By Eileen Ogintz
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic (Day One of Three) — Neil Patil grew up watching Nickelodeon. Now his kids love it too.
So it was a no brainer for his family and three others —10 kids aged 3-9 and eight adults—to choose the brand new Nickelodeon Hotel & Resort in Punta Cana, a partnership of Karisma Hotels & Resorts and Viacom International Media Networks.
“We all got slimed. That was the best thing!” he said, but they haven’t had time to pose with any of the Nick characters yet. Maybe they should hit the special character breakfast.
“We choose resorts based on kids’ clubs,” he added, noting that this one, though well appointed, is difficult to use because the kids must go for two hour blocks and it is a golf-cart ride from the rooms and the beach. “They need kids’ activities at the beach,” he suggested
Why an all-inclusive? It’s easy, parents say. “My husband and I both have stressful jobs,” said Melanie Samoska, here with her husband and two kids from Baltimore. “It’s nice to come on vacation and not have to think about anything This is very simple.”
Another plus: at the moment, two kids 13 and under stay free.
A resort like this is a vacation for parents too, suggests Nathalie Atkins, from Washington, DC. “Other years we’ve rented a beach house,” she said, “And I’m doing all the things I do at home—cooking, cleaning, getting groceries—just in a prettier place…All I have to worry about here is where we can’t to eat.”
And there are certainly enough choices. With eight restaurants, two bars and lounges and even the popular Doppio Coffee Shop that incidentally doesn’t require an upcharge. (Nor do the cabanas on the beach.)
Take your pick of the adult-only Kitchen 23, beach front; Zest (I had paella for lunch) where there was a kids’ buffet with burgers, mac and cheese and a chocolate fountain for desert); Spacewalker, where the wait staff is in special costumes; Asian fusion, Italian, and BRGRS.PH with an indoor “Food Truck.” Try the Machete Burger, built for the whole family to share.
Kids as well as adults like the pools’ swim-up bars—and even the swim-up suites. “We can relax and the kids can just sump in,” said Nathalie Atkins.
And for those who have severe allergies, like those in her family, you can count on the right foods, said Katie Hoyle, here with her extended family from North Carolina.
An adjacent new Karisma property, the Sensatori Resort, shares restaurants and the beach and as of now, there is no upcharge for the sensational Aqua Nick water park that especially appeals to the younger guests. Noah Middleton, 7, and his sister Martha, 4, opined that was their most favorite thing at the resort.
But older kids think the water slides and teen activities leave something to be desired. “They need bigger slides,” said Sam Hoyle, 9, here from Raleigh, NC with his family. “If you are older than seven, you’d get bored here” said his mom Katie – that was until the Foam Party started with staff squirting everyone in the pool with bubbles. “Best foam party ever,” said Robert Hoyle.
Other parents suggested that while there is a teen space, the resort seems best designed for those with younger kids. “There isn’t much for teenagers to do,” said Rhea Willson, 14, here with her family from Essex, England.
Families like that the rooms are suites, some with sliding doors to separate the kids’ space. A lucky few can vacation in the Pineapple- two-bedroom villa (yes the outside looks like a pineapple—SpongeBob Square Pants’ famous underwater pineapple)–while inside there is a private pool butler service, two bedrooms and three bathrooms—all with bright colors and whimsical touches like an orange and green life preserve built into the kids’ beds headboards. (Rates at the Pineapple are $3800 a night)
As this is a brand new resort, there have been minor glitches but only one mom I talked to really was unhappy. The others hope to see more beach activities for the kids, more pool toys and better adult evening entertainment (the family show at Plaza Orange at Nickelodeon Center has proved a crowd pleaser). They would prefer not to have to drop the kids off for just two hours in the evening. “Not enough time for an adult dinner,” Neil Patel explained. They’d like resort guests, whether they are staying at Sensatori or Nick rooms, to have access to all of the amenities and programs.
“We’ve had lots of fun,” said Nicola Middleton. “But in six months, this resort will be perfect.”