Mexico: The good, bad and ugly of all-inclusives


Meridian Writers' Group

CHACALAL, Mexico-I laze in a dreamy state. The Mexican sun beats down; I'm into a page-turner of a novel. A waiter goes by delivering free tropical drinks. What's not to love? This is life at a dazzling resort perched on a perfect beach on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Did I mention it is all-inclusive?

These days, all-inclusive resorts have become as numerous as mariachi bands throughout Mexico. The all-in-one price, which covers your airfare, hotel, some activities, meals and drinks, make it the most cost-efficient way to relax in the sun.

Here's the good, bad and ugly of an all-inclusive stay. I'll use the five-star Hotel Gran Bahia Principe Akumal, a 30-minute drive from Playa del Carmen, as my example, but most of what follows applies to just about any all-inclusive. Read on and decide if it's the vacation for you.

The good: top of the list is price. Depending on the week, it may be as cheap as $799 or, at a five-star during prime time, $2,500. You travel on a charter flight so there is no stopover.

Sports enthusiasts love the tennis, volleyball, water sports and fitness centres. You may be able to luxuriate in a spa, have your hair braided or get henna tattoos. There's a wide choice of day excursions, mostly at extra cost. Wee ones often have their own activities, daycare may be available and there may even be pint-size buffets. The pool areas usually have specific designations: some suit families, others let the rowdier sort play organized pool games to blasting music.

The food is always plentiful. We appreciated the fresh daily fare at the buffets. If you tire of buffet there are usually à la carte restaurants. (On our package we could book three dinners at these more upscale eateries.) There is entertainment - in our case it included a Michael Jackson look-alike show. Booze flows liberally - tequila shooter before lunch anyone? Some places have free Internet service.

The bad: you will inevitably have to wear a brightly coloured plastic bracelet on your wrist to identify yourself as a guest and let staff know what package you're on.

While the wine is free, other than at the à la carte restaurants, it is often borderline drinkable. (Despite this, many times at dinner we observed fellow diners ordering two or three glasses at once!) And while your flight is direct, you may travel at ungodly hours: a 9 a.m. departure meant leaving our beds at 3 a.m.

The ugly: at the Bahia Principe we quickly learned that if you don't have a towel on a beach chair around your chosen pool by 7 a.m. you could forget about it. One group designated a runner to stake six chairs each morning. Most unpopular were the people who threw down their towels but never arrived to use the chairs. There were verbal exchanges over this. The worst story we heard was of a man who took the chair cushion to his room every night to ensure his pool space. Even paradise has a downside.

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