A family vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana includes a KIDZ BOP fan experience as part of the all-inclusive package.
Expose kids to music early, and a river of melodies and beats is likely to course through their blood for a lifetime. A lullaby or Beethoven can calm them when they’re babies. Michael Jackson’s music still carries magic for each new generation. At 3, my son, Sol, was pulling his dad’s hats down over his eyes and spinning his body like the King of Pop, even though the world had already said a sad goodbye to the legend. Today, at 11, Sol doesn’t even need music to burst out in dance. Some melody (previously heard or made up) is forever imprinted in his brain.
I blame the jazz teacher I used to share a room with when I taught high school English literature and journalism in the Crenshaw District. I was pregnant the year the jazz teacher and his teenage musicians would take over my classroom afterschool. As I sat at my desk grading essays, I could feel my baby kicking in response to the drums, the saxophone, the trumpet. After Sol was born, he continued to get anointed with music because the trumpet player’s mom became his babysitter. Adding to that gumbo is a legacy of musicians: my mother has been a gospel guitarist since she was 11, and my uncles were small-town-famous gospel quartet singers. So it was in the cards: My husband and I had no choice but to serve as the audience members of Sol’s many living-room performances.
When the AIC Hotel Group invited me to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for the launch of its partnership with the beloved KIDZ BOP brand, I figured it would be a perfect venue for Sol to test out his performance acumen in a larger setting. Sol pulled on my/his Panama hat, packed his earbuds and neck pillow and started schooling us on the latest Kidz Bop songs–clean, kid-friendly versions of popular hits, some of which this Hip Hop mama already knows way too well (Sorry not sorry: the beats get me through my commutes).
The KIDZ BOP Punta Cana experience debuted last summer and allows young vacationers to live out their pop-star dreams through an interactive creative space made just for them. During opening week, The KIDZ BOP Kids made a special visit for the “Ultimate KIDZ BOP Fan Experience,” a week-long celebration that included the KIDZ BOP Kids in live concert, pink carpet photo opps, a pool party, beach Olympics and a karaoke contest vacationing kids.
“Fans always ask, ‘What’s it like to be a KIDZ BOP Kid?’ Now, they can feel like a star for their whole vacation,” said Sasha Junk, SVP of Marketing at KIDZ BOP.
My family and I were giddy as we boarded the plane. I could just picture Sol up there on the stage, singing and dancing to his heart’s content. When he does the thing with the hat, I thought, the audience will go wild!
At the Punta Cana airport, our tired limbs were re-invigorated by a group of three musicians playing a mind-blowingly fast number on the tambora drum, accordion and the güira, a metal scraper indigenous to the Dominican Republic and used as a percussion instrument in cumbia and merengue tipico. I stopped to dance for a few seconds. With this style of music running at 120 to 160 beats per minute, a quick sweat is a sure treat. The bright lime-green walls of the airport were likewise breaths of fresh air. In my mind’s eye, I could already feel the Caribbean Sea breeze, could taste the fresh coconut lining a cocktail, could see my family dancing into the wee hours of the night.
On the way to Hard Rock, Mickey, our driver, told us that he had already taken streams of people to the resort. “They’re in town for that KIDZ BOP thing,” he said. “It’s a big party all weekend.”
Setting the Stage
My ideal vacation usually consists of staying in the city center, meeting as many local residents as possible, eating in little off-the-radar spots and taking in historic sites. My husband and son, on the other hand, are creatures of comfort. The Hard Rock’s Punta Cana resort, with its sprawling and beautifully manicured acreage dotted with cabanas made out of cana trees, restaurants, whirl-spa-equipped rooms, ample balconies, state-of-the-art spas and gym and the five-minute walk to the ocean (Punta Cana lies at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, and the hotel is on the Atlantic), was paradise for them.
There are 13 eateries on the resort. We opted for Ipanema, an outdoor Brazillian-style restaurant that overlooks the ocean and includes seven meat options for the churrascarias (Sol’s mouth watered for anything bacon-wrapped); Isla, which serves fresh Caribbean cuisine (spicy sautéed shrimp in a plantain boat was our fave) and Toro, which serves an international breakfast and lunch buffet and is a steakhouse for dinner.
For parents looking to have a date, the resort offers a daycare filled with floor-to-ceiling play structures, games and a welcoming staff. I suggest taking advantage of it so you can dash off to the swanky gym (which has cycling, circuit training and yoga classes), the Rock Spa, an oasis of water and skilled body professionals offering everything from hot-stone massages to chocolate wraps to water lily cooling wraps – perfect for after a day on the beach, the casino and even nightclubs, where you can get your groove on before you kids take over the vacation with their KIDZ BOP activities.
During opening week, KIDZ BOP signs and events popped up all over the place. We splashed in pools as a KIDZ BOP DJ played tunes and some KIDZ BOP Kids signed autographs for excited fans still dripping from the pool. Kids ages 6 to 12 check into the Pop Star Lounge, where they get to work with tour managers to create a custom band name, perfect the hottest dance moves, select a wardrobe and hit the big stage. Designed for kids who love music, the Pop Star Lounge is complete with a listening studio loft. This realistic experience takes imaginary play to another level.
At the Family Beach Olympics, KIDZ BOP kids served as team captains while families competed with each other and jammed to more music. And at the live concert in the Fillmore Ballroom, KIDZ BOP performers belted out their versions of songs like “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Havana.”
Kids, and their parents, crowded around the stage to sing and dance along with the young pop stars.
What was that? Where was Sol?
Oh, he was there. He sat in his plush white loveseat most of the night, munching on blue cotton candy and other treats, taking in the scene coolly, refusing to join me as I jumped up to dance the night away.
He did get to meet the KIDZ BOP Kids. He posed with them on the pink carpet after the concert, smiling just a little as camera lights flashed.
Back in the hotel room, the kid found his second wind. He rolled up his pants legs, donned some flip flops, a hat and dark sunglasses and forced us to watch him perform.
I decided not to complain too much. He had one more big chance to try his hand at this pop-star life: a Pop Star Karaoke Contest judged by the KIDZ BOP Kids.
Another Kind of Splash
The next morning, we decided to venture off the resort and see some…well…more water. But not the emerald-green beauty of the ocean or sea. That was old news by then. We drove out to see Cap Cana in Scape Park. After snapping pictures of monkeys, macaws, orchids and iguanas, we took a nature trail hike to see Hoyo Azul or “Blue Hole,” a natural limestone sinkhole at the bottom of a cliff. We chose the “cave” route, a narrow passageway wherein we stepped down gingerly between walls of the towering cliff (“It feels like we’re in “Radars of the Lost Ark,” Sol said).
While he hadn’t felt comfortable enough to dance in front of strangers, his intrigue was piqued when we stood at the top of the cliff and looked down. The Hoyo Azul was like nothing we had seen before: the clearest, bluest water that, one writer wrote, feels like cream when you swim in it.
That mesmerizing pool of water is ice-cold, and is, at its deepest, 75 feet. No matter. Sol followed his dad and jumped off the cliff. After the big splash and sharp intake of breath, he lifted his head in a big laugh.
“So brave!” I yelled.
That night, however, as kids hailing from New York, Canada, Brazil and beyond performed during the karaoke contest, Sol, again, hung back, watching, listening, critiquing. And in our room, he again donned a disguise and became a different person, making up dances and lyrics while laughing uncontrollably.
I sighed a sigh of acceptance. While it would have been delightful to see him up on stage living out one of his passions, I realized that the experience had served as inspiration for him. Isn’t that the purpose of vacations: to inspire long after you’ve returned home?
And if our little pop star wants only us as his audience, we’re cool with that, too.
For additional information, visit hardrockhotelpuntacana.com/kidz-bop-experience.htm.
Cassandra Lane is Managing Editor of L.A. Parent.