Mar 022012

Initially, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to blog this trip.  After 108 countries, it felt really odd to me to do what is a bit of a stereotypical trip, and just head to a Caribbean beach resort, more or less park yourself there, and enjoy the sun, camaraderie, and cocktails.  But then again, reflecting on what an absolutely amazing trip it was…how could I not!  I’ll try and make this post an appropriate blend of airline geekery, resort reviews, and…well, everything else!

In honesty, I had no idea how to prepare for this trip.  Even after being to 108 countries, it was going to be a very new experience for me in a lot of ways.  I’m used to hopping from country to country, taking in new places.  I’m not used to parking at a resort, not planning much of anything…and just seeing what the day(s) bring.  I have to admit, it was a great experience, and I can’t wait to repeat it.  There are still several more countries in the Caribbean I need to visit, so…

Fast forward to the first flights.  Everyone had beaten me down there by a day (boo work!) so I decided to get down asap, and that meant taking the Jersey Shore express.  There was a fantastic fare which guaranteed instant upgrade on United (dba Continental) and I booked it and we were off!

ExpressJet Flight 4327 (for Continental)
Washington National (DCA) to Newark (EWR)
Depart 6:30, Arrive 7:40
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N17984, Manufactured 2000
Seat 2A

Not terribly much if anything to say on this flight. We took off in the freezing cold 5 minutes early, landed almost 20 minutes early, and the connection at Newark was incredibly early. I think I attempted to do the crossword on the flight, but sleep definitely won out. Nothing to say, but move on to the next flight:

Continental Flight 1514
Newark (EWR) to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
Depart 9:22, Arrive 14:17
Boeing 737-800, Registration N33262, Manufactured 2001
Seat 1B

When I booked nearly a month out, I was surprised to find only one first class seat for sale…and soon I found out why. I was on the Jersey Shore Express, with a group of 12 guys headed down there for a bachelor party soon to be followed by a wedding. It may have been 9am, but that didn’t stop this group from drinking the plane absolutely dry by the time we landed. Ok, I admit, in the last hour I tucked into the Continental secret stash that most people don’t know about – the pre-mixed margaritas. Also, coincidentally, the only alcohol left on the plane. 😉 Crew was great dealing with a very raucous group of passengers, and soon we’d landed. Unfortunately, the meal was so unmemorable I couldn’t tell you anything about it…but as fast as the flight went by that’s probably a good thing!

Upon arrival, it was a circus like I’ve never seen. I’ve dealt with some pretty messy immigration systems that give you the run around in an attempt to extract “happy weekend money” or the like, but this was just like a mass orchestrated ATM. Get in line here, pay your “tourist card” fee there, no smiles, stamp through with no questions…it just felt like they were milking the tourists, and it wasn’t honestly a great introduction. Thanks to a friend, I’d pre-arranged a taxi to the resort which was a good thing since it seems pretty much everyone arrives here as part of a package tour. They’re just not used to independent travelers showing up. More on that later!

Soon, we arrived at the Gran Bahia Principe Resort. Check-in was easy, the “all-inclusive” wristband was applied, and it was time for a bit of fun! First, some shots of the property:

The resort was honestly so big that lots of the time, taking the tram around the resort was the easiest way to get from place to place.  A shot of the tram stop:

To prove it, a map of the resort:

Casa Sweet Casa for the next…um…three days?

Finally, a shot of the road/shuttle route leading to the room:

Got to the room, and got a bit of a surprise!  Was initially coming with a friend who got ill and had to bail at the last moment, but regardless, the hotel decided they were going to put on a show.  I don’t think anyone else on the trip got this in their room, so I have no idea what was up!

So, the next couple of days were a bit of a blur.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday….it was pool time, beach time, “all inclusive drinks” time, time at the resort disco, etc etc etc.  The days flew by in an absolutely blur.  We never did figure out why you could or could not eat at the “real” restaurants and when you had to eat at the buffet.  Sometimes they’d let you get reservations, and sometimes they wouldn’t.  It was all a bit strange, but honestly, even the buffet food was quite good.  Also, the staff at the resort were fantastic.  They were very forthcoming, despite speaking very very limited English.  Hanging out with a group of Canadians, unfortunately, my very limited Spanish had to suffice most of the time…but I think it helped us get what we wanted most of the time…get friendly with the staff…and have an amazing time!

To the point that, come Saturday…everyone planned a “full day” catamaran trip on Sunday.  I talked to the organizers, and they were “pretty sure” it would be back in time for my to catch my late afternoon flight back.  Unfortunately, running on Caribbean time, “pretty sure” was about to turn into “not a chance in the world.”  Honestly, I was having an amazing time at that point and didn’t care…and fortunately was able to return a day later with very little problem.  Many thanks to all those who made it possible!

In the end, I’m glad I decided to risk it, because the Catamaran trip was absolutely one of the biggest highlights of the trip.  Easier to tell the story in pictures!


The island:

Unfortunately, however, it was soon time to head home.  Amazing trip, but the resort staff wasn’t about to let me go without a fight.  We all got up a bit earlier than normal, played in the ocean for a bit, then headed to the pool for drinks and pool time before I had to head to the airport.  Everyone else was leaving the next day, so it was very hard to pull away.  One of the staff had kind of become our personal waitress for the weekend, and she made sure to see me off with a bang.  Large large large shots were delivered poolside, which almost resulted in me missing my flight yet again…naughty!…but also at the same time totally worth it!  Back to the room for a quackish shower before heading out to the airport.

US Airways Flight 1452
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to Philadephia
Depart 16:00, Arrive 19:03
Airbus A320, Registration N117UW, Manufactured 2000, Seat 3D

The most amazing thing about this flight was…I actually had an empty seat next to me! I can’t remember the last time I saw that on a US airline! Was there not a single elite member on the whole flight? One thing that was disappointing, however, was that being in the last row…there was no choice of meal. It was pasta or pasta. Seems US Airways takes orders front to back, regardless of status, price, etc. In the end, it didn’t matter for two reasons: one, the pasta was actually semi-tasty, and two…they poured the drinks STRONG!

The meal:

Ok, who can resist desert?  Calories on planes don’t count!

…and yes, they were pouring strong!

Landed early, and after a bit of fighting with the Global Entry kiosks (and yes, I do remember vaguely having a few words with the CBP inspector about those machines) and I was through to the baggage recheck area.  We were actually early enough, the kind US agent offered to rebook me on the flight an hour earlier to DC, but said it was a CRJ, and thus my F seat was gone.  Who needs F for a 30 minute flight when you’re going to not remember much of it anyways due to how generous the previous flight was?  LOL!

Air Wisconsin Flight 3892
Philadephia (PHL) to Washington National (DCA)
Depart 20:00, Arrive 21:00
CRJ-200, Registration N444ZW, Manufactured 2003
Seat 3F

Got a full row of 2 seats, and had a fantastic conversation with the two ladies in the row behind me. The kind flight attendant announced there would be “no drink service, unless it’s an emergency” during this short flight…and you better believe the three of us had emergency gin and tonics! Overall, a great end to a great trip, and US Airways really shined. I know lots of folks don’t have great things to say about them, but based on this experience I certainly won’t hesitate to fly them again!

So…bring on the next Caribbean island and country #110…perhaps…in the next 48 hours!

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