All-inclusive resorts sound like a great dream when traveling, right? Everything is provided for you, you can eat and drink as much as you want, you pay once and you’re done, you get to meet the same resort staff every single night, you eat the same touristy food every day, drink the same watered-down drinks from the same on-site bars with the same view every day, and only get to see the same acre of property within the entire country for your whole stay. Perfect on the outside, flawed on the inside. Don’t stay at an all-inclusive resort! Here’s why.
You Won’t See the Real Country at an All-Inclusive Resort
The good old question Americans love to ask: can I leave the resort without getting kidnapped? If I go to a local restaurant, can I drink the water, put ice in my drink, or eat a salad because the lettuce is washed in water? As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Locals usually don’t live in tourist towns because it’s too expensive. These places are built for tourism and visitors. If the towns were too dangerous, the resorts wouldn’t pop up in these locations. The towns also wouldn’t have anything to do besides the resorts that you “can’t leave.” If there’s a downtown area, then people are leaving the resort and going there. Odds are, there’s a pretty rough area close to where you live now. So what makes this vacation spot different, when they rely on tourism and can’t afford bad publicity?
If you’re feeling nervous about not looking the part or not speaking the language and feel like a target, you can hire a private taxi almost anywhere. For a small fee, a local will take you around to the sites, safe places, and be your translator/tour guide. Everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to leaving a resort, but this little blonde American girl could never be kept in a walled perimeter without seeing the “real” country, and I’m still here to tell my story. If you never leave the resort, you will never get a feel for the country. You’ll be able to say you’ve been there, but you won’t be able to talk to anyone about your trip other than the great watered-down pina coladas you got at your resort (and news flash: they make them with the same ice you’d get anywhere else!)
All-Inclusive Resorts Charge Extra High Prices
Yes, all of your food and drinks are free when you’re on vacation. But they’re not really free, because you just prepaid for them. If you’re a heavy-weight wrestler training for a big championship and need to bulk up, maybe you’ll be able to eat for what you paid for. If you’re a spring break college frat guy who wants to beat the Guinness Book of World Records for drinking the most beers in a foreign country, you may be able to get your money’s worth on booze. But if you’re an average traveler, you’re going to end up paying well over what you would if you booked a hotel only. Resorts are in business to make money, which means that they’ve analyzed their costs and revenue and at least half of the people who stay are eating less than they pay for. Which half are you in?
You Won’t Get to Taste the Local Cuisine at an All-Inclusive
Following the idea of getting off the resort to see the local country and meet the people, try the real local cuisine. The all-inclusive resort will offer the stereotypical local food. But if you want to try food cooked by a local and eat it the way the people of the country eat it, go find a local food mart or stand full of locals and grab a seat. Ask the server for recommendations or point to your neighbor’s table and order whatever he has, even if you don’t know what it is. You might not like it, but at least you can say you’ve tried local cuisine, not something made for tourists.
You’ll See the Same People Every Day and Night
All-inclusive resorts can accommodate thousands of people. People of a like mind tend to do the same things day in and day out. Odds are, you’ll spot the same people by the pool every day, then see them at dinner, grab a drink with them at the on-site club, and do it all again tomorrow. It will become impossible not to run into people you know by the end of the week. This might be a good thing if you find a couple of cool people you like hanging out with, but when you’re drunk and making a fool of yourself one night, you might want some anonymity the next night. Or, you might just want to meet new people who can enrich your life more than fellow vacationers.
In Punta Cana, I’ll admit I had my first stay in an all-inclusive resort. By the end of the week, I felt so cooped up I couldn’t wait to get out. Ironically, I had a friend from Mexico from years back that worked at one of the all-inclusives who invited us out to a local bar for a drink. I jumped at the chance, and we hopped in his Dominican car and drove to a local watering hole, where we befriended a police officer who let us take pictures holding his gun for a tip. The waiter spoke no English, the other bar patrons all knew each other, and we couldn’t have been happier.
Thinking back to my all-inclusive trip to Punta Cana in 2014, two things stand out to me: the all-inclusive resort bar pushing mamajuana shots, and my friend taking us on that late-night excursion to a local Dominican bar. Moral of the story: go out into the country and meet new people, whether you’re at an all-inclusive or not.
All-Inclusives Have Specified Eating Times
Something I didn’t know was that all-inclusive resorts have specified eating times, similar to cruises. Lunch is open from a certain time to a certain time, and dinner as well. You also have to make reservations, and the most popular restaurants fill up fast. If you miss a meal or reservation, there are plenty of light fare places that offer pizza, bar food, or other snacks. If you want the real meal that you’re paying for, you have to be on top of things. This really makes you have to think on a carefree vacation.
Personally, I’d rather be really carefree and spur of the moment. I don’t want to plan my dinner at 10 a.m. I’d rather go to the beach, take a nap, wake up, walk a strip, and follow my nose when it comes to dinner. Even though we had all-inclusive access in Cancun, we ended up eating at paid restaurants off the resort every night. Eventually we even left the all-inclusive resort in Cancun and paid for our own, non-inclusive hotel closer to the action.
Most of the Food is Unsurprisingly Unhealthy
The reason you book an all-inclusive is probably to avoid the hassle of paying for meals and drinks on vacation. In theory, it’s a great idea. The food looks great, tastes great, smells great, and you can order anything you want without worrying about prices. I don’t want to put a bad taste in your mouth (pun intended), but did you ever stop to think about the quality of food these places are cooking in mass quantity for? All-inclusive restaurants usually pack their food with more sodium than regular home-cooked meals, plus hidden sugars, saturated fats, and other mystery ingredients. When a restaurant has to be a bottomless pit of food, you can bet you’re not getting the highest quality of food.
Watered Down All-Inclusive Drinks
For the same reason as the unhealthy food, all-inclusive bars are going to water down their drinks. It’s impossible not to lose money and use full-strength liquor when drinkers expect to drink like fish. On the bright side, your likely to get less of a hangover than if they were using full-strength liquor! (On a personal note, no wonder I never got hungover on spring break in Mexico and was able to drink a full bottle of tequila by myself every night!)
All-inclusive trips are easy if you don’t want to think and want everything paid for when you get there. But no one ever achieved greatness by taking the easy road. I’m guilty of all-inclusive trips, but you can never realize something isn’t worthy unless you try it first. After trying all-inclusives, regular hotels, and Airbnb’s living like a local, I highly recommend living like a local anywhere you go. See the country. Meet the people. Try the food. Go local.
What is your opinion of all-inclusive vs. living like a local? Let me know in the comments below!
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P.S. You might also love 6 Ways to Spot a Tourist Trap and 6 Unexpected and Surprising Things I Learned While Living in Spain