Dreams Punta Cana....gluten free nightmare,
June 26, 2016
This is a summary of the various experiences at Dreams Punta Cana. It may be out of order but I did my best.
When we arrived on April 22nd, we were greeted by Jean Carlos as well as someone from the Preferred Club. We were given a letter to be used at the restaurants stating that we needed gluten free. We also saw one of the chefs. We were assured that there would be no problem and that they dealt with this all the time. Jean Carlos told me to contact him anytime if we needed anything.
When we arrived at our rooms, the first thing we noticed was that my and my husband's room smelled like mildew. Really strong. I'm very allergic to mold. It was really warm. I lowered the temperature on the air conditioning control.
I went to the room adjoining us to get my son settled. I noticed that the chain lock on the door was coming out of the wall and that the lock to the sliding glass door didn't work. I emailed Jean Carlos immediately about the locks and the terrible smell. I also notified the preferred club. Jean Carlos replied the next day about "refreshing the room" but not about the locks. Someone did come and fix them. I'm attaching a picture of what the repair looked like.
I emailed Jean Carlos again that night because we were told that they didn't have gluten free bread when we were at the Seaside Grill. He never replied. Luckily I had brought my own.
The next morning we went to breakfast at Oceana. We gave the letter to the server who read it and looked confused. I asked if there was someone we could speak to. A gentleman spoke to me and showed me what was gluten free. I knew I was in trouble when we he pointed out the bacon sitting on bread and told me my family could eat the bacon because it was gluten free. He told me they would be ok if they took it off the bread. I explained over and over until he understood that cross contamination was an issue. He finally went to the back and got fresh bacon. I also had to explain that cooking eggs on the same surface as they were heating bread would not be ok. He did have someone put them in a separate pan. He also pointed at the gluten free bread that the Seaside Grill claimed didn't exist.
I believe it was the second day, my daughter plugged something in one of the outlets and sparks flew out of the wall. The outlet was hanging out of the wall.
I emailed Jean Carlos and cc'ed my travel agent. He never replied but thankfully she did. She tried all day to get in touch with someone who could speak English that would help me. She told me that she was trying to contact Jean Carlos. Later she told me that he would be speaking to me. He never did.
Someone did come "refresh" the room. This consisted of a can of air freshener sprayed around the room and into the air conditioning vent. Not sure how this would get rid of mildew. It just smelled like flowery mildew. It actually smelled worse.
The next day (day 5, Tuesday 4/26) my travel agent finally spoke to someone helpful. Gary. He met with me and listened to my concerns. He was sympathetic. I told him about the smell and the broken air conditioning, the problems with the restaurants and an incident at dinner a prior night involving my father. More on that later. He told me they would send a dehumidifier to the room which they eventually did. He set up dinner that night and made sure the restaurant was prepared for us and gluten free. Dinner went very smoothly that night.
The dehumidifier did help with the smell but made the room warmer. Also, the tank had to be emptied every few hours because the humidity level was so high and it kept filling up. It wasn't like this in the other 3 rooms so it was not due to being on the ground floor.
The next night we went for Italian. One of the worst food experiences of the trip but unfortunately not the worst. We gave the letter to the server. She looked utterly confused. She took the letter and 20 minutes later came back to take our order. No one spoke to us about what my daughter and husband could eat. All she did was point at the items marked gluten free. I told her I wanted to speak to someone and that I needed the letter back. She walked away and brought back a gentleman, I assume the maitre d. He also pointed at the dinners that were gluten free. I asked him about gluten free pasta, which we were assured we would be able to have, and he told me that it needs to be requested a few hours before. I told him that I was told differently. He walked away and came back and told me they could do gluten free spaghetti. He didn't know what thy could put on it. I asked to speak to the chef and he said he would go ask.
When they brought the food out, my husband's dinner was garnished with a huge cracker. No one could tell me if it was gluten free or not. I told him we needed a fresh one and he looked at me like I was crazy. He did bring a fresh one.
The next few nights dinner was set up by Gary. The restaurants knew we were coming. The Asian restaurant went well. There was someone who understood gluten free. This was the only restaurant in the whole place where we encountered someone who understood.
Dinner at La Trattoria was stressful. The waitress looked blankly at the letter. I had to ask questions about everything and she was obviously annoyed. I asked her if we could speak to the chef about what we could put on the pasta. Again we couldn't. She came back and told me that 2 sauces were ok. When I asked her why the Alfredo sauce here wasn't ok but it was ok at the other Italian restaurant she just shrugged. She couldn't tell me what was in it and didn't try to find out.
Our last night we ate at Oceana. Gary had told them we were coming and that we wanted pasta for my daughter. We showed the letter to the server and he clearly didn't understand. I asked to speak to the gentleman that had been helping us at breakfast because I saw he was there. He came over and basically said that they were making the gluten free pasta for my daughter. I tried to ask him about my husband's meal but he was in a rush and walked away. Again we tried to ask the server about one of the entrees and whether or not it could be prepared gluten free. He didn't understand. We asked to speak to the other gentleman again. He came over and said that the pasta was coming. As he was walking away again, we had to stop him to ask about my husband. We showed him what he wanted. He told him he couldn't have it because there was milk in the mashed potatoes. He told my daughter she couldn't have the Caesar salad that she was eating all week because it had cheese on it. When I told him that milk and cheese were ok, he argued with me and told me that I was wrong.
Basically no one is trained on what gluten is. They have no idea. The letter says that the person presenting it needs to avoid "gluten". It doesn't say what gluten is. If someone isn't familiar with the word, they have no clue. The letter needs to explain what it is.
Our dining experiences were nothing short of frustrating and stressful. Most people were annoyed about our questions or couldn't understand them at all. If Dreams is going to put "gluten free" on the menus, they are taking the responsibility to educate their staff as to what that is. Only a few people know. If someone doesn't know they should be able to ask someone who does.
We tried to make the best of the situation but I had to deal with a very sad little girl who ate salad most meals and a very angry husband. We spent a lot of money on the trip and the food was not something we should've had such issues with. There was constant communication ahead of time between me and the resort as well as with my travel agent and the resort and we were both assured things would be great. I was told that the chefs would be able to modify things that weren't marked gluten free to make them gluten free. This wasn't offered once.
We paid for the preferred club. We got 4 rooms in desperate need of repair. Broken locks, broken fan, broken outlets, terrible smell,broken air conditioning. The air conditioning was finally fixed on day 8. The last morning we woke up to it leaking all over the floor and on our clothes.
The power in the resort went out numerous times. It happened mostly during the night and every time it went back on, the tv in my room came on and woke us up. The last night it went out right after dinner for close to an hour. We ate with the light from our cell phones.
The worst part of the trip happened at the buffet. While My father seated at dinner with the family, the waiter passed behind him and with both hands he grabbed the sides of his torso. As I recall, he squeezed him two times (in rapid succession). I say "squeezed" for want of a better word. The grab was as you would grab excess skin to form a so called rubber tire on your body.
This did not seem malicious as it did not hurt him physically, and the waiter was not angry or appear negative. However, it was extremely embarrassing as others were staring and noticing, even chuckling. Drawing attention to someone's excess weight in front of many people in close proximity is humiliating.
He was astounded and shouted "Don't do that", the waiter retreated. Apologies from him and another staff member followed, later.
My father is not aware of any Dominican customs which explain this terrible behavior. In fact, in the hundreds of thousands of miles traveled to many
foreign countries during his career, nothing even close has ever happened.
If I were the waiter's employer, I would be watching him very closely. That is if I did not already have reason to fire him.
My father is a quiet man. He doesn't like attention drawn to him, especially when it causes embarrassment. He was mortified and it was sad to watch. If someone who was overweight in the U.S. was treated that way, there would be outrage. My father handled it in a dignified manner but was and still is upset about it.
Any of these issues or situations on their own (other than my fathers experience) wouldn't be a big deal. A bad meal, a broken lock, a power outage. They happen. However, for all this to happen to one family is not acceptable. Our family doesn't travel often because we just can't afford it. This was our first family trip since 2009. It's a shame that it was a stressful, problem-filled week. Not what we were expecting from a resort that claims have "Unlimited Luxury".