Editor’s Note: The following is a series of blogs from The Score’s Jason Goff detailing his trip to Punta Cana with Apple Vacations.
Whatever expectations I had for the beginning of this 7 day experience, consider them surpassed. Apple Vacations really knows how to host a Bears player fan trip. A slight delay at O’Hare was more than made up for by the welcome we received once we set foot on Punta Cana soil. A little apprehensive at first about my interaction with the players whom I’ve only dealt with on a professional level for the most part. That uneasiness was put to rest as soon as we all gathered on the chartered transfer shuttle from the airport to the hotel. As the guide pointed out everything from the local sights to the 3 person motorcycle taxi, Gabe Carimi and Matt Spaeth talked about previous vacations and picture taking. It was at that moment that I relaxed and tried to remember what it was like to be on a vacation.
When we arrived at the Riu Palace Bavaro all I could think about was check in and getting to the room. Before I could be bothered with those thoughts we were escorted off of the bus into a hospitality room where the locals greeted us with mixed drinks, food, and dancing (I have the pictures of Henry Melton to prove it). Everyone was friendly and they even had a “little zoom” (a staff member who looked like a deflated Jerry Azumah) that Melton, Charles Tillman; and was quite amusing.
After check-in and a quick shower, we all headed down to a meet and greet by the pool around 7pm for the reason we’re all here; the fans.
Chicago Bears fans are the most intense, passionate, loyal fandom that I hear from on a daily basis during the football season. Sometimes I forget that there are lots of nice people mixed in as well (you should take some of our Monday phone calls). Fans young, old, male, and female; all appreciated the time that Nick Roach, Matt Spaeth, Gabe Carimi, Henry Melton, and Charles Tillman took to talk football and interact with them. I might add that there are also plenty of women who brought their husbands along on this trip, so the following isn’t gender specific.
After a couple of hours of hanging with the people we all dined at The Grill Steakhouse. The players shared stories about various topics. Weddings (because a mother of a bride staying at the Riu brought us the wedding cake), exotic pets, and Gabe Carimi’s place at the head of the table, were all discussed (light heartedly of course).
After being hustled by the pool shark that is Nick Roach, we called it a night. Day 2 was all about showing the fans what each player goes through on the field. A beach workshop by position at 10AM should get the juices flowing. Did I mention it’s all inclusive and there was a complimentary bottle of champagne in my room? This is going to be a good 7 days. Apple Vacations and RIU Hotels are spoiling us.
Day 2 of The Back to Da’ Beach vacation at the Riu Bavaro Palace in Punta Cana was an informative one for Bears fans and myself. The Riu Bavaro has a beautiful stretch of beach just outside of the pool area where we all met in the morning. The players and fans all came ready for a football learning experience. The 5 players separated into their personal coaching stations and put the fans through position specific drills to really understand what’s happening on the field every Sunday. The first station was Henry Melton’s. He was teaching how to “get off the ball” as a defensive lineman while not committing and offsides penalty. Needless to say, it wasn’t as easy as everyone’s tv makes it look. Gabe Carimi wasn’t too far away coaching Bears fans on 3 person blocking combinations. Matt Spaeth was also involved with Gabe’s station; as well as showing correct pass catching technique. The station that was the most informative for me and many others was the Tillman/Roach “Cover 2” station. Charles & Nick gave the Riu Bavaro pool side relaxers a greater insight as to how the defense is played correctly and what the quarterback does to make an entire defense converge on where they think the ball is going. After all that information the group split into two teams and put what they learned to use in scrimmage that was made especially for a white sandy beach vacation atmosphere. After a great lunch at The Montecristo Steakhouse, Nick Roach and I talked about the off-season. We then got into the business of media and player interaction. Later that night the entire collection of Bears players/team reps and Apple Vacation staff dined at La Bambola on the Riu Bavaro Palace grounds. The Shrimp Linguine with White Wine Sauce is what I went with as we shared stories. To end the night we headed over to the performance area in the resort where we were treated to The Dominican Dance Group. Local flavors of dance mixed with crowd participation (by that I mean they had me on stage dancing) was a perfect way to end the night (or early morning). So Day 2 was another successful one as the fans who chose Apple Vacations and The Riu Bavaro Palace resort were informed and entertained once again. Day 3 is the Q&A with the players by myself and the fans. Should be interesting to hear what these die hard ladies and gentleman want to know about their beloved Orange & Blue.
Days 3 and 4
Days 3-4 of our excursion were both informative and fun (as much of our stay at Riu Palace Bavaro has been). The only scheduled event we had was a Q&A session with our 5 Bears players and the fans. The questions and interaction was wide ranging from lockout/labor negotiations, rookie hazing (Gabe Carimi’s 100 dollar Mcdonald’s bills), Lovie smith, etc. The fans got a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes and everything leading up to game day. Charles Tillman’s first Pro Bowl birth was discussed as well as Henry Melton’s Pro Bowl snub for a defensive tackle who ranked so highly in quarterback sacks. After the forum, the fans remarked at how much they had learned, and how they would apply that to their football Sundays from here on out.
Day 4 was our Beach Olympics day where fans and players competed in a white sand obstacle course, a tug of war with Gabe Carimi and Henry Melton as the opposing anchors; and a best of three pool volleyball competition (my team won by the way).
The next couple of days are unscheduled so fans and players alike are absolutely free to roam the resort and take part in whatever excursions the Apple Vacations staff has set up in advance for us. I’ll be doing the Bavaro Runners which is like a Dominican safari through the countryside with stops along the way in the small towns via tour guides. Should be fun. We’ll talk in a couple of days…until then; you should be booking your trip for next year’s event.
Day 5 was a day without scheduled player and fan interaction, so we capitalized on the opportunity and took a guided tour of the countryside; “Bavaro Runners”. Our tour guide Willis met us in front of the hotel at 8:45 AM with a safari style bus/jeep. He informed us that he’d been doing this for 17 years with tours all over the island including Haiti. As we drove through the city we stopped at a school where a basketball court was being dedicated partly because of the tour guide funds like the one we were on. The kids and principal came out and took pictures before the first ball was bounced. We then headed down winding roads of store fronts and shops where meat and fruit were hanging. Greeted by locals along the streets. We came along the first exhibit or tutorial of our tour which was the sugar cane factory. The driver and Willis chopped down a piece of cane and allowed us to sample some fresh from the ground. As we walked into the place where it’s processed, we learned about all the uses. From Sugar, to alcohol, to the used stock being converted into ethynol; it was quite the interesting and efficient use of one crop. Moving further into the tour we were introduced to Jose the cigar roller. He’d been rolling cigars and cigarellos for 35 years; and produced as many as 200-300 per day. Jose showed us the process as Willis let us in on the secret of mass production brand names that were made right here in the Dominican. They also showed us the grounds and leaves that they let sit longer to make cigarettes. The third and most impressive leg of our tour was a lady named Maria and her beautiful way of life. Maria and her family have been a part of the tour for 20 years now. She’s the everyday countryside Dominican family woman, and we had a chance to experience how she lived. Everything she needed for her family, she grew on her land. From cocoa, paprika, cilantro, coffee, vanilla extract, pineapples, cinnamon, etc. She ran her house’s electricity through two car batteries while maintaining a full fledged farm. The self sufficiency and strength of this lady was amazing. After all of that we went to the beach for a half an hour. I couldn’t stop thinking of what I’d seen and learned for the day though. All things considered, through almost of week of fun and entertainment; this was my favorite day. (I forgot to mention that I went horseback riding for the first time) Thanks to our Apple Vacations on-site activities coordinator Andrea.