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Saturday,  July 13, 2024 1:12 PM 

On Location: Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana hits the right notes with more choices

On Location: Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana hits the right notes with more choices
PAX visits Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic. (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.

The last time we visited Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, back in December 2021, we unpacked a flamboyant, parrot-peppered world of margarita-flavoured popsicles, floating taco bars and flip-flop sandals.

Returning to this beach bum paradise, which is located about 10 minutes from Punta Cana airport in an upscale gated community in the Dominican Republic, last month – more than one year later – PAX can confidently say that all of the above still stands.

Except now, the all-inclusive property, which Karisma Hotels and Resorts first opened in November 2021, is a whole new flavour of margarita mix.

The laid-back haven – inspired by the works of late singer-songwriter, author and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, who sadly passed away just recently – has split its lime in half with dedicated sections for adults and families, empowering guests with more choices.

Main entrance to Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana. (Pax Global Media)Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana now has separate sections for adults and all ages. (Pax Global Media)

The change, first announced in October of last year, has resulted in a bigger and bolder Margaritaville Island Reserve (a category assigned to Margaritavilles that are all-inclusive beach resorts, as opposed to EP-plan city hotels).

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

The adults-only section, called “Hammock,” consists of the resort’s original bones, which includes 13 room types, a main pool (which feels like six as it weaves around sun loungers, swerving off into inlets, towards a beach-view infinity-style lookout) and the Five o’Clock Somewhere swim-up bar.

The main pool in the Hammock section. (Pax Global Media)

The pool, surrounded by palm trees, features an oversized blue-green Margaritaville-branded Adirondack chair, submerged in shallow water, where guests can snap Instagram-worthy pictures.

Also reserved for grownups are the luxurious “Island Reserve Villas,” a private enclave of 10 two-storey buildings, each with four units. This is also part of the original concept.

The adults-only Island Reserve Villas. (Pax Global Media)

Here, second-floor Private Pool units boast oversized terraces with private pools, while ground floor Swim Up suites have terraces that lead directly into a lagoon-like pool that flows through the “neighbourhood.”

It’s a resort within a resort. Villa guests have exclusive access to their own S.O.S. Swim Up Bar, while “swimming bartenders” wade through the pool, delivering coffee and sweets to the stoops of units.

Second-floor “Private Pool” units in the Island Reserve Villas. (Pax Global Media)

One could spend their entire vacation here – the villas are not just hotel rooms, they’re homes (equipped with indoor and outdoor rain showers, no less).

The family-friendly "Wave" section is what’s new. The area offers seven room types that can accommodate up to four guests, family-friendly amenities, such as the previously-available Parakeet Kids Club, a family-friendly pool (with swim-up bar), a “quiet” pool, a splash pad for kids, and new eateries – “Kos,” a Mediterranean restaurant, and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” a snack “shack” on the beach.

Inside Compass, a new gin bar, in the Wave section. (Pax Global Media)

The quiet pool in the new Wave section. (Pax Global Media)

The Wave building itself also has swim-up suites facing the pools.

This all takes over what was previously Azul Beach Resort, boosting the property’s room count from 228 suites to 519, and expanding Margaritaville’s footprint on Juanillo Beach, an idyllic stretch of sugar-white sand and pristine palm trees.

With this comes a new, second entrance – Wave guests have their own lobby and check-in area, which mirrors the original lobby at Hammock, except with slightly different design elements.

Punchy art and colours in the lobby of the Wave section. (Pax Global Media)

Inside “Kos,” a Mediterranean restaurant in the new Wave section. (Pax Global Media)

Nods to parrots and nautical elements – classic Buffett imagery – remain, except the Wave lobby has an attached gin bar, called “Compass,” which is a nice addition.

The colours of the two gigantic flip-flop sculptures that sit out front of both entrances differentiate the two sections – turquoise-blue for Hammock (this flip-flop debuted when the property first opened) and lime green for Wave.

The fun at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana literally starts on the driveway.

A lime green flip-flop greets guests at the front of the new Wave section for all ages. (Pax Global Media)

Live music lives here

If there was place to look for that lost shaker of salt – to borrow a line from Buffett’s 1977 hit song “Margaritaville,” a name that later catapulted into a billion-dollar empire of hotels, restaurants, cruises, retirement communities, merch and more – it’s here.

Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, which was named the Dominican Republic's “Leading Resort” at this year’s World Travel Awards, isn’t just a hotel, it’s a state of mind.

The check-in desk at the main Hammock lobby. (Pax Global Media)

Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana's soft beachfront. (Pax Global Media)

A fun-filled getaway where everyone, whether they’re familiar with Jimmy Buffett or not, has a “license to chill” (to quote Buffett’s 2004 album of the same name).

READ MORE: “Fins up forever”: Remembering Jimmy Buffett, a master of island escapism

The result is a judgement-free world of island escapism – the same universe Buffett artfully crafted through his music and books – filled with splashy surf boards, salty rims and murals of cheeky parrots.

Surf boards line the interior corridor of the new Wave building. (Pax Global Media)

Swim-up suites in the Wave building. (Pax Global Media)

And music. Good music.

The reason for PAX’s visit from Aug. 17-20 was to experience the property’s “Summer of Music” event, a nearly four-month long program of musical performances, from special-guest DJs to star singers, food and beverage specials, and pop-up spa experiences.

The headliner, during our stay, was Dominican-born singer Manny Cruz, whose upbeat Latin beats and on-stage charisma, supported by a full band and back-up dancers, had a theatre full of fans on their feet, gleefully singing and dancing.

Superstar singer Manny Cruz put on a high-energy show. (Pax Global Media)

We may not have understood all the words (the set was in Spanish), but we certainly felt the joy in the room. By the end of the show, we were devoted Manny Cruz fans, joining one million others who follow the singer on Instagram.

Cruz’s opening act, an artist named Chez Tropics, also left us wide-eyed and entertained.

The stage name of a young backpacker named Adnor, Chez Tropics combines ethereal vocals and guitar and eclectic horn playing into a compelling live act of groovy house and techno beats that one might hear at an artsy rooftop party in Manhattan.

Let’s just say Chez Tropics is now on active rotation on our playlist.

Multi-instrumentalist Chez Tropics brought the groovy house and techno beats. (Pax Global Media)

One year-round mandate at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana is, in fact, to program live music every day (not just during summer), both in the afternoon (by the pool, for example) and at night. And no, it’s not a marathon of Jimmy Buffett tunes.

Punch Bar, an open-air lounge in Entertainment Village, a promenade at the front of the resort where the restaurants are located, is one spot where bands play every night, performing everything from reggae to classic rock.

It’s a social spot, too. For many guests, Punch Bar is where the night begins and ends.

Punch Bar is an open-air lounge in Entertainment Village. (Pax Global Media)

Gourmet-inclusive menu + brewery

Beyond the tunes is Karisma’s gourmet-inclusive culinary promise – a menu that does not disappoint.

There’s The Boathouse, a nautical-themed marketplace with all-day food stations, Frank & Lola’s (Italian, serving possibly the best slow-cooked ossobuco – veal shanks – I’ve ever had), Mon So Wi (Pan-Asian street food), JWB Steakhouse (which serves specialty cuts, like tomahawk ribeyes, for an extra charge, if desired).

The Boathouse. (File photo/Pax Global Media)

All guests – kids and adults – come together in the restaurants, but for an experience just for grownups, there’s A-LAM-BIK, an upscale restaurant that costs extra for Wave and Hammock guests (but for Villa folk, it’s included).   

Slow-cooked ossobuco served hot at Frank & Lola’s. (Pax Global Media)

There’s also LandShark, a lofty, industrial bar and grill that, exclusively, serves Buffett’s famous Landshark lager.

This doubles as a brewery (it’s the only brewery at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican) where guests can sign up for behind-the-scenes tours and learn more about the beer-making process.

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

The facility, to date, has pumped out 17 different styles of beer, from IPAs to malty Munich dunkel.

Some of that beer will be showcased this fall, from Sept. 16 to Oct. 30, as the property hosts its annual Oktoberfest.

From pretzels and bratwursts to schnitzels and sauerkraut, the resort promises a special menu and festive programming, from live acts to, yes, lots of ice-cold beer from LandShark.

Learning about the beer-making process at LandShark brewery. (Pax Global Media)

Our favourite spot at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana was Rum Runner’s, a poolside eatery in the adults-only section that serves Caribbean and Dominican fare, like tasty plantain cups stuffed with shredded beef.

The service can be slow during peak times, but the flavourfully-local meals are worth the wait.

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

But who says you have to eat in a restaurant? Margaritaville Island Reserve allows guests to dine, in the pool, with its signature “floating taco” bars.

Floating taco bars at Margaritaville Island Reserve. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

This, essentially, is a giant platter of fish and beef tacos, for up 12 people, that’s served in the pool (usually at lunch) so groups don’t have to exit and get dressed if they get hungry.

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

The floating taco bar is also social media gold. Post a photo of the floating tacos on Facebook and it will likely be one of your most-liked photos of the year.

For travel advisors, it’s an excellent conversation starter.

Stop & smell the essential oils

Other on-site amenities include the “Fins Up” Fitness Centre, as well as Joe Merchant’s, a coffee and café, serving smoothies, sandwiches and sweets.

It’s also “general store” where guests, who are allotted points based on their room category and length of stay, can redeem snacks, wine and other items, like local coffee beans. The idea, here, is to let people customize their own in-room refreshments and snacks.

Weekly events on site include margarita blending (and sampling) and pickleball tournaments (there are two courts).

Unplugging at St. Somewhere Spa. (Pax Global Media)

Then, when it’s time to really unplug, there’s the St. Somewhere Spa, an 11,000 square-foot space (one of the biggest spas in the brand) with 14 treatment rooms, a Bridal Suite and a hydrotherapy area with herbal steam room, sensory pool, jacuzzi, “polar lagoon” and thermal loungers.

From coconut scrubs to watermelon smoothie-firming facials, stress-free St. Somewhere is where you can really stop and smell the essential oils, and surround yourself with serenity.

Easy, breezy, beautiful

Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana’s playful accommodations, inspired by the colours of the sea, sand and sky, are luxuriously modern without being pretentious.

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.

Bright colours adorn the Beachfront Honeymoon suite. (Pax Global Media)

Inside the exclusive "Jimmy Buffett Suite." (Pax Global Media/file photo)

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

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

Laid-back view from a ground floor Swim Up suite in the Island Reserve Villas. (Pax Global Media)

And despite its now-larger size, the resort remains pleasantly intimate. Every amenity is a five-minute walk away or less.

Easy and breezy. Just as Jimmy Buffett would have wanted it.

For more pictures from PAX's tour of Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, click and "like" our Facebook page here

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