In episode 4, MAST President and COO John Werner sits down with Liisa Gunter of Cary Travel Express, Cary Illinois, to discuss current travel to the Dominican Republic. Liisa specializes in Mexico and Caribbean travel holding her AmResorts Master agent certificate. She loves this area in the world and has traveled to almost all AmResorts. Liisa recently traveled to the Dominican Republic with a stay at Secrets Cap Cana, check out the latest episode of MASTers of Travel to learn more!
Key Points On Punta Cana As Mentioned In The Podcast
#1 – People are listening to mask mandates
“I know there have been some disagreements with passengers about the facemask, but it seems like for the most part, it’s going very well. They do comply with it and they feel good about that and it feels comfortable. “
#2 – Punta Cana airport makes for a smooth travel experience
“When you walked in the airport, there was one gentleman with a scanner that he pointed at each of us and then a couple feet away we walked past a computer screen where they had the thermal reading and that was easy.”
#3 – Secrets Cap Cana is focused on sanitizing rooms
“They said that that’s dictated by the CDC. They weren’t able to do anything around the face or mouth.”
#4 – Keeping social distancing at Secrets Cap Cana is easy
“If they were near or trying to pass by someone on the sidewalk or if you walk through the lobby or a common area, like a restaurant, you had your mask on unless you were at your table.”
#5 – Secrets Cap Cana is implementing fun new ways to social distance
“To keep social distancing, if you bought a special bottle of wine and a lobster … they would set up a table with linen on the grass, and it’s under all the lights”
Full Podcast Transcript
Welcome to our next episode of MASTers of Travel. My name is John Werner. I’m the President of MAST Travel Network. We are a network of about 1000 travel advisors who have been all over the world and have expertise in many types of travel. Today I have with me Liisa Gunter, of Carrie Travel Express. Liisa has recently traveled to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and stayed at one of her favorite resorts anywhere. We’re going to talk to Liisa today about her experience, not only traveling during this time of the pandemic, but also about going back to Punta Cana and what it’s like to in the Dominican Republic and at the resort itself. So Liisa, welcome to our video chat today.
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
I know, the resort that you stayed at was Secrets Cap Cana, we’re going to come to that in a minute, you can talk a little bit more about your experience there. It’s one of my favorite resorts as well. But let’s start with going to the airport and the process at O’Hare and getting through TSA security checkpoint and so on.
I was ready to get on an airplane because I had not traveled since February. Both my husband and I went, so we were very excited. That was July 31. It was about four in the morning and we flew American [airlines]. To be honest with you, I just thought the airport was empty. It was almost depressing. It was just very sad. TSA was no issue. There was maybe three people in front of me, but it was also very early. When I went by Starbucks, and they were closed, most of the stores and all the kiosks and stuff were closed. That was sad, but then again, I traveled a month later to Cancun later in the day, and it was a whole different scenario. It was kind of depressing that day, but we’ve got to get travel back. We’ve got to get people back on planes.
Yeah, for sure. So, you made it through security. You got down to the gate. And it was American Airlines, you said, so how did American manage the gate area?
The gate area was pretty crowded. I was surprised, but the day before, there was a flight — O’Hare to Charlotte, which changed planes and then Charlotte to Punta Cana, the Charlotte to Punta Cana flight was on its way to Punta Cana, but they had to turn back because there was weather and American was afraid there was not enough fuel to circle around before they landed. So, a planeload of people had to comeback. Our flight O’Hare to Charlotte was empty, there was an empty sweet seat between my husband and I and then Charlotte to Punta Cana it was packed, it was full. The same thing coming back due to that. Everybody still wore masks. It was mandatory. There was one person on the plane that the flight attendant had us tell her a couple times keep it on, but everybody wore their masks and at the gate they kept distance and I was impressed how they took care of everything.
That’s good especially on a full flight. I know there have been some disagreements with passengers about the facemask, but it seems like for the most part, it’s going very well. They do comply with it and they feel good about that and it feels comfortable. The flight itself, I know that they’re not really doing too much service on the flight. You have to bring your own food and they’re giving out bottled water.
When you walked on the plane, they gave you a little bag that had a little bottle of water and a hand sanitizer wipe and those cookies. I always carry my own little snacks and my own bottle of water. And that was the same thing from Charlotte to Punta Cana, they gave us the bag.
On arrival to Punta Cana, I know the conditions have been changing there in terms of restrictions, do you need a test before you go or, it’s changing, and I know it’s changing again. I believe affected right this month or October 1st, but what was your experience?
We found out the day before we left that it was mandatory to have a negative COVID test.
We called everywhere around here [Cary, Illinois]. There was nobody that would guarantee us to have it within 24 hours. We were almost on the brink of like, well do we cancel? We both work from home, so we weren’t afraid of being sick. It was getting down there and if we had a high temperature, we were afraid because they would put you in quarantine for like two weeks at a government sit. We were on the verge, but we rolled the dice and we went and when we landed there was only one other plane in front of us. There was a line out the door to go into the terminal. But I timed it from the time we got off the plane to the shuttle to the resort it was only 25 minutes.
When you walked in the airport, there was one gentleman with a scanner that he pointed at each of us and then a couple feet away we walked past a computer screen where they had the thermal reading and that was easy. At Customs there was nobody in line, so it was easy. I only heard one gentleman say, “you need to step aside”. I don’t know if his temperature was high or whatever, but I didn’t know what happened to him. Like I said, it was 25 minutes total and we were the only two people on the shuttle because we use Amstar, and it was private anyway to Secrets. There was a sign in there [on the shuttle], “where your mask”. The driver did have us put hand sanitizer on when we got in. But then, it’s a 20-minute ride over to Secrets.
That’s one of the benefits of that resort, it’s close to the airport. And I think it’s gotten it’s easier now, getting through the airport there, than it was when you went. Like you said, there was really no delay in retrieving your luggage and you found your transportation and all of that went just fine. When you got to Secrets Cap Cana did you have a Preferred Club room?
Of course, yes, they spoil me. When we get off the shuttle, I wait for them to say “welcome home” because we do feel welcome home when we go. That was our fourth return trip. We feel like we’re home because we know the staff, Elvira Gilda, the Operations Manager actually was, I don’t know if it was our benefit or the guests arriving that day, but she was there greeting us. She had a tray with the hand sanitizer. They took our luggage away. I knew they sprayed it because when they we got the luggage back in the room, there was a little sticker on it saying, “your luggage has been disinfected”. Their Preferred Club is closed right now, it’s a smaller room, but they did check us in at the main front desk and that was fast. Our room wasn’t ready, but we were able to go and have lunch, have a drink, and then go back and then our butler took us to our room. Everybody at the resort has to wear masks. It’s mandatory for staff members, and there’s hand sanitizers all over the place. We did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe, not at all.
That’s great. What would you say the capacity was?
They were telling us it was 30%. We’ve been there before and it’s such a big widespread resort you never have a problem getting a chair at the pool, but you could just tell the staff were waiting around. That was sad because they want to take care of you, and they want to serve you. But, there’s not that many people there, but we still had a great time. It was sad, a couple staff members that we’ve known from past were not there yet, they say they’re on “vacation”, but they just haven’t called them back into work yet. But we saw a majority of them, so we felt at home, our family was there.
That’s nice. Especially when you see familiar faces.
Ya, that’s what we like
They’re so eager they want to see you too.
When you get in your room, did you notice anything different in terms of the in-room amenities, especially having a preferred club room?
The tablet was covered in plastic. The TV remote was also in plastic, but it was in this little bag saying everything was sanitizers. There were little stickers saying, “this has been sanitized for your safety” and then in the bathroom Secrets is known for their amenities. All the amenities were in a plastic bag and then it was in a pretty bag where it was all sanitized. Everything was the same the only thing new was this four-ounce hand sanitizer in your room. I thought that was nice. There were little stickers in the room all over saying everything’s been sanitized. It’s always been clean, so it’s really clean now.
That’s good. Did you notice anything different about the pool area? Since I’ve been to the resort as well, I know that it’s a huge, enormous pool area. You can really spread out, and there’s an infinity pool and Preferred Club pool, how did they arrange the lounge chairs around the pool?
There are so many chairs there and not that many people I really didn’t see them separating any pool chairs because it’s so widespread. Even on the beach, the chairs are so spread out, they’re normally spread out. The only time I saw the difference was in the restaurants. The tables are set up different, five, six feet apart. In the pool, it was easy to get your own space.
That’s good. The swim-up bar, was that open or closed?
Yes. Yes, it was.
It was open. Okay. I know at the beach, such a beautiful beach, it really is one of my favorite beaches, I’m sure it is for you too, there’s a lot of shade trees. So, you don’t have to be in full sun. Are they still doing the beach grill?
No, there is no beach grill. They are still giving you beach service, there’s two bars on the beach at each end those were closed. What else was closed at the resort was Desires Disco, because that’s a smaller room. I heard they might open that in December. Coco Cafe was running, my favorite spot to go in the morning. The gym was closed when we first got there but it did open up two days later. I normally like to go there and ride a bike, but they did have the Aqua bikes in a pool. I did that. I did go to the spa. I was the only person that day in the whole spa. That was great. They took good care of me. That was sad to see because again, they’re waiting to take care of you.
I wanted to ask you about the spa. They have such beautiful spa their with services and so forth. You were there in the early weeks of opening so, maybe there’s a little more activity. Did they do a movie on the beach while you were there?
No, nope. They were doing dinner on the beach. They were still doing that. We’ve never done that, we should have. What was kind of cool when we were there. I had met a lady in front of us in customs at the airport. She was holding her wedding dress, and they were getting married at Secrets. I heard that that was Secrets first wedding since COVID. They were a great couple. It was kind of fun. There was only like 13 guests for their wedding, but most of them had never been to an all-inclusive and it was fun to see their experience of how much fun they had. They’re definitely going back too. Her wedding was beautiful, we watched it from a distance because it was right on that beautiful beach.
Oh, that’s wonderful. You mentioned Desires [Disco] being closed, but how are the other bars and restaurants everything running?
Yes. They only have three restaurants normally open at night and they were rotating them. We did go to the main buffet one morning and it was totally different than how I remember it; I love going to a buffet breakfast and lunch because you have so many varieties. What they did for breakfast was staff waiting there, whatever was on the buffet, they’d hand you a plate and they would give you whatever it was on the buffet. I don’t care if it was a cup yogurt or fresh fruit. Not as much variety. You can still get your eggs made the way you want but, it was just different. For the restaurants you would take your phone, and there’s a QR code at each restaurant so you didn’t have to look at the menus. You were able to download your menu that way. My favorite food is the fish tacos at the Seaside Grill. any food there is good. The food was great. And then since we were Preferred Club, at Rosewater, you can have a sit-down breakfast where they would serve you, so we did that the rest of the week.
For some reason fish tacos are so popular.
It’s the ambiance you know, you got to have them sitting on the beach.
Oh, for sure. That’s what I was going to ask you. I was going to say what was your favorite restaurant and your favorite food?
Yeah, that would be it. One other cool thing that they’re doing, that we did because we went for my birthday. The three main restaurants, the Mexican, Italian and French, across from them is an open grass area. To keep social distancing, if you bought a special bottle of wine and a lobster, which my husband did for my birthday, they would set up a table with linen on the grass, and it’s under all the lights. That was really cool. It was a surprise for me. So that was very cool. There was only one other couple. This was like you’re in your backyard, with somebody serving you. That was that was a nice surprise.
So you were sitting on the lawn?
Yup! Took my sandals off. I was happy. Somebody serving me lobster and wine. I was a happy camper.
Oh, that’s fun! I know Cap Cana, the community of Cap Cana. It’s not just a resort area it’s a community. They have a huge Yacht Club and shops and so forth, did you go off property?
I have in the past, on the beach right next to Secrets Cap Cana is the Hyatt. Right next to that is Skate Park, which is a beautiful park to go to. But that is still closed or at least it was closed when we were there. I would have gone there again because they have a cool little walking tour to see this blue cenote and I wanted to see it, but the park was closed. Next trip will go. I’ve been there before and enjoyed it.
yeah, I realized that area is like a whole community to itself. It has become built up there being so close to the airport. Did you go off the property anywhere at all?
Not this time no, not at all. I would have gone to Skate Park but no.
What would you say was your most Instagramable moment of this trip?
They spoiled me, we got in building seven, they gave us an ocean front, swim out room. I didn’t want to ever leave the room. Just for us to go back to the resort, it is our favorite. We just feel relaxed there and it’s just gorgeous. The food and the service. The services, you can’t get better service. It’s just wonderful. We just love it there.
That’s so great. Were they doing the shows there [at Secrets Cap Cana]?
Yes. We went one night; it was the Queen show. I was thinking that was the one AmResorts had in Mexico where they were charging an extra fee for it, which I never went to. We went to it one night and that was a great show. It was music from the 80s. We really enjoyed it. It’s a huge room and they have these huge fans, and nobody’s wearing the mask except the staff. Most people, the guests, nobody wore their masks. We were sitting in there and I was just thinking, I had a little COVID moment because the fans are going around and people are talking, and they were social distancing everybody. It was not an enclosed room. All the doors were open, but that’s the only time I kind of felt a little afraid. It was a great show. I’m glad we went we didn’t go to a show every night, but we did go that night.
Good. Describe the experience getting back home.
When we left Punta Cana airport, I was surprised at how busy it was. We were on a later flight. I felt like there were more checkpoints. I don’t know why they were asking the same questions, maybe two different stops. They were asking the same questions and took our temperature when we got there twice. I think that was the only difference, our flight was full Punta Cana to Charlotte. When we got to Charlotte, we were hungry, and we had about an hour and a half. Again, I had a COVID moment. I was standing at the airport in Charlotte, where there was three or four fast food restaurants, I have my mask on and I look around, and no other people had their masks on and it was it was kind of jam packed in there. Nobody else had their mask on. I’m like, okay, I guess I’m home. I felt more safe in Punta Cana from COVID versus at home, which is sad. Kids with no masks on. We got our food and got home. Over here we went through customs in Charlotte. We didn’t have to come through terminal five [at O’Hare]. That was very easy. The airport was a little busier because it was later in the day, but it was kind of nice to go via Charlotte. I’ve never done that before for customs.
Yeah, I’ve changed planes in Charlotte myself, and it is a big airport. In the United States, things are different from state to state and city to city. In the resort areas, it’s great to see that they have so many adhering to a lot of health and safety protocols. It also seems like it’s consistent in many ways from place to from resort to resort and so forth. I think that makes people feel comfortable when they see that kind of consistency and standards.
One day I was talking to a bartender and she kept putting her mask down to talk to me. And her boss came around and he said, “Oh, no, no, you put it up”. They were very, very diligent about that. We had heard from other guests that they had seen all the staff members in the convention centers getting tested. They know what’s going on. So that was that was nice to see.
I think I think that’s great for them. I’m glad to hear it.
They’re all glad to be back to work.
Anything else that you want to tell us about your trip? Anything else you’d like to add?
I am part of the Secrets Cap Cana fan group and I read all the comments. They’re like don’t hesitate to go, go, go go. This is the time to go to the resort because the prices are great. You’ll get great service because capacity is so low, you’ll still get great service when they’re busy. I’ve not read any bad reviews from people that have been there, so just go. Don’t be afraid. You’ll feel more safe there and it’s a beautiful resort and they will take great care of you.
That’s so great to hear. My last question is any trips this fall?
Yes. I’m going with the office. We’re going to Cancun, early October. For the Crystal trip. We’re looking forward to that. My girlfriends and I are going back to Cancun, early December. We try to get one or two girls trips in. I am ready to go.
That’s wonderful. When you come back from those trips, I look forward to catching up with you and seeing what your reaction is in your future travel. Liisa, thank you so much for sharing your experience today and hope you have a great rest of the day.
Thanks, john. Take care. Thank you. Bye