For over 20 years, I’ve traveled to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic at least once a year. It was my family’s favorite vacation spot growing up. While my friends went to Florida, we went to the DR. What’s not to love? The white-sand beaches, crystal clear water, and perfect weather, pretty much year-round. Plus the prices are hard to beat!
In 2015, our DR vacations came to a halt with the Zika virus. I knew I wanted to get pregnant in the next few years, and with the long-term effects of Zika not known, we decided to hold off on our travels to the DR and most of the Caribbean. Fast forward to February 2021, and we finally came back to one of my favorite spots!
When we had visited in the past, we’ve always stayed on the tourist popular Bavaro Beach at hotels like the Majestic, Bavaro Barcelo, Ocean Blue, Royalton, and Catalonia. Bavaro Beach is lined with hotels, and the beach itself is perfection. This time we booked a hotel in Cap Cana, a gated community about 30 minutes south of Bavaro Beach. We stayed at the Secrets Cap Cana, an adults-only, all-inclusive. Read below if you are interested in my experience traveling internationally, as well as my review on the Secrets Cap Cana property during COVID!
What is an all-inclusive?
If you’ve never stayed at an all-inclusive, you are missing out. All-inclusive hotels are extremely popular outside of the US, specifically in the Caribbean and even in some countries like Spain and Turkey. Most all-inclusive hotels typically include your stay, resort fees, food, and drinks in your daily room rate. When booking an all-inclusive hotel it’s even cheaper to purchase a vacation package through popular sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Funjet, Apple Vacations, or through airline sites like SouthwestVacations or American Airlines, etc. You can also work with a travel agent on booking deals! On average, you can go to a pretty nice all-inclusive hotel in Mexico and the Caribbean for about $1,200 per person with flight.
I’ll start by saying I didn’t leave the house for a good eight months last year and ended up getting COVID in November. Since recovering, and thankfully my family and I had mild cases, I’ve been open to traveling a bit more while still staying careful and cautious.
This trip was our second time traveling during COVID. The first time we stayed domestic and flew to Florida. Check out my review on the JW Marriott Marco Island here; it’s an excellent option for those too nervous to travel internationally right now. When we traveled to Florida in December, our flights were full. Honestly, I felt a little uncomfortable, even having had COVID.
This time, we flew out of O’Hare nonstop on American Airlines. The plane was surprisingly half-full on both the flight to Punta Cana and back to Chicago. We were able to keep the middle seat open both ways, which eased my fears.
Our flight arrived in Punta Cana around 4 p.m., and the customs line was empty, except for our flight. Right away, there was a bit of confusion in terms of COVID testing. It seemed like the DR reps were selecting every other person for random COVID testing, but we let the agent know that we have proof of a negative test from the US that we took a few days before leaving (which wasn’t required), and they let us go by without additional testing. Honestly, I’m still baffled about this as the DR does not require any COVID tests to enter the country. What’s even crazier is once we moved through the line, no one asked us to provide or show the negative test we had. Either way, I would recommend getting tested before you travel internationally even if it is not required for your trip and ALWAYS check your local government site before departure as the rules are constantly changing.
At the airport, all of the employees were wearing masks. We had private transportation arranged, and our driver was also fully masked. Secrets Cap Cana is a quick 15-minute ride from the airport. Once we arrived at the hotel, we were automatically greeted by masked employees.
Throughout our stay at the Secrets Cap Cana, we felt extremely safe in regards to COVID. I truly felt safer at the resort than some of my experiences in the US. All employees were always masked, and the hotel took extra steps and precautions. I will say that the majority of guests didn’t wear masks since it was not required. This was not an issue for us because at the time of our stay the resort was pretty empty, people were spaced out well and we were almost always outside.
When we checked in, we were told the resort was at 50% capacity (60% is the max they can currently book), but it seemed more like 30-40%. The most amount of people we saw every day was at the buffet for breakfast. A significant change the resort made as a response to COVID is that you are no longer allowed to get your own food at the buffet. Employees stand at each station, placing items on your plate to eliminate the spreading of germs.
Even outside of the buffet, the restaurant staff was excellent. They were extremely careful to never touch our plates, silverware, or glasses directly. We were super impressed with the level of detail and cautiousness that was being taken. Additionally, there were always employees standing at restaurant doors, opening them for guests.
If you are returning to the US, UK, Canada, and I’m sure many other countries, you are required to present a negative test upon departure from the Punta Cana airport. Secrets Cap Cana has COVID testing available on site for free. Rest assured that Secrets Cap Cana and most of the all inclusive resorts are offering 10-14 days complimentary quarantine on-site if you test positive. It’s not a fun stay, you can’t leave your room and no alcoholic beverages are included, but still, a nice reassurance that you won’t be stuck in a foreign country with no place to go.
COVID screening was super easy and quick. Our room concierge scheduled our appointment automatically for us two days before departure. We received a rapid test with results within 15 minutes. Note that some countries do not accept rapid tests. Secrets can do other forms of testing as well. I won’t lie; this was one of the most uncomfortable COVID tests I’ve had, but it was quick, and the vacation was worth it.
The hotel grounds are beautiful, well maintained, and clean. The property is a smaller resort than what I’m used to, but I prefer this. The distance between your room, the beach, pool, and restaurants isn’t very far. I’ve stayed at some DR properties where we would have to take a tram to areas; otherwise, it would be a 20-minute walk.
The main lobby is open-air, similar to most hotels in the Caribbean. Located adjacent to the lobby is a bar, cafe, and lounge area where people congregated at night. Then the property is split up into several buildings ranging from 4-6 floors. The pool is central to the hotel, with restaurants sprinkled throughout. The resort had free WIFI, which worked perfectly, no matter where you were. We noticed they had routers attached to palm trees on the beach, making beach reception perfect.
We booked an oceanview room and ended up in building three on the 4th floor. We originally wanted to stay in one of the swim-out rooms, but the resort was sold out. The swim-out rooms are quite a splurge, and some of them have a weird location, but if you can swing it (I’m talking double the cost of the other options), I would highly recommend one with an ocean view.
Our room was modern and decently sized. The balcony had a lounge area facing the ocean and a tub, which we used almost every night. The bathroom had double sinks, a different room for the toilet, and a massive shower with two separate shower heads! We had robes, slippers and 24/7 included room service.
The beach at the Secrets Cap Cana is beautiful. Definitely one of my favorite beaches I’ve ever visited. The water is clear, the sand white, and on most days, the water was calm. What’s interesting is about 50 feet out, they have netting to limit the seaweed amount that floats to shore. While it seems pretty far, you can literally walk all the way to the net. WALK, not swim. It doesn’t get deeper than 3-4 feet.
On the resort, they had several different beach activities included free of charge. We took advantage of the catamaran, paddle-boarding, and canoeing. Beach chairs and huts were included and during our stay, the beach was relatively empty. There were usually no more than 30 or so people, very spread out. We preferred to lounge on 1 of the 2 sun-beds available and stayed there all day. You can upgrade to a beach cabana for an additional charge, but we didn’t feel that it was necessary. While the beach isn’t as vast as Bavaro Beach, you can still walk up to see a few neighboring hotels.
We didn’t spend much time at the pool, frankly, at all. It seemed a bit busier than the beach, but again it’s pretty massive and allows people to spread out. The pool was the place to be if you were looking for a party atmosphere. Even though it wasn’t crazy, it was a bit more active than the beach. They had live music daily and different kinds of activities. One downside for us is that there was one small hot tub for the entire resort. We tried to use it daily around 5 p.m. when the sun was going down, and it was packed every single time, so ultimately we would go to our room and use our balcony tub.
Our experience with service was a 5/5. From check-in to our concierge, to beach/pool and restaurant service, all great! Our room concierge checked in with us every morning. We could easily text him and ask questions or put in requests. This was super convenient. The restaurant staff was fantastic! A waiter at the main restaurant remembered I liked passion fruit and made sure to have some for us. The beach and pool drink service was quick and friendly! They started serving drinks pretty early on and kept them coming. Fresh coconut water, snacks, pizza, you name it and they will bring it!
When booking an all-inclusive, you don’t do it for the food experience. It’s a cost-effective way to get drinks, food, and hotel stay. With this in mind, I still expected more from Secrets, as it is a pricier option compared to similar all-inclusives in Punta Cana. I would say the food is a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Not saying we went hungry, but some nights we didn’t eat our dinner.
Secrets has nine restaurants: Italian, French, Mexican, Japanese, steakhouse, seafood, cafe, bar and grill, and buffet. What was interesting is that the buffet was only open for breakfast. Outside of COVID, buffets are usually available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so this was a huge disappointment. We don’t always want to sit down, wait for food, and have a full-service meal, but we didn’t have much choice. Due to COVID, they also rotated which restaurants were open, so not all options were available every night. The Italian was our favorite option!
What’s nice is that the restaurants didn’t require reservations, and we never had any trouble getting in until the very last day. It seemed like more people had arrived. The cafe near the lobby had small sandwiches, desserts, and coffees. We never had food outside of desserts here, and it was not my favorite. At the beach and pool, you could order grill snacks like burgers, pizza and nachos. On several days, they cooked right on the beach, including a pretty tasty seafood paella.
In the morning, options were limited between either the buffet or cafe, unless you ordered room service, which is included complimentary and available 24/7. We called room service a few times, but never for breakfast, more so for snacks during the day. Service was excellent; they have these boxes in the room, where you don’t even have to open the door for staff. They put your food in the two-way closed box, and you open the other door from your room. Again, if you are expecting Ritz Carlton food, you will be disappointed. Was the food okay? Yes. We still had some great options most days, but I wish the buffet was open at night.
The night scene is pretty chill at Secrets. I’m not sure if it’s due to COVID or how the resort typically is, but honestly there is not much to do at night. Many of the larger all-inclusives have casinos, night-clubs, lounges and several bars on deck. At Secrets there seemed to be one main bar open at night. The club lounge was closed due to COVID, so everyone hung out at the lobby bar. I’m not big on entertainment as I prefer a nice dinner and some drinks, and then I’m off to bed early, so none of this was a problem for me.
Surprisingly with COVID, the entertainment shows were still available nightly. I’m not going to lie, we only went to 2 shows, as most nights after dinner and drinks, we just passed out. The two shows we attended were fine, but I didn’t feel comfortable sitting in a closed space with everyone maskless.
I visited the fitness center about four days out of the week. I mainly used the treadmills and weights, but they have ellipticals, bikes, and strength equipment. It’s a reasonably large center. It was clean and never too crowded. I always went early in the morning, and there were usually maybe six other people.
The spa was one of our favorite parts of the trip! My girlfriend and I booked 3 (hour-long) beach massages, and they were wonderful. Along with our massage package, we received hydrotherapy for the week. We didn’t care to try this until our last day, which we regret. The hydrotherapy area consists of different water treatments, from cold showers to a steam room, sauna, hot tub, and pool. We received awesome foot massages and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon! Had we known that the spa had another hot tub, we would have come here every night.
Overall, I would rate the hotel a 4/5. For us, the resort had everything we would want in an all-inclusive. Where the resort lost points from me was the food. As I mentioned above, many of the restaurants were lackluster in taste, and with the buffet closed, our options were limited to actual sit-down restaurants. This just took too much time every night. If you are looking for a beautiful beach, relaxing and safe vacation, I would highly recommend this place. Just don’t go in thinking you are going to be eating 5-star cuisine.
Thanks for reading my Secrets Cap Cana Review. Check out my outfit details for the pictures above on my LiketoKnowIt Profile. Let me know if you have any questions!