Opportunistic Excursions: To the Dominican Republic

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I’ve always been big on allowing disasters to dictate my vacation destinations—you seriously can’t beat the deals to be had from a desperate tourism economy after it’s been hit by hurricanes or other acts of God. I was among the first people to fly to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Sure, the point was more to evacuate the survivors than pickle myself on Bourbon Street, but the fact remains that the entire getaway cost me less than a tank of gas. Granted, I slept in the airport and my cuisine consisted mainly of peanut packets and FEMA handouts, but still, cheap is cheap.

And that’s not even mentioning the bargains that result from terrorist attacks and other manmade mayhem. Due to the cruise industry’s legendary post-9/11 panic sale, in 2001 I financed a 14-day Hawaiian cruise by selling a single garage-sale find on eBay. And plane tickets to Gatwick were cheaper than a knock-off wristwatch after the subway bombings in London. In fact, if not for the evil of mankind, my traveling would be much less prolific.

The most recent disaster to affect my vacation plans? The state of the American dollar overseas. In Europe, our dollar bills are now so valueless that I’ve seen them used to plug pay-toilet peep holes. This is not a universal disaster, just one to particular Americans.

And I, for one, am a particular American. One of the things I’m so particular about is price, and until the price of things go down in Europe I won’t be going there— I can think of far better ways of wasting my money than paying more than my mortgage statement for one night’s stay at a Swiss hotel. Not even any of my gainfully employed friends are scheduled to go to Europe on business trips these days, thus seriously diminishing my opportunities to crash their expense accounts (a first for me). So I’ve been forced to venture to other parts of the globe instead, which is how I ended up in the Dominican Republic.

I’m not ashamed to say I was purely motivated by price, because when I got a travel-industry email touting Caribbean destinations, I was immediately struck by the fact that I could stay at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana for less than what I paid to spay my cat, and that’s impressive, especially considering there hadn’t even been a disaster there recently, barring the place’s proximity to the voodoo dens of Haiti, where I hear zombies actually exist, but some people, like me, simply consider this a side perk.

There were no zombies at the Allegro Punta Cana resort, unless you consider the behavior of the bartenders if you forget to tip them. Personally, I try to over-tip as though I were a cross-eyed kid trying to make friends on the playground. But some all-inclusive resorts insist that tipping is also included, so some guests believe it. I am here to tell you: Don’t believe it. Tip everyone—I promise it will be the difference between a good stay and a bad one. All I did was tip our maid one single green dollar and I had fresh hibiscus flowers adorning my bedspread and bathroom counter every day, not to mention enough extra packets of locally roasted coffee to set off car alarms with nothing more than my hyper-caffeinated concentration. Now that’s some mileage for your buck.

Granted, the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Punta Cana resort was stocked with entrees that might’ve been salvaged from a supermarket frozen aisle after a power outage, but even the lukewarm quality of the food could be spun positively: When I’m faced with a buffet, I usually overeat like a recently rescued POW; not this time. So there was plenty of room for the dessert bar, which consisted solely of huge gobs of decoratively arrayed whipped cream—my favorite food.

All this plus the Caribbean ocean, I thought from my lounge chair in the sand, surrounded by attentive towel boys and bartenders eager to intercept more tips. I was happy to hand them out, if only because it’s nice to see someone appreciate the value of a dollar again.

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