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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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Ancient Mayan Ruins – the City of Tulum

When people think of the Mayans they likely think of two things: ruins and apocalypse.  If you came across this post hoping for apocalypse news, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  Apocalypse will just have to wait one more year.  In the mean time, I did decide to get off my ass and leave the luxury (and drinks) of my all-inclusive resort to check out some ruins – more specifically, the Mayan city of Tulum.

The Walled City

When you see Tulum, it is not hard to understand why someone would want to live there, with its absolutely stunning views of the ocean.  Of course, the Mayans weren’t necessarily in the market for a summer home.  More likely, they chose Tulum for the water access, as the city was an important trade port.  Still, I’m pretty sure they didn’t mind the view…

Not a bad view

Even with a storm approaching, the view is fantastic!!!

Storm approaching, but I'm still enjoying my view

Beyond the incredible beauty, Tulum is a very smart place to set up camp.  Perched atop a cliff and surrounded on one side by water, Tulum has an awesome natural defense.  If that weren’t enough, there is also a reef in the water, allowing ships to enter the bay through one narrow passage only.  Watchtowers dot the border for defense and to spot incoming ships bringing in or picking up goods.  These buildings also served as lighthouses to help the sailors navigate the water and beaches.  According to our guide, they also had conch shells set up that acted as bad weather and hurricane “alarms”.  The wind needed to be of a certain strength to force the conch to sound the alarm.  Pretty cool.

Watchtower along the shore

On the landward sides, the city is encircled by a high wall, which gave it the name Tulum, meaning wall or fence.  Originally, the city was called Zama, or sunrise.  It seems the name was changed by explorers that “discovered” the city; but, both names seem fitting to me.  Anyways, the wall not only served as a defense, but also separated the rulers and priests from the common people.  Commoners…ugh.

Ryan breaching the perimeter

Inside the wall, was a very advanced society, especially when you keep in mind that the city was built around 465 AD and peaked in the 13th-15th centuries.  The Mayans had their own system of writing, very clearly were advanced in math and architecture, and invented the zero.  In addition, their astronomers were obviously ballers.  The things they were able to figure out were amazing.  For example, the building below was meticulously planned and constructed so that the sun would shine through the window during the spring equinox.  People still gather at Tulum to see this.

Equinox through the building on the left

Here’s a closer look:

Even the buildings that aren’t perfectly aligned with an equniox are still fascinating.  This building below is the Temple of the Frescoes that was used as an observatory.  On the corners, the faces of Gods are carved.

Temple of the Frescoes

You can sort of make out the face carved in the nearest corner, but here they are a little closer up:

Face of the God

Overall, it’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to build these structures without the help of machinery or modern technology.  It is obvious when you look at them that it took a lot of effort to erect these.  Plus, they are still standing after all this time!!! (I doubt that a lot of our modern buildings could pass this test of time)

© Heather Freitag 2011

Reverence to the Gods

The Mayans, like the Greeks and Romans, worshiped Gods.  Worship was not only part of their spiritual life, but also had a big effect on many other aspects.  For example – construction.  Stairs going up the temple were purposely constructed to be very shallow, forcing the people to walk up and down the stairs sideways.  In doing so, you could never turn your back on the Gods, nor could you look at them directly (suggesting that you are equal).

Similarly, the doorways to the building below, The Temple of the Descending God, were made to be very low so that you had to bow to enter.

Low entryway to show reverence

Though human sacrifices were performed in other Mayan cities, Tulum celebrated the God of Life, and so people were spared.  Instead, they sacrificed animals such as jaguars, animals that were easily captured…  While human sacrifices may seem barbaric, Tulum shows that the Mayans also celebrated life and appreciated it.  In reality, it’s not all that different than the modern day willingness to sacrifice lives for the cause of war.  It doesn’t show a disrespect or devaluing of life, but an understanding of a greater purpose and belief that the life is being given for a cause.  People in Mayan civilizations actually battled it out through games to compete for the opportunity and honor of being sacrificed.  I would lose on purpose.

So, how can you beat Tulum?  Awesome ruins, great beach views, no human sacrifices and lots of history – I highly recommend it!  One tip – it can get pretty hot.  I would go early and bring water.  Also bring your suit because the beach is open for swimming!

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in History, Photography, Travel

 

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Friday Escape on a Thursday!? – MEXICO!

Yes, it is a Thursday; but, for me it is a Friday because Ryan and I are off to MEXICO!!!  Although we have both traveled internationally, we have never done so together.  Plus, oddly enough, I have never been to Mexico, so I’m pretty excited.  And really, it’s all-inclusive on a beach so you can’t go wrong.  Just in case you have any doubts on how awesome it is going to be…here’s a little video of our resort – Ocean Coral & Turquesa.

Sometimes you just want to lay in the sand, listen to the ocean and sip on some drinks – especially if you spend way too many hours per day sitting at a windowless cubicle doing mindless work.  Strangely though, I plan to get up early every day (I’m very motivated on vacation).  It’s not the same as getting up early to zombie walk to the metro and continue my day as an office drone.  In Mexico, I can get up early, get an iced coffee, do a little yoga on the beach and then nap for awhile.  Maybe I get thirsty so I wake up and get a margarita.  Peruse a few magazines or read some silly no-thought-required beach read on my kindle.  Lunch and then a post-lunch kayak in the waves. More margaritas.  If I get to hot, I’ll jump into the pool and belly up to the swim-up bar.  You get the idea.

In addition to our relaxation time, we also plan to visit some ruins!  Should be a fantastic time – see you next week!

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Friday Escape, Travel

 

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