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Resorts Rule in Lush Punta Cana

If Walt Disney had set his sights on creating an ideal beach vacation playground instead of a theme park, it might have resembled something like Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s go-to beach destination.

It’s situated on the east coast of the island, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. The area, which escaped severe damage from recent hurricanes, offers 21 miles of gorgeous white-sand beaches, crystal-clear water, nearly a dozen golf courses and water sports galore. It has numerous resorts and hotels, plenty of restaurants and bars, and an incredibly efficient private airport that aims to get guests to their hotels – and the beach – as quickly as possible.

All-inclusive hotels reign supreme here, with each one trying to outdo the next. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is a popular one. There are 13 pools, including a lazy river; nine restaurants and 23 bars and lounges; enough activities to keep anyone busy for days on end; and of course, the casino. The massive 45,000-square-foot facility features 40 tables, with a variety of games, and 450 slot machines.

Two of Hard Rock’s dining venues stand out: Zen, where chefs perform while creating Chinese and Japanese dishes right before your eyes, and Isla, which specializes in fresh Caribbean cuisine.

Once ensconced in a resort, most people stay put; properties usually have numerous restaurants, bars, pools and similarly stunning beaches. But golfing and water sports are two exceptions, since many golfers like to check out several different courses and there are many tempting ways to enjoy the water.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole championship golf course adjacent to the Hard Rock is a big draw for golfers and has stunning backdrops. Tee times are included and there’s a free 20-minute introductory class if you’re new to the game.

Understandably, the gorgeous Caribbean Sea beckons every visitor. Luckily, there are many outfitters from which to choose. Amstar offers a variety of excursions, including boating, snorkeling, zip lining and more. The adults-only Reef Explorer trip is a great way to enjoy the water.

You’re taken by boat to a floating marine platform, where expert guides describe the marine life found here. Then you can snorkel, paddleboard or kayak, or swim with stingrays and nurse sharks. If you have an underwater camera, you’ll definitely want to bring it along. The tour even includes a massage.

When planning a visit to Punta Cana, it’s important to figure out what’s important to you since different resorts cater to different types of travelers, from families to couples. It’s likely that you’ll be spending most of your time there, so research the restaurants, the pools and the perks that you want most.

In the end, though, most people will agree that what’s just outside is what’s most important: the sun, the sand and the water, which beckon all year round.

To plan your own Punta Cana adventure, head on over to AAA.com/Travel

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

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