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Cable car delivers a picture-perfect outing

For impressive views of Puerto Plata, its harbor, sparkling coastline and verdant hillsides, climb aboard the only cable car in the Caribbean and indulge in a panoramic feast.

Puerto Plata cable car. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

Puerto Plata cable car. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

The Teleférico (Spanish for cable car) shuttles passengers up the 782-meter (2,565-foot) Isabele de Torres Mountain, named after the benefactor-queen of Christopher Columbus. An imposing view from most anywhere in Puerto Plata, the mountain has been declared a nature reserve due to its great variety of flora and fauna.

The pleasant, eight-minute ride eases visitors out of the base station and up and over rooftops, schoolyards and playgrounds. Before long only dense, tropical greenery lies ahead, and, as the ascent progresses, a broad, coastal vista unfolds.

As the 20-passenger car steadily climbs, the weather changes, too, with the temperature dropping pleasantly.

Foggy mist may obscure views on the mountain approach, giving travelers an eerie sensation as the cabin glides through a white-cotton blanket. When the station nears, a 10-meter (33-foot) Christ the Redeemer statue comes into a view from its perch at the summit.

The smaller version of Brazil’s famous 30-meter (99-foot) sculpture stands with outstretched arms atop a white dome, built as a small fortress in the days of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Gift shops now pack the space.

In addition to the stunning views of the shimmering Atlantic coast, a lush tropical garden and lagoon also await at the peak, as do a full restaurant and walk-up refreshment stand (soft drinks, cocktails and snacks). Restrooms are available both at the base and peak. Visitors can spend a few minutes or a few hours enjoying the tranquil setting.

Opened in 1975, the Teleférico operates seven days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $10 (USD) for adults; free or reduced admission for children. Visitors can also take a difficult hike to the summit or arrive by car, but there’s nothing like the round trip aboard the cable car.

Esperanza Spalding headlines 2016 Jazz Festival

Esperanza Spalding_Photo by Holly AndresFour-time Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding will be among the outstanding performers as the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary with five nights of free concerts Nov. 8-12.

Presented by the Dominican Ministry of Tourism, the popular event has been attracting audiences of 10,000+ music lovers, making it one of the largest jazz festivals in the Caribbean.

For its 20th edition, the festival will make its first appearance in the nation’s thriving capital of Santo Domingo, where it will open on Tuesday, Nov. 8, on the breeze-swept Plaza España in the heart of the Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From there, the event moves to its traditional venues on the North Coast.

This year’s featured performer is Spalding, an American bassist who at age 31 has already recorded seven collaborative and five solo albums while picking up four Grammys.

The all-star lineup includes saxophonist Lihi Haruvi (Israel), the Tia Fuller Quartet (USA), the Patricia Zarate Quintet (Chile), Pat Pereyra and her band (Dominican Republic), the Berklee Global Jazz Institute with special guests JoAnne Brackeen (piano) and Grammy Award-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (USA); vocalist Sabrina Estepan (Dominican Republic), The Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), a special quartet with Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ingrid Jensen and Linda Oh (USA), and Enerolisa Núñez and her group (Dominican Republic), who will perform folkloric Dominican music.

In addition to their evening performances, many festival artists conduct daytime workshops for Dominican children, teaching them a few basic concepts and introducing them to the magic of creating music themselves.

Several hundred children attend the workshops, which are presented through the festival’s affiliation with FEDUJAZZ, a nonprofit foundation that provides music education for Dominican youth. Enrollment in the FEDUJAZZ music program in Cabarete recently expanded to more than 200 students.

Here is the schedule for this year’s festival; all concerts start at 8 p.m.:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 8, at Plaza España in Santo Domingo.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 9, at Centro León in Santiago.
  • Thursday, Nov. 10, at Parque Independencia in Puerto Plata.
  • Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11-12, on the beach in Cabarete.

Since its debut in 1997, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians such as Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Chuck Mangione, Ray Baretto, Néstor Torres, Chucho Valdés, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Arturo Sandoval among many other talents.

The 20th annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival is presented by the Ministry of Tourism, and sponsors include Ron Macorix, JetBlue, the United States Embassy, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Gratereaux Delva & Associates Law Firm, Sea Horse Ranch Luxury Resort, Ultravioleta Boutique Residences, Millennium Resort & Spa, Casa Linda, the Municipality of Sosúa, the Ministry of Culture, CICOM, Cibao Recycling, BanReservas and the National Gallery of Fine Arts.

The festival is free, but VIP tickets are available and include priority seating, complimentary beverages and other festival perks, with proceeds benefiting FEDUJAZZ. For more information visit www.drjazzfestival.com

New port welcomes 5,000 visitors a week to Puerto Plata

Since its first ship docked in October 2015, the Amber Cove Cruise Center has been welcoming more than 5,000 passengers per week to Puerto Plata while adding hundreds of workers to the region’s payroll.

When passengers disembark, their first sight is a verdant mountain range, which provides a scenic backdrop as they make their way into the 30-acre port.

Carnival Valor visits Amber Cove Cruise Center

Carnival Valor visits Amber Cove Cruise Center

Carnival Corporation’s $65 million development was designed with architectural elements that blend the bright and breezy Caribbean style with the North Shore’s colonial heritage, such as distinctive turrets similar to those at nearby San Felipe Fort, a 16th century landmark in Puerto Plata.

Named after the fossilized resin that’s common in the area, Amber Cove offers an extensive shore excursion program with dozens of landside experiences for passengers to enjoy during their daylong stop. Choices include beaches, water sports and special culinary, cultural and adventure options. Ocean World, one of the region’s largest marine adventure parks, offers guests many ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.

Cruise passengers also have easy access to historic Puerto Plata, named by none other than Christopher Columbus, who established the nearby La Isabela settlement in 1493 during his second visit to the island. In Puerto Plata, visitors can check out museums and artist studios; view classic Victorian architecture; experience rum and cigar factories; or stroll along the scenic malecón, a three-mile, beach-side boardwalk dotted with bars, restaurants and shops.

Passengers who remain at Amber Cove are hardly high and dry. One of the central attractions is a 300,000-gallon pool, complete with swim-up bar surrounded by 30 submerged barstools. A spiral waterslide and zipline are also popular at the Aqua Zone.

Visitors can rent kayaks, standup paddleboards and canoes to explore the blue-green waters of the Bay of Maimón. They can also travel via speedboat to Paradise Island, one of the Caribbean’s top spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Passengers can rent over-water bungalows. Photo by Matt Bokor

Rental bungalows are available. Photo by Matt Bokor

For a luxury experience, private bungalows are available for six to 20 guests, complete with the services of a personal chef, bartender and staff. Seven pastel-colored, thatch-roof cabanas are perched over the water, linked by a wooden walkway; others are nestled poolside and hillside.

There’s shopping, of course, such as a Dominican artisan market with a dozen booths stocked with locally produced crafts, amber and larimar jewelry, cigars and coffee among the usual selection of souvenir caps, T-shirts and trinkets. Another four kiosks with Dominican products are sprinkled throughout the development. Plus there are freestanding jewelry, apparel and travel stores, a pharmacy, and a tempting duty-free emporium.

Amber Cove’s drinking and dining options include two full-service Coco Caña restaurants, bars and shops; the hilltop Sky Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the bay, port and pier; and pool-side and cabana-side bars.

Even before it opened, Amber Cove represented an economic shot in the arm for the North Coast, starting with three years of construction to revive Puerto Plata as a cruise destination after a 30-year hiatus. Today some 600 people work there — 92 in port operations and management, with 500-plus at the shops, restaurants and attractions.

Port encompasses 30 acres

Port encompasses 30 acres

Overseeing it all is Amber Cove General Manager Mouen Al Mawla, better known as Mo, a veteran of the hospitality industry — putting to good use his hospitality degree from Cornell University.

Born in Lebanon, Mo was raised in Aruba and has lived in New York, California and Florida. Before becoming Amber Cove’s first general manager, he was director of operations and food and beverage for the Bristol Hospitality Group in Panama.

His global travels had already taken him to La Romana, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo but not until Mo landed the Amber Cove job had he experienced Puerto Plata.

“I came to work, it was my first visit and I fell in love with the place,” he said.

And that’s how the Dominican tourism industry hopes all Amber Cove visitors will react when they discover the North Coast.

American Airlines adds Charlotte-Puerto Plata flight

Just in time for the 2015 holiday season, American Airlines has started nonstop service to Puerto Plata from Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

Operating on Saturdays, the new flight to Gregorio Luperón International Airport is among eight additional routes American offers through the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America. The first Charlotte-Puerto Plata nonstop was Dec. 19; the flights are scheduled aboard Airbus 319 aircraft, which seats 124 total.

Charlotte is American’s second-busiest hub, after Dallas/Fort Worth.

American has also added new Saturday service to Punta Cana from Charlotte and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival delights music lovers

Josean Jocobo

Dominican piano man Josean Jocobo. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival.

The 19th edition of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival brought five nights of free concerts to the Dominican North Coast recently, delighting an estimated 12,650 music patrons in four cities.

Presented by FEDUJAZZ and the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, the Nov. 4-8 festival featured an all-star lineup of outstanding musicians who performed in Santiago, Sosúa, Puerto Plata and Cabarete.

Artists for the 2015 festival included Grammy Award winners David Sanchez (Puerto Rico) and John Patitucci (USA), and the Grammy-nominated Pedrito Martinez Group, along with other outstanding talents: Josean Jacobo (Dominican Republic), Roy Assaf Trio (Israel), Berklee Global Jazz Institute (USA), Javier Vargas and The Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) with special guests Jim Kelly, Jim Odgren and Jason Camelio (USA).

Additional prominent artists included the Student Loan String Band (USA), Manuel Tejada (Dominican Republic), Mario Canonge Trio (France) and Pengbian Sang and Retro Jazz (Dominican Republic).

Pedrito Martinez Group

Grammy-nominated Pedrito Martinez Group. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival.

The largest free event of its kind in the Caribbean, the festival also paid homage to several of its own beloved national treasures, with tributes to renowned Dominican saxophone players and composers / arrangers Juan Colón, Sandy Gabriel and Crispin Fernandez.

In addition to delighting jazz lovers at the evening shows, several of the artists led daytime music workshops for more than 1,500 North Coast schoolchildren.

FEDUJAZZ, the music education foundation of the festival, currently provides 150 local children with free, ongoing music education and training at its new center in Cabarete.

In December, FEDUJAZZ will expand its music programs to include 73 children now on the waiting list. The programs will be divided into five age groups: 7 to 8 year olds, 8 to 9 year olds, 10 to 11 year olds, 12 to 14 year olds and 15 to 18 year olds.

The festival has also announced an exciting, new alliance with the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Matt Marvuglio, dean of the college’s Performance Division, and Marco Pignataro, college managing director, will join the festival’s Artistic Advisory Board, beginning with selection of artists for the 2016 event. Mr. Marvuglio and Mr. Pignataro will also serve as FEDUJAZZ advisors.

Since its inception, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians from around the world. This enriching addition to the diverse culture of the country allows for visitors and locals alike to enjoy all forms of jazz in the beautiful setting of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival will celebrate its 20th edition in 2016 on the following dates:

• Nov. 8 – Santo Domingo

• Nov. 9 – Santiago

• Nov. 10 – Puerto Plata

• Nov. 11 & 12 – Cabarete

Sponsors for the 2015 festival included Ron Macorix, JetBlue, the U.S. Embassy, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Gratereaux Delva & Associates Law Firm, Sea Horse Ranch Luxury Resort, Ultravioleta Boutique Residences, Millennium Resort & Spa, Casa Linda, the Municipality of Sosua, Cibao Recycling and Ban Reservas.

For more information, visit www.drjazzfestival.com.

Talented lineup headlines 19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Internationally renowned musicians from Cuba, France, Israel, Puerto Rico, the USA and, of course, the Dominican Republic will take the stage at the 19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, which will bring five nights of free concerts, Nov. 4-8, to Santiago, Sosúa, Puerto Plata and Cabarete.19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Presented by FEDUJAZZ and the Dominican Ministry of Tourism, the highly anticipated cultural event is the longest-running jazz festival in the Caribbean.

In addition to the talented lineup, festival organizers announced that Matt Marvuglio, dean of the performance division at Berklee College of Music (Boston, Massachusetts), and Marco Pignataro, managing director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, are joining the Artistic Advisory Board for the festival and will serve as advisors to FEDUJAZZ, the education foundation that provides free music education for Dominican youth.

Since its inception, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians such as Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Chuck Mangione, Ray Baretto, Néstor Torres, Chucho Valdés, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Arturo Sandoval among many other talents.

The festival is free, but VIP tickets are available, enabling priority seating, complimentary beverages and other perks, with proceeds benefiting FEDUJAZZ. Here’s the lineup:

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 8 p.m. – Santiago, Centro Leon

  • Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo with Javier Vargas (Dominican Republic) featuring special Guests Jim Kelly, Jim Odgren and Jason Camelio (USA)
  • Tribute to Juan Colon (Dominican Republic)
  • Student Loan String Band (USA)

Thursday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m. – Sosúa, Casa Marina Amphitheater

  • Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo with Javier Vargas (Dominican Republic) featuring special guests Jim Kelly, Jim Odgren and Jason Camelio (USA)
  • Roy Assaf Trio (Israel)

Friday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m. – Puerto Plata, Plaza Independencia

  • Manuel Tejada (Dominican Republic)
  • Berklee Global Jazz Institute (USA)
  • Tribute to Sandy Gabriel (Dominican Republic)
  • David Sánchez Quintet (Puerto Rico)

Saturday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m. – Cabarete Beach

  • Youth Concerts – Noon (Dominican Republic)
  • Josean Jacobo (Dominican Republic)
  • John Patitucci (USA)

Sunday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m. – Cabarete Beach

  • Mario Canonge Trio (France)
  • Pengbian Sang and Retro Jazz (Dominican Republic)
  • Tribute to Crispin Fernandez (Dominican Republic)
  • Pedrito Martinez Group (Cuba)

The FEDUJAZZ music program aims to provide children with free music programs that enhance their overall education and increase life opportunities. Currently there are over 150 students attending free music classes at the new center in Cabarete. Additionally, over 1,000 schoolchildren from the North Coast of the Dominican Republic participate in the music workshops jazz festival musicians.

The 19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival is presented by the Ministry of Tourism, and sponsors include Ron Macorix, JetBlue, the U.S. Embassy, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Gratereaux Delva & Associates Law Firm, Sea Horse Ranch Luxury Resort, Ultravioleta Boutique Residences, Millennium Resort & Spa, Casa Linda, the Municipality of Sosúa, Cibao Recycling and BanReservas.

Puerto Plata amphitheater on target for March completion

Construction of a waterfront, 3,500-seat amphitheater in Puerto Plata should be completed by the end of March 2015, according to a recent update from the Ministry of Tourism.

Artist's rendering of new Puerto Plata amphitheater. Image courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Artist’s rendering of new Puerto Plata amphitheater. Image courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Adjacent to the historic San Felipe fortress, the nearly $6 million (USD) project is reshaping the entire Puntilla del Malecón, which will become even more of a cultural destination for tourists and locals alike.

Another facet of the project, which began in early 2014, includes repairs and repainting of historic, Victorian architecture that is sprinkled throughout Puerto Plata.

As Tourism Ministry leaders had hoped, the work will be completed well ahead of the opening of the new Amber Cove Cruise Center, just west of Puerto Plata at the Bay of Maimon. The first cruise ship, the Carnival Victory, is scheduled to arrive for a daylong call on Oct. 6. Thousands of passengers will disembark for excursions throughout Puerto Plata province.

Construction of amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Construction of amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Carnaval festivities return to Puerto Plata

The Puerto Plata Carnaval will be held every Sunday in February (1, 8, 15, 22) with the final parade on Sunday, March 8.

CarnavalThe annual celebration features colorful taimascaros (elaborate costumes incorporating Spanish, African, Taíno and Dominican culture) amid parades, dancers, floats, music and art. It all combines for lively, joyous celebration. Each celebration runs approximately 3 to 11:30 p.m. along the Malecón in Puerto Plata.

With origins dating to 1520, Dominican Carnaval is a tradition inherited from Spanish settlers.

Celebrated every Sunday of February, Carnaval parades and entertainment vary by city. In addition to Puerto Plata, festivities are held in Punta Cana, Río San Juan, Constanza, La Vega, Montecristi, Samaná, Higuey, La Romana, Santiago and Santo Domingo. La Vega is home to the most popular celebration in Dominican Republic.

Amber Cove to welcome first cruise ship in October

Amber Cove, Carnival Corporation’s new port just west of Puerto Plata, will welcome its first cruise ship when the Carnival Victory arrives on Oct. 6 for a daylong call.

Master plan for Amber Cove Cruise Center. Image courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Master plan for Amber Cove Cruise Center. Image courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Victory (normal capacity 2,758 passengers) will be the first cruise ship to call at Puerto Plata in nearly 30 years. The visit will be the first of 37 calls by eight different Carnival ships that will take place at Amber Cove between October 2015 and April 2016, accounting for more than 100,000 guests during this period.

“Amber Cove is destined to become a cornerstone in creating new itineraries from several U.S. home ports,” Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of itinerary planning, said in a recent press release. “It will provide an unmatched combination of fun-in-the-sun activities and eco-tourism opportunities along with unique sightseeing, dining and cultural experiences to create a lifetime of wonderful vacation memories for our guests.”

Under construction since May 2012, the two-berth Amber Cove Cruise Center will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily.

The 30-acre development on the Bay of Maimon includes a welcome center with a variety of retail outlets, themed restaurants and bars and a transportation hub allowing visitors easy access by land and sea to nearby destinations.

The $65 million development is a joint project between Miami-based Carnival Corp. & plc and the Rannik family of Grupo B&R.

Ungodly ordeal ends for mighty Neptune

NeptuneWith trident at his side, mighty Neptune rules the sea once again from his rocky perch just off the beach in Puerto Plata.

Installed in 1971 under the administration of longtime President Joaquín Balaguer, the 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture became known as the guardian of the harbor, the mascot of the community. Even so, the Roman god of the sea endured decades of indignities, including two falls and several amputations by metal thieves, before his recent return to grandeur.

Regional Tourism Ministry Director Lorenzo Sancassi and Ministry Architect Acalia Kunhardt provided a chronology:

Around 1979, Neptune fell but was soon righted, thanks to a generous expatriate (known only as Mr. Charlie) who footed the bill. It wasn’t long before he started a gradual tilt and in finally toppled again onto the jagged rocks.

The fire department hauled the fallen lord to its yard for storage, but metal thieves picked at the languishing sculpture like buzzards on road kill. Trident? Gone. Two fingers, amputated. The tail of the fish on which he rested a foot also vanished. Someone even lopped off Neptune’s manhood.

He found some respite after his transfer from the fire department to the more-secure police department headquarters. As his adoring public grew impatient for his return, Neptune was trucked up to the foot of Mount Isabel de Torres. There, at the base of the scenic Teleférico (cable lift), the long-awaited repairs began.

Neptune stands 22 feet tall atop his craggy islet off Puerto Plata's malecón. Photo by Matt Bokor

Neptune stands 22 feet tall atop his craggy islet off Puerto Plata’s malecón. Photo by Matt Bokor

Metallurgists from nearby Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, worked for five months to replicate Neptune’s missing parts, patch gouges, fix dents and install durable, spine-like supports (namely, three steel pipes filled with concrete). The Teleférico operators, Tourism Ministry and community donations covered the roughly $30,000 repair bill.

Restored and reinforced, Neptune rode down the mountain by truck to the sprawling seaside resort of Playa Dorada for his triumphal return. At five tons, however, Neptune was too heavy for the military helicopter that was enlisted to whisk him home. After being trucked to the city’s port, he traveled by barge to his craggy islet in September 2013.

Secured by four cables and bolted atop a sturdy mount, Neptune underwent another month of adjustments before a festive lighting ceremony formally ended his ungodly ordeal.

Damajagua volunteer Joe Kennedy re-elected to Congress

U.S. Rep. Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked on sustainable tourism for Damajagua Falls, has been re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kennedy, a Democrat who represents Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District, coasted to a second term on Nov. 4 with no opposition.

Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy waves to crowds at the Boston Pride Parade on June 14, 2014. Photo: Joe Kennedy for Congress Facebook page

As a Peace Corps volunteer from 2004-2006, Kennedy used his business acumen and his connections to prevent the stunning Damajagua Falls attraction (27 Charcos) from being monopolized by private tour companies, which were paying local guides only a few dollars per trip.

He worked side by side with community members in the Damajagua Falls Guides Association to win a government concession that secured local control over the site and ensured fair pay for the guides, among other improvements.

Kennedy recounted his experience as part of an October 2014 article in America magazine:

“We convinced the government to put the park under local control, allowing the community to set wages and craft safety precautions. We raised money and built a small business to run the park operations with more local autonomy,” he wrote. “We set up a community reinvestment fund so that a portion of every entrance fee went into the local neighborhood—to build a bridge, buy a school bus, bring clean water to the community.”

Kennedy, who is the grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, came to work in Puerto Plata after graduating in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. After leaving he completed a law degree at Harvard Law School in 2009. He was an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County in Massachusetts when he ran for his first term in 2012.

Joe Kennedy III

Congressman Joe Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Photo: Congressman Joe Kennedy III Facebook page

JetBlue starts Boston-Puerto Plata nonstop service

Already serving three Dominican cities, JetBlue Airways launched a new, weekly nonstop flight from Boston to Puerto Plata on Nov. 1.

The new, seasonal route runs once a week on Saturdays from Logan International to Gregorio Luperón International Airport, a flight of about 3.5 hours.

Puerto Plata becomes the 4th Dominican city JetBlue serves. Photo: JetBlue website

Puerto Plata becomes the 4th Dominican city JetBlue serves. Photo: JetBlue website

In addition to Puerto Plata, JetBlue also offers nonstops from Boston to Punta Cana, Santiago and Santo Domingo among dozens of Caribbean destinations.

“We now offer customers 69 nonstop routes from the U.S. to the Caribbean and more than 200 daily flights to, from and within the Caribbean, which is more than any other airline,” said JetBlue President Robin Hayes. “We will continue to expand our presence in this region to better connect families and friends, create international business opportunities and bring Americans to the wonderful leisure destinations across the Caribbean.”

Professional lifeguards from Canada train young Dominicans

In an unprecedented effort, several nonprofit, private and diplomatic organizations joined forces recently to train young men and women from the Puerto Plata region in an intensive life saving and first aid course.

Canadian lifeguards oversee a rescue exercise

Canadian lifeguards oversee a rescue exercise at Cabarete Beach. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Participants were the Canadian Embassy in the Dominican Republic; Asociación de Hoteles, Restaurantes y Empresas Turísticas del Norte (ASHONORTE); the Tourism Ministry; Happy Dolphins Project; Dove Mission; and Mariposa Foundation. The program was coordinated by the Caribbean Lifesaving Society, under Kristian Thomas.

During the four-day program, nearly 20 young men and women, all from the North Shore of the Dominican Republic, were trained extensively by expert instructors Scott Keeling, Andrea Gaudet and Kristian Thomas, all from the Royal Lifesaving Society Canada. The Royal Lifesaving Society Canada works to prevent drowning and water-related injury through its training programs, water smart public education, drowning prevention research, safety management and lifesaving sport. The joint work between the Caribbean and Canadian associations has led to the creation of the Caribbean Lifesaving Society.

The training program took place at the pool and beach of Hotel Viva Wyndham Tangerine Cabarete, which offered its premises for this outstanding initiative.

Out of the original group of students, seven were selected for an advanced training session. Members of the Happy Dolphin team, as they were named, met the required standards and were certified in advanced life saving and first aid. This will allow them later to attend the life saving instructor course, as well as the professional lifeguard programs.

All young students received lifesaving certificates in an award ceremony, where several representatives of the participating organizations were present. These included Lorenzo Sancassani, regional tourism director; Ambra Attus, executive director of ASHONORTE; Tim Hall, Honorary Consul of Canada for the North Shore; José Luis Mejía, Viva Wyndham Tangerine manager; Patricia Hiraldo, director of Happy Dolphins Project; and Thomas, president of the Caribbean Lifesaving Association.

“We have established this organization in order to train Dominican youth to become life savers and first responders. This will give them in turn the opportunity to train others,” Thomas said. “We are seeking the support and sponsorship of the International Life Saving Federation. Once we have reached this goal, our joint efforts will have international recognition. We hope to continue with these training courses so that more young instructors will spread the program and keep our coasts and rivers safe.”

Hiraldo said there are well over 300 drowning deaths reported each year at beaches and rivers (other estimates place the number at closer to 1,000). An estimated 70 percent of Dominicans do not know how to swim, even though the country is mostly surrounded by water. Also, these training programs are a powerful platform to turn these young underprivileged women and men into proud community leaders for future generations.

Finally, the initiative seeks to create new job opportunities in hotels and beaches of this beautiful Caribbean naation, which is already one of the top tourist destinations on the planet, especially when it comes to watersports and beach lovers. It is therefore crucial to maintain high safety levels in accordance with international standards.

Student lifesavers celebrate with their Canadian instructors. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Student lifesavers celebrate with their Canadian instructors. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Master of the Ocean competition returns Feb. 23-28, 2015

After a successful global mission to recruit world-class competitors, Master of the Ocean organizers announced commitments from nine international teams and an impressive roster of corporate support for their unique watersports competition on the North Shore of the Dominican Republic.

A kite lifts off at the 12th annual Master of the Ocean competition in February 2014.

A kite lifts off at the 12th annual Master of the Ocean competition in February 2014.

Master of the Ocean is an elite professional competition that showcases the best athletes in four watersports disciplines: surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and stand-up paddlesurfing (SUP). Founded by German waterman Marcus Bohm, Master of the Ocean will celebrate its 13th edition in Cabarete and nearby beaches from Feb. 23-28, 2015.

“We will have the participation of teams from Germany, Italy, Nordic countries, USA, Israel, Puerto Rico and Canada, among others,” Bohm announced recently at the third annual Discover Puerto Plata Marketplace 2014.

“Master of the Ocean is proud to have the support of the Dominican Ministries of Tourism, Sports, and Environment. The Ministry of Tourism has provided special assistance in the promotion of the event by including it in its GoDominicanRepublic Calendar and through its 28 offices worldwide in eight languages,” Bohm said.

This year the event was sponsored by Delta Air Lines, Powerade, CCN|Orgullo de mi Tierra, Dakine, among others.

Five days of competition, free-style expression sessions and music will all take place in and around Cabarete. Formerly a farming village, the bohemian town has morphed into an international Mecca for extreme watersports because of its ideal, year-round conditions. The festivities culminate on Feb. 27—Dominican Independence Day—with an awards ceremony and IndepenDance for athletes, sponsors, media and guests.

The Master of the Ocean competition, which Bohm launched in 2003 as the Ironman of Watersports, features 12 teams of four athletes per team (one for every discipline). The 16 overall athletes who master all four disciplines then compete for the Master of the Ocean title.

“This is the only competition in the world that incorporates all four surf-related disciplines in search of the most complete watersports athlete, who is crowned the Master of the Ocean,” Bohm said.

Star athletes expected to return include the defending MOTO titleholder (men’s) and winner of European for SUP, Zane Schweitzer from Hawaii; defending MOTO titleholder (women’s) Fiona Wylde from Oregon, Stand Up World Tour, second place; and Dominican Luciano Gonzalez, four-time Master of the Ocean title holder and third place, Red Bull King of the Air.

Over the summer Bohm and colleagues visited Canada, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the USA as part of the MOTO|Global Team Quest to recruit top athletes. Once again, transportation was provided by Delta, which accommodated athletes and international media attending the 2014 Master of the Ocean competition. During this Quest, Bohm promoted the Dominican Republic as one of the top watersports destinations in the world.