On September 1, 2016, The Excellence Collection opened the doors to its newest property in the Dominican Republic, Excellence El Carmen. Stylish, sophisticated, luxurious, serene—how much time do you have to read a list of words that guests used to describe this resort from the moment the nation’s president helped cut the ribbon? The fact is this was an astonishing new Caribbean masterpiece that was destined to become a playground for influencers and celebrities, and what made it all the more fascinating was Excellence Punta Cana was only a few minutes down the road.
A six-minute car ride—10 if there’s traffic—and short enough to make people wonder, “Why in the world would anyone need another Excellence resort when there’s already a marvelous, if not legendary, property in this region?” Then, you arrive at the entrance to the Excellence El Carmen lobby and stare in awe as what looks like a stone wall slowly opens to reveal modern magnificence.
“That’s why,” you’ll tell yourself.
(Before booking your vacation, please refer to The Excellence Collection’s new health and safety protocols, as well as travel requirements from the Dominican Republic. And don’t forget to pack your masks and use them.)
The Difference is Attitude
One of my best friends and his wife spent their honeymoon at Excellence Punta Cana, because, he tells me, “It’s laidback and simple, feeling like a classic Caribbean resort while not lacking style.” Having visited earlier this year, I agree with that assessment, as strolling through the garden and feeding the wide variety of birds before taking in one of the many live shows in the amphitheater makes you feel like you’re experiencing a small town without passing beyond the gates.
Excellence El Carmen, which reopened successfully on November 28, has that vibe, too, but this property is more like a night in the city. From the moment you get out of bed and slip into the private pool outside your Junior Suite your day is going to be electric and jam-packed with fun, romance, action and entertainment. Put it this way: If Excellence Punta Cana is where you get married, then Excellence El Carmen is where you honeymoon (though no one would blame you if you flipped it). That’s not to say you couldn’t flip them, but I think the best idea is to try them both.
The Fun is Just Starting
In the four years since Excellence El Carmen opened its doors, little has changed. Walking through that automatic stone door feels like the beginning of a science fiction film, only instead of malfunctioning robots you’re greeted by an incredibly friendly and attentive staff. Just as they did at Excellence Punta Cana, everyone from the bartender to the Excellence Club concierge at Excellence El Carmen remembered my name throughout the entire visit, and it certainly wasn’t special treatment.
Laid out like a campus where the only courses are Introduction to Luxurious Living and Poolside Decadence 101, Excellence El Carmen challenges guests to stay in one place by putting the best of the resort’s offerings out in the open. And you should want to spend as much time enjoying the amenities and dining options, but it all begins with the suites, where every option—from the Junior Suite Pool View to the Two-Story Rooftop Terrace Suite with Plunge Pool—was designed and conceived to spoil guests.
Maximize the experience with the exclusivity of the Excellence Club, which dials up the perks. For starters, guests will enjoy private check-in and check-out (something that is already changing and evolving for all guests as the resort reopens and adjusts), but the exceptional bonuses all revolve around additional privacy, with a beach, 12 pools, multiple bars and more all using the illustrious P word that we all crave so much on vacation. (That’s P for privacy, just to be clear.)
King beds, large sofas, private balconies, oversized Jacuzzis, plunge pools, expansive bathrooms, swim-up lounging deck and large televisions for the five-minute break you’ll take before returning to the action—there’s no shortage of extravagant perks in each suite. Still, if this resort captures the essence of a night on the town, then it’s time to head outside.
And the Fun Never Ends
Between the 23 pools, 16 bars, intoxicating Miilé Spa, an incredible stretch of clean golden beach and thoroughly entertaining evening shows that celebrate legends of pop music, it’s very easy to work up an appetite. Fortunately for even the pickiest of eaters there are a dozen restaurants at Excellence El Carmen and variety is king. Every guest’s dilemma, of course, is finding time to try them all, but missing even one simply means a return trip is necessary.
Picking a favorite is a Sisyphean task, because settling on one just reminds me how great they all were and I’m right back where I started. The restaurant I knew I’d love was Agave, because Mexican food is my fuel, and this place has a mango margarita that was instantly Instagram-worthy. The one that surprised me the most, in the best way possible, was Basmati, because Indian cuisine in the Dominican Republic? Hey, that’s why we try new things, right? And thank goodness I tried it, because the Kastoori Kebab was packed with flavor and the Pakora helped me get over my strange, baseless fear of chutney. And if you like dinner and a show, make sure to reserve a Teppanyaki table at Spice, because the chefs are hilarious and the food is dynamite.
Don’t fill up too much, because when the live show starts in the spacious, open-air amphitheater, there are still daiquiris and food truck fare to enjoy. I was blown away by the quality of the live performances, not that I expected a high school talent show, but I certainly wasn’t ready for Vegas-style costumes and choreography. A lot of resorts don’t put a lot into their on-site entertainment, so to see a group of entertainers deliver such a high-energy performance, it’s both exciting and rewarding.
That’s Excellence El Carmen in a nutshell. This is a resort full of people who care about the guest experience and delivering above and beyond expectations. That’s incredibly difficult, too, when you consider the scope of the Excellence Club’s intentions and the high bar that was set from the moment the ribbon was cut. But even the highest bars can seem low when every guest is floating on cloud nine.