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Rediscovering Excellence in the Dominican Republic

When the resort’s name is literally Excellence, the bar is already high. And yet, 20 years later, Excellence Punta Cana still defies expectations.

March 5, 2020
The Excellence Collection
A sprawling pool and stunning beach just steps away at all times, and yet they’re only the cherry on top at Excellence Punta Cana. The Excellence Collection

There was a moment when I was sitting on the rooftop terrace of my Excellence Club Honeymoon Suite, enjoying breakfast on the morning of my checkout, that I wondered to myself, “How is this real?” It wasn’t just about the amazing view of the ocean, impossibly cool breeze or delightfully refreshing green juice that had just been delivered to my room. It was the whole moment, and, more specifically, how it has been imagined, cultivated and preserved at Excellence Punta Cana.

Twenty years ago, this resort opened its doors as the flagship of what would eventually become The Excellence Collection, with locations from the Dominican Republic to Jamaica to Mexico. Now, the thing about a flagship resort is that it can suffer from “first child syndrome.” In the beginning, it’s the favorite, but soon another one comes, then another, and maybe one or 10 more. Eventually, the first one becomes an afterthought, because people want something newer and more exciting.

But to feel this way about Excellence Punta Cana would be a mistake. In fact, I’m not sure it’s possible for this “first child” to be an afterthought, because 20 years later it is still a masterpiece among the Collection of younger siblings, which are spread out from nearby El Carmen to Montego Bay to Cancun. And thanks to the always-evolving Excellence Club, things feel fresher than ever at this secluded spot on the eastern tip of the island.

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Joining the Club

The Excellence Collection
Private beach lounges await Excellence Club guests within the exclusive beach area. The Excellence Collection

I’ve always joked that I never feel more important than when I walk into a Starbucks to pick up my mobile order, passing the mere mortals in the normal line, and darting right back out the door with my giant vat of cold brew (this also goes for mobile ordering deli meats at Publix). But no matter how many times I book a VIP resort experience like the Excellence Club, being ushered into a private check-in area to meet with my own private concierge does not get old. Short of being flown in by private helicopter, it’s the closest I get to feeling like James Bond.

Flaunting the exclusivity is a rookie move, though, because everything about the Excellence Club is sophisticated and stylish. From the personal greeting and check-in to Magna—a private lounge and restaurant you’ll visit for cocktails, snacks and meals, or even just a little extra peace and quiet—you’ll want to act like you’ve been there before, which is an easy concept to imagine, since there’s a good chance you won’t stop thinking about coming back.

Beyond Excellence Punta Cana’s lobby, in the dedicated suites, guests will enjoy an exclusive room service menu and a premium liquor bar. And outside, perhaps most importantly, the Excellence Club also features a private beach area and pools, as well as a bar that has one of the best margarita menus I have encountered in the Caribbean (this detail is extremely important to me). Membership certainly has its perks.

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Drinking It All In

The Excellence Collection
It’s easy to stroll around the property if you just follow the pool. The Excellence Collection

If you’re the type of traveler who checks into a resort and wants to get down to business—head straight to the room, change clothes and hit the pool and/or beach with a frosty cocktail in hand—fight the urge, even if just this one time. In order to best experience Excellence Punta Cana, you need to understand everything that it offers, because there is more than meets the eye within the palm tree grove boundaries of this stylish-yet-classic Caribbean escape.

Not far from the lobby’s drop-off, where guests are greeted by staff with an incredible ability to remember names (the gentleman who handled my bags greeted me with shouts of “Good morning, Mr. Burns!” each morning from across the pool), is a small watering hole that is home to flamingos, geese, a variety of ducks and plenty of other birds eager to snatch chunks of bread from the feeding boxes. Two of the friendliest macaws you’ll ever meet are also hanging out in the nearby trees.

The Excellence Collection
Excellence Club guests can sip tamarind margaritas next to the private cascading pools. The Excellence Collection

If I hadn’t gone to see the birds, I might not have noticed the small path beyond the stretch of shops, right next to the Miilé Spa, that led me back to what I can only describe as an activities compound, featuring a full basketball court, bikes, tennis courts, ping-pong, mini golf, darts, archery, a rifle range… and that’s all before I arrived at the yoga studio and fitness center.

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Seeing all this at the beginning of my stay made it very clear to me, by the time I took the stairs up to my rooftop terrace, that hanging around the room was not going to be an option at this resort. But, boy, was it going to be challenging.

How Suite It Is

The Excellence Collection
The Excellence Club Honeymoon Suite with Rooftop Terrace lures guests to the daybed or hot tub, daring them to take their eyes off the incredible ocean view. The Excellence Collection

Visiting the various suites offered within the Excellence Club program, it was clear that efforts were made to make each style distinct and unique from the next, even if it was as simple as chair placement or a little more complex, like putting the bathtub in front of the balcony doors. The most common accommodation is the Excellence Club Junior Suite Garden View (86 units available) while the most exclusive is the Honeymoon Suite with Private Pool (one and only), but no matter the size or distinguishing features, they all deliver upon the Club’s intentions.

Walking into my Excellence Club Honeymoon Suite, I initially missed the staircase just past the front door and second full bathroom (the other bathroom is inside the bedroom area), because I was focused on the spacious living area and large, private balcony. But when I ascended those stairs and stepped onto the wide deck area, I wondered aloud to my private guide how I’d ever want to leave.

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The Excellence Collection
The Excellence Club Junior Suite with Private Pool allows guests to enjoy private time before hopping over to a larger body of water. The Excellence Collection

That sensation is hardly limited to the larger suites. Even the junior suites felt big, because they were designed to take advantage of what space they have. In a resort packed with impressive features and details, I found myself focused on the little things, amazed by the way wooden shelves made a room feel bigger or how the vaulted ceilings in the spa turned a hydrotherapy room into a vast cavern of serenity.

Rest, Relax, Repeat

The Excellence Collection
The Excellence Club includes one aqua wellness treatment, and this hydrotherapy experience is no joke. The Excellence Collection

It is difficult to describe a spa treatment, mainly because the best treatments leave you speechless. Or, in my case, a stammering fool who needs an hour on the warm chaise lounges to return to this planet. My otherworldly voyage at the Miilé Spa began with an aqua wellness treatment, and if you’ve never tried a hydrotherapy session—everyone should at least once—this is the perfect place to begin, because it’s a small room (which, again, feels larger) with a convenient path from station to station.

And if you choose to limit your spa experience to the aqua wellness session (it is included with the Excellence Club package) you will still feel like a new person thanks to the swan high-pressure water hoses, Swedish sauna, aromatic steam bath, ice room and everything else. But you might regret not enjoying individual or couples treatment, like the 80-minute Excellence Massage or the Heavenly Lavender Massage, which I was told is, well, heavenly.

Food for Thought

The Excellence Collection
One of nine dining options at Excellence Punta Cana, The Lobster House serves up fresh lobster and seafood for an à la carte dinner experience that also offers great views of the ocean. The Excellence Collection

With nine dining options, food is a bit of a challenge at Excellence Punta Cana. Choosing between restaurants is a Sisyphean task if you’re not staying long enough to try each place, even when it comes to lighter fare, like the wood oven pizza at Las Olas or the delicious four-cheese sauce and pasta at Oregano (although I do not recommend pasta for lunch, unless your goal is a nice, long poolside nap).

If you’re short on time, you cannot go wrong with the Mexican restaurant, Agave, where I wasted not one bite of a delicious tampiqueña platter that included with my steak a chicken taco delightfully drenched in mole sauce (which I paired with the best strawberry margarita I’ve found in the Caribbean to date). For those who like dinner and a show, the Asian-influenced Spice has Teppanyaki stations manned by chefs oozing with personality (and dishing out more sake than you can handle… presumably).

Or, if yours is a simple appetite, the surf and turf at The Grill does the trick without leaving you feeling stuffed, which is crucial for enjoying the nightly shows.

Not Time to Call It a Night Yet

The Excellence Collection
Just when you think this resort can’t surprise you anymore, you get a Michael Jackson tribute. The Excellence Collection

What Excellence Punta Cana does best is it takes the things we expect from an all-inclusive resort and escalates the quality of every aspect. I felt that in everything from the spa treatment to my personal concierge greeting me by name each morning, but nothing prepared me for the nightly show, at least in terms of just how good the performance would be.

Every night features a different theme, so while I would have loved to see the Queen tribute, my first night’s big show was a circus act that, honestly, blew me away. That’s not to say I didn’t expect to be entertained, but the performers were as talented as they were enthusiastic. Flips, trapeze work, twirling, choreographed performance art—this felt like the kind of show that some entertainers spend a lifetime preparing for, and yet it was just another weekday night.

That’s the Excellence Club in a nutshell. It’s an experience that lures you in with the promise of a luxury all-inclusive vacation, but then surprises and delights by taking everything to another level. Sometimes a name is just a formality, but in this case, it might actually be an understatement.

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