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My in-laws were looking to do something big this year and decided to take the entire family on a vacation. They were open to different places, but the goal was an all-inclusive beach resort and nonstop flights to the destination from Boston. We settled on the Dominican Republic and — after receiving many recommendations — booked the The Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana. This was a vacation my family was looking forward to for months and we all agreed that we hit the jackpot by staying at this property.

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Getting there

Nonstop flights from our home in Boston to the Caribbean aren’t always an option. At the time we booked, JetBlue only offered Saturday flights so we used our JetBlue points to book a one-way ticket to Punta Cana. Since my husband has JetBlue Mosaic status, we were able to get around 10,000 JetBlue points back because flight prices went down a few months after booking because Mosaic elites get a refund when prices decrease. Because we have the JetBlue Plus Card, we received a 10% rebate on our redeemed points after we completed our flight.

We found that Southwest had the best return flights, despite a layover in Baltimore. Even though the flight was slightly longer than our departure flight, we were able to use our Southwest points and the Southwest Companion Pass. My father-in-law and I both hold a Companion Pass so that meant my daughter and my mother-in-law flew for free, plus taxes/fees. A month later JetBlue announced nonstop daily flights from Boston to Punta Cana, but we kept our Southwest flights.

Prior to our arrival in Punta Cana, we arranged a car service to take us to our hotel. The airport is chaotic, so booking in advance is recommended. The hotel was an easy 25-minute ride from the airport, which was great after being on a four-hour flight with the kids.

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The Reserve

When researching the property, we were initially confused by the listings: The Paradisus Punta Cana versus The Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana. These are the same hotel with the main difference being the rooms you book.

The Reserve was built after the original property, so the rooms are newer and bigger. The Reserve is also more “family friendly” because it is closer to the Kids Zone and kids pool. It is located on the quieter part of the property, away from spring breakers. Guests booked into The Reserve rooms have separate beach access and the option to dine at a few more select restaurants.

The main downside to The Reserve is that you are farther from the beach. Families can either walk — about a 10-minute stroll — or wait outside of their villa for one of the many trolleys that get you around the huge resort. For those with limited mobility, keep this in mind as the resort is very spread out. Getting to some of the restaurants or the beach from The Reserve rooms could potentially be challenging.

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The hotel grounds were lovely. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Ultimately, we opted for The Reserve. For my family of four, we booked a one-bedroom master suite and that was the perfect size. My husband and I had our own bedroom, while the kids slept on the pull-out sofa in the living room. There was also room for a rollaway bed, if needed. We used the little kitchen area with a table for our morning routine and  ordered room service for breakfast. We found it to be much easier than going to the buffet. The extra space allowed us to get our day started more seamlessly — the kids could take as long as they needed to eat their breakfast while my husband and I got ready for the day.

To book this hotel, my in-laws used a travel agent. To my surprise, the agent quoted the best price when compared to many third-party hotel sites. Unfortunately we couldn’t use our traditional hotel points, but instead used our flexible points such as Capital One miles, Discover it® Miles and Barclaycard Arrival miles.

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Mom and dad got the bedroom. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)
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The pull-out bed worked well for our little kids. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)
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We loved the design of the bathroom. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)
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Our room was spacious — both indoors and out. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

For summer travel, I found rates around $465 per room per night from Hotels.com for a family of four. If you have the Capital One® Venture Rewards® Credit Card, this will give you up to 20% back in rewards when booking through Hotels.com/venture and factoring in the free night you can get for every 10 nights you stay with the Hotels.com Rewards program.

Enjoying the pools

This property has three pool areas. There are two main pools: one at The Reserve and one at the beach. Each pool has a swim-up bar and poolside activities. We enjoyed spending time at both pool areas and liked that each offered a very different atmosphere. Pool-hopping ensured that we never got bored during our six-night stay.

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Pool at The Reserve (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)
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Pool near the beach (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

The third pool is the kids’ pool. It’s right around the corner from the pool at The Reserve and right outside the Kids Zone. This was a great option for kids with water slides, a gradual entry area and water that was no more than thigh-deep on an adult. A few feet away, there was also a baby pool.

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Kids pool (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Around each pool there were plenty of chairs and a bunch of fully shaded cabanas. We never had a problem securing a spot at any part of the day, which was a big plus. If you book a Family Concierge room, a cabana will be reserved for you. We didn’t see the need for that perk. At the pool near the beach, you would find many more chairs than cabanas. Again, we never had a problem finding chairs.

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We never had trouble finding lounge chairs or cabanas. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

A beautiful beach

The beaches in Punta Cana are beautiful. This beach was no exception and was reserved for guests staying at The Reserve. We never had an issue finding one of the shaded huts. We could go late in the morning or early afternoon and get a few chairs under the umbrella and enjoy. I should mention we had at least seven of us at any given time and visited during a busy week. There was a beach bar with waiters walking around to take your drink order.

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We liked the palapas on the beach that provided plenty of shade. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

There are ample activities at the beach. Of course you have the ocean with relatively mellow waves. The kids loved the way the waves broke on the shore and tried to brace themselves from being knocked over. The resort had an area that was netted off, which kept seaweed from being bothersome.

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The beach was never crowded. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

You also have access to many watersports right on the beach. Guests receive complimentary access to kayaks, body boards and catamarans, but all other activities come with a fee. There is no need to bring your own shovels and pails as there are plenty of them for you to use — just ask at any of the towel huts.

The Kids Zone

The Kids Zone was amazing for kids ages 1 to 12 years old. It’s open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. This is huge since many kids clubs do not accept children until they are around 4 years old and usually have more limited hours. Since this is an all-inclusive resort, there is no fee to drop off your children and no reservations are needed. I was impressed with the Kids Zone — both the activities and facility. The counselors were engaged and really got to know my kids. I was beyond comfortable leaving my kids there and did not worry about their safety or well-being.

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Playground with grassy area for kids to play and run around. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

On the activity front, they divide the kids into two groups: 3- to 4-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds. Both age groups have hourly activities with some overlap between the two. Activities included playing in the pool, nature walks and arts and crafts. Midday, they take a two-hour break from scheduled activities and put on a movie in the kid-size movie theater. There were also activities each evening ranging from pajama parties to mini disco parties. My daughter enjoyed a few evenings as this was much more appealing to her than a sit-down dinner at a restaurant. During the day, the club offers snacks, fruit, mini sandwiches and drinks for the kids to enjoy.

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Shaded area for arts and crafts. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)
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Table games are always popular with the kids (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

For toddlers younger than 3 years old, you’ll find that the Kids Zone is more like babysitting. There is a playroom with a ton of toys, but no real scheduled activities. This was slightly problematic for my 2-year-old son. Although he enjoyed the playroom, he was disappointed that he couldn’t be part of the activities with big sister. Fortunately, adults are allowed in the Kids Zone so we were able to play with him in the massive playground in the back of the club. This was ideal for our family since my son wasn’t comfortable being dropped off. I’ve been to some kids clubs where parents are absolutely not allowed in or only during designated family times. I definitely appreciated that I could take my son whenever he wanted.

Dining at the resort

The best part about all-inclusive resorts is that you have many options for dining. There was one Michelin-star restaurant on site that was not part of the all-inclusive, but our family was not there for a fine dining experience and opted out of it.

The resort had three buffets from which to choose. One was in The Reserve part of the resort while the other two were next to the beach. At one buffet, you were allowed to walk right off the sand into the buffet, which is always a nice option if you are spending your midday at the beach.

Generally, the cuisine was fine. For breakfast you could get omelets or eggs cooked to order along with a host of other selections: pancakes, breakfast meats, fruit and cereal. Lunch had a mix of pizza, salads, grilled options (burgers and hot dogs), a fish dish and various sides. Dinner was similar, though they had chefs, who prepared chicken, steak and fish to order. Lunch and dinner also offered deserts, though they weren’t anything special.

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Gabi Club buffet (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Another simple lunch option for guests at The Reserve was to order a burger, hot dog or pizza at the pool grill. Swim up, jump out and place your order. You could take it back to the cabana or sit poolside to eat, which was great when you didn’t want to dry off. A bonus with this choice was the self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine right on the counter.

The all-inclusive resort offered seven restaurants for guests. Bottles of wine and top-shelf alcohol incurred additional charges if you wanted to deviate from the standard bar offerings. We dined at the sit-down restaurants (Mole and Fuego) only twice so we did not have to worry about reservations (which are necessary) or force the kids to sit through long, sit-down dinners.

The buffet was fine, allowing us way more flexibility with the kids. We could be the last ones out of the pool without having to scurry back to the room to get ready for a sit-down meal. If you are into a nice sit-down experience, you can choose from Mediterranean, Mexican, Latin, Japanese and Argentinian barbecue at the resort.

The ambience at each was nice and definitely a great option if you are able to occupy the kids for a bit. For the two we visited, we found the food to be decent (not bad, but not out of this world either) and the service was quite slow. If our kids were older or were willing to go to the Kids Zone during dinner, we probably would have enjoyed the dinners a little more.

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Mole Restaurant (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Bottom line

We absolutely loved our stay at The Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana. We stayed six nights and found that to be the perfect amount of time for our large family vacation. We are definitely a beach and pool family and love being outside in the sun, so this was perfect. The Kids Zone was a huge hit. We are realizing that having a kids club is a must for beach vacations and this one exceeded my expectations. There were also unbelievable shows three nights a week and beach parties on the other evenings. Ultimately, this was a great choice for our family and I wouldn’t be surprised if we return at some point in the future.

Featured photo courtesy of Booking.com

Jennifer Yellin covers family travel deals for TPG and blogs at Deals We Like. Follow her family’s adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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