Friday, July 30, 2010

Zoetry Agua Punta Cana - Dominican Republic

To celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary, Bob and I decided to try out Zoetry Agua Punta Cana, a luxury boutique all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. We spent our 5th anniversary at one of its sister properties (Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita in Riviera Maya Mexico) and were eager to see how Zoetry's newest offering measured up.

Note: Our stay was in Mid-April 2010. In recent months, it sounds (based on tripadvisor reviews) that many improvements and adjustments have been made to help bring the resort up to the 5-star level it advertises itself to be, so many of the issues we experienced may have been resolved at this point. We had a long chat with the lovely and gracious manager Natalia one day about our experiences at the resort--both good and bad--and it was quite clear to us that she takes all concerns very seriously and is completely committed to helping the resort live up to its full potential!

Upon landing at the Punta Cana airport, we sped through customs and immigration. Counting in the time it took to have our photo taken as soon as we enter the airport (no way to avoid this--you can purchase it at the airport on your way back home from Punta Cana, but we didn't bother since it was terrible), pay for our tourist visas aka arrival tax ($10 per person), and get our bags, it took about 15 minutes from the time we walked into the airport from the jetway to walk out and meet our driver. Definitely the smoothest and quickest international arrival experience we've ever had!

We were driven to the resort in a GMC Yukon stocked with chilled champagne and bottled water, the experience reminding us of a Caribbean version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The ride took about an hour and 15 minutes, but the scenery kept things interesting, as we passed small but hectic towns and colorful villages and rode on bumpy roads through miles of palm-dotted fields and farms with a backdrop of misty purple mountains.

Check in was fairly quick and simple, and then we were taken to a spacious 2nd floor Agua (pool view) Junior Suite. The suite itself was beautiful...

...with a very nice view...

...but we were very disappointed that we had not received the requested Ocean Front Junior Suite, especially as the resort seemed to be almost empty (we were later told it was at 40% occupancy, but even that number seemed inflated). As we settled in, a staff member arrived at the door with a lovely anniversary cake and a chilled bottle of champagne in the room--very nice touches!

Bob had also pre-arranged for a beautiful bouquet of flowers to be waiting for me as a surprise!

We called down to the front desk to see about being moved to an Ocean Front, but were told none were available. However, a few hours later we were contacted by the resort manager, Natalia, who told me that one actually was available and that they'd move our things for us while we were at dinner.

That night, there were 2 options for dinner (aside from room service); a beach buffet or the resort's European gourmet restaurant, Olena (formerly called Maroon). We decided to check out the buffet but strong winds, communal tables, and the fact that it was so dark we could hardly even see the food soon convinced us that Olena would be a better choice.

We were the only people in Olena for most of the meal, and saw only one other couple the entire time. While we love low-key, peaceful properties, the resort felt oddly deserted during our whole stay, rather than simply tranquil and quiet. Bob's salad and my shrimp appetizer were good, though not amazing.

My entree of grilled fish (I believe it was swordfish, but can't recall for sure) was very good, but Bob's steak was 95% fat and thus pretty much inedible.

My chocolate mousse was delicious, but again, Bob's was disappointing. His first choice was unavailable (we also had trouble finding anything on the wine menu that was actually in stock), and the "creme brulee" was just...well, not creme brulee. More like instant pudding. We were also surprised that instead of coming back and telling us that choice #1 was unavailable and asking what Bob would like instead, the waiter just picked something for him.

Arriving in our new room after dinner, we discovered that the bed had been decorated with rose petals, and more strewn in a path from the bedroom to the tub, beginning and ending with flickering candles.

Since it was late in the evening, we could not get a good sense of the view from our balcony, but enjoyed waking up to the spectacular view of the beach and ocean the next morning!

While the rooms are very spacious and beautifully decorated, we did have a few problems. The air conditioning in our room was not nearly strong enough for the tropical heat, so we had to sleep with the balcony doors open (the strong winds were a plus in this sense, as they kept the room very comfortable (if a bit loud as the thick drapes were blown around like sails).

The hot water in the shower was iffy, and the blinds on the window in the tub/shower area were broken and so did not fully close. Since we were on the 2nd floor, privacy was not too much of an issue, though in theory people probably could have seen into the room from outside if they were in the right spot on the beach/in the water. Our room was at the top left of the yellow building:

Our routine was pretty much the same each day of our stay. Every morning we'd start the day off with breakfast at Amaya (except the last day, when we ordered room service), the "pond-side" restaurant in the center of the Zoetry grounds.

The breakfast menu is not particularly extensive, but the food was always delicious (although dishes rarely were prepared exactly as listed on the menu).

While we waited on our food, we enjoyed watching turtles swim lazily around the pond as their friendly duck neighbors came over to inspect the new guests.

We would then spend most of the rest of the day on the gorgeous beach!

The water in front of the resort is spectacular, even after the nightly storms. I can't even imagine how clear it is when the water is calmer!

There was a waitress who comes around every once in awhile to take drink orders, but food is not served on the beach. It took on average 30 minutes to actually get our drinks, even though we were only sitting about 100 feet from the bar. Not a huge surprise though, as every time we were in the bar or the restaurants, many of the servers would be standing around chatting and often all but ignoring the guests. When we did interact with staff members, they were almost all warm and friendly, but just seemed to lack either training or any significant interest in helping the guests (I'm used to "island time", but this went way beyond what is acceptable for a supposed 5* resort).

Lunch is served some days at Amaya, and every day at Indigo, the resort's beach- and pool-front bar/restaurant. Again, orders rarely showed up exactly as noted on the menu.

In the afternoons, we'd usually take a walk down the beach.

Zoetry is pretty secluded from any other hotels, though there is a restaurant/bar a little ways down to the right. The landscape here is still fairly "wild" (in a mostly good way!), with lots of cool driftwood. Zoetry keeps their beach scrupulously clean, though you do see a reasonable amount of garbage washed up once you get a little ways from the resort.

One afternoon, we took advantage of the included horseback riding excursion, which was fun if a bit painful! Honestly, unless you are really in to riding/have never been before and are curious to try this, I would skip it. The ride is just not scenic/interesting enough to justify the resulting soreness!

A 20-minute massage is also included with every stay. I highly recommend scheduling this for after your horseback excursion--definitely helped with those sore muscles! The spa is lovely, the masseuses charming, and our massages were excellent.

For dinner, we ate at Amaya one night...

...and had dinner brought to the room the other two nights. One night, we ordered from the room service menu, the other we ordered from the Indigo menu (I was pleased to learn that the resort allows this, rather than only allowing you to order from the dedicated room service menu). Never did we get exactly what we ordered, but this was not a huge surprise considering the experiences we'd had in the restaurants.

Unfortunately, the food was generally only fair (aside from a few dishes) at Zoetry Agua - especially disappointing when you're at an all-inclusive with no nearby restaurants. The same goes for the "umbrella drinks" (pina coladas, daquiris, etc.) - I did not have a single one that was even decent, and a couple were all but undrinkable. Very surprising and in my opinion unacceptable at a Caribbean "luxury" beach resort! I did enjoy the premium tequila shots, though, and trying the local "mamajuana" shot made with local liquor is a must!

On our last morning we spent a few hours relaxing by the pool that curves through much of the property and ends with a beachfront infinity edge.

Before we left, I wandered around with my camera to capture the lush grounds and tropical foliage...

After a quick stop at the lobby bar, it was time to head for the airport and home...

Note: As I mentioned in my review of Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita last year, Zoetry properties accept all ages, though they should be adult-only. But we did see only 1-2 children at Agua, despite the fact that it was the tail end of spring break week. It also has a much larger pool than Paraiso, so children would likely be a bit less of an issue at Agua than Paraiso.

Overall, I would rate our stay at Zoetry 3 out of 5 stars. The suites, grounds, beach, and spa were all wonderful, but could just not make up for the less-than acceptable service, food, and drinks. However, once those issues are resolved, I think it would be a fabulous place to stay, and am hopeful that in the very near future it will be a property I can wholeheartedly recommend to others!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the info. My husband and I are heading there for 6 nights to celebrate our anniversary. I am getting very anxious after reading Trip Advisor, but your review makes me feel alittle better. If you have any other suggestions or insite for our stay I would love to hear them. Take care,

Mike Fisher said...

a great and very detailed review.
thank you very much.

Tracy F. said...

Great review and beautiful pictures!

mykel67 said...

What a terrific report (and great photos)! I appreciated your very detailed and balanced approach to the review. I'm a super-picky "hotel-ie" as well, and some of the shortcomings in your review are making me rethink choosing Zoetry for our holiday later this month. Perhaps I'll give it another look in the winter when hopefully food/beverages/service have improved.

Veiga said...

I am charmed with your blog -
I invite you to view my: it you will know a l small country, very old but with good people, good food and beautiful landscapes: Portugal. I write and I speak a little English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese-This one interesting for language learning, but you can make comments in English

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that was extremely valuable and interesting...I will be back again to read more on this topic.

Shaina said...

Hi I had a question about your transportation. My fiance and I have our honeymoon planned to Zoetry Agua Punta Cana, and we were wondering who you reserved the SUV with champagne with? The resort told us that they don't have that service.

Thank you.


Caroline said...

Thank you all so much for the wonderful comments!

Shaina, I emailed you with more information! Hope it helps, and best wishes on your upcoming wedding!

Brad Phillips said...

Thank you you for sharing your experience with Zoetry Agua Punta Cana. Here's ours:

Last fall, my fiancĂ©e and I deliberated over our “perfect” honeymoon. We decided that the one thing we wanted most was a small resort that offered a quiet and private reprieve from our busy lives. After looking all over the world, we made our selection for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation at Zoetry Agua Punta Cana. The small resort, with just 51 rooms, was exactly what we were looking for.

We booked our room last November, seven months before our wedding, and quickly received an email from a reservations clerk offering to help us with any additional needs for our visit. Over the next few months, we traded numerous emails and arranged a special dinner on the beach, as well as transportation to and from the airport.

Two weeks before our trip, I called Zoetry to ask whether we might be able to extend our trip by a few days. They told me they were over-booked for those extra days. When I asked whether our original booking would be affected by their “over-booked” status, they assured me we’d be fine.

On Friday morning – the day before our wedding and just three days before our scheduled departure – I received an email from Zoetry informing us they had overbooked the property and were unable to honor our reservation. They offered us a room at another property called Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana – a sprawling complex with 176 rooms. Secrets, more than triple the size of Zoetry, was precisely the type of place we didn’t want to go. Worse, the reviews weren’t as good.

When I asked Zoetry Hotel Manager Luis Fitch why he bumped a honeymoon couple instead of someone in one of the other 51 rooms, he told me, “It was a business decision.” When I asked him what went wrong, he casually said, “People get bumped. It happens in the airlines and at other hotels.”

When I explained that a move to the much larger resort wasn’t an acceptable option, he offered us a free “romantic” dinner and a free airport pick-up. Only after I continued to express my outrage did he offer something better – but by the time I won that Pyrrhic victory, I no longer wanted anything to do with his chain.

So on Friday afternoon – as guests were arriving for that night’s rehearsal dinner – we found ourselves scrambling to book a different honeymoon. We ended up going to a wonderful resort in Los Cabos, Mexico – but at significantly greater expense.

If anyone is planning a vacation, I strongly recommend avoiding Zoetry and their related properties. The casual indifference with which they canceled our honeymoon at the last minute bodes poorly for other travelers, as does the fact that other Zoetry guests have shared similar stories on review sites of being bumped at the last minute.

Caroline said...

Brad, I'm so sorry to hear about the trouble you had with Zoetry Agua, and thank you for sharing your experience. I would love to hear where you ended up going in Cabo, and am glad you were able to still have a fantastic honeymoon! Cngratulations on your new marriage!

To all considering the value of travel agents these days:
For what it's worth (and though it may sound a little self-serving), Brad's experience with Zoetry does illustrates very well why a good travel agent can come in handy! Suppliers with whom agents work have contracts with resorts that generally include a "no-walk" policy, so that clients are not blindsided with an unwanted change in resort!

SpelmanGirl said...

Hi Caroline. Just found your Blog and LOVE it. And I don't do blogs!

My husband and I are planning a Zoetry trip for our 10th in 2013 and I'm starting my research and planning now. I've read both of your Zoetry reviews and I was wondering if you have a preference? Also - if you know anything about the third? Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide.

Happy travels!

Caroline said...

Hi Spelmangirl!

I definitely prefer Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita (Riviera Maya) over Zoetry Agua (Punta Cana) - no contest! I've not been to their Cabo property, but a colleague of mine spent some time there awhile back. She had a nice time, and has a review here:

But overall, Paraiso de la Bonita would be our top pick of the Zoetry resorts! The location, accommodations, food, and service are just hands-down the best there of all 3 properties. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do to help with your vacation, and congratulations on your upcoming anniversary!

Tina said...

Hi Caroline,

Can you share information (pricing and contact) for airport transfer?

Thank you!!

Caroline said...

Hi Tina,

You would actually need to contact the resort for that - I only have pricing/info for transfers booked as part of a package!

Punta Cana Airport Transfers said...

That for sharing this tips. I see that you've really enjoyed your trip, such a great experience.

Punta Cana Airport Transfers said...

Thank you for all of the information. I am getting very anxious after reading Trip Advisor

Unknown said...

Wow so nice! I like this site. Keep it working every day.

Dominican Airport Transfers

Caroline said...

Thank you so much, Andrew! My goal for 2015 is to post every day!

Unknown said...

Your pictures of the Dominican Republic are beautiful. My brother ans sister have both traveled there are really enjoyed themselves. I have been thinking about booking a trip there myself. The beaches look amazing.


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