This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico (the non-spring break side of Cancun). I've never been a huge fan of feeling like you have to eat and drink your money's worth so I have spent most of my life avoiding these hotels and most cruises for fear of gluttony and overindulgence. I don't like the idea of gaining even more weight than normal on vacation, especially in a place where bikinis are standard attire. Plus, as a foodie, I don't like being confined to one resort to eat at; I want to be able to experience the local cuisine. For those unfamiliar, all-inclusive resort is a hotel that includes a minimum of three meals daily, soft drinks, most alcoholic drinks, gratuities and often other activities in the price.
Some of these resorts can be a great deal if you do your homework and you may end up saving quite a bit of money on food and beverages and avoid the hassle of the age-old debate of "where are we going to eat dinner?"
Here are my thoughts on all inclusive getaways so you can decide for yourself if they're right for you.
Variety - We definitely never got sick of the food and it was plentiful. At El Dorado Royale, there were seven different gourmet restaurants, each themed differently so it didn't feel like we were eating the same thing at the same place for every meal, which was one of my biggest hesitations. The portions weren't astronomically large, which was good that they anticipated guests to order multiple courses and serve tasting portions accordingly so we could try a bunch of things without being excessively wasteful.
Guilt-Free Ordering - While you may have guilt in the form of calorie consumption, not having to worry about how much something costs makes vacation much less stressful. Without prices on the menu, order the lobster and the steak without mentally sacrificing something in return for spoiling yourself. You can truly relax and eat whatever you want because it doesn't come with a price tag.
The drinks - I've heard other all-inclusive resorts water down their cocktails so you're not really getting your money's worth. In my experience, it was the opposite; everything we consumed was either pure alcohol or pure syrup - way too sweet. I want an umbrella drink to taste good, not like I'm drinking sugar or trying to get wasted off one drink so we order less. The bartenders were clearly overwhelmed by the crowds (there were seven wedding parties there) and it showed.
Availability - While there was a smorgasbord of cuisines, not everything was available all the time so you really had to pay attention to the hours and locations. The resort was so big that most people get driven around in golf carts, and you don't want to commute all the way across the property just to find the fondue restaurant closed. The sushi restaurant didn't even serve sushi at lunch, which was weird. The 24/7 room service seemed promising, but the menu was lackluster and took forever to arrive cutting into beach time.
All inclusive should mean all inclusive. It was really hard to get a drink at the bar without waving around dollar bills (and I'm talking more than just 1-2$). At one point, it took us 45 minutes just to get the bartender's attention without cash in hand. Understandably employees want tips and I'm sure their income depends on it, but that shouldn't be the only motivation for good service. It really ruins the atmosphere to have to carry around cash like a strip club. The Elysian Hotel in Chicago (now a Waldorf Astoria) was the first to pioneer a no-tip policy and it'd do wonders for more resorts to adopt the same philosophy of not allowing staff to accept them. Whatever happened to service with a smile?