Are you a pro-all-inclusive resort person, or does the thought of buffet lines and Americans comparing their time-shares and late-night shot stories make you cringe?
Personally, I tend to lean a little more toward the latter, although I don’t feel the need to be travel-snobby or judgmental about it. So, when I won a three night stay from Expedia at one such all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana a year ago, I was excited about the prospect of good food, beautiful beaches and a little bit of pamper time- for free!
Despite hitting some bumps along the way and not actually being able to stay at the resort where I had reservations (somehow they lost my reservation and were “full” but put me up at one of their sister properties instead. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in the Melia property Paradisus Punta Cana’s customer service), it was a nice experience overall.
My youngest sister met me at the Melia Caribe Tropical where we enjoyed three nights in an ensuite room, great customer service, a beautiful beach, and mediocre food.
Using this resort as a case study, let’s examine the pros and cons of an all-inclusive resort. While some of the details may not apply to every type of all-inclusive property, there are many similarities I’m sure. We constantly said to each other that we felt like we were on a cruise ship, just on land. So I think many of these nuances can be seen as universal or replaceable by similar details of other all-inclusives.
- Exclusive Service Upgrade. The food was fairly average, although we were upgraded to “The Level,” which is the “most exclusive service offered,” and therefore had access to the private restaurant Gabi (which included room service until 11 PM). The dining experience there was definitely nicer than the massive buffet lines at the international Market Place Buffet Restaurant, and the food was even better than the reservations-required a la carte restaurants on the property.
*The upgrade to The Level wasn’t technically an “upgrade,” as the original package I won through Expedia was for three nights at Paradisus Punta Cana’s Reserve (their Level equivalent).
- I will say that the service was noticeably fantastic. For example, when the AC made a loud, generator-like noise, they sent a technician to fix it immediately. The wifi is too slow? Someone came over right away- not really fixing it, but it was a good effort nonetheless. We never had to call to ask for these things or complain because the staff were constantly calling us to see if there were any problems or if they could make our stay more enjoyable.
- The minibar and fridge were constantly restocked with snacks, water and beer (free of charge). Considering that I went through about 5-6 waters a day, this was essential.
- Having a separate kitchen, living and dining area was nice- as was the massive jacuzzi bathtub (good for a pregnant lady!) and balcony.
- Private beach area for The Level that was less crowded. Towels, chairs and umbrellas provided (as they almost always are in an all-inclusive resort).
- Jobs for locals. This might not matter to you at all when making a decision about booking an all-inclusive resort stay. It can be considered a positive factor for the local community, although many may argue that it’s not sustainable tourism and much of the profit goes to the big resort companies like Melia.
Now that I am reviewing this list of “pros,” I’m wondering if each line item revolves around having the “elite” Level service? Would we have had a completely different experience had we stayed in the normal part of the resort? It’s hard to say.
I noticed that the other restaurants did not seem to have the same high standard for quality of food and service as Gabi. I also noticed when I walked further down the beach to the main resort area, it was much more crowded and filled with a different demographic of people. There were (seemingly) more locals, families, and a lot of partiers.
The area of the beach where we were consisted mostly of Americans (the ones who discuss their time shares and the crazy shots from the night before), which could be considered a “con,” if you don’t want to travel to another country only to feel like you are still in America, just transplanted on a pretty tropical beach elsewhere. I’ll save this one for the “cons”….
- I would say that one of the main drawbacks was the fairly long distance to the beach. I normally would love a ten to fifteen minute walk each way, but in the heat, carrying the extra baby-weight, it was a little uncomfortable.
- The nature of the sprawling resort coincides with this next issue. The constant noise pollution from the diesel motorized golf carts was non-stop. They supposedly shuttled guests back and forth from beach or pool to restaurant or room, but they were often completely empty. It was as if staff were just joy riding around the property. Why didn’t I bring my earplugs with me?!
- The “clubbing” music at the beach and private Level pool spoiled the ambiance a bit (and was at times flat out obnoxious). I relished the moments when they switched it off.
- The food was pretty typical of a cruise or all-inclusive situation where the chefs are cooking for the masses. Although the experience at Gabi was a little more intimate and cuisine somewhat tastier, overall, I would definitely say the food was average. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t something to write home about.
- Then there was that time that the turn down service busted in our room at 9 PM to bring us… towels?! That was strange… and startling (as we were in bed)!
- Or what about the other time that the front desk called at 11 PM to schedule our check out the next day?? I was almost asleep…
- As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t love going to another country to be surrounded my own country folks talking all things American. Not that I don’t love my country or its people, I just prefer to actually get away when I get away.
- Lack of cultural experience. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. In general, when you stay at any kind of resort, you’re not seeing the real country and the real people. In a secluded enclave, you’re surrounded by other tourists, usually being waited on hand and foot. To me, this is the most significant negative factor about staying in any resort while traveling. To some extent, even renting a nice house or apartment in another country takes you away from the reality of the place. At least you have more of an opportunity to explore and immerse yourself if you choose to in a rental.
My Thoughts on the Matter
I get the draw of the all-inclusive resort. You want to get away from everything and relax in a beautiful place, having all the amenities you could possibly need. And you want this to come easy. You don’t want to deal with currency exchange or language barriers. You can’t bear the thought of figuring out how to get from A to B, getting lost, or dealing with strange customs. What about the corrupt police? Getting ripped off- or worse, mugged and robbed?
These are all of the “inconveniences” that can come with travel. Some people just want to go on vacation and have a smooth, care-free relaxing time. I would venture to say that most people want this. Especially Americans, who tend to only have two weeks of paid vacation a year. Hey, I totally get it. In fact, being very pregnant, there was a part of me that just wanted to relax and not struggle with the bumps of travel….
But it’s a pretty small part. My personal travel style is to explore, learn, grow… to be pushed out of my comfort zone and not feel totally OK with my surroundings. Maybe not the entire time, but to me, that’s the point of leaving your country behind. To discover and change- a little more each time. To become more patient and open-minded. That’s not to say one should throw caution to the wind and put themselves in dangerous situations. But something can seem dangerous, when it’s really just your discomfort with the unknown and different…. The unknown and different are my favorite things about traveling.
So, what do all-inclusive resorts offer the weary vacationer?
- Easy, Relaxing, Beautiful. A hassle-free, luxurious (depending on the resort) experience in a beautiful beach setting
- All you can eat/drink. All food and drinks included (which goes with hassle free)
- Safety. Little to no uncertainty or security issues.
Who might enjoy this type of travel? A couple on a quick romantic getaway, honeymoon, or having a wedding at the resort (and their guests). A family traveling with kids. Someone who hasn’t traveled very much and is a little wary of a different country. Someone who is completely overworked and exhausted and just needs an easy, relaxing break. Or people who just genuinely like resorts and being pampered and don’t really care about other cultures. No judgement, these are good people too… They probably aren’t the people who read this blog, though.
What are the downsides of an all-inclusive resort?
- Little to no authentic cultural experience
- A vacation with many tourists, mostly from your country, who may get on your nerves
- Noise pollution, whether it’s bumping club music or golf carts or kids screaming or people hooting and hollering or any number of things
- Sub-par food and possibly sub-par service, depending on the resort
- If you’re a conscientious traveler, this is definitely not considered sustainable tourism.
- Didn’t mention this one before, but little to no adventure, which goes with the cultural experience point.
Who would consider all-inclusive resorts the absolute pits? Independent travelers, backpackers, culture vultures, or very well-traveled folks who prioritize adventure and authentic experiences to name a few. Not to say that these types of people would never consider an all-inclusive (although I have a hard time seeing a hostel-loving, back packer embracing the resort culture!)
I’ve definitely done the cruise thing several times, and I’ve stayed in resorts occasionally when traveling. A cruise is a different story, because the benefit there is to see many places or countries while not having to pack and move every day (but you do have to buy your own booze). There is a huge environmental and socio-economic impact that must be considered as well, but that’s a separate discussion.
This was my second all-inclusive resort stay. I see the benefits in such travel, but to me, it’s really not what I want to pay to experience. In other words, had I not won this trip, I don’ t think I would have ventured to Punta Cana to stay in the land of all-inclusives.
There are nice alternatives, however, which I will talk about in my next post. You can rent a house or condo in a nearby community and have the nice amenities, including security, with a little more independence to dive into the culture.