Cool Mom Picks
Last year, I was invited to visit the Nickelodeon all-inclusive Hotel & Resort in Punta Cana on a press junket. The truth is, I hesitated a bit. I tend to be a more intrepid traveler, though I do love the convenience of all-inclusive beach resorts for family travel. Also, I wasn’t sure about the whole themed aspect of the place. Was I going to spend a week eating Krabby Patties and drying off with a Dora™ branded towel? Was every dinner going to be filled with character visits?
As it turns out. the resort is as wonderful as Kristen described when she went with her own family a few years back. I would definitely say the emphasis is more on Resort than on Nickelodeon, which surprised me.
Even my 11-year-old adored the trip, and she prefers Riverdale to The Ninja Turtles — though she happily took a few photos with them one morning.
I would definitely say it’s a great all-inclusive resort option for families with kids of different ages.
The all-inclusive aspect means so much is taken care of for you. And less to think about as a parent means more time just enjoying the activities, the beach, the food, the entertainment — and your kids. These days, that means a lot to me.
Even so, if you’re booking a Nickelodeon Resort Punta Cana trip, a little planning and some insider tips can go a long way.
I spoke with many guests at the resort over my few days there, from lots of different places, all with kids of different ages. Based on their experiences and my own, I compiled my top tips to help you get the most out of your trip to the Nickelodeon Resort Punta Cana.
And hey, some of them are probably helpful for any beach resort vacation you might take at all.
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All photos © Liz Gumbinner for Cool Mom Picks, all rights reserved
Top tips to help you make the most of a
Nickelodeon Punta Cana Resort vacation.
Before You Go
Take a good look at the rate calendar before you book! One family told me that they opted to go after their school’s Easter break, because it was that much more affordable. In other words, there are peak weeks and not-so-peak weeks and it seems the pricing differences are significant.
Check all travel advisories There was some concern about travel to the DR last year, but it seems to be some odd, isolated incidents. In fact, staying at a reputable hotel chain (like Karisma) is one of the recos from experts. Still, double-checking the US State Department travel advisories is always a good idea before traveling abroad. There are currently no alerts for Punta Cana.
Double check your passport expiration date. This is a big one, if you haven’t traveled internationally for a while — there are new rules prohibiting Americans from traveling abroad with a passport set to expire within 6 months. Annoying, I know; but you do not want to show up at the airport and be told to go home.
Pack what you need; don’t expect to shop. If you forget diapers or swim goggles or flip flops, or you need a beach outfit for a party night, there’s one store on property that can hook you up. Just know it’s mostly souvenirs, snacks and booze, and the selection of clothing and must-haves is pretty limited. (No Gatorade, ack!) You may find a cute pareo in a pinch, but I wouldn’t count on it.
I find packing light in a carry-on is always your best bet, which means you’ll pay a few bucks for suntan lotion or shaving cream when you arrive. That’s worth the trade for me — but be prepared to pay resort prices for a limited selection of suntan lotion and uh, aloe.
Super cute, versatile resort wear maxi dress by Fraiche by J at Nordstrom.
Perfect for dinner, then take your shoes off to dance on the beach.
Pack both casual and resort chic. It’s not foo-foo fancypants here, but you will see more flowy dresses than shorts on the women at night — and even some heels, bless their souls. The resort does encourage you to dress for dinner. And even lunch is not a “sit down in your wet suit and sarong” kind of an experience.You be you, of course…but know that you’ll need more outfits than a coverup and some swimsuits.
Earbuds or headphones are a good idea. There’s a lot of music around the resort. No, its not Nickeodeon theme songs (though there is the occasional TMNT theme), unless you want Meghan Trainor to wake you from a delightful nap after a swim at the pool, lots of guests insisted that their headphones were a lifesaver. Or, nap-saver.
Bring packets of powdered electrolytes. I have a very hard time in the heat, and there’s no Gatorade at the resort. It literally saved me to be able to mix up a packet of inexpensive, store-brand electrolyte powder into a water bottle once or twice a day.
Consider towel clips. While this wasn’t a personal issue for me, a few parents told me they were glad to have towel clips to keep their towels from blowing off chairs on windy days, and to help their kids more easily identify their chairs after a swim. You can even get fancy with towel clips shaped like flamingos or margarita glasses.
Detergent packets for hand-washing come in handy. You can also have laundry sent out (no dry cleaning or self-service), but the ability to wash some stuff out in your tub or sink is a good one, especially when traveling with kids. Kids tend to spill stuff, if you weren’t aware.
Food And DiningBeachside dining at Zest is totally underrated for lunch
Make reservations with your concerierge in advance. For EVERYTHING. We’re a little fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants (or squarepants, ha) with family meals on vacation, because I never know exactly what my kids will want to eat or when. If you want to play it by ear, cool. You can always eat at Sugarcane the very good family-friendly buffet restaurant (breakfast, lunch, dinner) or Zest by the pool (breakfast, lunch) which is totally underrated, with views of the ocean. However for all other restaurants, turns out you must make your dinner reservations in advance.
Each villa has its own concierge so definitely sit down on arrival and get that going, even if you change your mind later.
The food really is quite good — Wok Wok was a favorite of ours, with a whole lot of pan-Asian options, I didn’t make it to Verdello (Italian) or the wacky burger restaurant, but I hear both are worth a visit. Spacewalker is a fun, space-age themed experience that’s worth a visit (I don’t want to spoil the surprises!), but note that for some reason it was verrrry slow. That may have been the nature of having a big table, but be aware if you’re with younger kids and make an earlier seating.
Go to the beach party. It’s once a week, it’s included, and it’s so fun! Bring your appetite. And be prepared to dance afterwards.
Eat later for a quieter experience. Some restaurants open for dinner at 6, with some opening as late as 7:30. The early seatings will be packed with hungry kids, as you can imagine. If you have slightly older or (ahem) well-behaved kids who are used to eating out around adults, you might enjoy grabbing a snack at the Doppio coffee bar in the late afternoon / early evening, then eating when the kid crowd thins out.
If you don’t see something your kid eats, ask. They are so accommodating! The chefs making pizzas-to-order at the buffet happily made a sauce-free pizza for my daughter, and I saw other parents asking for peanut butter and so on. That goes for you too, parents! The bartenders may have thought I was a little crazy ordering a frozen pineapple juice and ice with no alcohol, but it hit the spot in the pool!
Take a little time to enjoy the adults-only restaurant. All the restaurants are good with surprisingly terrific food for an all-inclusive! It’s not quite Club Med, but it’s not cruise ship food either. However if you want one night (or even a lunch) without any high chairs or spilled milk — that you’re cleaning up — let your tween or teen roam free for a bit, or drop your younger one off in the cool Just Kidding kids’ club at Nick Place while you enjoy Kitchen 23, the one 18+ restaurant at the resort . It’s your vacation too!
Yes, there’s an alternative to a huge buffet breakfast If you want to hit the activities early, you might want to skip the hour-long breakfast at Sugarcane. If you’re okay with a nice fruit or cheese plate, yogurt, maybe a muffin or croissant, cereal (as I recall) and some coffee, you can grab a light breakfast from the counter at Doppio, which I found really enjoyable. Actually, it’s open all day so perfect when you want a quick snack.
Free baby food is easily available One of the things I like about Karisma resorts, since I first went to one with my extended family and my own babies back in 2007, is that they really consider your needs as parents. Don’t bother packing baby food if you don’t have to; you can ask for it at any restaurant or cafe, or even though room service. It’s all included.
Around the Resort
Request a swim-up pool room. The ground floor rooms all have swim-up pool access to a narrow pools that connects from end to end of the villa. Unless you’re worried about toddlers (though you can lock your patio door), it’s so delightful for kids to be able to make the most of the later daylight hours — and some of the nighttime ones! — in the pool right off your room.
Get an early start! Stuff starts to get busy by 10:30, 11am. So get your kids out of bed (yes, even though it’s vacation), eat early, and get a head start on the day. Not only will you have your choice of beach chairs or an empty pool to play in, but you’ll get more out of your day in general. Plus, you can always sleep on the beach, right?
Reserve a beach bed in advance if you want one. We found this out the hard (slightly embarrassing) way, but the beds aren’t just free for the taking, like they used to be when I went to Karisma’s Azul Beach Hotel years ago.
Golf carts will take you everywhere…but walking can save time. Carts come frequently if you need one, and can take you anywhere. (Tips are always nice BTW.) If you have older kids and you’re not juggling strollers and bag of stuff, we actually enjoyed walking from the beach end of the resort, to the gourmet village, to the Nick Village across the way. It’s shorter than you think unless it’s really hot.
Speak a little Spanish. While everyone speaks English, you are in another country. A simple buenos días to the staff in the morning, or a gracias for a drink or a lift to the restaurant goes a long way. Plus it’s a great learning opportunity for your kids if they’re non-Spanish speakers.
Let your kids hang out at the kids’ club. Some parents feel like “we’re on a beautiful island! Let’s stay outside the whole time!” But you know, it’s your kids’ vacation too. The kids’ club is clean, well-maintained, with attentive staff, and your kids 4-12 will have a great time. Psst…it gives you a little more time to yourself too.
Download the app featuring the day’s activities! You can download the Karisma Hotels & Resorts app from Google Play or at the App Store for iOS. When I tried it, it was brand new (as in, it launched that week) and admittedly it was buggy. However I hear it’s come a long way and is helpful throughout the day, should you want to plan for evening events, see what kids’ movie is playing in the plaza at night, or figure out when there are character meet-and-greets or kids’ activities that they don’t want to miss. It also includes room info (like an FAQ), and hours for restaurants and the Aqua Nick park.
Use the WiFi. It’s surprisingly good, and you’ll save your data,. (Speaking of which, be sure to contact your carrier about roaming and international data charges. )
All I know is it had fresh passion fruit, and a scorched rosemary sprig and it was outrageous.
Carry dollar bills with you everywhere. Yes, the resort is all-inclusive, but tipping your bartenders, drivers, poolside waiters is good form, good karma, and helps get you exceptionally attentive service. Oh, and ask the bartenders to make you something “special.” You’ll get something way better than a strawberry daiquiri.
Carry a credit card or cash for the boutique. If you walk all the way there, be sure you’ve got cash or a credit card with you, because they don’t accept room charges. Been there, walked that back and forth in the hot sun. Kind of frustrating, but it seems it’s run independently from the resort.
Poolside at Aqua Nick is more chill than you might think. I admit I put off visiting for a couple days, because I am a little over the water park stage. But it turns out it’s great fun — and I actually got some of my best reading done here. It’s not the same level of chill as the infinity pool of course, but your kids are old enough not to need eyes on them 24/7, you can actually relax. Plus the staff here is amazing — both kind and helpful with the kids, and as attentive as any staff at any pool I’ve ever been to, if not more so.
Besides, you might want to get in the pool with your kids, get slimed, or float down the lazy river together holding hands. That was one of my favorite memories.
Don’t worry about saving pool chairs. There is always that one person who has to get up at 7AM and throw towels over the “best” 12 chairs by the pool. Unless it’s high season and the resort is packed, don’t bother. While I have seen some reviews complaining about the lack of chairs, we never had a problem. And the staff is there to help if you need.
Get your butts on the beach! There were so many people who never seemed to make the long, 20 yard journey from the infinity pool to the gorgeous beach. It’s clean, the breezes are lovely, and it’s got to be 10 degrees cooler as you get down to the water.
If you pose with a parrot on the beach, expect to pay for it. There are guys walking around with lizards and parrots, which do make the most adorable photos. As with any beach vendor, they are not affiliated with the resort, and they are there to make a buck….or twenty. They are aggressive about it too. So if they start to stick a parrot on your kid’s shoulder, either say no or be prepared to get out your wallet.
There is one way to get a bed on the beach for free, shhh… You can grab one of the big beach beds in the afternoon pretty easily after it’s been abandoned for the day. It’s actually lovely by the ocean later in the day when the sun is lower.
Get a tour of the Pineappple Villa. Even if you can’t afford to stay in it (me!), it’s pretty amazing inside, with multiple floors and a small private pool. (Above.)
Carry water around all the time. It’s easy to grab bottles of water — they’re all included — and you want to bring them everywhere, trust me. Again…it’s hot there! You want to be prepared — though the staff is super accommodating, and even if a restaurant is closed they’ll probably find a bottle of water for you. Of course packing your own water bottle to refill is even better — though you may want to stick with the bottled stuff when you’re traveling abroad.
If you really need A/C… your best bet is to go back to your room or (pro tip!) duck into one of the small concierge villas around the resorts which are the coolest spots we found. (Can you tell I have a few issues with hot weather?) The restaurants tend to be cooled by fans and if it’s really hot out, it will be pretty warm inside too.
Tip your housekeepers! All-inclusive doesn’t mean you should be stingy once you get there. You can afford a few bucks a night to support the people who work hard cleaning up after us.
Bonus tip for families with older kids like mine:
If you want a little less Nickelodeon in your Nickelodeon resort stay…there’s another option. For a slightly more sophisticated, adult experience, the Sensatori Punta Cana Resort is also owned by Karisma and is actually right alongside the Nickelodeon resort, on a parallel pathway from end to end. They even share restaurants and some amenities, like the beachside pool.
The rooms are identical, but with a different color scheme — more blues, fewer bright oranges. (Although the Nick rooms are surprisingly subtle with the branding, compared with say, Disney resort hotels.)
You’ll find fewer kids here, which is good if you’re with older tweens or teens — though expect some heavier drinking from the guests.
Sensatori still accommodates families nicely though, from what I heard, and for the Full Nick, you can buy a day pass to the Nick Village (shown above) and make use of the awesome Nickelodeon Aqua Park for the kids, while you camp out in a beach chair under an umbrella for the day. You can also make use of the kids’ club if you need some free time or your kids want a break from the sun.
Just know that the Nickelodeon Village day pass prices can add up if you’re getting passes every day for the duration of your stay, while it is included if you’re at the Nickelodeon resort. So is the trade-off worth it for you? Totally your call, but worth looking into both.
Thanks so much to the resort for inviting us on a press junket with other members of the media, and for covering our airfare and hotel stay. Expenses were our own, and so are my opinions, as always. An extra thanks for giving me a much-needed week alone with my youngest — that was the best part of all.