The Hyatt Cap Cana welcomed guests this weekend — but maybe it shouldn’t have opened
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The promise of a long weekend at a brand-new all-inclusive oceanfront Caribbean resort in early November was alluring. The timing was perfect: The summer season was well in the rearview, making swimsuits and swimming a treat, but the frenetic pace of the holiday season was yet to come. It sounded idyllic, so we locked in a trip to the Dominican Republic and started counting down months, weeks and eventually days.
Much earlier in the year, my family booked three nights at the then yet-to-open Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic. We are huge fans of Hyatt resorts in general, and have especially loved our time at the Hyatt Ziva (family-friendly) and Zilara (adults-only) all-inclusive properties in Cancun and Jamaica. (There are also all-inclusive Hyatt properties in Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos we have yet to experience.)
Our stay at the Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana was booked for opening weekend with old-fashioned cash to the tune of just over $500 per night, since we aren’t afraid of new hotel kinks such as training issues or lack of all available menu items. We’ve been there, done that, many times over, and TPG himself experienced this firsthand at the newly opened St. Regis Venice. In the travel-writing business, going to a resort soon after it opens can be a good idea if you want to give those kind enough to read what you write a first look, which was indeed one of my goals.
(Note that the full more traditional review of this property is coming very soon, this article is focusing on the opening issues as it was all too much for one story.)
Typically (aside from the aforementioned service blips), the biggest risk of booking a new resort for opening week far in advance is that the resort will experience construction delays and not open on time, forcing you to adjust your plans accordingly.
And in Hyatt’s history, the company typically helps guests with those unforeseen opening-date adjustments in a more than fair way. But this time, there were no accounted delays, and the much-anticipated opening week of the Hyatt Cap Cana arrived, placing us in full countdown mode for our vacation.
Then, just days before departure, I began to notice red flags on a Facebook page created by “fans of the Hyatt Cap Cana.” Despite optimistic reports of an on-schedule opening from both Hyatt and the public relations company representing the property, photos posted to the unofficial page painted a different picture. The resort didn’t look even close to ready. In fact, the photos inspired more than one Fyre Festival joke — quips my husband didn’t find at all humorous.
I, however, laughed it off and said, “It’s Hyatt. I’m sure it will all be fine.”
Three days before the resort’s opening, the truth came out during a late-night call from Hyatt’s call center in Omaha, Nebraska. The woman over the phone said the Hyatt Ziva would not be opening in time for our stay. The story given by corporate headquarters the day before had taken a 180-degree turn.
Instead, all scheduled guests would be accommodated at the neighboring Hyatt Zilara, which was opening as scheduled. The waterpark for the resorts would be open for all guests, and the only difference to our reservation would be that we — and everyone else — would be housed in what was normally the adults-only portion of the resort in a room the same or better than what we originally booked.
There were no offers to cancel, discounts provided or other compensation other than a suggestion that I talk to the staff at the resort when we got there if we had any issues. It was Hyatt, and I (mostly) trusted what they said based on years of experience with the brand.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the first guests had arrived, we landed in Punta Cana (PUJ) and pulled up to the resort. While being held at a checkpoint on the resort grounds in our prearranged car service for what seemed like longer than necessary, we could see the waterpark in the distance, and the girls got excited — at first.
Then, we noticed the waterpark was indeed constructed but that the people on top of the structure weren’t in swimsuits or holding inner tubes. They were in construction attire (minus hard hats) and holding tools. Despite assurances to the contrary just days before, the waterpark was not open.
This was not a one-off event. It was a theme of the stay.
After 3 p.m., we checked in and were told our room was not ready. On Day Two of the hotel’s existence, I doubted that meant housekeeping hadn’t been by to change the sheets from the last guest. I think they meant it wasn’t ready. As we could easily see while we walked around, many rooms at the resort were not ready.
But we were also told not to worry, as a very nice upgrade had been arranged and it wouldn’t be long, and the waterpark wasn’t closed, despite what we’d seen with our own eyes.
When pressed, we were told that it just wasn’t ready but that it hadn’t closed. I had no idea what that meant or if there was a translation problem, but it never opened while we were there.
We were hungry after an already long day of travel, so we were escorted to the buffet, one of only two restaurants open at the time. Save for the adults-only restaurant that would be open for dinner, the other restaurants weren’t ready.
It took a long time for the staff to help us find the buffet, which was baffling, as it was very close to the lobby. For reasons that are also unclear, we were held outside in the sun getting bit by mosquitos for more than a minute or two as staff tried to figure out how to enter the building. Eventually, that strange delay passed and we were seated near the large, well-stocked and well-staffed buffet.
This is where the next unfortunate but regular occurrence began. Presumably because construction had so recently finished, there were quite a few mosquitos and flies present inside the traditional indoor, air-conditioned restaurant.
I’m not talking about a fly or two finding your food after you are done. I’m talking about battling the flies for the food on your plate while you’re eating. We walked out of there with full bellies, legs covered in mosquito bites and a sinking feeling about how ready the resort really was — or wasn’t.
It was now after 4 p.m., and we were more than ready for our room, but it still wasn’t ready for us. But fear not, as a very exciting further upgrade was promised — or so we were told. By this point, with all the upgrades, I assumed we were moving into a palace. (This is where the narrator says, “They were not moving into a palace.”)
At some point after 4 p.m., but just before we all lost it, we were escorted to our room — following another series of wrong turns, detours and past more hallways busy with construction activities.
When we arrived, it was not a suite, but just a regular room — albeit one with a nice ocean view. Thankfully, the room was more ready than other parts of the resort. But calling it a “quadruple upgraded junior suite” was either a stretch or very creative marketing. Another theme of the stay.
There were issues with the room, too. The internet, phone and TV all went down for a few hours. The bathroom door wouldn’t shut, as there wasn’t enough clearance from the ground. The bed linens were only sheets, as duvets had not yet arrived. Pillows were a hot commodity. Our second room (we moved for our final night), didn’t have pillows at first until we asked for them specifically.
And it wasn’t just us. At one point, the running water in our room turned brown and then went out. One guest we met at the pool said he’d asked the staff when water would return, to which they asked why he needed water. When the guest answered that he wanted to take a shower, the staff offered bottled water as a solution.
The rooms, like much of the rest of the resort, just weren’t quite ready for their first guests. But you probably don’t go to the Caribbean for the room, so let’s talk about the rest.
From afar, the pools looked beautiful and potentially worth the trip by themselves.
Up close, though, it was obvious nails and metal from the construction weren’t fully cleaned up. That’s probably bad at a pool, where people are barefoot. I’m also not an engineering or design expert, but the finishings might have also been rushed.
Neither the kids club nor the spa were ready either, but unoccupied guest rooms had been converted to fill in for them. The gym was also (you guessed it) not ready. It did open, at least partially, at some point on the third day.
The club lounge, which we had paid extra to have access to, was also … not ready. It didn’t open during our stay but appeared to be getting close as we departed. We asked three times for discounts, only to be told there were none available, and that included no refund on the extra fees spent to book a club-access room.
Multiple bathrooms around the resort weren’t finished, which sounds minor but could mean quite a long walk in wet bathing suits from the water with kids who need to go potty. Of those restrooms that appeared finished, not all of the toilets flushed reliably.
Oh, and then there was that one bathroom in the lobby that my fourth grader got locked in. Staff had to crawl under the stall and use keys to pry the latch open.
Room service either took double the amount of time quoted or never arrived. Menus weren’t a thing in the first few days around much of the resort, and rules changed frequently and without notice. One day, we were asked to leave a restaurant with our daughters, as it was adults-only. The next day, we were seated near kids in the same restaurant after leaving ours in the makeshift kids club, thinking they weren’t allowed. If you wanted to know what restaurants were even open (or ready), you needed to look for yourself, as no one seemed to know or give consistent answers.
By our final day, restaurants that were still covered in plastic or under construction on our first day were finally open. Some others were still under construction, but there was tangible progress. Other restaurants now had menus.
A clue to how bad or strange a situation is can be found in whether or not strangers start talking to each other about what’s happening. That happened to us many times per day. It was a weird mix of being in a seemingly postcard-perfect location with a surprisingly large number of key ingredients missing. It didn’t help that the answers from staff were purposefully vague, wrong or simply misinformed. Smiles were in ample supply, but straight answers were much more scarce.
At checkout, I asked a final time about discounts or compensation, since there was a waterslide-sized gap between what was booked, promised and paid for versus what was real and available. We know how to roll with it, so at times we had a lot of fun, but the simple math of what was ready and what wasn’t told the tale. I was again told, with a smile, that there were no discounts or formal compensation available.
While closing out our bill, I was told the hotel’s credit card system was down and asked to wait a few minutes for it to come back up. A few minutes turned into 10 more minutes, and then our ride to the airport arrived. When that turned into 20 minutes and my family was fully loaded in the car, the front desk asked if I could settle the bill in cash.
I said no, and within a few more moments, the system was back up and the transaction complete. Being asked to settle up with cash was a first for me at a Hyatt property.
When it was time to really leave, a manager who was nearby said to email him and he would do something for us to make up for some elements of the resort not being fully ready. His promises were as vague as the alleged quadruple upgrade at check-in, but he was insistent that we would be taken care of. By now, I had my doubts, but emailed him minutes later from the airport.
The offer arrived in my inbox the next day. Unlike what other resorts in similar situations have done in the past, they weren’t offering a few days to return and try out the finished product in the future or even a discount on a future stay. Instead, the offer was for a room upgrade on our next paid stay at the resort:
“Please allow me to offer you a Free Up grade to Junior Suite Swim-up, Club VIP Access for your next visit, use this mail as guarantee of our kind offer.”
I laughed. This was not how the Hyatt I know and love handles misfires, but it was 100% consistent with how the whole experience had been. Big promises, but not necessarily the ending you’d expect.
The resort’s decision to open unfinished, with significant active construction, false promises to guests before they arrived and no discounts to make up for so many missing amenities, was shocking. It was not what I expected from Hyatt, and not the experience I’d want for the first guests — many of whom are those most excited about the brand’s expansion.
I reached out to Hyatt to see if I could get more information on the situation for impacted guests and received a response from Frank Lavey, SVP of Global Operations for Hyatt.
Some of these things will improve with time. The other more systemic issues that led to this situation may linger. But there’s much more good, bad and scary to tell. Stay tuned for the full TPG first look at the resort coming very soon.
All images by by the author.
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