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Hard Rock Hotel, Dominican Republic

The recently opened Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Punta Cana, ushers in a new era for the music themed chain. Located in a popular Dominican Republic vacation spot, the 1700 room property is the Hard Rock brand’s first all-inclusive. The beachfront behemoth, the former Moon Palace resort, comes with a conference center, a casino and sometimes free concerts.

While betting on business travelers to book most rooms, the Hard Rock has enough amenities and services to please tag-along-tots and families. Follow this playlist to experience the Hard Rock’s hits.

First, to be happy here, you must love big. It’s a 15 minute walk—or 10 minutes by shuttle-- from the lobby to the beach. In between, you pass clusters of similar looking four-story lodgings fronted by fountains, ponds and pools. To cut down on wandering when searching for your building, ask about its logo. Ours, building 4, had drums as an icon, but no one at check-in mentioned this identifying feature. A maintenance man told us to look for the red “4” above the building’s electrical grid, another way to locate your building.

Once we found our room, we liked it. Hard Rock has jazzed up the somewhat blah Moon Palace décor with color and music memorabilia. An orange glass panel with swirls provided atmospheric lighting, and a black and white photograph of the young Beatles asleep in lounge chairs added a touch of nostalgia.

Above the bed ran a quote from the Eagles: “It’s just another day in paradise as you stumble to your bed. You’d give anything to silence those voices ringing in your head.” Hmmm. The reference to “paradise” felt right, but not the rest of it. No matter. WE happily soaked in the room’s piece de resistance: the sunken double Jacuzzi tub with its view of the balcony and beyond.

Two, complimentary Space Kids Club programs entertain ages 4-12. At the indoor program from 11-11 with breaks for lunch and dinner, children play computer games, do puzzles, create crafts and watch movies. At the outdoor, poolside venue from 11:15am-1pm and 2:30pm -5:30pm, kids swim pool relays, build sand castles, tackle the climbing wall and go on treasure hunts.

Every evening at 9 pm, teens can croon like the stars at karaoke sessions in the Sun Bar. Note, though, that the teen scene takes place in a real bar serving alcohol. For 13-year-olds who can pass for 18, that’s not ideal.

The Hard Rock has many pools. Some are for families, some for kids, for water slide lovers, for adults and for topless swimmers. The beachfront row of pools is essential since the ocean at this site is more often than not rough with fast-breaking waves.

The 10 restaurants include Market, whose daily buffet we found predictable and good enough. We liked Cafetto’s garlic fish for lunch and also Isla’s Mahi Mahi served Dominican style with a light coconut sauce for dinner. Isla, one of the few restaurants open to the island breezes, proved our favorite place to dine. For most restaurants, simply show up. Only Toro, the steak place, and Zen, a teppanyaki grill, require reservations.

A small bonus at this all-inclusive are the free phone cards to make calls back home to the USA and Canada. A big bonus: compimentary admission to big-name concerts. During our stay, we waltzed into the ballroom—no ticket needed-- to rock to “Survivor” belting out “Eye of the Tiger” and other hits. The concerts, new programming for the hotel, are slated to happen every month or so and, as the series gets going, maybe more often. For more nightlife, try your luck at the casino or dance at the soon to open nightclub.

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