Su-Jit Lin-DeSimone | July 20, 2015 4:30 PM ET
Social Media at the School of Hard Rock
PHOTO: Rolling out the red carpet for a one-of-a-kind conference. Courtesy Travel Impressions.
They say to see is to believe, but in some cases, even firsthand experience goes beyond belief. Sometimes, where you are is so above and beyond your expectations, the details so exquisitely tailored, and the experience so impeccable, that there’s a sense of suspended reality in every moment.
That’s exactly how I felt during every too-short minute of the social media fam hosted by the All-Inclusive Collection’s rock star of a public relations manager, Dana Baasiri, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana.
Before this trip, I’d written about the All-Inclusive Collection Hard Rock Hotels before. The lavish excess, the memorabilia, and the beyond-generous Limitless Resort Credit of up to $1,800—which is —have all been topics I’ve touched on and researched to high heaven for Travel Impressions. But to personally be in the midst of it? I realized, try as I did, I hadn’t done this resort enough justice.
A gorgeous lobby for group check-in, bedecked in oversized paintings, artwork, and contemporary lounge furniture, was my first glimpse of the property’s interior, classically elegant with shades of cream, beige, and travertine stone punctuated by dramatic punches of black. "How stately," I thought to myself as I chatted away with AIC BDMs Ellyn Gerstel, Marie-Frederique Lemieux, and Janet Martin. It was elegant, and a bit more understated than I’d expected.
Well, that impression was burst as soon as I walked into the main Boulevard. An air-conditioned, seemingly endless strip of posh designer shops, chic restaurants, and modern lounges, lined with priceless music memorabilia and landmarked by collectibles like Sammy Hagar’s classic convertible and Madonna’s disco ball limo … opulence was everywhere.
The floor sparkled; the water installments glittered; the lights shined — the Boulevard was clearly designed to dazzle, and dazzle it certainly did. Yet despite all the glitz, it was still stylish and tasteful, even while being edgy and rock ‘n’ roll.
I had a hard time tearing myself away from exploring everything on this promenade to drop my bags off in my room, but once I got to the junior suite—their standard accommodation—I was hard-pressed to find a reason to leave. The room was massive; calling it “nice” would be a disservice.
In the bathroom were dual sinks, a make-up table, two-person shower with a bench, and the toilet in its own water closet. Across were oversize closets featuring plush robes and new slippers ready for the wearing. The king-size bed was outfitted in pillows and overlooked the sunken two-person jetted tub, flanked by a desk and armchair, and opening into a giant, angled balcony with cushioned chairs and ottomans.
A small dining table completed the creature comforts of the room, and a big flat screen, pull-out liquor dispenser, and 24-hour room service menu made becoming a recluse sound like a grand idea.
It was a good thing there was a long roster of activities to draw me out of the room and back into the world. The first evening had our band of 20-odd people using the meticulously groomed on-site golf course as a driving range, with neon hoops and shapes serving as markers as our eyes followed the balls that lit up on impact with our Callaway clubs.
We whetted our appetites with outdoor snacks and cunningly concocted cocktails on the green, then moved the party to Ciao on the Boulevard, where Italian dishes are served à la carte at night and guests are welcome to walk through the staging area—the buffet by day—for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what they should be saving their appetites for.
The next morning marked the first day of the conference, and I learned the “hard” way that the Hard Rock team hosts with the same lavish excess they promise their leisure guests. After scarfing down an indulgent breakfast following a great session in their 10,000-square-foot gym (complete with complimentary spin and fitness classes and boasting three glass-paneled studios, might I add), I rushed to the red-carpet entrance to our meeting space.
There I found, surrounded by a wall of twinkling fairy lights, a full buffet of treats and exceptional coffee—served with hot milk, a delightful detail — waiting for all of us as Joseph Bianco and Shannon Loftus from ad/marketing agency 1 Trick Pony gave us the 101 411 on social media. The spotlight passed to our celebrity guest speaker, the charismatic Scott Eddy, named one of the most influential personalities in #travel, according to Klout.
Inspired by the many ways to share, the next activity was a social media scavenger hunt “tour,” cleverly highlighting some of the most notable memorabilia and exciting details of the Boulevard (look to the hashtag #SocialRockStars for photos from this adventure), which then led to a site inspection of the humongous property.
Because “humongous” truly is the most accurate way to describe a resort that traverses three canals or rivers; has its own “town square” bigger than those in my community; houses 1,775 rooms; and requires golf cart shuttle stops from end to end. A long stretch of sugary soft beach, white curtains of Bali beds billowing in the soft breeze, the murmur of azure waves, the plentiful loungers just begging to be napped on … if this is work, let retirement never come! Unfortunately, the tour had to end, things had to be done, and I had a laptop full of emails waiting for me back in the room before we met again for dinner at chic Zen, the fittingly social teppanyaki restaurant, and entertainment at the Moon Lounge.
The next day began with a more technical Q&A session with the Ponies, and ended in culinary excess at the Mexican restaurant, Gallo, where every appetizer on the menu was paraded out as Tequila Man made his rounds. To cap the entire experience off was entry to the spectacular nightclub in the casino, Oro, where go-go dancers and a great DJ made retro night fun without being cliché.
And that, I think, is the fine line that the Hard Rock Punta Cana toes. This brand does lavish luxury and excess without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard. It’s effortless style and natural, carefree elegance even translates to the people, from the glamorous yet warm and welcoming BDMs and public relations anager to the staff that caters to every whim with a cheeky smile. The resort is huge beyond belief, but never feels that way, making guests feel honored and groups feel like they’re the only one there. The stops are pulled out—though never overdone—teetering in perfect balance on the edge of the surreal.
I don’t know about you, but on a luxury vacation, that’s exactly where I want to stand.
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