I have a love-hate relationship with all-inclusive resorts. I’ve stayed at two, both in Mexico—Dreams Puerto Vallarata and the Valentin Imperial Maya in Riviera Maya. Both resorts were truly top-notch in almost every way, so the “hate” part of this equation is not at all based on a negative experience at either resort. On the contrary, most of the reasons why I love all-inclusives come from the fact that both resorts were remarkably pleasant and luxurious.
What I Love About All-Inclusive Resorts
1. They are so darn relaxing. Dan and I stayed at the Valentin Imperial Maya for our honeymoon, and it was exactly the right vacation for us at the time. After months of stress from wedding planning, plus the utter emotional and physical exhaustion of the week leading up to it, we couldn’t have handled a super-adventurous vacation. We needed to sleep a lot, eat a lot, and read a lot. We actually both got sick the first day of our trip (not from the food, just stress) . . . and what better place to recuperate than in the middle of paradise?
2. You don’t have to make any major decisions. When the most difficult decision you have to make all day is which swim-up bar to visit or whether to have steak or Mexican food for dinner, life is pretty good. Again, after a very long season of making decision and after decision, we were ready to shut off our brains. This is a particularly great perk if you’re traveling with a large group. It can be tough to pick activities and restaurants that fit everyone’s tastes and budgets, but all-inclusives eliminate much of that decision making.
Sorry for the cheesy hand-holding picture and the terrible backlighting. Despite all that, this is one of my favorite pics of our honeymoon.
3. All financial matters (and the related stress) are taken care of. Similar to the above point, you don’t have to stress about money at all. There’s no budgeting for each day and paying as you go, trying hard to stay within the limit. Since everything is paid for up front, all you really have to have on hand is some cash for gratuities and off-resort activities (if you didn’t book them in advance).
4. Unlimited food and drinks. Drinks all day on the beach and ordering wine and dessert with dinner every night — is there really anything else to say?
Nutella crepes for breakfast every day.
Coffee. And mimosas. And juice. And cinnamon rolls. And donuts. And bacon. I literally gained 5 pounds on this trip.
What I Hate About All-Inclusive Resorts
1. The lack of adventure gets a little old. Unless you’re planning to do off-site excursions (see below), the resort can get a little boring. Even for a bookworm, I was ready to get moving after a few days of nothing but reading and swimming. The resorts I’ve stayed at did offer non-motorized water sports, so it was fun to take the kayaks out onto the ocean and do paddleboats. But between these activities and two off-site excursions, that left us still with 4.5 more days to fill. I think many of the people at resorts are there to lay in the sun and drink all day, neither of which are really my thing, so I’d rather be off exploring.
2. The off-site excursions and add-ons are expensive (and not always worth it). There is no end to the amount of off-site activities that third-party companies offer. Many will pick you up from the resort in the morning, cover your lunch and equipment, and drop you off in the evening, so they do make things quite easy. But we paid almost $100 per person per excursion—and we were still technically paying for the day’s meals, drinks, and activities at the resort. And, one of the two excursions we did was a total bust. We thought we were getting a sailing trip to a private island with maybe 15 or 20 other people. Nope. We got a loud, crazy, party-hard booze cruise with 50 people packed onto a catamaran, which took us to a commercially owned island where they tried to sell us more stuff. Another excursion—snorkeling through a fresh-water cenote (sinkhole—much more beautiful than it sounds), in a cave, and around a coral formation in the ocean—was amazing and totally worth it. But when you’re spending so much money on the outing, you want to be sure you’re getting a quality tour, and it’s just so hard to know what you’re in for.
Enjoying one of the less-crowded moments on our booze cruise. It looks nice and peaceful, but you can’t hear the blasting rap music and pulsing bass in the background.
3. There’s no option to DIY and reduce costs. You pay a flat daily rate for unlimited food, drinks, and your hotel stay, which as I mentioned before, definitely has its perks. The bummer is that there’s no way to cut corners and travel cheaply. You can’t really buy and cook your own food, use last-minute money-saving apps for hotels, or get around using public transportation. And, unlike city destinations, the only thing in walking distance is the resort pool. I love staying in cities where we can walk around and explore and stumble upon interesting cafes and shops. Not possible at an all-inclusive.
4. There are serious issues of justice and pay. All-inclusive resorts employ a ton of people, which on the surface seems great. They provide jobs for families who really need them. But if you think about how much you’re getting for what you’re paying, and how many workers they have on staff compared to the number of guests . . . well, the math doesn’t add up. There’s no way the hotel can be paying their workers a fair wage. And when we drove around to the excursions and saw the towns and buildings where many of the workers lived, it made it really hard to go back to the resort. We felt so guilty for sitting on the lap of luxury, asking for another drink or another towel, while families struggled to find adequate living conditions.
5. Resorts feel far too Americanized. When I travel to another country, I fully expect to need to know the language, at least a little bit, to get by. I like to use public transit and try local restaurants. I do what I can to support local economies and get to know the people and culture of city. All-inclusive resorts feel like an extension of America, because everyone speaks English and I don’t have to stretch my comfort zone at all.
The main problem is that all-inclusives just don’t fit my personality. Well, they do a little bit in that I love to lay around and read, but that lasts for only about 2.5 days. And only if the resort isn’t the Cancun, party-hard kind. I would probably stay at an all-inclusive resort again if I had a good reason—if we travel with a group of friends, if we need just a few days of pure relaxation when Dan and I have a few kids, or if we find an impossible-to-pass-up deal. But in the meantime, we’d like to keep pursuing trips that err heavy on the adventure side of the spectrum, with just enough relaxation and downtime sprinkled in to rejuvenate us.