The North Coast Feature

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The Villa Alternative

One of the hottest tropical destinations in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has always been known as a cheap date because of its many all-inclusive resorts, which began in Playa Dorada and really took hold in Punta Cana. The European crowd was the first to grab on to the all-you-can-eat-and-drink concept; Americans followed suit, and at first almost everyone was happy. But AI resorts are no longer the only show in town.

Villas now provide a popular alternative. You can have the services and amenities of a five-star hotel, as well as a well-trained staff dedicated solely to your needs. And you don't have to elbow your way through a throng of strangers to get a cocktail. Vacation villas are privately owned homes and may be moderately priced or luxurious. Most have three or more bedrooms (larger homes have as many as 10) and are perfect for group trips, including family reunions, corporate retreats, and destination weddings.

Villa vacations are best for savvy travelers who seek a personalized vacation experience with privacy a priority, particularly around the pool and in dining areas. However, the Dominican Republic offers many gated villa communities with resortlike amenities and restaurants that offer the privacy of a villa with the services of a resort. Some villas are right in town, so that you can interact daily with local residents and have a more genuine experience in the country.

Price is always a factor, but while all-inclusive resorts offer savings on food and drinks, the shared facilities are often crowded, with food and drink that's often mediocre. If more people crowd into a room, the cost goes up, while comfort goes down. A midrange AI resort can still offer a tremendous value, and is almost always cheaper than a comparable room in a luxury resort.

Villas typically offer a single price for the entire villa, including its complement of staff, features, and amenities. If all of the bedrooms are occupied and the total costs shared, the per-person cost of staying in a villa (even considering the added cost of provisioning) can be about the same as the cost of a room at a luxury resort.

For example, a large beachfront villa in Cabrera's Orchid Bay Estates can accommodate 16 people and costs $2,600 per night. This is about $160 per person per night, which is the equivalent price of an upper midrange all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic but much less than a comparable luxury room at a resort on almost any other island. If you're willing to pay double that, you can have an ultraluxurious contemporary villa, also right on the water.

While provisioning is almost never included in the villa rental price, it often can be added for a moderate daily supplement. Many villas offer breakfast and even lunch preparation as a part of your maid's daily duties (some charge a relatively small additional fee). Personal chefs can be engaged to prepare and serve dinner in most villas. And the cost of these services as well as food is usually considerably less than the cost of restaurant meals at a luxury resort.

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