Beachside lounge chairs are shaded by tiki huts in lieu of the typical umbrellas.

Travel Journal: The Dominican Republic

Who went: Three generations: Beth and Bob Courtney, Julia and Tommy Moore, Andrew and Virginia Moore

We went because: Grandmother (“Bebe”) promised a family trip last summer to an exotic location, but the children had so many activities that it was hard to find the time and place. None of us were familiar with this location, but it was a hit and we are now planning our next family vacation.

Bob, Beth, Tommy, Virginia, Julia and Andrew sip from coconuts near their chartered sailboat.
Bob, Beth, Tommy, Virginia, Julia and Andrew sip from coconuts near their chartered sailboat.

Hotel recommendations: The Dominican Republic could very well be described as “The Land of 1,000 All-Inclusive Resorts.” Prioritize what you want, and there will be a resort to match. We stayed at an Iberostar resort—the Bávaro Suites—which was a great fit for our family. The experience was special because the Iberostar is so international! There are plenty of opportunities to speak Spanish, try out different foods, and meet friends from all over the world. The Iberostar at Bávaro actually includes three resorts that share an entrance and a golf course. The first (the Grand Hotel Bávaro) is a stunningly beautiful and serene hotel where children are not allowed. The second (the Bávaro Suites) is a family-oriented neighborhood of villas scattered throughout a lush tropical garden. And the third is a rather loud and crowded hotel. We recommend the first two.

Where to eat/favorite dish on the menu: We enjoyed our favorite meal while standing in waist-deep water eating freshly grilled langostinos prepared by the crew of our chartered sailboat.

Virginia is all smiles on a ride with dolphins.
Virginia is all smiles on a ride with dolphins.

A great experience off the beaten path: Based on our experience and after comparing notes with other families who also enjoyed excursions around the area (including waterfalls, dive trips, horseback riding, dolphin experiences, Segway tours, and more), we absolutely recommend chartering the catamaran Teresa. It was just the six of us onboard, plus a captain and friendly crew. In four hours, we sailed by dolphins, snorkeled on a reef, anchored off the beach of a national park where we took a nature hike, saw local art, and met the Coco Man, who macheted freshly-picked coconuts for us to enjoy. Dinner was prepared and served on floating trays in shallow water maybe 50 yards off the coast. It was brilliant.

Worth the splurge/not worth the splurge: Swimming with dolphins—you have to do it, at least once. And we were glad we did. Months later, that’s what the children are still talking about. But know that the actual dolphin experience turns out to be about half the cost. That experience is great, and it’s worth every penny. But when you are offered an entire CD of professional photographs of the experience, how can you not buy them? That surprise is the other half of the cost.

Andrew gets up close and personal with everyone's favorite marine mammal.
Andrew gets up close and personal with everyone’s favorite marine mammal.

Insider’s tips: The Bávaro beach area is on the eastern side of the island, more exposed to the Atlantic, and flatter and drier than we anticipated. Inside the walls of the resort, it could not have been more tropical, but outside it’s as dry as southern California. According to locals, the exposure to the Atlantic also diminishes the clarity of the water and at certain times of the year the seaweed is rather thick. So if diving is your priority, choose your location and time of year carefully.

We would suggest this trip to others because: This international destination is a direct flight from New Orleans. The all-inclusive package was reasonable and the children loved it!