Photo: Monte Mathews

This Newly Renovated Punta Cana Resort Elevates the All-Inclusive

Punta Cana Epic Stays
by Monte Mathews May 9, 2024

My first foray into all-inclusive resorts was on my honeymoon. The marriage didn’t last, and I never repeated either experience — until last week.

I was invited to the unveiling of Meliá’s renewed and improved Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Everything, from every suite to the menus in the restaurants, has been completely refreshed. My host was Meliá Hotels International. While not exactly a household name in the US, the Spanish hotel chain is one of the largest in the world.

Meliá was founded in 1956, and it’s still headquartered in Palma de Mallorca where it all began. The hotel group now has 380 properties in over 40 countries, representing hotels for every budget. Meliá Paradisus Resorts fall right where “luxury meets paradise.” These all-inclusive resorts are set in breathtaking destinations from the lush jungles of Costa Rica to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean — including Paradisus Palma Real.

The resort’s recent $50 million renovation delivers top-notch service and amenities, nine dining experiences, and endless opportunities for complete relaxation in dozens of beachfront palapas and poolside chaises. For those in search of more active pursuits, there’s everything from golf to parasailing over the ocean. Of special interest over the weekend I was there was a series of celebrity culinary events at the grand resort on Punta Cana’s spectacular Bávero Beach.

How Paradisus Palma Real improves on the all-inclusive concept


Photo: Monte Mathews

The all-inclusive resort concept dates back to the 1950s and 1960s when Club Med arrived on the travel scene. Founded in France, Club Med was all about offering guests the whole package — accommodation, meals, drinks, and activities — for one upfront price. It was kind of like the all-you-can-eat-buffet of vacations. Therein lay the bugaboo of Club Med. There was plenty of food, but despite being French, it was hardly gourmet. That’s what Paradisus Palma Real built into its renovation: an emphasis on great food in a great setting.

Once that was in place, all of the other undeniable advantages of vacationing at an all-inclusive were there: security, reliability, and predictability. Paradisus Palma Real occupies an estate with as much security as the White House. Guests can relax knowing they won’t be hit with unexpected expenses at check out. Parents can let their hair down knowing their kids are being entertained endlessly. And for adults, Paradisus Palma Real created The Reserve.

Adults-only suites and amenities in a family-friendly resort


Photo: Meliá Hotels International

The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real is an adults-only enclave with its own pools, private beaches, a spa, and a restaurant-bar called Sante for guests ages 18 and up. All of the 152 rooms in The Reserves are suites — and luxurious ones at that — located in a serene setting away from the frolicking small fries elsewhere in the resort.

The décor is breezily Caribbean, accentuated by gauzy curtains that separate the bathroom from the rest of the suite and enclose the closet. Right behind the king-sized bed is a wired-for-WiFi workspace (if you must) and dressing area. In the bathroom, there’s a glorious soaking tub, a shower, double sinks complete with necessities like toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a separate toilet. In the closet, you’ll find beach essentials including a tote, a pair of towels, and two pairs of flip flops. There’s also a fully stocked snack bar, a safe, and a mini fridge that’s filled and refilled with beer, soft drinks, and water.

When it comes time to relax, sprawl out on the couch or settle into the chair by the coffee table. Maybe you want to pop on the giant TV, which has dozens of channels in an astonishing number of languages. For a more scenic view, head to the terrace where you’ll find two rocking chairs overlooking the swimming pools — or, on the third (and top) floor, views of the sea and the sunrise.

Dining at Paradisus Palma Real is what all-inclusive food should be


Photo: Monte Mathews

As mentioned, there are nine restaurants on the property. You can get fancy at dinner, choosing between Asian, Mexican, and Italian fare or two new adults-only restaurants: Flora, helmed by master of Dominican cuisine Chef Leandro Diaz, and Malva, a more casual spot with a bazaar-style buffet showcasing local flavors for breakfast, lunch, and a la carte dinner.

For families, Mosaico is a full-on buffet with a wide array of food designed to please both parents and kids. It’s the largest of all Meliá Paradisus’ dining spots, seating up to 600 people. Before you scoff, the space is broken up into a whole series of seating areas, indoors and out, that make the experience far more intimate than seating for 600 sounds. Every other restaurant is a truly intimate experience, featuring a range of cuisines prepared in elevated styles.

For Food Network and Top Chef-obsessed travelers like myself, one of the resort’s culinary highlights comes from celebrity chef and restaurateur Antonia Lofaso. Meliá Paradisus is familiar territory for Chef Lofaso: She’s already created menus for Meliá Paradisus’ sister properties in Mexico, and last November, she refined the culinary offerings in Punta Cana. Now, guests at Paradisus Palma Real can taste her food through a menu that integrates local Dominican ingredients with dishes inspired by her Italian-American roots.


Photo: Monte Mathews

During my visit, New York-based Chef Alan Vargas joined Chef Lofaso to create an eight-course extravaganza combining Lofaso’s Italian flair and Vargas’ Latin-infused flavors. (And let’s not forget the Dominican rum served during the cocktail hour.)

In addition to a phenomenal dinner at the resort’s Mina restaurant, both chefs gave midday demonstrations at the resort’s sushi bar, Tokimeku. Chef Vargas left mouths watering as he broke down freshly caught huachinango (red snapper) and made his famous crudo, which was almost too beautiful to eat. Chef Lofaso’s demonstration the next day taught press and lucky guests how to make spring pea ravioli.

But my visit to Paradisus Palma Real wasn’t just about one gourmet weekend — it was about setting the bar high when it comes to all-inclusive dining for every guest who visits. The resort knows that culinary experiences can make or break a vacation decision, and its dedication to serving the best will hardly stop at a weekend.

How to get to Paradisus Palma Real


Photo: Monte Mathews

There’s a long list of cities you can get to Punta Cana from in time for an afternoon swim: Philadelphia, New York, Montreal, Baltimore, Dulles, Orlando, Toronto, San Juan, Newark, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, or St. John’s in Canada.

OTIUM provided easy transfers to and from Paradisus Palma Real. The 10-mile drive took all of 30 minutes there and back in comfortable vans. Finally, if you have Lounge Privileges, the VIP lounge near Gate 30 at Punta Cana Airport (PUJ) has the distinction of being the only VIP lounge I’ve ever encountered with an outdoor swimming pool. It’s located on the third floor overlooking the runway.

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