Tag Archives: Culture

Should I Take an All-Inclusive Vacation? – 5 Things to Consider

All-inclusive.  Some people swear by all-inclusive and love it for its hassle-free ease.  Others abhor it because it’s not “real travel” and allows people to vacation without really escaping their comfort zone.  What’s really up with all-inclusive vacations and when (if ever) should you take one?  Here are five things to consider in making your decision on all-inclusive vacations.

1.  What is your purpose in traveling – Culture? Relaxation? Adventure? Exploration? Escape?

The biggest factor in deciding whether or not to take an all-inclusive vacation is deciding on what kind of vacation you really want to take.  Be honest and don’t let other people’s opinions influence you.  If you want to discover new foods and culture, to really explore and get to know a place, then perhaps pass on all-inclusive this time around.

However, if you want nothing more than to escape and relax, then all-inclusive is a very good option.  How many times do people return home and say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”?  (Which really, who ever feels sorry for that person? Boo hoo, you are worn out from your awesome travel to destination x) Anyways, with all-inclusive packages, this will not be the case.  Your “stressful” decisions will likely consist of: do we go to the beach first or go to the swim-up bar first?  Very horrible indeed.

Our Morning View - Not Bad Eh?

Not having a schedule or anywhere to be was very nice.  Because you are on vacation with the goal of relaxing, you don’t feel as though you are missing out on “cultural destination A” or “museum B” when you opt to take a leisurely breakfast followed by a mid-morning nap on the beach.

For example, one day Ryan and I found ourselves at the swim up bar drinking el capitain con dieta at 9AM.  By lunch, we had polished off a bottle to ourselves.  Completely acceptable.  Would we do these things on a backpacking trip in Peru?  Likely not.

Still, you might want to do some adventuring and exploring.  On our trip, we took out kayaks that were available at our beach and took a day excursion to Tulum and Xel-ha.  At Tulum, we toured the Mayan ruins.

© Heather Freitag 2011

For more detail on our Tulum experience, you can check out my earlier post here.  Xel-ha is like an amusement park but built into a natural lagoon and focused on the water.  You can snorkel, float down in tubes, cliff jump, zip line, bike, see the cenotes, etc.  For additional fees you can swim with dolphins or manatees, walk on the bottom of the ocean and snuba.  More on this at a later date.  Point is, you can find a way to work excursions into your all-inclusive vacation.

2. Food

All-inclusive means all of your food and beverages are included, which is nice because there is no need to carry cash.  Our mini-fridge had a constant stash – especially nice to have the water to bring about.  If you are hungry or thirsty, you can go to one of the restaurants at almost any hour of the day.  Don’t like what you ordered?  Order something else.  At the same time, it means that you are likely to take in all of your meals at the resort instead of venturing out to find restaurants or street vendors.

On the negative side, and not unsurprisingly, the food at all-inclusive resorts is usually mediocre.  Yeah, it’s good or maybe okay, but certainly not anything to rave about.  Our resort tried to liven things up with multiple restaurants:  the buffet, an American sports bar, a Japanese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a coffee bar and some snack places.  Still, for the most part, it was just so-so.  The one thing I will say for our resort…breakfast was just what I wanted.  Every morning I had a made-to-order egg white omelet packed with veggies, smoked salmon, fresh baguette, fresh pineapple, a yogurt, fresh grapefruit juice and coffee.  Breakfast was by far the best meal.

Nevertheless, if you consider yourself a foodie and want nothing less than absolutely delicious, authentic local cuisine prepared by the friendly and informative unlikely chef who shares their life story with you while the two of you sit outside at the small, but charming neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, then all-inclusive will leave you sorely disappointed.

3. Becoming a Local

Many people travel with the intent of learning about another culture:  language, customs, food, daily routines, etc. and trying to “become a local”.  It’s a fantastic aspect of travel and honestly if this is truly your goal, you can work it into any type of trip – at least in some respect.  Usually people don’t think of becoming immersed in a new country when they think of all-inclusive.  Rightly so.  But, you can still make efforts.  I spoke as much Spanish as I could with the resort employees and I actually learned a lot and was getting to be decent at basic things.  When we ventured out, Ryan chatted with all of our drivers, who were all very eager to tell us about Mexico.  Still, this is obviously a far cry from the immersion you can experience during other types of travel.  Really, it’s more of a mild exposure than an immersion.

4. Kids

Let me start this by saying I do not have kids, but I hope to have them one day.  That being said, I used to think that there was nothing more annoying than a bratty child acting like a hooligan without any supervision, or worse – with a shoddy “parent” just standing idly by while their kid acts like a hellion.  Then I realized, it’s soooo much worse when you are on vacation and trying to relax.

When I took an all-inclusive trip in college I didn’t see many children.  I went to the Dominican Republic and, with it’s relative instability compared to other tropical destinations, it’s probably not a family favorite.  Or, perhaps the lack of children was because I was in college and chose the cheapest resort imaginable.  Whatever the case, I guess the downside of being able to afford a fairly nice place is that families think it will be nice too.  There were more kids than I would have liked on my last vacation.

This simple fact alone could have been okay had the parents been in control.  They were NOT.  Kids were jumping off of the swim-up bar stools into the pool, splashing the bartender and getting pool water in everyone’s drinks; wrestling and throwing each other in the pool; coughing all over the food at the buffet; a band of 9 year old heathens were running amok in the coffee bar unsupervised at 10:30PM trying to order cappuccinos.  The very astute barista made them evaporated milk with flavoring.  Again, I blame the parents more than I blame the kids; but regardless, they were annoying and I certainly could have done without seeing any of them.

Of course, I’m not the first person to think it would be nice to be on vacation without any little kids screaming or running around like banshees.  Thus the birth of adults-only resorts.  The drawback is that these types of resorts are almost always much more expensive for the luxury of being child-free.  So, if you are thinking of all-inclusive try to gauge the family-friendliness of your resort or at least keep in mind that your moments of relaxation and bliss may be dotted with interruptions from incredibly annoying, miniature holy terrors.

5. Vacation Preparation

Planning a vacation can be a big undertaking.  There are a lot of pieces to travel and so many options!  Personally, I like researching and planning on the front end of a trip and also leaving room to be spontaneous and flexible while I am traveling; but, for many people this is very overwhelming and can be a deterrent.  If this is you, all-inclusive is a fantastic option.  Once you choose your destination, find a resort and pick your travel dates, your decision-making responsibilities are over.  This takes the stress out of planning for many people and leaves them time to just be excited about their upcoming trip.  You could also use a travel agent, but they can be expensive.

Another big part of preparing to travel is saving up money.  If you don’t want to go the hostel route, all-inclusives are pretty great as far as their value.  Most packages are bundled with airfare on many travel websites.  For the Caribbean and Mexico I would recommend using Cheap Caribbean.  I booked my last vacation through them and was very, very happy with it.

Room at Ocean Coral and Turquesa

Obviously, the descriptions above may not apply to every all-inclusive resort, but I think each point is a good thing to think about if you are considering an all-inclusive vacation.  Overall, I would say the biggest difference with all-inclusive vacations is that it really is all about relaxing – an all-inclusive vacation will likely be the least stressful vacation you will ever go on. 

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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in Food and Drink, Travel


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I’m here for the bikes, beers and cowbells

My boyfriend Ryan loooooves bikes – all types of bikes.  In our tiny troll dwelling (English Basement in a rowhouse on Capitol Hill), he has 2 BMX bikes, a road bike, a mountain bike, a GIANT beach cruiser and his cyclocross bike.  While we are at it, let’s throw my one bike into the mix.  For all the math whizes out there, that is a grand total of 7 bikes in our little space.  So yes, he loves bikes.  He started out with BMX and mountain bikes when he was a kid.  Here in DC he got into road racing a few years ago.  This summer he discovered what has become his favorite bike medium – cyclocross.  I will say that it is far and away my favorite from a spectator standpoint.

If you are like I was, and I imagine most of you will be with me on this one, you have no idea what cyclocross is.  Cyclocross, or just cross, started in the early 1900s in Europe (imagine that) as a way for road racers to stay in shape in the off season.  Thus, races are typically held in the autumn and winter months.  Often, the races were “steeple chases,” because riders could cut through fields, forests, streams, etc. to get to the finish which would be in a neighboring town.  Usually as riders raced, they would keep the only visible landmark–a church steeple–in sight so that they knew where they were going.

Cross became popular here in the US in the 1970s and many of the features of cross hearken back to its earlier roots.  Courses now are off road and on grass, dirt, sand, mud, snow, etc.  Each course also has at least one spot that is a run-up where the rider must dismount the bike and run with it.

Ryan shouldering his bike

There are also barriers that require dismount.

Hup! Hup!

Most of the barriers and run-ups are placed around the areas where fans can see…mainly, the beer and food tent/pavilion.  Partially due to its European roots and probably also because it’s so cold during the race season, most of these events have some sort of beer sponsor…

Sponsored by Duvel and Ommegang

…and usually have Belgian foods (sausages, waffles, frites) and other food too.  Why Belgian food?  The Belgians are big into cross, and cycling in general, and have been fairly dominant in cross racing.  So, many of the traditions in American cross are taken from Belgium.  This explains why you will often see Flemish flags at cross events.

Lion of Flanders

However, at one point the Swiss were big contenders on the cross scene as well and as far as cross culture goes, they made a big contribution – THE COWBELL.

2009 Bend Cross Nats Cowbell

At any cross race there will be numerous cowbells that people ring as racers come by.  According to this account, the cowbell was a cheering aid that the Swiss cross team borrowed from Swiss skiers.  Then, the idea was imported into the US when the Saturn-sponsored team decided to give out cowbells as a gimmick.  And now, cross races have a fever….and the only prescription is…more cowbell!  I know, I know, easy joke but I guess it had to be made.

In addition to the awesome food, beer drinking and frantic cowbell ringing, cross just has a cooler vibe.  It’s more relaxed.  And to be honest, from the spectator standpoint, it’s just way more fun to watch.  There are the barriers which add an element of interest and an opportunity for debacle.  If America’s Funniest Home Videos teaches us anything, people generally find some sort of enjoyment, amusement or entertainment when other people get hurt.  I’m not afraid to admit that my favorite part of that show was always the rapid-fire montages of people getting hurt.  So, the barriers are a great spot to hang out, snap some good photos, and see if anyone trips up.

Plus, you still have the elements of most sports-watching that people love – you can dress up, be belligerent and cheer loudly (again with the cowbells!).  For most sports, people don’t necessarily dress in “costume” but really, when you have your team colors painted over half of your body with some crazy colored afro wig, you aren’t exactly in everyday attire.  Unless you are a clown by trade, in which case I apologize.  In cross, people wear whatever costumes they feel like wearing.

Captain Morgan or Hook or some sort of swashbuckler

Turkey hops barriers with riders

Even the riders themselves sometimes don a costume…

Cycling...a way to "clean" the environment

Piggies love the mud!

There are even some races that have a TANDEM race category.  Whoever thought of a tandem bike is nuts.  Even on what should probably be “leisurely, fun” rides with a significant other, these bikes obviously bring out some sort of inner demon in people.  We just aren’t meant to be attached – it’s unnatural!  I mean, the tandem is nicknamed the “divorce horse.”  Sounds disastrous to me.  But, in the races, it’s usually teammates or friends on the bikes.  Maybe slightly less detrimental to the riders home life, but stressful nonetheless.  The tandem course is not modified so the riders must navigate the dismounts and barriers while trying not to kick each other in the face and be able to handle the bike through tight turns on the course.

Fitting for TOMS one-for-one campaign!

Bottom line is people are loving cross, fans and riders alike, and it’s becoming more and more popular.  I’ll be off to the cross nationals in Bend, Oregon this December so I will be sure to do a follow-up post then!  In the meantime, there are many websites devoted to cross, but one blog in particular seems like it would be informational and entertaining to someone who is new to the sport.  Plus, I like the name: Mud and Cowbells.  If you ride a bike, you should look into racing cross.  If not, convince one of your bike-riding friends to take it up so you can go throw on a costume, drink tasty beers, watch some cross, and of course, ring some cowbells!

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Posted by on November 10, 2010 in Cycling


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