Punta Cana: A Guilt Trip in Paradise

The VIP beach of Majestic Elegance Resort.

As I'm sitting on the plane, peeling and satisfied from a week in the Dominican Republic, I am conflicted on my sentiments toward the trip.

I spent five days and six nights in Punta Cana and the Majestic Elegance Resort, which is nothing short of paradise. We went swimming with stingrays, got massages on the water, paddle boarded, kayaked, had a dance party on a catamaran, soaked up more sun than my pale skin could handle, and thoroughly took advantage of the all-you-can consume nature of the resort.

And we got treated like absolute royalty. Because we were two single white women from America in a resort full of families and honeymooners, we received enormous amounts of special privileges and attention from the employees. My chair was always pulled out for me, drinks were immediately topped off, I was told I was beautiful almost hourly and I had limitless dance partners even when I didn't want them. I got a rose almost every day of vacation and a cake on our last day. I got the best service one could ask for in a place where simply being there was already enough.

It was bliss, but an experience I feel somewhat guilty about.

Those wonderfully cheerful Dominican customer service representatives who treated us like princesses make what I make in a week for the entire month, probably less. They work 12 days in a row, for 12 hours or more a day. They live 45 minutes away and get bused in every day, so they're not even on their own time schedule. Then they get maybe 3 days off to actually go home to wherever they're really from, where I can only assume they sleep for the better part of it from working so hard the past two weeks straight.

If you talk to any of the workers, they seem to love their job. They're happy, laughing and enjoying chatting with us. But I still feel guilty that they're working so hard to bring me five plates of food that I absolutely don't need. Then they come back to throw away that half of a steak I couldn't finish because I ate four courses prior. While I'm pounding lobster raviolis, they're drinking water until they go home to eat oatmeal for dinner (I'm not exaggerating; our butler really can't eat the resort food and waits 12 hours to go home and eat oatmeal).

Our tour guide on the way to an island excursion informed us that most of the Dominican Republic isn't like the resort (duh). On our way, we passed tiny shanties where people live. And rundown side stores. And piles of garbage. And a school for children that resembles an old prison. And you know immediately that life in the DR isn't great for those living there. And here I am, reveling on the all-inclusiveness of my resort, where they served my drunk ass at least 6 breadsticks BEFORE my four course meal.

But what makes it worse for my guilt is that they are grateful for us. Tourism is their number one economy booster. If we don't go to these resorts, those thousands of workers won't have any jobs, or they'll work in a sugarcane field for $7 a day. The tour guide is a lawyer, but works in tourism because he makes more money doing that to subsidize his other attorney job. Can you imagine a lawyer in the United States working as a tour guide? Nope, didn't think so.

I don't know what would fix the problem since tourism is a huge money maker in the country, but there's not much of a trickle down effect. I don't see that helping to improve any of the locations outside of the resort. And the workers are making a living, but nothing by our standards. It's just sad to think that in all the natural beauty of Punta Cana, the people there can't enjoy it like we can. It's like being one of those stingrays in an enclosed cove at the beach. You can see the ocean, but never quite swim in the beauty of it all.