Should You Go All-Inclusive?

I’ve just returned from the Riu Playacar All-Inclusive in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Go Go Go, or rather, just me, officially endorses Riu hotels. I’ve stayed at three different properties, each one with a beautiful beach, genuinely warm service, and tasty food, each one a pretty good value.) I realized, as I was briefing my family while we waited at the gate at O’Hare, that there are a lot of tips and tricks to staying at an all-inclusive resort, and I thought I’d share them with you. I’ll get into specifics about eating, drinking, and excursion-ing in the next few days, but for now, let’s start with the basics.

First, a caveat. All-inclusive resorts are a fairly accessible, affordable form of luxury. I’m sure that if I’d ever experienced actual-wealthy-person luxury, I’d scoff at a standard all-inclusive resort, but for your average middle-class person, it’s got a level of service and amenity that you’ll never receive anywhere else. (You can tell it’s not real luxury because a) you have to wear silly plastic bracelets b) the towels and the toilet paper are scratchy c) the beds are hard (and if I’m saying that, me who loves a firm bed, it must be bad) and d) you have no choice of beers. Real luxury never involves Dos Equis.)

But I am your average middle-class person (albeit one who spends more money and time on travel than most), and so all-inclusives are about as fancy as it gets for me. I’ll admit that I enjoy the fact that you just show up and are taken care of (in my experience, by people who genuinely seem to care that you’ve got what you want and are having a good time), that you don’t have to think about much, that you can get whatever you want whenever you want it. It’s a complete escape from real life into a land where you lounge in the sun reading those books you never get around to during the work week while a nice man brings you fruity cocktails. Get bored of your book and you can swim, or learn to dance salsa, or play horseshoes, or any number of other things that you wouldn’t do back home. And if you’re feeling even mildly hungry, there are probably at least fifteen different options of things to eat right now, none of them terribly good for you, most of them pretty delicious.

Before you book a stay at an all-inclusive resort, do a little soul-searching. Is this really the trip for you? If you are a vegetarian / picky eater / anorexic / tee-totaler, probably not. If you’re planning to be out on excursions from dawn till dusk every day, also probably not. If you don’t enjoy sitting outside on the beach / in a hammock / by the pool and napping or reading for long periods of time, still probably not. The only important criteria for going to an all-inclusive resort is, will you actually use what you’re paying for? Do a little research into the area. If you aren’t a big drinker and are happy with simple meals, you might be better off staying at a regular hotel and eating out each day. If you’re going to be off on excursions each day where meals are included, unable to take advantage of the beach or activities at a resort, don’t pay for those things.

Over the next few days, I’ll get into some tips for how to stuff yourself sensibly, how not to make an idiot of yourself with unlimited alcohol at your disposal, and what to do in those few hours when you’re not eating, drinking, or asleep.

Have any of you stayed at an all-inclusive resort? Recommendations? Things to avoid?

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5 thoughts on “Should You Go All-Inclusive?

  1. This is good to know as someone who has zero self control around unlimited food/booze, but who gets fairly ill after 2 drinks. I dig reading and napping in hammocks, though I can do that fairly easily at home, though not nearly as peacefully. Especially now that our back yard is full of dog poo. Too much?

  2. Did you have to make dinner reservations every night? That was my major gripe at the resort we stayed at in Mexico. Apparently people reserved all the prime times and restaurants days in advance so we had to eat at odd hours. Never been on a cruise, but it sounds like the same issue cruisers have.

  3. I’ve done a few all-inclusives, and I usually like them too, as long as it is not in a location I want to spend my days exploring. The frozen drinks won’t have much alcohol in them, but they will fill your stomach, leaving less room for free food. So I recommend one fruity drink for fun, then fill up with food and/or beer.

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