As a first-time to Punta Cana vacation-goer, and with a gaggle of Nickelodeon fans, I was thrilled to be invited to visit the brand new Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana on its grand opening week. This new property from Karisma, whose Mexican resorts I’ve visited and loved, is aimed at providing parents with a truly adult vacation, while still giving their kids lots of fun things to do too.
If that sounds magical and exactly what you’ve always wanted, then you’ll want to read on about my experience.
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Related: Our review of the Azul Beach Hotel
The resort actually shares a property with the Sensatori, another Karisma resort, and is about a 45-minute drive from the Punta Cana airport. It’s pretty much a quick highway drive, and very much straight shot, which was much appreciated after a 4-hour plane ride for our family who flew out of Philadelphia.
Once you arrive, there’s really no reason to leave the property, but if you’re interested in booking excursions, I’d recommend doing that through the hotel rather than renting your own car and heading out on your own.
It was no surprise to me that the accommodations at the Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana were fabulous. The basic rooms are fantastic, particularly the swim-up pads suites, which are ideal for families of four, with a pull-out couch for the kids and a king-sized bed for the adults that separates itself with sliding doors from the rest of the room. The patio, which leads right out to a pool, has safety measures, like a lower locked gate to provide extra protection if you’re traveling with little ones.
The upper floor suites (above) where I stayed are huge, with the bathroom almost half the size of the room, with a shower, a bathtub, and a full closet with drawers, which leaves plenty of space in the room to move around, though really, how much time are you in your room? King or two double beds are available, which also include a pull-out couch, plus a large balcony where you will find yourself sitting and enjoying the view. And of course, there are bigger, swankier suites depending on your budget or family size.
The decor is very sophisticated while still hat-tipping the Nickelodeon partnership in a tasteful way. I did ask to have the plastic orange blimps that they place at the foot of the bed to be removed because my kids kept climbing on them. They did nothing but act as an awkward step stool, so my suggestion would be to ditch them; the decorations are fine without them. Also, with small tables and chairs out on the balcony, I’d say just be cautious and ask the staff to remove anything if you feel as though your kids are climbers.
Like all the Karisma resorts I’ve visited, you can get everything from a stroller to a playpen delivered to your room, so if you’ve got little ones, definitely take them up on this. It’s a very large property, so if anything, take a stroller if you didn’t bring one so you can quickly get from the beach back to your room to the restaurants.
Places to eat
Karisma prides itself on being a gourmet-inclusive resort, which means the quality of the food is a super high priority. That’s clearly evident in other properties I’ve stayed at, and while I didn’t have a chance to eat at all the restaurants on the property, which include a casual burger joint, an Asian restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a fancier molecular gastronomy restaurant (above), even an adults-only restaurant, and more, you get the sense that they really are aimed at providing you with a high-end vacation experience (aka: not just a bunch of buffets).
Though to be fair, their two buffet restaurants, Sugar Cane and Lighthouse, were my favorites, along with Fresco — a small snack and pool bar near our room that offers amazing small bites (Yuca Fritters, FTW) while you hang out in or by the pool.
For big Nickelodeon fans, they offer a character breakfast where kids can eat and meet their favorite Nickelodeon characters, and while it’s not necessarily my cup of tea, my kids loved the high energy entertainment and the chance to mingle with Dora, Patrick, and SpongeBob.
I will say that I found the service in the sit-down restaurants to be friendly but very slow, which is a little surprising to me since my past experience was always that they’d serve the kids first and then bring out the adult food. Or, at least not course out the appetizers and the main dishes. The same goes for the room service, which took over an hour (sometimes almost an hour and a half) to get to our room.
Hopefully, this is just a grand opening kink, because sitting and waiting at a table in a restaurant (or even in the room) with hungry kids is the antithesis of vacation for me.
Stuff to do: Nickelodeon Resorts & Hotels
You’ll find no shortage of activities for the adults on the resort side of the property, with everything from yoga and water polo, to ping pong (which my son was actually obsessed with), and the spa is gorgeous, though I wasn’t able to get in for a treatment myself. You won’t find much in nightlife; but for me, sitting at the pool bar while my kids hang at the kids’ club was nightlife enough for me. But you should know if you’re hoping for dancing, or a party-type atmosphere, you won’t find that here.
Along with all the swim-up pools around the hotel rooms, there is a large infinity pool facing the ocean, where drinks can be delivered right to your hand while you keep an eye on your swimming kids. We had no trouble finding a cabana every morning, or even chairs with an umbrella, though I don’t believe the property was at full capacity.
I was surprised that the pool itself is about 4-feet deep all around, so it’s not super ideal for little kids unless you’ve got them in life jackets or you’re in with them. There is a baby pool play area near the Kids indoor Play Space (which has toys and activities to give you some respite from the heat if you’ve got little ones, along with nighttime drop-off activities too), but it’s completely separate from the main pool. That being said, bring pool floats and life vests, or, like me, you’ll be spending a pretty penny to buy these items from the gift shop.
The beach is pretty sprawling and doesn’t disappoint, with super blue water and lots of cabanas, chairs, and umbrellas available for the taking, as well as boogie boards and snorkeling gear that can be checked out for no extra charge. While we were visiting, the water was pretty rough, so not ideal for little kids, or even big kids who aren’t good swimmers, but my guess is this is weather-based and seasonal. It is a good walk from the pool, so if your kids want to go to the beach, you’ll need to relocate there to keep an eye on them.
Stuff to do: Nickelodeon Place
If you’re wondering where the Nickelodeon part comes in on this vacation, it’s pretty contained on the other side of the resort at Nickelodeon Place, which is separated from the main resort by a street, with golf cart transportation easily snagged from the lobby for a one-minute ride on an underpass. It’s a quick walk as well, but you know, with kids, even a quick walk can be a long walk, especially in the heat.
On this side, there’s Aqua Nick, with a huge water play area featuring fountains and various slides, as well as a lazy river. All my kids really enjoyed this part of the resort, though my older kids (9 and 11) were pretty much aged out. They do have fun activities, like the daily sliming, and other games, so along with the Aqua Bite snack bar (which does serve drinks too, parents), you could easily spend the day and still feel relaxed while your kids are wearing themselves out. Actually, our favorite day was here, with the adults planted poolside with drinks and food, and the kids running around playing in the water and grabbing soft serve ice cream.
There’s also The Sports Hub towards the back of Nickelodeon Place which seems to be aimed at teens; you’ll find a pool table, ping pong table, and big TV inside, plus tennis courts and archery outside.
Just Kiddin’ Kids Club
For kids ages 4–12 who want a little indoor fun, or you know, parents who want a quiet meal or a date-night, the Just Kiddin’ Kids Club is available all day and then for a couple of hours some evenings. It’s bright and inviting, and while my kids were initially hesitant when I mentioned it, after their first visit, they were begging to go back, at least, my younger three kids, anyway.
With a huge slide and ball pit, craft area, and video game center, there’s no shortage of things to do, many of which are planned and organized by the staff.
Unfortunately, the kids aren’t taken outside, which I understand could be very difficult given the number of kids in the club, but for me, that meant I wasn’t willing to leave my kids in for longer than a couple of hours in the afternoon (or early morning) as compared to some kids’ clubs were they can stay the day and enjoy the pool and beach without me feeling guilty for taking a day to myself.
The Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts encapsulates what so many parents want in a vacation: Something that feels grown-up, yet still provides entertainment and activities for the kids and the entire family, specifically for folks with kids in the 4–10 (ish) age range.
I will say that like many of the reviews I read before going myself, there are some issues with service that I hope will be ironed out pretty quickly, especially given the resort has only been open to the public for just a few months.
I had some problems with late check-in and just overall responsiveness when I called to have something delivered or removed, but when I finally went and spoke personally to a staff at the front desk, everything was quickly resolved. Part of this could be a language barrier, but also the fact that the property is pretty sprawling, so getting to a room takes a little bit of time, even with the golf carts that weave in and out of the resort. And yes, there is most definitely island time, which takes a little getting used to for the adults. The kids, well, that can take a lot of getting used to.
But given the price point, as well as the Karisma reputation that precedes this resort, I would want everything to be super buttoned-up, especially traveling with kids. This wouldn’t necessarily deter me from booking it again, but it would be something I would want to know about to be prepared in terms of how I plan my arrival as well as my days (and evenings).
That being said, if you’ve been looking for a family vacation that satisfies everyone’s desires, from kids who want to splash around and play, to adults who want a quiet, grown-up meal, this is definitely something to consider.
Thank you so much to Karisma and Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana for providing my airfare and accommodations for my family during our stay.
Special Offer: Save up to 50% on vacations booked between now and October 21, 2016 for travel until December 22, 2017. Special rates start at $190 per person, per night for adults with kids included. Exclusions apply. For more information and to book, please visit their specials page.
All photos, other than those from the website, by Kristen Chase.