We like to think of ourselves, perhaps somewhat haughtily, as travelers rather than tourists. Travelers immerse themselves in the local culture, living, eating, speaking and getting around as much as possible as locals do. Tourism is isolating, making a trip as comfortable as possible at the expense of authentic interactions with local people and their ways of everyday life. So we say with our noses in the air.
All-inclusive resorts seem to fit easily into my cynical definition of tourism. You can stay at one without ever speaking a word of the local language, or eating regional food, or bumping shoulders on a crowded bus with someone who actually lives in that locale. You and your children can be entertained all day long by activities staff without ever knowing what people in that country do for fun. You can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch and pizza for dinner. You never have to make decisions about where to stay, how to get to a destination, or where to eat. The decision-making thrill (or burden, depending on your perspective) of travel is removed for you as you’re plunked down in a microcosm full of staff who cater to your every desire.
So what was this traveling family doing spending our last two family vacations at an all inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya, Mexico? We were having wonderfully relaxing, culturally-rich vacations, that’s what. Oh yeah, and revising our misconceptions of all-inclusives as well.
The original motivating factor for an all-inclusive vacation was our desire to travel soon after the birth of our second child, Anna. We knew roughing it was out with a 3-month old but we still wanted some sun and a bit of an escape so we booked ourselves and the grandparents into Marina El Cid in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, just south of Cancun. We thought it would be a one-time thing we could justify because hey, we had a small baby and hey, weren’t we brave to go ANYWHERE with a baby?
Upon arrival at Marina El Cid we found ourselves in a little piece of heaven. Powdery soft sand beach, warm turquoise blue ocean water, a gigantic swimming pool complex, spacious suites, attentive pool-side waiters, 3 delicious meals every day, it was all around amazing. Our first trip was September 2010 which is the start of the low-season so the resort was also fairly empty, meaning we had plenty of attention from staff for our every need and never ran into lines or crowds. Never. We all relaxed, slept, swam, dozed, ate, rested and had a marvelous time. We enjoyed a meal in the sleepy town center of Puerto Morelos and visited a small local zoo, but other than that reveled in the quiet isolation of this beautiful resort. For that phase of life with a newborn and an energetic 3 1/2 year old it was exactly what our family needed.
Fast forward to March 2011, 6 months after our first trip, when we returned to Marina El Cid, this time
with grandparents from the other side plus Steve’s brother and his family. Yet again we found ourselves in paradise. With Anna now 9 months old we had more freedom to leave the resort so we enjoyed a fabulous combination of relaxing beach and pooltime with excursions out of the complex (more on recommendations in an upcoming post).
As for tourism vs. traveling, while much of our vacation was spent in “cultural isolation,” our particular resort served authentic regional Mexican food which we enjoyed at every meal. The resort staff appreciated our attempts to converse with them in Spanish. Plus we left the resort multiple times, exploring the region as well as the local small town. Another plus for us was we chose a resort off the beaten tourism path so we did not encounter large touristy crowds, which can dilute any sort of authentic experience.
We won’t always stay at all-inclusive resorts. We thrive on eating local, talking local, staying local and love the thrill (and yes, the stress!) of travel logistics. But for our family we’ve discovered there are (at least) two specific times in life that make all-inclusives perfect. The first is when we want to travel with very little children. The predictability and comfort of an all-inclusive makes travel a possibility at a time when we otherwise would probably stay close to home. The other is traveling with extended family. Our extended family enjoys each other the most when there are minimum decisions to be made or schedules to keep.
To those of you who already knew how great all-inclusive resorts are, we apologize for our past snobbery. We’ve been won over and we are already planning next year’s stress-free getaway!