Palm tree-lined white sands, azure blue seas and guaranteed sunshine, this Caribbean island has everything you could wish for in a tropical break.
But following a string of highly publicised tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic – 11 American visitors died in the past year of unrelated causes – visitor numbers are dramatically down.
While the publicity surrounding these deaths – several of which were heart attacks – has put some visitors off, the local tourist board and the U.S. State Department both insist that they are isolated and the country is safe.
The all-inclusive Now Onyx resort, in Uvero Alto, not far from Punta Cana. Ryan Parry and his brood thoroughly enjoyed their stay there
Even the experts agree that while tragic, 11 deaths from 2.7million US tourist visits a year is not an unusual statistic. Similar numbers apply to other tourist destinations around the world.
Of course, the facts didn’t stop friends telling me how crazy I was when I announced I was taking my family on holiday there.
But it wasn’t a tough decision. After reading behind the headlines and speaking to travel professionals I knew the Dominican Republic was perfectly safe.
I’ve always loved the Caribbean islands and felt like this stunning destination had been given an undeserved hammering and needed some support.
My family and I stayed at the all-inclusive Now Onyx resort, in Uvero Alto, not far from Punta Cana. It was the perfect destination to shake off any concern.
We were immediately impressed with the stunning and spotless resort. With five swimming pools, clubs for kids and teens, ten restaurants and ten bars and live entertainment – it’s a resort that appeals to everyone.
Ryan and his family stayed in a spacious ocean-view suite in the Preferred section of the hotel. Pictured is one of these suites
Ryan had a butler allocated to his room who looked after his family’s every whim, including restocking the mini-bar every day
It also offers access to adjacent hotel Breathless Punta Cana – an adults-only resort that has a casino and nightclub for anyone who fancies a change.
The hotel is only a 45-minute transfer from Punta Cana airport but it took us all day to get there – Punta Cana is 11 hours from where we live in Los Angeles and a 10-hour flight from the UK – so we went straight to bed upon arrival.
My family stayed in a spacious ocean-view suite in the Preferred section of the hotel.
The hot tub on our balcony caused much excitement among our two kids, aged three and four.
The adults were most impressed by the room’s butler, who looked after our every whim, including restocking the mini-bar every day.
If we needed anything we simply sent friendly Mogue a WhatsApp message and he’d take care of it.
An aerial view of the pools at Now Onyx. The hotel is only a 45-minute transfer from Punta Cana airport
The resort boasts limitless gourmet à la carte dining and unlimited top-shelf beverages.
But while you don’t spend a penny inside the resort it’s customary to tip – and the more generous you are the quicker the service next time.
What struck me about being on the island is the bemusement among the locals and hotel workers at how the adverse headlines had affected their livelihoods so much.
According to senior staff at Now Onyx, tourism from the U.S – the island’s largest market – was down 30 per cent.
As a result, many hotels have had to make cutbacks and lay off members of staff.
Of course, this affects lives and many families have faced hardship ever since.
Ryan says staff at the resort were warm and friendly, high-fiving the children and laughing and joking with the guests. Pictured is the hotel’s Preferred club pool bar
Our taxi driver summed up the situation: ‘Fewer Americans are coming here because of a few crazy headlines but visitors from Europe are flooding in. It doesn’t make any sense.
‘It’s a real tragedy because the slump in tourism has effected a lot of people who have families to feed. But I’m confident we can get our mojo back.’
The driver was right, the resort was filled with Brits and other Europeans who were not fazed by the headlines across the pond and many unperturbed Americans I met weren’t bothered either.
Since the heavy scrutiny of the island the Dominican Republic government has brought in new safety measures – including a new emergency tourist center in Punta Cana – meaning the island is now one of the safest in the Caribbean.
At Now Onyx staff give out hand sanitizer on arrival at every restaurant in a bid to stop the spread of germs. Pictured is the entrance to the Preferred Club lounge
And every hotel and resort is also being extra vigilant to ensure safety measures are in place and hygiene standards are optimum.
At Now Onyx staff give out hand sanitizer on arrival at every restaurant in a bid to stop the spread of germs and the hotel is spotlessly clean.
Tania Rodriguez, Manager of Supplier Engagement – Cuba & Dominican Republic, at CheapCaribbean, the company we travelled through, said the Dominican Republic has never been safer.
‘While tourism has taken a hit amidst the recent news cycle, the minister of tourism insists that the country is a safe travel destination.
‘The U.S. State Department reports that over the past eight years, 0.001 per cent (of tourists) have died in the Dominican Republic from non-natural causes, which is a far lower rate than other popular beach destinations.’
She added: ‘The slogan, “Dominican Republic has it all”, is true to form and substance.
‘The destination offers everything from beautiful beaches for lounging to top-rated golf courses and everything in between. Travellers have a wide array of options when visiting the Dominican Republic and can choose from a plethora of resorts that cater to all budgets.’
The splash park at the Explorer’s Club for children. Ryan says on the first day, his children couldn’t wait to get up and check it out
Hotel Now Onyx is a kids’ paradise – with little ones having their own ‘Explorer’s Club’ complete with their very own splash park – no adults allowed.
On our first day, the kids couldn’t wait to get up and check it out.
Felizidad and her team were great with our little ones – even making sure the youngest, who had just turned three – settled in with the bigger kids okay.
Activities include camping, movie nights, shell-collecting on the beach, swim games, pizza-making and decorating donuts.
You can drop your kids off from 9am and the club is usually open until 9pm.
Staff will even take your ‘little explorers’ to dinner at the Carnival Buffet, which has a special section for kids full of favourites like chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.
For teens, there are computer consoles, air hockey, table football and regular movies.
The Carnival Buffet, pictured, which has a special section for kids that’s full of favourites like chicken nuggets and mac and cheese
One of the highlights for the kids was a beach disco – with balloon modelling and games and a limbo competition.
Our kids would jump up in the morning and demand to go to kids’ club.
Staff at the resort were warm and friendly, high-fiving the children and laughing and joking with the guests – this place has that happy, carefree vibe the Caribbean is famous for.
With the kids content, it was time for the adults to relax.
We headed over to the Preferred Adult Only swim-up bar and pool area.
The stunning pool area is adjacent to the beach and features comfy Bali beds (an outdoor daybed) and attentive all-day waitress-service.
We kicked back with a local cocktail, Coco-Loco – a creamy coconut-based rum drink – at our sun loungers before swimming to the swim-up bar and enjoying a drink in the water.
The Preferred Adult Only swim-up bar and pool area. Ryan kicked back here with local cocktail Coco-Loco – a creamy coconut-based rum drink
The stunning adults-only pool area, which is adjacent to the beach and features comfy Bali beds and attentive all-day waitress-service
You can even hire your own ‘private island’ in this section for the day complete with Champagne and snacks.
Later we headed to the white sandy beach – which again offers waitress service, under shady tiki-style shades.
We also took advantage of the water sports available – guests are free to take out kayaks, paddleboards and catamarans into the warm Atlantic ocean that surrounds the resort.
A particular highlight of our trip was a visit to Monkeyland, a natural jungle habitat in the lush Dominican countryside, which is home to families of friendly and inquisitive squirrel monkeys.
We were picked up from our hotel in a safari-style truck, which winds through small villages and towns en route, past roadside fruit sellers selling fresh coconuts and avocados.
We stopped at a local coffee, coconut and cocoa plantation on the way, where we got to try fresh coffee, hot chocolate and coconut candies.
And then it was off to the main event – the monkeys.
One of the dining options is a restaurant called Spice. It is described as a food ‘show’ where talented chefs cook Asian favourites on huge Teppanyaki tables
Monkey business: Monkeyland was a highlight for the Parry family
We were escorted into their five-acre jungle enclosure and the cute little monkeys scurried to find us, climbing on our shoulders and heads.
Our eldest beamed with pride as he triumphantly announced: ‘There are seven monkeys on my head.’
The monkeys have become used to human visitors and have even learned how to take selfies on visitors’ phones.
Our guide made sure we all had the chance to feed the animals some fruit and take pictures – the rainforest surrounding Monkeyland offers a spectacular backdrop for some memorable snaps.
For those wanting a little more excitement, there’s also a thrilling course of 12 zip-lines nearby, where adrenaline junkies can fly over treetops and look for exotic birds and other jungle wildlife.
Our excursion took just a morning – perfect for smaller kids – and upon our return to Now Onyx we enjoyed lunch at the beachside Barefoot Grill, which serves grilled seafood, burgers and salads just yards from the ocean.
Food is good around the resort – our favourites were Mercure, a romantic French restaurant, and Capers, which serves family-friendly Italian meals.
Another fun dining option was Spice – described as a food ‘show’ – where talented chefs cook Asian favourites on huge Teppanyaki tables.
There is also 24-hour room service on offer – plus minibars in each room which are filled up with juices, beers and snacks daily.
It seems that the Dominican Republic is truly bouncing back – and the visitors are returning to this beautiful, friendly island.
One thing is for sure – we’ll be back.
CheapCaribbean specialises in beach vacations to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, with 600-plus waterfront properties.
The firm is offering travelers to the Dominican Republic $75 off five-plus nights, plus free transfers on select resorts. Booking window: January 8 to 21, 2020. Applied to travel all through 2020.
Additionally, Punta Cana has just launched a campaign called ‘Punta Cana Promise’, where resorts have agreed to meet a set of strict safety standards. CheapCaribbean is a supporter. For more information, please click here.
To check out other travel deals for Now Onyx and other Caribbean destinations, visit CheapCarribean.com.