Finding Secrets in the Dominican Republic
By Amy Lively Jensen
Rollicking turquoise waves, swaying palms, and some of the finest rums on the planet await you in the Dominican Republic. You’ll especially love a holiday at the luxurious Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa in Punta Cana, on the east coast.
‘Welcome home” is your greeting with a glass of sparkling wine when you arrive at this lavish resort. Prepare to be spoiled with the alabaster sand beaches, crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea, gourmet food, top shelf spirits and impeccable service. This romantic, adults-only resort describes their guests’ experience as “unlimited luxury.”
Distinctive aromas envelope you when walking through the thatch roofed welcome center. Specially created scents add sensory pleasures throughout areas of the resort. That’s just the beginning of this resplendent experience. The first view of the lush, manicured gardens leading out to the diamond sparkling sea shows you that utopia awaits.
This 457-room resort is just 20 minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport. You pass through a gate into Cap Cana, then through another for the entrance into Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa. Your choice of accommodations includes balcony rooms, junior and master suites and bungalows. Depending on your preferences, you can select a stunning ocean view, a swim out pool or a beach walk out with a balcony soaking tub; all are well-appointed in a modern Caribbean style. Accommodations include Secret’s ultra comfortable bedding which promises sweet dreams. The Preferred Club offers a private pool and beach area, bar, restaurant, reception area, premium spirits and more. The suites include a private butler who attends to your every wish. “It is my pleasure” is the response from all staff to any request at the resort.
Stop first at the exclusive Juanillo Beach, one of the most stunning beaches in the Dominican Republic, where cushioned lounge chairs under palapas guarantee your comfort. Cool sea breezes relax you, but not as much as our favorite cocktail, the Coco Loco. Delivered to you in a coconut husk, this irresistible drink contains premium rum, fresh coconut water, coconut milk and a hint of cinnamon. There is minimal seaweed on the soft white beach, due to diligent raking and a small reef that was built in the water. You’ll realize that there are no vendors on the beach to interfere with your relaxation. For beach activities, join in beach volleyball, yoga, and non-motorized water sports including Hobie cats, wind surfing and snorkeling. The tranquility of lying in a hammock or lounger and reading is equally appealing. We had a lovely treat on the beach: two beautiful weddings. With a backdrop of the Caribbean Sea, flowered arches, chandeliers, and billowing draping, it is any bride’s fantasy. Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa hosts 180 weddings each year.
If you prefer swimming pools, there are three with an infinity pool overlooking the beach. On a poolside canopy bed, attentive servers bring lunch, snacks and beverages. You can try water aerobics, water polo, or introductory scuba diving lessons and swim up to the bar for unique cocktails, wine and beer. After sun worshiping, cozy up to the smoothie bar for a cooling libation.
One of the most critical aspects of an all-inclusive resort is the cuisine. Among the resort’s ten restaurants, you’ll find a variety of options including French, Italian, Asian fusion, Mexican, seafood and meats. Most dress codes are casual, but in a couple of them, casually elegant attire is preferred. Indoor and outdoor seating lets you choose the ambiance.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Oceana restaurant where the freshest seafood complements their unique dishes. Try the grilled scallops on creamy potatoes with truffle oil or the tuna tataki with mango and mint sauce for appetizers. The sea bass entrée featured zucchini and ham noodles with a sweet garlic emulsion. I had to order this again when we returned. Our server was a delight; for our requests, he said, “you’re the boss” and sang to us.
Enter the elegant Bordeaux restaurant through a flowering arch, with an atmosphere that resembled a Michelin starred restaurant in France. We were seated at a table with rose petals strewn across the top. The foie gras with mango pineapple chutney, followed by the duck breast with Roquefort sauce were irresistible.
Another option is to spend a fun evening at Himitsu, which specializes in a fusion of Pan-Asian food. We joined five couples at a teppanyaki table for the chef’s unique presentation skills and delicious courses.
You must start your morning at the Coco Café, a 24-hour coffee lover’s venue. Although I wanted to try all the specialty Dominican coffee drinks, some made with chocolate, I couldn’t resist a mocha cappuccino with the addition of a Dominican rum.
Each evening you can attend the expansive 300-seat theater for amazing music and choreographed dance venues. The Divas show included an all-female music revue of Rhianna, Madonna and Lady Gaga complemented with a live band and acrobatics. Another night, dancing to the Beatles show added to our high spirits.
For a special indulgence, pamper yourself with a massage, which begins with a four-pool hydrotherapy session. Experienced, intuitive massage therapists staff the 18 soothing massage rooms. Hot stones added to the complete serenity. One guest raved about her mango wrap.
During our blissful stay at the Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa, we were curious to learn about rums from the Dominican Republic. The island’s rum is slowly making headlines internationally for its high-quality and distinctive flavors. Ninety percent of Dominican Republic rum never leaves the country, so the export market is somewhat limited.
The origin of rum dates back to its inception in the Caribbean. Sugar cane grown in the vast island fields became an important commodity as the need for sugar grew among the inhabitants.
It was also discovered that the canes could be crushed or milled, then heated in large pots to create molasses. This sappy, brownish-black viscous liquid, a byproduct of sugar cane, is fermented with hot water and yeast, then distilled in copper pots to create rum. The rum distillate can then be aged in bourbon, sherry or port barrels for varying lengths of time to enhance its flavor profile.
White and gold rums are aged 1-3 years in oak barrels. These are smooth, easy to drink, and great in cocktails while also very affordable; some cost less than $20.
The immensely popular spiced rums generally have local herbs, spices or other spirits added.
Anejo refers to rum that has been aged for several years in oak barrels. This is sipping rum. Although many Dominican Republic rums are very reasonably priced, the most expensive one can set you back $1,855.
We wanted to immerse ourselves in Dominican Republic rums, so we took an excursion with Amstar, which began with short drive to Taino Gourmet in Cap Cana to learn about the distillery of Oliver and Oliver. This distillery has earned more than 200 international awards for their rum. A family-owned business of Cuban origins, Oliver and Oliver produces rum using traditional copper stills and other vessels. An affable, knowledgeable host guided us on our tour and tasting.
We sampled four rums; one of our favorites was Unhiq. This rum is aged in sherry barrels. Within are aromas of red fruits, citron, honey and vanilla; it has a hint of sweetness with spices that carry through on the finish. It paired well with cheese and marmalade. Oliver and Oliver make a whiskey barrel aged rum, Punta Cana Club XOX, distilled in 1996. It revealed a red orange color, perfumed wood tones, wild spices and tropical fruits with vanilla bean.
After returning, we furthered our education of rum with the extensive selection offered at the resort.The Brugal Extra Viejo uses older reserves aged eight years in American Oak casks. The light amber color showcased dried fruits, orange peel and a hint of marzipan. The Ron Barcelo Imperial had more floral aromatics with caramel undertones. One of the most expressive rums we savored was the Brugal Leyenda, Spanish for legend. This rum has a New World expression and is aged for five years in Bourbon barrels and five years in Oloroso Sherry casks. The end result is a deeply colored rum with amazing richness and concentration. Within are elements of caramel, dark chocolate fudge, toffee and dried apricot held together with freshness.
The experiences at Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa were some of the most memorable of all our travels. This might be the ideal time to plan your travels to the secluded, tropical Caribbean destination of Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa and immerse yourself in “unlimited luxury."