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Sunday,  July 21, 2024 9:12 AM 

On Location: Good vibes at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, where everybody has a “license to chill”

On Location: Good vibes at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, where everybody has a “license to chill”
From left: Jennifer Castro, regional sales manager & Margaritaville Island Reserve brand ambassador, Karisma Hotels & Resorts; Cluster Director Manuel Gonzalez. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

“If life gives you limes, make margaritas,” reads a quote printed across the front of a coaster found in a turquoise-painted swim-up villa at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana.

After nearly two years of dealing with COVID-19 drama, truer words have never been spoken, for as the global pandemic rages on, it’s encouragement from trailblazers like Jimmy Buffett, for whom the quote is attributed to, that remind us all to keep our chins up and stay positive.

Life only gives you margaritas at Buffett’s new, all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic on Juanillo Beach, an idyllic stretch of sugar-white sand, Caribbean-blue waves and perky palm trees.

Karisma's Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana has 228 suites & 40 adults-only villas. (Pax Global Media)

Launched by Karisma Hotels and Resorts, Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, with 228 vibrant suites, including 40 adults-only villas, first opened in November 2021, representing the first Island Reserve – a term assigned to Margaritavilles that are all-inclusive beach resorts, as opposed to European plan city hotels – to be built from scratch.

The laid-back property in Cap Cana, a gated community located just 10 minutes from Punta Cana International Airport, adds to family-friendly Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Cancun, which opened in July 2020, and will inspire the adults-only Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya, set to open this fall.  

The spacious accommodations are inspired by the colours of the sea, sand and sky. (Pax Global Media)

A common thread in Buffett’s fun-filled line of restaurants and hotels, which are inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle of the iconic singer, songwriter and best-selling author, is the invitation to enter a no-worries world of island escapism where it’s always five o’clock somewhere (as Buffett sings in his 2003 country hit).

Island Reserve Cap Cana is upscale beach-bum living at its best – here, everybody, regardless of age or where they’re from, has a “license to chill” in paradise, as PAX learned during a stay at the colourful, parrot-peppered property from Dec. 8-12, 2021, amid a soft launch that would eventually lead to its Jan. 12, 2022, grand opening.  

What does “license to chill” mean, exactly?

Margarita-flavoured popsicles are handed out at the parrot-peppered property. (Pax Global Media)

“It’s means we’re not here to judge anybody,” Jennifer Castro, regional sales manager and Margaritaville Island Reserve brand ambassador at Karisma, told PAX. “If you want to get a tan by the pool, you can. If you just want to enjoy the spa, there’s options.”

“As soon as you walk into reception, you can wear flip-flops anywhere, anytime, during your stay.”

Literally. All guests, upon stepping into the modern, soft white-and-wood reception area, receive flip-flop sandals that they can wear during their stay – even at restaurants, as there’s no formal dress code.

Your only job at Margaritaville Island Reserve is to embrace a “flip-flop state of mind” in a blissful setting where phrases like “fins up,” accompanied by the gesture of a flat shark-fin-like hand on top of one’s head, is a way of saying hello and goodbye.

Your only job at Margaritaville Island Reserve is to embrace a flip-flop state of mind. (Pax Global Media)

Popsicles & flip-flops

The Island Reserve concept combines Karisma’s upscale service and gourmet culinary program with Margaritaville’s sense of fun and design elements.

In other words, amid motifs of splashy surf boards, lime slices and cheeky parrots lies a luxurious vacation experience.

In Cap Cana, the fun factor kicks in on the driveway, where a gigantic glossy-turquoise flip-flop sculpture greets arrivals while a nearby mural of parrot (classic Buffett imagery) watches over guests from the top floor of a building.

A gigantic flip-flop sculpture greets arrivals on the front driveway. (Pax Global Media)

Margarita-flavoured popsicles are handed out at check-in.

The property, at first, looks huge, but that’s only because it’s directly beside Azul Beach Resort, which fills out the land.

Once inside, Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana is pleasantly intimate. Every amenity – six restaurants, three bars, two pools – are within a five-minute walk away.

The island-luxe main lobby of Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana. (Pax Global Media)

The lush interior, which has a shaded sand area with more than a dozen hammocks, has one main pool, which feels more like six mini pools as it weaves through the length of the grounds, swerving off into little inlets.

The swim-up bar, Five o’Clock Somewhere, is a chatty hang-out, but wade to the end of the lagoon, and a quiet, sea and beach-view infinity pool takes shape.

The property is slightly tucked away from the sea, but the soft beachfront, which has sun loungers, is easily and quickly accessible.

The main pool weaves through the grounds of Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana. (Pax Global Media)

Floating taco bars

Travel advisors take note: when visiting Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, the pool is a prime spot for capturing punchy content for Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

There’s an oversized wooden, blue-green Margaritaville-branded Adirondack chair, submerged in shallow water, that you can sit in. This makes for a great picture to promote on your business page.

The oversized Margaritaville-branded chair is where social media starts. (Pax Global Media)

Also, if you visit Margaritaville Island Reserve and don’t order the “floating taco bar” (or at least photograph one), then you’ve misunderstood the assignment.

The floating taco bar is a giant platter of fish and beef tacos, for up 12 people, that’s served in the pool so the party doesn’t have to stop if members of a group get peckish.

It costs extra – around $70 (USD) for six to eight people, and $100 for eight to 12 people – but the fun is worth every bite.

The floating taco bar will also likely be one of your most-liked photos on social media all year. It’s an excellent conversation starter.

The floating taco bar may just be one of your most-liked photos on social media all year. (Pax Global Media)

A village of entertainment 

At the front of the property, there’s Entertainment Village, a square filled with red, green and blue-coloured bean bags and sunshine-yellow Adirondack chairs.

Here, you’ll find the St. Somewhere Spa, a soothing, 11,000 square-foot space (one of the biggest spas in the brand) that has 14 treatment rooms, three couples rooms, a Bridal Suite and a hydrotherapy area with a herbal steam room, sensory pool, jacuzzi, “polar lagoon” and thermal loungers.

Frank & Lola’s Italian restaurant. (Pax Global Media)

The “Fins Up” Fitness Centre, with slick new equipment, is adjacent, as is Joe Merchant’s, a coffee shop and “general store” where guests, who are allotted points based on their room category and length of stay, can redeem snacks, liquor and other items (the idea, here, is to let people customize their own in-room refreshments).

This area links into a promenade, where restaurants are located, such as The Boathouse, a nautical-themed venue with all-day food stations, including a set-up for Bloody Marys), Frank & Lola’s (Italian), Mon So Wi (Pan-Asian street food, night-market style) and JWB Steakhouse (which has specialty cuts, like tomahawk ribeyes, for an extra charge, if desired).

A stack of crispy sushi at Mon So Wi. (Pax Global Media)

There’s also Landshark, a smokehouse restaurant and brewery that, exclusively, serves Buffett’s famous Landshark lager.

Fresh seafood is served at every venue, which have terraces for open-air dining (a pandemic-era must-have, for some).

Meals are also presented at a gourmet level one can expect from Karisma, serving as a reminder that this is not your average beach shack.

The Boathouse, a nautical-themed venue with all-day food stations. (Pax Global Media)

A culinary highlight is Rum Runner’s, a poolside eatery that serves Dominican fare, like tasty plantain cups stuffed with shredded beef and sancocho, a hearty stew with meats and veggies.

As its name suggests, Rum Runner’s is a nod to the Caribbean’s favourite spirit and hosts regular rum tastings.

This all sounds very adult, but Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana is for families too.

Rum Runner’s serves authentic Dominican fare and hosts rum tastings. (Pax Global Media)

The Parakeets Kid’s Club is where children aged four to 12 can find activities, such as cooking classes and “Mad lab experiences,” and their own splash pool.

To be clear, Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana’s target market isn’t limited to “Parrot Heads,” a term for die-hard Jimmy Buffett fans.

Yes, that segment is important (and very loyal), but there’s room for all demos here, young and young at heart. 

Unfamiliar with Jimmy Buffett? Doesn’t matter.

Landshark, a signature smokehouse restaurant and brewery. (Pax Global Media)

Cue the music

Key to the property – a “principle pillar,” as Cluster Director Manuel Gonzalez put it – is the fact that live music is played every day, both in the afternoon (by the main pool, for instance) and at night. (And no, it’s not a marathon of Jimmy Buffett tunes).

Punch Bar, an open-air lounge in Entertainment Village, is one spot where bands perform every evening, covering reggae to classic rock, like the Rolling Stones.

The world’s top travel pros were previewing the property during the week of our stay, so it was no surprise that PAX spotted Rod Hanna, director of branding, independent programs and related projects at H.I.S.-Red Label Vacations Inc., at Punch Bar one evening, bopping along to some live tunes.

From left: Suri Pillai, founder & CEO, Wed IN Destination; Rod Hanna, director of branding, independent programs and related projects, H.I.S.-Red Label Vacations Inc. (Courtesy of Suri Pillai)

“This is a wonderful, feel-good property,” Hanna told us, noting the friendly, professional staff. “It has a ‘fun for everyone’ atmosphere and it doesn’t compromise on quality, service and standards.”

Suri Pillai, founder and CEO of Wed IN Destination, a Canadian online travel retailer, was also seen. He praised the property’s close proximity to PUJ airport, its “well-structured layout” and “amazing food choices.’

“I’m impressed,” Pillai said. “Karisma has set very high standards.”

Off-site nearby amenities include a marina, Jack Nicklaus’ Punta Espada golf course and Scape Park, which has zip-lining, cave swimming, horseback riding, animal attractions and more.

Swim-ups and villas

The playful accommodations, inspired by the colours of the sea, sand and sky, are luxuriously modern without being pretentious. 

With 13 room types to choose from, from spacious “Paradise Rooms” to “Beachfront Honeymoon Swim-up Suites,” every guestroom has a private balcony that overlooks either the pool, gardens or Caribbean Sea in the distance.

There are speciality spaces, too, such as the nautical-themed “Son of a Sailor Suite, and the sprawling "Jimmy Buffett Suite" (the only one in the brand), which comes in at 1,400 sq. ft., including a 300 sq. ft. terrace that has a custom-built grill.

Step inside the exclusive "Jimmy Buffett Suite." (Pax Global Media)

But the showstopper is the villas section, an adults-only enclave of 10 two-storey buildings, each with four units.

The 742 sq. ft. “Private Pool” villas are on the second floor. These have oversized terraces with private pools and lots of furniture for outdoor dining.

The ground floor “Swim Up” villas have a similar set-up, except these terraces lead directly into a lagoon-like pool that flows through this private neighbourhood like a river.

The Island Reserve Villas in Cap Cana are like luxury homes. (Pax Global Media)

Guests in the Island Reserve Villas have exclusive access to the S.O.S. Swim Up Bar, which sits in the middle of this special section, which feels like a resort within the resort.

With room service, you could easily spend an entire day in the villas enclave, away from crowds, without even stepping into the main grounds. The villas aren’t just hotel rooms. They’re homes.

And, oh, all villas come with indoor and outdoor rain showers. So yes, by all means, lather up and let it all hang out under the warm Dominican sunshine.

After all, you do have a license to chill.

See more of Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana in this exclusive video PAX shot on location!  For information on Karisma's COVID-19 response plan, click here

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