Onsite Review: CHIC Punta Cana & Club Med Zen Oasis

Party scene at CHIC Punta Cana.
Party scene at CHIC Punta Cana.

Same island, different honeymoons

How can two adults-only, all-inclusive  honeymoon havens in the same corner of the same Caribbean island be so successful and yet so different?  Guests I met at Royalton Resorts’ CHIC Punta Cana in late April would have felt out of place at Club Med Punta Cana’s Zen Oasis, and vice versa. Even more confounding, not only are CHIC and Zen Oasis true contemporaries (both opened in late 2015), but each is a first for its company, an experiment that Royalton and Club Med plan to repeat elsewhere.

Party Time at CHIC Punta Cana
A high, airy lobby sets a cheerful tone with organically shaped benches and swing-like love seats hanging from beams. Fun, and honeymooners feel that way about the guest rooms, too, which occupy low-rise buildings running perpendicular to the beach. Even the most basic of the 320 rooms and suites has 24-hour concierge service, rainshower heads in the showers, free and strong WiFi, an in-room liquor dispenser, unlimited calls to North America (in case someone needs to call Mom for honeymoon advice?), and modern decor with feathery black-and-white prints, pink lighting accents, and marble.

Which room to book? On the one hand, an upgrade to a Diamond Club Butler suite, especially one with a swim-out pool or designer tub, includes access to a private beach area with plenty of beach beds; a members-only lounge; the above-ground, glass-walled Mermaid Pool; and seriously sexy robes that are hipster black. On the other hand, Garden View rooms farther back from the beach (with numbers in the 500s, 600s, etc.) are closer to the spa/fitness center and quieter.

Still, honeymooners don’t book CHIC Punta Cana because they want quiet; they book it because they want to celebrate. There’s daytime partying at the pool bar, a lively lobby bar, evening dancing to live bands or DJs, a small casino, and a sports bar whose sound system plays music instead of the voice of sportscaster Joe Buck. In the wee hours, it turns into a nightclub.

And here’s what surprised me most: the food at the eight restaurants and snack bars. The cuisine at Tagine (Middle Eastern), Hunter Steakhouse, Pescari (sushi and ceviche), and C/X Culinary Experience (e.g. beef tartare with truffle oil in a wild mushroom soup; well worth the extra charge) are astonishingly good. My advice: Enjoy the bar service, but leave room for dinner. Rates start at about $300 a night.
chicpuntacana.com; chicpuntacana.com/en/Travel-Professional-and-Media

Peaceful Vibes and Fitness at Club Med Zen Oasis
Club Med Punta Cana’s addition of this adults-only section is not a return to the swingin’ 70s; it’s too sophisticated for that. At the quiet, east end of the resort, 78-room Zen Oasis is a pool-view enclave with white, Cubist buildings, each containing three guestrooms. These large, stylishly minimalist rooms feature freestanding baths and personal patios/balconies with beach beds. The top-floor rooms are especially private.

The Zen Oasis pool is my new favorite pool. Surrounded by recliners and curtained beach beds, it’s almost 300 ft. long. One section has a hot tub and in-water lounges, and the other, a 165-ft. lap pool that enticed me to swim every day. Couples at Zen Oasis who weren’t reclining somewhere, chilling in the hot tub, or swimming laps hung out at the palapa-covered bar and lounge. At the bar/lounge guests were sipping drinks, not downing them. This is not a daytime partying crowd.

Zen Oasis guests may use the larger Club Med’s facilities, which include an adults-only room at Samana (that rarity, a buffet restaurant with artfully plated dishes) and Indigo Beach Lounge Restaurant, which offers adults-only table service for dinner. If I could change one thing, Club Med would open a restaurant within Zen Oasis itself. Most couples went to the nightly shows and dances, but above all, Zen Oasis’ active, physically fit guests (including the older guests) took fitness and dance classes, played tennis, took out boats and Windsurfers (lessons included), practiced archery, and joined Cirque du Soleil’s Creactive trapeze classes. They also enjoyed the spa, a palapa-roofed cottage near Zen Oasis with some of the best therapists who have ever touched this much-massaged body. Rates start at about $400 a night. clubmed.us