I know what everyone is thinking: All inclusive? WHERE’S THE BAD!? But everyone has different vacation priorities. I’m typically a go-go-go adventurer. I want to see every part of Boston, leave no stone unturned in San Francisco, take all the photos in Austin, eat everything in San Diego, play tourist in D.C., and, well, you get the picture. However, many a traveler wanders with relaxation as their primary goal.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, with my family and the goal of a hybrid (relaxation meets exploration) vacation. So, for the first time ever, we were headed for an all-inclusive resort. I kind of thought this would be honeymoon central, but I was wrong. There are plenty of reasons to spring for an all inclusive, and we saw everything from the recently wed to retirees to young families to girls’ trips.
As ideal as all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink sounds, I definitely think there are cons to the obvious pros of this type of vacation, so here are some things to consider before booking your stay.
We stayed at (and loved!) the Gran Porto Resort. Just a note, this is the only all-inclusive resort I’ve been to, so this is my opinion based on my very limited expertise on all inclusives 🙂
Pro: Food/drink at your fingertips.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? Our resort had a couple buffets, bar-top sushi, and several restaurants that gave us plenty of variety. It seemed like there was always an option for a bite to eat. And if there wasn’t, 24-hour room service had your back, for no extra fee. Seems like every resort has a buffet though, and those you have to be weary of: You don’t want to eat food that has been sitting out for so long.
Same goes with the bars. Pool-side bars and service meant you weren’t lounging for long before a cocktail appeared before you. Plus, there was even a serve yourself bar in the 24-hour snack room!
Con: Quantity > Quality
Honestly, this is a factor in most decisions, right? I definitely think overall quality is a thing you gotta sacrifice for an all inclusive. That’s not to say everything sucks! I’m just saying that somethings might be disappointing. For us, it was the Brazilian steakhouse. The meat was charred and dry from sitting on the fire too long — mainly because it didn’t seem like a popping place that evening and the meat was staying on the fire longer. The bar’s drinks were also only eh. I tried to get something different each time I ordered, so that I could try out their cocktail menu to pick a favorite. But, they were all too sweet and I mainly got vodka sodas, which was not very vacationy.
Pro: Tons of room for activities.
In more ways than one, an all inclusive feels like a cruise ship. Access to food and drink everywhere, everything is on site, and tons of programming. We were at our resort from Saturday to Tuesday and every single day we had a list of things we could do without leaving the resort. I played pool volleyball, bingo and trivia, plus there were nightly parties and entertainment. Our last night had a beautiful dance routine and there was live music and dancing every night. There were exercise classes, kayak classes and SCUBA classes. I believe some of those aren’t included, so you’d have to pay a little something to SCUBA for instance.
Con: Adventure’s an upgrade.
Obviously, anything outside the resort is going to cost you money. The resorts do usually have a designated concierge for excursions — but it’s usually cheaper to book it yourself. We did a day-long excursion in Tulum, Mexico (about an hour away), that was about $140 a person. It’s totally worth the splurge, but maybe an all-inclusive isn’t your best bet if you want to do a few of those.
Pro: Endless pool and beach access.
We ended each of our days by the pool or beach. We didn’t have to have a designated “Beach Day,” where you had to travel to the beach or something like that. We just walked outside and both areas had servers, free towels and the aforementioned activities. It was fun to participate in bingo or just people watch! Plus, I got a really nice tan.
Walking the beach was also a must. We’d walk, take pictures and once we even fed pelicans, because why not.
Con: Missing the native experience.
I didn’t really think about the blog on vacation (bc vacation), but I assumed I would do my usual “24 Hours in [insert city here]” like I always do. But, I realized I didn’t really get to explore Playa Del Carmen as a city. I knew our resort like the back of my hand, and we ventured out into Tulum and all, but all I could tell you about Playa Del Carmen is: a. go to the beach, and b. go shopping on 5th Avenida. I couldn’t tell you any good local bars or restaurants because, well, I didn’t go to any. Our morning of shopping was super fun, but we really didn’t get to explore enough. That’s a big con to me and my wanderlust.
Pro: The staff knows and loves you.
The staff was great at our resort. They were helpful and nice, and the guys that ran all the activities were hilarious.
Con: The tipping dilemma.
I honestly didn’t even think about tipping before when we were planning for the trip, and I came to the resort with only twenties in my pocket. So, when I bellied up to the first bar on day one, ordered a couple drinks and saw the tip jar, I panicked. I felt so bad! I never don’t tip, you know?
Upon further research, I learned that tipping is definitely encouraged, but not expected every time. We didn’t tip too much, mainly because we weren’t carrying around cash, but after we shopped a little and got change, I would throw a dollar down every once and a while.
Pro: All-inclusive resorts make you feel like a vacation queen/king.
I’ll end on a positive note and say this: a vacation, whether adventure or relaxation filled, should be an escape from the day to day humdrum. Honestly, having anything I wanted at my finger tips made the vacation that much more of an escape. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
I recently went on an all inclusive trip to Los Cabos and totally see what your point in this post. I definitely miss exploring outside the resort, you know to see what local people do, their unique culture style. But just chilling by the pool and beach is very relaxing. I will just have to save the adventure for another trip in the future.
Oops, I typed my website wrong..
So this might not work in Mexico but the only all-inclusive I’ve ever done we hired a car for (Crete) – we’d do pool/beach days but also just drove our selves to the ruins/attractions/other beaches just so we could explore and towards the end of the week we even went and had food in the local town and had a look around when we got sick of buffet!
I think they’re good for different experiences! Sometimes you just need a couple of days of pampering or do a split? Couple of days in a town then the last couple at a resort just chilling before flying home?
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