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Punta Cana and the All-Inclusive Debate

all-inclusive

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.

Pros

  • 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.
    all-inclusive

    Pro: all sorts of “free” food

    *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).
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Definitely a “pro”- beautiful “private” beach

  • 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.

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This side of the beach was pretty quiet, which I prefer.

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”….

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Peacocks poolside- pro? Maybe, until they start screeching!

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.
all-inclusive food

Con: over-cooked lamb and breadstick veggie skewers

  • 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.

    all-inclusive

    Con: Photo shoot for Facebook. Look at me! I’m in the Dominican Republic! Wish you were here? Maybe she’s also a travel blogger… hmmmm….?

  • 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?

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Is security important to you? Then an all-inclusive resort might be ideal.

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.

Recap

So, what do all-inclusive resorts offer the weary vacationer?

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Keep the drinks coming! and coming and coming….

  • 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!)

all-inclusive

Expect to see a wedding or two during your stay!

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.

What are your thoughts on all-inclusive resorts? Are you pro or con?

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13 Responses to Punta Cana and the All-Inclusive Debate

  1. Anna Rice May 13, 2014 at 12:29 PM #

    I totally get the appeal of all inclusive resorts, especially for those just looking to relax, but it’s not for me. Especially the sub par food – half the reason why I travel is for the food! I went on a cruise once and hated eating on the ship all the time.

    • Lindsay May 14, 2014 at 9:44 AM #

      Hey Anna, I’m with you! I think if it wasn’t so hard for many Americans to get away and take a vacation in the first place (with limited paid vacation days), there might not be as much of a demand for the “easy, luxury” vacation. There are definitely times when I just want to sit on the beach and have my drink refilled! I would just rather go and explore and “rough it” a little- about 90% of the time. 🙂

  2. Vincent Milligan May 13, 2014 at 4:43 PM #

    What a well written article. I wish I wrote as well as you.I have only been on one cruise and one all inclusive vacation. The cruise was ok but I really loved the All Inclusive. It was at the gran Caribe Real in Cancun. My plan was just to stay on the resort and relax. I dont think we had any upgrade or such but we had an amazing room over looking the water with a balcony. Had room service, a host of restaurants to visit through out the day with various types of food and a reservations only restaurant that u could go to at night. The food through out the day was pretty good. Even had a pizza place where u could make ur own pizza. There were 3 pools less than 5 min walk to beach various fashion shows or activities around th pool during the day and in the huge lobby at night including flaminco dancing. I originally planned on just laying around the pool or beach and relaxing with good food and drinks all day and going to dinner at the restaurant at night and relaxing on the resort. but that turned out not to be the case. First let me say, the food in the reservation only restaurant was out of this world. They had so much seafood and steak any kind of way u can imagine, very exotic. Even lobster, you only had to pay $10 for lobster, everything else was free. We went there every night for dinner because we just wasnt sure we could get better anywhere else. Then, my friends drug me to senior frogs and all those places one night . It was awful, we got in a cab and I asked the drive to bring us somewhere in town that the locals go to but that would understand English. He did and it was so much fun exotic dancers, performers I felt like I was at a club in LA or something . It was fun and after tipping so well, I guess, they invited us back the next night VIP. The next night we had our own table and our own waiter and were treated like celebs and got to see alot of the culture. That’s my experience with all inclusive, I think that to absorb culture in another culture u definitely have to get off the resort and be adventurous but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and didn’t want to leave.

    • Lindsay May 14, 2014 at 9:49 AM #

      Sounds like you had a fun and adventurous experience, Vince! I’d bet you’d be fun to travel with 😉

  3. Ann Marie May 14, 2014 at 1:48 AM #

    I’m with you on that one Linds.. Did the all inclusive once, NEVER again for all the very reasons you listed above!

    • Lindsay May 14, 2014 at 9:51 AM #

      Alright, AMRaf! Yea, I don’t see you as one to be holed up on the reserve for a while!

  4. Jessica @She Dreams of Travel May 14, 2014 at 10:20 AM #

    I really think that whether an all-inclusive resort is right for you depends on what you’re looking for in your vacation and what resort you go to. Before I started traveling on my own, my travel experiences had always been at all-inclusive resorts with my family. Some were big, some were small. Some far from the beach, some just a one minute walk away. One thing I did love at all the places, however, was the food so I’m surprised and sad to hear that the food where you stayed disappointed you! I also think that how much of a cultural experience you have depends on what you make of it. Although my family and I stayed at resorts we often spent a lot of time outside of the resort checking out other parts of the city and nearby cultural sites.

    I wouldn’t like to stay at a resort for all my vacations now that I have more control over where I go, but once in a while a stay at a place where everything is taken care of for you and all you have to do is wake up and enjoy the day can be nice. Last summer I actually went to Punta Cana and it was an amazing and totally relaxing five days 🙂

    • Lindsay May 14, 2014 at 7:50 PM #

      Hey Jessica! Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I just checked out your blog, and can I say, I am SO JEALOUS that you’re in Sevilla for Feria! What I wouldn’t give to go back and experience that again! I love your flamenco dress, too!

      I completely agree with you that a travel experience is totally what you make of it. And I also agree that it is sometimes nice to have a vacation where you don’t have to worry about anything other than enjoying yourself. I think if I ever do decide to visit an all-inclusive resort again, I would do something similar to what I did in the Dominican Republic and have different, independent journeys bookending my stay. I’m curious where you stayed in Punta Cana. I think the beaches are beautiful there, but I must say that I enjoyed Las Terrenas in the Samaná Peninsula immensely more. The beaches were even more beautiful, and there is a great mix of expats and locals living in this surprisingly symbiotic way.

      As far as the food goes in an all-inclusive resort, I think typically the bigger the resort, the more chance you have of sub=par food. I’m a bit of a foodie, so food is sort of a big deal to me, especially when I travel (not to say I only eat at Michelin starred restaurants by any means). I just think that if it’s part of the appeal of the resort and what you are paying for, it is OK to have higher expectations. I’m sure every resort is different. I’ve stayed in some (mostly) inclusive dive resorts that are more boutique and had incredible food! I think it all just depends. I’ve been on a few cruises, some of which had cooked for the masses (i.e. lots of overcooked meat and bland flavors) and some of which had superb cuisine. So, it all just depends. I’m glad you weighed-in on this, though! Check back sometime next week, and you can read about how different my experience in Las Terrenas was!

  5. Neilalan May 16, 2014 at 6:50 PM #

    Very informative and complete post, thanks I agree that when going to a foreign country, I like to have some locals around. Especially in a resort setting, you could feel like you were in Miami.

    • Lindsay May 17, 2014 at 9:18 AM #

      Exactly, Neilalan! I did feel like I could have been in Miami, although the beach was a little more “exotic” and water clearer. 🙂

  6. noelmorata May 18, 2014 at 1:01 AM #

    I think these types of places are perfect for a real vacation getaway where you just want to sit on the beach and have fruity liquor drinks all day – it’s nice but not really my idea of a great travel experience, unless it really is more of a weekend getaway thing…thanks for sharing the pros and cons.

    • Lindsay May 22, 2014 at 9:49 PM #

      I agree, Noel. I think if you want total relaxation, the all-inclusive resort can do that for you. I don’t tend to travel just to relax though- although this may change very soon, after my first child is born!! 😉

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