A relaxed resort vacation

Sunday, 11 January 2009 | Tags: , , ,

I just came back from a week at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. With Vancouver's hellish winter weather, it was the perfect time to get away.

We stayed at the Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Resort, about 15 minutes outside of Playa Del Carmen, south of Cancun.

There are over 400 all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, and while this type of vacation isn’t for everyone, I like them for those holidays when I want to tune out and do as little as possible. There are no big decisions to make beyond what time to go for dinner and what poolside drink to order next.

But picking a vacation spot can be tricky… especially when you’re doing it sight unseen. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure you get what you pay for.

The Grand Esmeralda is a very big resort, over 900 rooms. But they’re spread out over many buildings and a sprawling property. (They even provide constant golf cart services to haul guests around.) Despite its size and the number of occupants over the holidays, it only ever felt crowded at the beach.

While many people feel the cuisine is often the downfall of many an all-inclusive resort, I was pleasantly surprised. The buffets were truly plentiful and tasty. For New Year’s Eve they served all you can eat lobster tails and shrimp. Yum!

Drinks were another story. While the resort had plenty of tropical fruit drinks to choose from, the alcoholic versions tasted watered down. Plus, the wine selection was minimal. If we wanted something beyond the house red or white, we had to buy it, by the bottle.

Because the staff at most all-inclusive resorts don’t get tips, the service can sometimes be less than stellar. I like to ensure better service by tipping some staff, like the bartender at my favourite bar or the maid who cleans my room.

And I wasn’t afraid to complain if I wasn’t getting good service. A surly barista refused to make us coffee before 10 am. (Hello!? A girl’s gotta wake up!) We got effusive apologies from the manager and a free bottle of tequila was waiting in our room that evening.

We also toured some neighbouring resorts and hotels to made notes for future vacations. And in the dreary doldrums of January, that “future” can’t come soon enough!

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