Why you’ll never see me in an All-inclusive resort again
I read an article this week in the Guardian about the All-inclusive holiday making a big comeback.
It’s understandable. People are feeling the financial pinch these days and they want cheap vacations. And before I crap on All-inclusives, I also see many of the advantages to having an All-inclusive holiday.
My 1st All-inclusive holiday experience was in Varadero (Cuba) in my early 20’s. I had a couple of friends who were going to Cuba and they picked the bottom-of-the-barrel of All-inclusives. The hotel wasn’t next to the beach, it didn’t even have a pool. It had a large lobby where prostitutes hung out. The food was horrible and you could be guaranteed that whatever showed up for dinner also found its way into the breakfast and lunch menus. All of us ended up getting diarrhea at some point during our stay. Still, for a young guy who didn’t have a lot of money at the time, the All-inclusive food and watered-down drinks meant that I didn’t have any surprises. It was cheap. And my standards weren’t very high at the time. For a young guy looking for a holiday in the sun it was fine.
Many years later I took my son to an All-inclusive, again in Varadero. He was 12 and I was looking for a place where he would be kept busy with children’s activities. It wasn’t a top of the line All-inclusive but it was good with a couple of large swimming pools, a choice of restaurants and a beach. There were a lot of families and Benjamin had fun, making a lot of friends and spending most of his time playing with them in the pool. I, on the other hand, was bored shitless after a day. I hung around with other parents, blabbing and probably drinking more than I should have. But I was doing it for my son and he had a great time. So if you have young kids, All-inclusives are a good, hassle-free option.
My last time at an All-inclusive was in 2010 with Lissette. I was stressed out from work and needed a vacation of doing nothing except getting away from the job. We stayed at a high-end All-Inclusive in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), the Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana – Adults Only. Very nice place with no kids to stress me out. And although the idea of just getting away from work sounded good, we got bored within 2 days. I found myself stewing over work which was counter-productive – I think I got back home more fed up than ever. 4 months later I couldn’t keep it in anymore and got myself fired.
As you see above, All-inclusives run the gamut of options and budgets. But what they all offer, in the end, is a hassle-free holiday. You don’t have to worry about food, drink, logistics and activities. And the big thing about All-inclusives – especially these days – is that you know how much it’ll cost you. Unless you have a lot of add-ons (like special tours or activities that you have to pay for), All-inclusives are generally cheaper than independent travel.
The things that suck about All-inclusives
Despite the Pros of All-inclusives, there are many things that I really, really don’t like about them.
Food sucks. At best it’s ok. What do you expect, they’re cooking in volume for the masses and have to keep it generic enough to make it passable to most people.
All-inclusives are boring as hell unless you enjoy doing the same activities day in, day out. I don’t go on holiday to play ping pong, trivia games or take language or yoga classes. I’ll do that when they stick me in a retirement home. But not now.
The guests. I know I sound like an jerk when I say this – but what kind of person gets up at 7 am to stick a towel on a chair at the beach or pool? All-inclusive people do. Because appropriating a chair where they can lounge around all day is what makes their vacation great. That and drinking free alcohol which turns them into idiots at around mid-day.
Entertainment is generic and embarrassing. Yes, I know they’re trying to give you a taste of the local culture. But, let’s face it, it’s all kitschy tourist crap.
All-inclusive staff. As an independent traveller one of the things I enjoy is the cultural aspect of travel, part of that being meeting locals. All-inclusive staff are a different breed, mostly because of the people they deal with. And that leads many of them looking down their noses at guests and treating them with condescension. Unless you’re a solo female guest that is – then you’ll have the sexy male staffers trying to get you on their hook-up rotation (or, as I’ve seen, romancing women so that they can be sponsored to live overseas)*.
*I’m of course generalizing. They’re not all like that. But I’ve seen a lot of the above.
One of my better stories: I had a trip in my 30’s to the Dominican Republic and decided that I wouldn’t stay at an All-inclusive. I would do it all on my own. I did some research and booked a cheap hotel in Cabarete along the beach. It cost me $30 US/night at the time and was basic but nice. I would eat down the street at a couple of excellent local places (including a German Restaurant. Lots of Germans in the DR). I had planned on doing that for 10 days but after 2 days got bored. I spontaneously decided to take a bus to Santo Domingo where I discovered a city I knew nothing about. Made a local friend who showed me around. Then, after a couple more days, took to bus to the Samana peninsula where I stayed 5 days in Las Terrenas. I rented a motorcycle and rode to Las Galeras at the end of the peninsula. That trip ended up being one of my most memorable holidays. That trip also changed the way I travelled forever. My next trip ended up being a similar-type independent trip through Colombia.
My point? All-inclusives are easy and fit a need. But unless on a tight budget, travelling with kids, or desperately just need a beach break, you can do a lot, lot better than an All-inclusive on your next holiday.
Related: Why “Off the beaten path” places are sometimes the best places to Visit
Related: Are we all just photo-clicking monkeys? What’s travel about?
Related: Group Tours vs Independent Travel. The Pros and Cons… and some thoughts.
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Hi Frank, I enjoyed reading your post (as always). As you know we are also not all-inclusive people for pretty much the same reasons as you do not like them (the hotels and the people). However, sometimes we stay at all-inclusive resorts during our guidebook research. There are also all-inclusive places catering for active people. You can get a scuba certificate or do an introductory golf course (we did both – for the guidebooks). I enjoyed talking to the other guest, who were ther for much more specific reasons than I was. They had paid good money for something they had an interest to learn.
I had to stay at an all-inclusive in Ahangama, Sri Lanka last year March. It was an officially sanctioned quarantine hotel where i had to spend my first 14 days, get tested, etc. I picked the cheapest one on the list but it turned out way better than i expected. Yeah, the rooms and furnishings were kind of dated, early 80s i think. But it had its own lovely cordoned off beach (mixing with locals was not allowed), fabulous pool – great for doing laps and the food was fantastic, delicious and healthy Sri Lankan food! Everyone was chummy. The few other guests were either from the SL diaspora, Ukraine, Belarus and Swiss. After my 14 days were in the bag, i was free to go! But leaving that place and walking to the bus stop made me feel very nervous, it felt a bit like i was getting out of prison!
Ha! Yes, must have been strange to be quarantined in a resort. But hey, sounds better than what Canada was doing – did you hear about the hotels (and the prices) that people were being quarantined in?
I concur… I get bored very fast with this kind of holiday and being a foodie means I shun buffets of all kinds. I was taken on a couple as a child and they were OK… they’re not quite the same here in India, as the huge population can make a lot of travel quite off-putting after a while. Even the nicest and largest swimming pools can get quite crowded.
As an adult, I did it once with hubby and our baby at a proper and nice all-inclusive. It was the first holiday after having her and I was ready to go anywhere as long as it was out of the home. But traveling here with a small child is not easy so an all-inclusive made the decision to try it pretty easy. It was the right holiday at the right time. The more rural locations here all have smaller resorts with half-board because it’s next to impossible to have a holiday in an unspoiled location with places to eat nearby or roads that are navigable in the dark. I can’t do more than 2 nights of that kind and I barely remember anything of them later. The spa, ping pong, bonfire and other “activities” drive me up the wall!
You hit on something – in some places you almost have to stay in a place that is ‘like an all-inclusive’ just because they can be secluded and/or it is dangerous to leave the resort. We’ve come across some in South Africa and Morocco. But those places are a bit different than the All-inclusives that we see in the Caribbean or Mexico – where people stay in the resort because they don’t want be be outside the resort. Almost the opposite to wanting to visit a location and settling for a resort for your ledging/eating needs. And while I get the concept of these kinds of All-inclusives, I just find it really boring.
And yes the food 🙁
A buddy of mine did the “Sandals” thing in Jamaica for his honeymoon. He liked it, but then again this guy was a total alcoholic, 2+ pack a day smoker and his bride was a very spicy, “Red Onion Bar party girl” circa 1995!
I’ve personally never done any prearrange travel activity aside from airfare and Hotels.
Fun story from my past, my second visit to BKK. During my research of the Kingdom, I stumbled across the personal blog of a guy named Joe living in Bangkok, working for a private language school as an Australian/American expat. He wrote about his day-to-day adventures, being a single, 40s, white Farang dude, and what that involves whist working and living full-time in the Thai capital. I soon became a regular reader and frequent commenter. Cool thing about blogs like his was it focussed many people of like minds and interests. It proved to be a very useful networking tool for future visits. From his blog, I found another from an interesting pair of ex-silicon valley IPO executive sell outs for the chance to make it big in the gogo bar business at Nana plaza. From there you get to know other international patrons (degenerates?) and actually develop online friendships. This brings me to my 2nd visit to Bangkok. My friend, Joe just so happened to be working up in Chang Mai during my next visit. He so graciously offered to let me sublet his condo in rather prime lower Sukhumvit location of soi 22. I immediately accepted. Funny thing was Joe and I had never met in person. Needless to say, I made the trip up north during my stay, got to hang out with my new favorite BKK buddy, and we’re still friends to this day!
One more reason to resist the all-inclusives?
Ha! Definitely, you wouldn’t have that kind of experience in an All-inclusive. That’s quite something, offering you the place without knowing you. You never know, sometimes people click, even if only online. Nice story.
Ah yes, the days on Nana Plaza. I was taken once by a couple of BKK expats. Crazy. Is it still around?
Oh yeah (as I’m told) I haven’t been back since 2017, and then all the COVID stuff. I’m hoping to swing a trip in Jan/Feb. of 2023. But I’m in no hurry since airfares are still pretty silly. How about you guys? Planning any SEA adventures? I’ve been researching Laos and hoping to slip over the border for a bit during my next Thailand tirp.
No, not on the horizon for us. Although always kind of miss Thailand. But with high airfares, Covid restrictions etc it might be a while until we get back
you know i was thinking a resort holiday doesnt sound too bad, I could do with some proper downtime. Then I read this. And I think I would be the same – im wired in such a way that i could do 48 hours but after that i would be tearing off the wall paper. always thoughtful content Frank! thanks!
I think I know your travel style pretty well Andy. You WOULD be tearing off the wall paper in no time 🙂