Hotel Review: The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real Resort, Playa Bavaro, Dominican Republic–Child Centered (with Family Concierge)

I should begin this by saying we weren’t looking for a family trip. We wanted a vacation. A full-out, sip-some-cocktails-in-coconut-shells-adorned-with-brightly-colored-mini umbrellas vacation. I wanted to melt into a chaise by the ocean, float in a pool, swim up to a bar, and stretch along the balcony as I watched the sun set. And, as any parent with preschool-age little people knows, to find this elusive vacation one must find a place to stay that would make one’s children feel like the little royals they often believe themselves to be (insert eye roll). Que The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real (a small “boutique-ish” part of the larger Paradisus Palma Real Resort).

 

Inside the entrance of the main hotel, The Paradisus at Palma Real, an easy (and fun) cart ride away.

This had not been our first option when booking our stay in the DR. We had spent months booked at Nickelodeon’s Resort (see some need-to-know info on that resort here), but then, on a whim, we decided to check other options. (So, really, it wasn’t a whim, but it felt like it. As a family of five, we were  having trouble finding a room to accommodate us at Nickelodeon that wasn’t ridiculously expensive; didn’t include us all sharing one giant, open room (seriously awful and not part of any vacation plans); or could be guaranteed connecting). So, we feverishly searched (this is something we do when booking a trip: computers open, fingers skipping across keys, sweat beading on brows), and eventually landed on The Reserve. But, admittedly, I think we both were a bit indifferent about it beyond the facts that it had a Kid’s Club that accepted children over a year without a parent needing to stay and supervise and it had a nap room (because heading back to the hotel room to nap a child just isn’t on my list of vacation activities either).

 

Getting our, fairly amazing, wrist bands (and yes he had his cut off about thirty seconds later).

The point is, we didn’t have any huge expectations about the hotel. But, upon arrival, it quickly established a set of expectations, even through the grey skies and drizzling rain. We were greeted with cute little bracelets for us all, even the little people. They weren’t the typical plastic bands, but were beaded and, I’m not ashamed to admit, a bit stylish. So once these sweet little bracelets were secured to our wrists, we were introduced to Andy. And then the sun came out (it actually didn’t, but I wanted the drama, so let’s go with it). Andy showed us to our room, asked us what we needed in the room for our little people, then waited in the family concierge lobby (filled with little toys) for us to settle in before taking us on a private tour of the hotel complex.

We had signed on to have a “Family Concierge” while we were at the hotel. I am still not entirely sure what the job description for this position would be, but I think that’s because they do so much and are so flexible. So, like, maybe, “Person who does it all for your family” or “General Problem Fixer and Question Answer and Concern Addresser”? For my family, we paid for a family concierge, Andy, and what he did was make my little people feel like they were super special. It meant that they felt like we were finally at a hotel where the amenities were not adult, but were designed with little people in mind (think little people robes and slippers). It meant notes left for them in the room and small “gifts”. It meant a friendly face walking around the resort. It meant they felt someone (other than their parents of course) was thinking of them during the day, and that made them feel important.

 

Excited about the kid-sized pillows and balloons left for the littles by Andy.

For my husband and I, having a Family Concierge meant not having to make dinner reservations. It meant someone who made sure my husband’s food allergies were taken seriously, who met us at dinner every night to make sure the day went fine and the restaurant (usually suggested and chosen by Andy) suited us. It meant someone who would seek us out throughout the day to check on us, answer any questions, give us insight into the area. It meant we always had milk in our fridge and oreos on our counter. It meant that when my little people were in the Kid’s Club without me, there was a person who stopped there frequently to make sure they were having fun, napping, giggling, and being happy littles, who would call me if they weren’t and who could bring them to me if one of them needed me. Most importantly, having a family concierge meant actually being able to relax with a peace of mind that only comes from knowing someone is being attentive to my littles’ needs.

So, what, beyond the Family Concierge, would make me go back to this hotel again and again and again (and even consider for one rum-filled moment to buy into a timeshare (though I was not approached to in any capacity))? Well, read on my fellow family vacation seekers. Read on.

Pros

  • The Food: We fancy ourselves foodies over here. That means that most all inclusives just don’t cut it in the food department for us. But this was not the case at The Reserve. First of all, excluding the two buffets, there are ten restaurants between the two properties on the complex. Each restaurant was as good as the next, if not better (don’t get me started on the ribs from the steak restaurant, Rare). And the buffets? I mean, it’s a buffet. The food sits out. On a plate. Waiting. It can’t be that good, right? Wrong. It’s simply not the case here. The buffets were excellent, the food fresh, the offerings plenty. This worked well for my family at breakfast and lunch as my biggest little thinks buffets are seriously the most impressive places to eat.

    The tiniest little and his daddy soaking it all in at Mizu, a teppanyaki restaurant (that was great with my husband’s allergies).
  • The Location: The Kid’s Zone is right at The Reserve, so it was easy to get the kids there and to pick them up. They didn’t feel like they were being dragged to some remote part of the resort just to be abandoned. Also, because this is a smaller section of the hotel, it wasn’t loud or crowded. There are only three stories rather than a towering 10 or more. We could always find a great spot to snag a space in the shade by the pool. While there was “Daily Nightlife Entertainment,” it did not involve music pumping and people drunk screaming. Late night beach parties didn’t exist at The Reserve. It was peaceful. It was small. It was contained and quiet. (Necessary when sun and sand makes a little person want to pass out at 7 pm and makes a big person quite happy to comply with that.)

    A view of the resort from our balcony.
  • The Pool: The pool at The Reserve wasn’t a giant, open expanse of water. Since it’s such a small section of the hotel, the pool is relatively small, but it is meandering, so there are plenty of places to find privacy and shade. Jetted areas sprout up periodically throughout the trails of water, as do built-in pool lounge chairs. And, not to be forgotten, tucked around in a corner of the pool is a fairly shallow section (about three feet) that ends in a large pool bar. And just because no one else is sitting there or no bartender is standing around waiting to serve a drink, that doesn’t mean it isn’t actually open. The bartenders from the bar above it keep an eye on it and serve up some pool-perfect drinks. In addition to the family pool, The Reserve has a kid’s pool located right outside of Kid’s Zone. This pool had a large section that even our tiniest could walk around in on his own (which actually was a bit of a hassle given his panache for being wildly and inappropriately independent). Then, the pool gets deeper, but not more than about three feet. In this section the pool there are a few slides that the littles loved going down. It was literally the place they wanted to spend every second of every day at.

    A view of the kid’s pool in front of Kid’s Zone.
  • The Kid’s Club: As I mentioned above, the kid’s club, or Kid’s Zone, really was one of the draws of this hotel for us, initially. The building itself is large and modern. It has a giant room, Baby Club, for younger children (though they allowed all our children to play in it, including the six year old, because they all wanted to be together). This room has a padded floor and is filled with soft bean bag chairs and toys. Off of this room is a nap room. It’s dark, cool, and filled with cribs (about six). They have monitors too, so they could watch our sweet, sleeping trouble maker (and so that when I had Andy check on him, they could easily let him know that he could tell me he was blissfully asleep). In addition to the room for the younger children, they have a large room with a tv, game system, eating area (they have their own buffet lunch and dinners so mommas and papas can have a night out), and assorted games. Outside the Kid’s Zone is the Terrace with a ping pong table, air hockey, a huge climbing structure (it’s amazing really), inflatable bouncy castle, climbing wall, and super jumper trampolines. Not only do they have all of this to offer, they actually have programs that run throughout the day too, though not from 1-3. My littles liked mini chef, painting, pool parties at the kids’ pool, and playing in the sand. Three of the nights we were at The Reserve, the club stayed open until 10 pm (closing time is usually 9pm) for special events. We were there during a pajama party, pirate party, and movie night. (All activities I just listed are offered to little people 3-5; there is an entirely different set of activities going on for those older). As a crazy mother, one of the aspects of the Kid’s Zone that I found most comforting is that after filling out a fairly extensive bit of information on my little people, they made me answer a number of questions whose answers were taken directly from the form I had previously filled out when I picked my little people up (like allergies, date leaving the resort, etc.). This, of course, stopped once they knew me. Which brings me to my final point about the Kid’s Zone: the people working there. By day two each person working at the club knew my littles’ names. They knew what they liked. They knew what they didn’t like. They were exceptional with dealing with my little people. When my little people walked in, it felt like they had been showing up there for years.

    The biggest little jumping on the aero jumper at the Kid’s Zone.
  • The Rooms: The rooms at The Reserve are updated, clean, and comfortable. And they have huge balconies, which is exactly what is needed when little people go to sleep early and mommas don’t want to yet, but would still like to sit outside and soak in outdoors. Our room had a kitchen (though we were advised against drinking the water), a huge dining space, and a large living space big enough for our littles to run wildly through playing hide and seek each morning (check the water closet–they always hide in the water closet…ugh). The tub was big enough to stick all three littles in at the same time to get off the sand, sunscreen, and assorted gook they acquired during the day (most likely from the water closet).

    Part of the large balcony where we spent most of our time when we were at our room.
  • The Family Concierge: I think it’s clear how I feel about this “Family Concierge” option. For us, it made the difference. Some of the precious things my children found in the room were a collection of sand toys for them to take to the beach, little-people-sized robes and slippers, little-people-sized pillows, sunscreen, toothbrushes and toothpaste, little people shampoo and wash, t-shirts, hats, backpacks, balloon art, and oreos. Each day they’d take delight in trying to piece together exactly when Andy snuck into our room to bring them these treasures (most of which we returned or used). But, the last night we were there, Andy brought out the big guns. He asked me when we’d be back at the room to get ready for dinner. Then, he filled the tub up with bubbles and balloons. Not only did he get the inside tub, he filled the tub on the balcony up too. My little people were delighted. And finally incredibly excited to get clean.

    A bath of bubbles and balloons, courtesy of our family concierge, Andy.
  • The Beach: The Reserve is not on the ocean. That’s right. We flew all the way to the Dominican Republic just to stay in a hotel that was not on the beach. Here’s the thing though. I have three little people, the oldest is six. The lure of the ocean is strong (we’ve all seen Moana right?), and I don’t need my little people to find their way there easily. The fortunate thing is though, it is a quick (and incredibly fun for a little person) golf cart ride away to The Paradisus Palma Real, the main hotel of this hotel complex. And then steps to the water and awaiting, reserved, chairs and umbrellas. In this area, there is also a beach concierge service that is complimentary, which means you can order drinks, a bucket of ice with waters. Did I mention drinks? Like, with umbrellas?

    Our view of the beach from our little set up.
  • The Employees: So, I’ve spoken of the amazing people at the Kid’s Zone and, of course, Andy. But each employee here was beyond kind. They all spoke to my little people with kindness and understanding, which, at times, even I find difficult to do. Individually they are each a storm, together they are a hurricane. And I try desperately to control this hurricane, but sometimes it gets a bit away from me. But I felt forgiveness, even understanding. The employees were easy to talk to, happy to talk to us about their own families and children. Even when it was clear the staff was straining to keep up with all of their duties, they still showed kindness towards us and the destruction we left in our wake (yes, I do try to keep it orderly and have my littles pick up their messes).

    Our beach set up. Notice the bucket of ice water and the drinks that the staff kindly brought us.

Cons

  • The Layout: Staying at the “Family Concierge” section of The Reserve meant that we had a fairly solid walk to the front of the hotel to catch a golf cart (though we could have had it just pick us up in front of our building with a phone call, but we never did and I’m truly not so sure why…?). Now, I don’t mind walking, but my little people? Well, one likes to lollygag and soak it all in, one is just “tired” all the time (to be fair, he was a bit under the weather), and the other has legs that are only about a foot long. Suffice to say, we spent a great deal of our time carrying exhausted little people back and forth through the halls. Here’s the real kicker though. There is no elevator. And given the fact that my two littlest little people just seem to spontaneously fall on flat ground periodically through the day, it was a risky situation. So, stairs? Marble stairs? When they’re wearing dripping wet suits? Well, I’ll just leave it unsaid (they’d fall…100% they’d fall). This meant that we’d have to carry them up three flights of stairs (giant stairs too because we’re not talking about average ceiling heights in this hotel). Of course, when the littlest ones were getting carried, the biggest little would feel left out, so we’d have to find a way to drag all three little people up the stairs, usually while they were too exhausted to even hold on.

    All the rooms surround a three story open-air central courtyard with a large, sometimes running, fountain. It can get noisy in the living room because of the echoes of people going up and down the halls and doors slamming.
  • The Dining Time: I feed my littles ridiculously early. Like senior citizen, early bird special early. I’m ok with that (I always think it’ll help me get them to bed earlier…it doesn’t, but like all moms out there, I keep hope alive). And besides, my tiniest has some tummy issues so he can’t eat right before bed or things get messy (which did, in fact, happen in DR). The earliest times to be seated at any restaurant in The Paradisus complex was six. This is a full hour past when my littles usually eat. Generally it takes a bit of time for food to come too, so by the time the food shows up, my little people were either getting crazy and overly wiggly or completely passed out on my lap or on the seat next to me. One night, I had to leave a restaurant with both of my youngest littles, drag them back to The Reserve, up the three flights of stairs, and put them to bed while my husband stayed behind and ate some delicious dinner with my sweet biggest little (lucky him). (They were nice enough to bring me some delicious goodies back though; of course, this was after I called Andy and asked him to tell them to (you can’t call direct to a restaurant from your room).)

 

  • The Bar Service: Remember how I said everyone was so amazingly kind? I still mean it. But the service is slow. Slooooooow. Like sloooooooower than slow. And not because these people aren’t working. They are moving faster than they should have to. There is sweat coming beading down each brow. But, it is clear that they are understaffed. So, we balanced this by just asking them to make the drinks stronger, a little topper if you will. Then we didn’t have to come back for more as often.

 

  • The Meal Service: Along the same lines as the bar service, the meal service is slow. Again, though, it is not because of a lack of employees trying their hardest to get the job done efficiently. And again, in this respect, it is clear that the resort is painfully understaffed. While I would like to say this may have just been an off week, we chatted up a couple there who return yearly (and are part of the time share option) who explained that the owners of the hotel recently changed and made huge cuts in staff. This was evident in our experience, but, for the sake of the remaining staff, hopefully this will change.
    How a momma has to eat when dinner time matches up with bed time. This was in Aqua, a Mediterranean fusion restaurant. Slow service helped make the evenings long. (Too long for the littles.)

     

  • The Excursions: I am both ashamed and not ashamed to admit that I left the country knowing very little about the Dominican Republic and the people who live there. My husband and I looked into excursions, but most fell into the typical beachy, could be anywhere, type of activities: swimming with dolphins, riding on a catamaran, going on a pirate ship cruise. These didn’t appeal to us, as we could do these elsewhere. What we were interested in was getting an idea of the culture of the Dominican Republic itself, beyond the tourism. We were given two options: take a group tour to a “village” and see a “village school” and a coffee plantation tour, or take a private tour doing the same things. Option 1 was $700 and lasted all day and Option 2 was $900 and lasted as long as we wanted it to. While price was a concern (and the fact that my tiniest wouldn’t do well in a car from 9-4 if it wasn’t his own car), my main concern became the school that we were to be brought to to photograph and the children that we were supposed to be there photographing. It wasn’t explained if some of the money was going to be donated to the school or the community; in fact, I had the feeling it was the opposite, as this would be a selling feature of the tour. But again, I wasn’t explicitly told it wouldn’t be either. And after viewing the brochure and seeing pictures of people standing in front of a classroom of children, interrupting their school day to take pictures, mouths agape, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of this tour. As a result, on our next visit, I will do some preplanning and find an excursion that perhaps the resort doesn’t offer, but is in line more so with my own sensibilities.

So, this hotel. Would I return? Without a doubt. Would I do family concierge again? You bet (and I’d ask for Andy). And when I return, my littles will be a little bit bigger and some of these “Cons” won’t even matter any more. Wanting to travel all the time creates a need to try new places, but it also creates a desire to return to some of those places. Especially when it’s possible to make every person happy, at the same time no less. This is one of those places I’d go back to when I needed a fruity drink kind of vacation, even with the rest of the world still out there for us to explore (but I’d be smart enough next time to figure out a way to finally properly explore this beautiful island as well).

The Beach

Note: Hotels are based on a four level scale: Child Centered, Child Friendly, Child Accommodating, Unsuitable. A Child Centered hotel is a hotel in which the child’s comfort, happiness, etc. is paramount. A Child Friendly hotel has those implements in place to create a fun atmosphere for the child, though it is not the apparent mission of the hotel to continuously do so. A Child Accommodating hotel is that hotel where it will assist the parents in making the child comfortable at the parent’s request only. An Unsuitable hotel is a hotel that has no accommodations suitable for a child or the cons of the hotel make the hotel dangerous for the well-being of the child.