out and arranged for our seats together again, as well as for the next flight back to the US.

Kristen:  After security, we made our way to the international Delta terminal.

It was a short 10 minute wait before we were allowed to board the plane.  The cabin was just like domestic first class, only a larger plane, so next time I would save the miles and fly in Economy or Economy plus for the short 2-3 hour flights.

We were offered orange juice or mimosas.  I asked for apple juice or water (later on when she had a minute) and the attendant  remarked, “We have orange juice and mimosas.”  Oh well!

The flight was comfortable and smooth, and I read our guidebooks about Dominican Republic and took a little nap.  For breakfast, I ordered eggs with sausage in a wheat wrap, yogurt, and fresh fruit.

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Eggs & Sausage Wrap Breakfast

Kristen ordered cereal.

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Cereal Breakfast

We were both so happy to be together.

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Kristen Enjoying Her Coffee

I liked the yogurt the best, and then the fresh fruit.  The egg wrap was a bit dry and crumbled a lot.

After a short 3.5 hours, we started to see some land beneath the clouds…

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Are We There Yet?

…we had finally arrived!

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Santo Domingo Coastline

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34 responses to “Emily’s Birthday Trip to the Dominican Republic: Part 1 – Introduction and Planning

  1. You should have gotten Rene @ Deltapoints to find low level seats for you!

  2. It is awesome to see someone travel for both pleasure and civic duty. You girls should def be proud.

  3. I spent some time in Punta Cana but wished I would’v explored the rest of DR.

  4. I’m so glad to hear about Emily’s trip. I was dying to hear about it since I’ve read the blog about the problem she had with Delta. Can’t wait for more! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us and by the way “Happy Birthday”!

  5. I came to ask a question ahead of time now that you are both Dominican Republic experts! Is there an optimal way to take advantage of the beach as well as the Latin dancing offerings? It’s great you guys spent a bit of time there and visited both beach areas and cities, but with limited time, is there a possibility to plant oneself on a beach for a few days and go out dancing at night? If you end up mentioning this in a later section, not urgent as it may not be relevant to the planning post.

    And Emily, thanks for telling me about your trip at FTU. Always great to talk to you!

  6. Glad you all enjoyed the posts! I loved visiting the Dominican Republic and can’t wait to go back.

    @The Miles Professor- The Semana Peninsula may have what you are looking for. There are beaches but also cities with clubs to dance in.

    Bayahibe was only a 1-2 drive from Santo Domingo, and you can easily take a bus, too. Keep a look out for more details later on in the series!

  7. You probably don’t remember me, but we have met briefly at FTU. In this blog you come across as a very sweet lady and was just like that in real life. Also, you look like you are in your mid-twenties!

  8. @Emily ~ Haha! Looks like Daraius and my husband went to the same packing school! I love packing cubes, amazing how much of a difference they make.

  9. Great Post! I’m actually starting to plan a trip to the DR for a wedding in March, flying from SFO to Punta Cana and also staying at the Barcelo Bavaro Palace.

    I’m about to hit the 2K on my Airtran card to get the 2 RT flights from SFO to ATL to Punta Cana. Are there any better flight options?

    Also, are there any deals for Barcelo Bavaro Palace? Could this be one of the inclusive hotels in DR to be converted to Hyatt?


  10. Since I’m a Dominican happily living in Santo Domingo, I can’t wait for the second part of the post. I want to know how was your stay in here and if you did really enjoyed!

    About the Delta issue, I commented on the other post, and everytime I buy a flight at delta.com I MUST show at the counter the credit/debit card I in the website, always…

  11. Great post! As someone without a lot of experience booking trips like this, I appreciate all the detail! Happy (belated) birthday!

  12. @milesforfamily- It was nice meeting you! and thanks for the compliments!

    @Natalie- Daraius is a pro at planning travel for us, so the least I can do it pack for him!

    @Jeff- Keep a look out for deals for the resort. You can just Google “cheap Barcelo Bavaro hotel room” and see what deals come up throughout the months leading to your stay. We also got a free upgrade for my birthday…you’ll find out more details later in the series. As for the flight options, Daraius may be able to answer that question.

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  15. Great post with great pics

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  23. It looks beautiful there. I would love to visit there someday.

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