Sampling as many activities as possible at Finest Punta Cana

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — “Just pull the rope,” the spa attendant said.

I was standing in the One Spa at Finest Punta Cana, the first all-ages resort from the Excellence Collection in the Dominican Republic. Finest is adjacent to the adults-only Excellence Punta Cana, and on my early-November visit, I was sampling as many activities and restaurants at both as I could within a short time frame.

The rope in question was attached to a large, overhead bucket. I’d just emerged from a 30-minute sauna, part of the “stations” of what was billed as “an extensive hydrotherapy wellness circuit” that promised to “delight the spirit through an array of pressures and temperatures.”

Reluctantly, I pulled the rope. Ice water cascaded all over me, immediately erasing all beneficial warm elements of the sauna. What followed then were powerful jets of water pummeling me from many directions. 

Next came a station with a huge basin of crushed ice. I was told to massage my arms and legs with the ice. I did the minimal time there and bolted for the steam room, a nice warm interlude but was followed by a plunge into the very cold pool.

The last 15 minutes of this circuit were the best, relaxing in the warm section of the pool.

The One Spa has an extensive menu of services and an array of holistic treatments for women, men, couples and kids. The breadth of options mirrors the two resorts, which are designed for families on one side and adults on the other, connected by a winding walkway or by elevator in one of the buildings.

Room and suite categories

The Finest, a newbuild, opened July 1, the same day the Excellence reopened.

The 455 suites with 24 room categories include two-story, rooftop terrace suites with private plunge pools, swim-up suites, family suites with a separate bedroom for kids and massive beachfront honeymoon suites.

My suite was in the Excellence Club section, set on its own side of the resort with elevated in-suite categories and access to exclusive lounges, pools and restaurants.

The room, which opened onto a balcony overlooking the adults-only pool, had a secret panel where room service items were delivered without disturbing guests, a lighting system I never quite figured out and a bathroom big enough to live in.

There are no wristbands worn to distinguish guests staying in the Finest Suites, Finest Club or the Excellence Club, although no children are allowed to wander on the adults-only side.

Restaurants at Finest and Excellence

Of the 10 restaurants on site, three are adults-only. I dined at both the family and the grownup venues, including Shoji, a Japanese restaurant with a private room reminiscent of the Benihana style of live cooking show. Chef Jael tapped out a fast rhythm with his carving knife as lamb, meat, chicken and shrimp sizzled on the grill in front of me.

All restaurants featured QR-coded menus; the Market Kitchen served buffet-style breakfast, although servers behind the buffet tables served the plates to guests.

At the family-style Melting Pot, guests cooked their own meat and fish portions on a smaller grill set in the center of the table.

Dominican coffee, pastries and ice cream were a hit in the cafe, as were the two food trucks parked at the entrance, serving tacos, rice and beans, snacks and smoothies during the day.

The beach and pool scene

The long stretch of sand fronting both properties had plenty of chaises and space for everyone, as well as a well-positioned  beach bar. Licensed vendors are allowed on the beach but are unobtrusive, and there’s no hard sell.

The pool area for the Imagine Kids Club, one of several pools on the property, showcased a giant pink flamingo statue, and a mini water park featured a dome-shaped bubble in the kiddie pool called the Blob for kids to climb up and slide down.

One father told me that the combination of the Blob and the kids’ club activities had kept his tots entertained all day and exhausted by bedtime.

“This is a great vacation,” he told me.

The Finest Punta Cana joins the Finest Puerto Mujeres in Cancun. The second Excellence resort in the Dominican Republic is the Excellence El Carmen, next door to Excellence Punta Cana, although the facilities are not shared. Two more are in Mexico and Beloved (for couples only), the third brand in the Excellence Collection, also is in Mexico.

Finest Punta Cana’s Covid protocols

Staff was masked at all times; the required Covid test for departing U.S. visitors was complimentary and done on-site.

Occupancy was at 60% in early November, although “close to 90%” was booked for the Festive season, according to destination manager Miguel Diaz.

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