Why we don’t like resorts: The top 5 reasons we have a better time at local accommodations, and why we recommend ditching the swim-up bar for the small hotels
Resorts are enticing. Beautiful photos of beaches and palapa umbrellas, gigantic swimming pools with swim-up bars, buffets and entertainment. Many even include all-inclusive deals with all you can eat and ALL YOU CAN DRINK. We’ve been to a couple resorts, and we’ve determined that we prefer to stay at local places. Here’s why:
1. It’s not always the best deal.
Some all-inclusive resorts may seem like a good deal, but you can often find cheaper (and much better) food and accommodations in the local towns. Unless you are planning on getting completely wasted and sleeping off a hangover by the pool every day like the spring break crowd, it really isn’t as great of a deal as it sounds. When we went to Mexico in 2009, I started weighing prices of all inclusive resorts with small local hotels and it ended up being much cheaper to go with the small hotels.
2. The resort bubble.
Resorts are little bubbles of canned vacation. You are isolated away from the local people and culture. Sure, the resort employees put on “cultural shows” and dances for you, but it is always such a phony act and really doesn’t show you anything about the place you are visiting. The couple times we’ve stayed at a resort, we were most curious about what was outside the resort, which is often hard to get to because many resorts are isolated from local towns. They are meant to be somewhere to spend all your time and money. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is full of all-inclusive resorts, but there is almost nothing nearby. You can fly into Punta Cana airport, go to your resort, fly home, and say you’ve been to the Dominican Republic. But did you really see the Dominican Republic? Not really.
3. The food
A big part of our travel experience (probably the biggest for Paddy) is the local food. We are always so excited to try street food, dishes we’ve never had before, see what local people create with local ingredients. Resorts are full of buffets and touristy restaurants. You won’t get a real taste of the local cuisine at a buffet. You may even have a better chance of food poisoning at a resort buffet than eating street food in the towns. Tip: Avoid the hollandaise sauce.
4. The other resort guests
Then there are the other resort guests. Depending on what resort you are at and where you are, you could have a range of other people that specifically go only to resorts on vacations. You have the drunk parents at the swim up bar letting their kids run amok, assuming the overwhelmed staff will babysit them. You have the snooty women complaining that their room was “dirty” and there wasn’t enough fresh towels left yesterday afternoon. If you’re at an all inclusive in Mexico or the Dominican Republic you probably have the twentysomething “spring break” crowd rowdily boozing it up every where you turn, every hour of the day, and the ‘Merican couple from Indiana thinking they can speak Spanish to the staff by adding an o to the end of every English word. And then you have the people complaining about why they should tip if it is all-inclusive? (If tipping is part of the culture, tip. Because the staff probably work all month to make what you just spent on one night here. )
5. Service industry empathy
Paddy and I grew up in a tourist town, and have spent many grueling summers cooking for and waiting on tourists. At resorts, we find ourselves bellied up to the bar asking the bartender about his life. And we find out that his family lives three hours away and he works 12 day stretches and sees his family two days a month. But this is a good job. And enough about him–who wants another drink? It’s time to party!
When we travel to other places, we like to meet locals. You don’t get to meet very many local people in resorts (see “resort bubble” above). We also cringe while watching self-entitled resort guests order the resort staff around, not tipping, and being generally rude. It’s all par for the course in the industry, and I’m sure many of the resort jobs are really good jobs that the staff are lucky to have. However, we have a hard time separating ourselves from it and just end up empathizing with the resort staff the whole time.
Resorts always look really nice in the photos. They are an easy getaway that takes little planning. However, every time we travel, the best experiences are at the local hotels. Meeting new people, trying local dishes, attempting to communicate when we don’t speak the language and learning about the local culture are always what we enjoy the most. Discovering the undiscovered, seeing something new. We may end up at a resort again sometime down the road–maybe when we are old and just want a vacation involving laying around all day on the beach with little adventure. But that won’t be anytime soon.