All-Inclusives should be easy, right?
March 28, 2013 7:32 AM   Subscribe

In about a month, 3 friends and I are going to an all-inclusive in Cancun. I'm fairly well-travelled, but I prefer going to cities and exploring around, so I've never done a cruise or any type of beachy resort vacation. What kind of tips/tricks does Metafilter have for getting the most out of relaxing, and drinking tropical drinks on the beach all day?

Some (maybe) pertinent details...There are 4 women going, all in our early 30s. We will be there for 4 days, and are using a timeshare at an all-inclusive resort on the "hotel strip" on the beach. I've been to Mexico before (Guadalajara, about 4 years ago), none of the other 3 have. 2 of us speak very rudimentary Spanish, 2 are at a conversational level.

Right now, the only planned excursion from the hotel is taking the ferry over to Isla Mujeres and bumming around the island for an afternoon. We enjoy eating, drinking, dancing, shopping, general fun activities. However, Senor Frogs, Margaritaville, Cheeseburgers in Paradise et al (and any other club that advertises 'foam parties') is our personal hell.

What are the tips/tricks you've learned from going to all-inclusive vacations? Should we bring anything that isn't obvious? (example: I saw a suggestion to bring a Thermos, so you can keep your drinks colder for longer than in the plastic cups they give you) Are there any safety concerns, apart from the normal precautions taken when travelling? Is there anything we should definitely check out in Cancun?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Fig to Travel & Transportation around Cancún, Mexico (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Even if your resort says that gratuities are included in your bill, giving a buck or two (US dollars are fine) to the waitstaff who bring you free margaritas while you relax on the beach will help keep 'em coming back with more free margaritas.

Don't let yourself feel guilty about not doing lots of cultural stuff. Just enjoy it. My Cancun vacation with my wife a few years ago was the best and most relaxing trip I've ever taken!
posted by wolfnote at 8:01 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The one tip I would give you is that rather than worry about carrying a thermos, when your drink gets warm or watery, dump it out and get another.

Also, bring more reading material than you think you will need. You will read faster than you think.

The two times I went to an all inclusive, I wore my good luck drinking sneakers, but that is just me. Also, sun block is not included. Bring lots.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:01 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I read a whole lot of reviews of our resort on TripAdvisor before my all-inclusive honeymoon in Jamaica, which was very helpful. Yes, bring a bigger cup (I just went to the Dollar Store and got two big double-walled tumblers instead of a Thermos) - not just to keep your drink cold, but so you can lie on the beach for a long time instead of going to the bar over and over. Bring a candle to light in your room, since even if it's clean the humidity can leave a musty smell. Use your in-room safe. Check out the "entertainment" provided by the resort in the evenings. One of the funniest parts of our trip was the all-Jamaican cast lip-synching scenes from Greece, especially because the dude playing Danny Zuko did not speak much English and it was like watching a live-action puppet.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:03 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, far be it from me to criticize other people's idea of relaxation, but my own humble advice would be to get as far away from your all-inclusive as possible. About a day of that sort of thing would drive me up the wall. YMMV, of course. If you have to stick around, all I can say is get into that beautiful ocean and stay there.

Food is always a problem with all-inclusives, as the rule of thumb in Mexican touristy areas is, the more you pay, the worse the food. The food of Mexico is the most varied and interesting in the world, but in the resorts, it's generally awful. Especially if it's on steam tables. My advice would be to find street food -- but that's hard in a place like Cancun. Cancun does have a proper city attached, but most people never go there. That's where you will find Mexicans and real Mexican food. But Cancun city is nobody's idea of an attractive city; it's a dirty, crowded traffic hell. I happen to enjoy hell myself!

In the hotel strip of Cancun, everybody speaks English, because everybody is your servant. Most of the tourists never have a word of Spanish. That's much less true in the stinky town, or out on the road.

What I would do is rent a car and drive somewhere, even though driving in Mexico can be a little hair-raising. You have some interesting places not too far away -- the attractive market town of Valladolid is not too far, 1.5 hours down the (toll) highway. There's interesting shopping there, if that's your thing, and the town is lovely. The famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are just beyond (expect huge crowds). The ruins of Tulum are about the same distance to the south. Merida is probably too far, alas. The smaller-scale resort town of Playa Del Carmen is closer, but it's just more of the same as Cancun, only lower-rise. There are tons of attractive towns along the coast, but they're hard to spot.

One fun thing to do is snorkel at Yal-ku Laguna in the little town of Akumal -- pay a few bucks for entry and gear, and you will see thousands of incredible fish. There are lots of other places to snorkel too; probably easier for you right there in Cancun is to hit up one of the many boat tours out to the reef. Your AI probably has their own, or if not can hook you up.

Avoid like the plague the big government-sponsored water parks like Xel-ha and Xcaret unless you are into big amusement parks like Disneyland. Much better, in my opinion, would be a smaller tour to the cenotes, the magnificent limestone sinkholes that dot the Yucatan Peninsula. Again, your AI should be able to hook you up. These have beautiful caves, and delicious cool freshwater swimming (sometimes both, though I get freaked out swimming into caves myself). Now that I think about it, the cenotes are the thing I miss the most about the Yucatan (well, that and the paletas and the cochinita pibil!).

I wouldn't worry about safety, even on the street. For possible tummy effects, take a teaspoon of Pepto-Bismol every morning -- it will neutralize most baddies you encounter. The one time I got sick, it was from chewing my fingernails.
posted by Fnarf at 8:15 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

There will be someone at the resort that can help you plan excursions.

Definitely visit the Tulum or Coba ruins, they're pretty close by. Chichen Itza is amazing but the bus ride is close to 3 hours each way. There are plenty of fun day activities for tourists - snorkeling, parasailing, horseback riding, swimming with dolphins - that will provide a counterpoint to the lazy days between the pool and the buffet.
posted by gnutron at 8:25 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: Seconding taking lots to read. I took my entire stash of New Yorkers that I hadn't had time for. Magazines were nice because I could take a couple each day and not care if they didn't make it back with me. Also yes to tipping. We tipped generously the first day and never wanted for a thing after that.

For a day trip, the Coba ruins were astounding. About 90 minutes south of Cancun, and someone at your resort will get you hooked up if you want to go.

I was skeptical of the all-inclusive experience before I went, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. It's a different kind of vacation than adventuring around, but perfectly delightful in its own way if you just relax into it.
posted by donnagirl at 8:28 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Stay hydrated. And not just with booze or sugary drinks, with actual water. Stick to bottled water, and don't add ice. At least one for every alcoholic drink.
posted by photoexplorer at 8:31 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: When I was in this area, I went snorkeling in Cozumel which was pretty awesome. I didn't stay at an all inclusive, but I did stay at my friend's aunt's kinda cheesy timeshare. I get wanting to do cultural things when in another country, but there's something to be said I think for a cheeseball few days hanging by the pool and drinking margaritas. We rented a huge bed and lazed all day for a good two days, apart from the trip to Cozumel. It was great and very relaxing/refreshing.
posted by sweetkid at 8:33 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, definitely check out the runs at Tulum and Coba, neither of which are vary far. If you rent a car for a day, neither is far and the road network is very simple so you can't get lost. The town of Tulum is a low-key, and a nice place to stop for lunch. Chichen Itza is, IMO, too far for a day trip on a 4-day resort trip.

Be careful about drinking too much alcohol. Drink lots of water.
posted by mkultra at 8:33 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: Dude, just relax. No one's judging you for having a good time and not doing your best Anthony Bourdain impression.
posted by downing street memo at 8:34 AM on March 28, 2013 [26 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have AI recommendations, but I want to support you in your plan to go to Isla Mujeres for a day. It's lovely! Also, I was a little nervous to go snorkeling with random guys offering their services on the beach there, but my friend said we should try it - it was very cool to see the reef.

And OMG yes to the sunscreen. Especially if you go snorkeling or otherwise spend a lot of time in the water (as you should).
posted by ldthomps at 8:34 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Tulum, also see if you can get to the water park, Xel-ha for a day. That was really fun and I wish I'd gotten there earlier when I vacationed in Playa del Carmen a few years ago.
posted by sundaydriver at 9:03 AM on March 28, 2013

Isla Mujeres is a nice place, and pretty too! Rent a bike and tool around the island for your afternoon, or just head straight for the sea turtle sanctuary.

Also, nth'ing the suggestion of making it down to Tulum (or even Coba) if you can. Tulum has some nice, well-preserved ruins and a lot of interesting food in tiny restaurants right off the main drag. Coba has even more spectacular ruins but not a whole lot else.

finally, I guess the only resort-specific tip I can give is that the outdoor hot tub at ours closed at like 9pm. Bummer! YMMV though depending on which one you're at.
posted by xbonesgt at 9:38 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: is Playa del Carmen-centric, but is my go-to reference for the area and what's hot right now in terms of excursions and ruins/cenote outings.

I've stayed on Isla Mujeres for several days, and we were there (in an apartment) for hardcore relaxing so it was perfect. There's not actually much to do, an afternoon should be very pleasant. See the forum above for restaurant ideas.

Cover yourself. I burn the bejesus out of myself in weird places every time I go, like the time I burnt my knees so bad I couldn't bend them, and the time I got a blistered sunburn under a canopy because of the sun bouncing off the sand. I still have and use the many cheap pareos (giant scarf/sarong) you can buy 3/$10 in any tourist area, and now know how to use them as skirts/shawls/headcover/foot shade/etc. And we could not obtain any Noxema or Solarcaine (though I could have gotten Vicodin at the farmacia), so be the hero and take some.

I really liked the ruins at Coba, but at least when I was last there some years ago the only way to get to the pyramid (unless you wanted to walk a really long way, which nobody did) was either to rent a bike or take a pedicab. Riding in pedicabs gives me the huhs, and I'm not a great bike rider.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:40 AM on March 28, 2013

Cruise critic message board discussion of Cancun. They talk a lot about all-inclusives and other excursions.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:57 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just got back from a week long shoot in Tulum a couple days ago.

Coba is a must-do. Rent a bike. Climb - its worth the effort. GET SMALL BILLS for your pesos. Everyone wants small bills but nobody wants to break the 100, 200, 500's... what a hassle. If you can, head as far south as possible. I stayed at La Zebra and it was terrific. Even on the most crowded day, it felt like having the beach to yourself (10 other people, tops.) Great, varied restaurants/bars in the area too - Linas, Ziggys, Mateos, Om, casa banana.... Xel-Ha is theme parkish but worth it - all you can eat (decent food) and all you can drink (generous bartenders) and great water-oriented activities.

Avoid these guys like the plague. Call Jeff and Kate at Adventure tour center at Mateo's for your tour needs!

A few snapshots in my flickr stream if you're interested and feel free to email if you've got any other questions.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:06 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went a few years ago with a friend. We rented a car for a large part of the time, and drove round Valladolid and the other towns in the interior. So, so much nicer and more interesting than Cancun itself.

Worth mentioning my friend spoke excellent Spanish, but if none of you do, just go with the pidgin thing and be nice to people - we had a great time getting out of the main area. Frankly, even if you get off the strip for dinner it's worthwhile!

Really, just get out of Cancun for a few days.

And, my most important personal bit of advice, don't let the local rozzers catch you peeing in a bush! (That's probably an overshare, I know.)
posted by lucullus at 10:10 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: I did an all inclusive in Jamaica a few years ago, and while I went into it thinking it wasn’t my kind of vacation (we were going for a wedding) I had an amazing time. I think you already have the big key to enjoying one of these types of vacations – you are going with friends. I had so much fun just hanging out with my friends, talking, laughing, and generally just enjoying spending time together. I brought a ton of books with me, since I thought I was going to be bored, and I think I probably read maybe 20 pages of one and that was it.

While laying by the pool, drinking frozen drinks is a big focus, also make sure to check out all the things your resort has. Ours had pool tables, ping pong (we still talk about the epic ping pong battles we had!) a giant outdoor chess set, snorkeling, kayaks, a huge library, a lazy river, a night club and shows every night. Plus everyday there were employees who organized things like volleyball games or water polo. So, we had plenty of stuff to do without leaving the resort much (we did do one excursion and leave one other time to shop)

It is definitely is a different kind of vacation from exploring, sightseeing, etc., but it seems silly to book an all inclusive and then avoid being there.

And despite not being local, authentic dishes, the food at our resort was great!
posted by Sabby at 10:22 AM on March 28, 2013

I like all-inclusives if they're "upscale" enough with great food, which some of them have... and you have the option to leave to find dinner on your own, of course. But in Cancun, I'm surprised that no one above mentioned a must-visit place: Xel-Ha. That's my go-to place in my fantasy life when the snow is blowing and the sun hasn't come out in Michigan for 17 days. It's some kind of world with a capital w eco-preservation place and I *love* it. Happy trip and know that you're the object of envy of many here!
posted by Lornalulu at 10:36 AM on March 28, 2013

I'm surprised that no one above mentioned a must-visit place: Xel-Ha.
I suggested it...
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If drinks are included, name your liquors when ordering drinks, since it costs the same for the bottom and top shelf. (Although the top shelf is usually not that high.)
posted by smackfu at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: I have a couple. First, you can drink the water in the Cancún "zone hotelera," which is basically the whole sandbar where the beachfront resorts sit. That means you can safely enjoy blended drinks, ice water, etc. This does not apply in the city of Cancún proper. It does not even apply in the airport!

Second, your friends don't need more than a few words of Spanish, but it is greatly appreciated. My Spanish is execrable, but more than one server mentioned that many Americans speak not one word. We're talking about spending fifteen minutes practicing along with a Berlitz CD, repeated a few times.
posted by wnissen at 11:18 AM on March 28, 2013

You don't need a thermos, but if you would like to have that morning coffee on the beach, a travel mug is a good idea. Many all-inclusives either don't do the carry-out thing at all, or give you extremely tiny cups.
posted by rpfields at 11:59 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: Isla Mujeres is awesome, so make sure you don't miss that. I would suggest doing it early in your trip, because you might end up liking it better over there than at your resort, and if so, you'd have time to go back a second time.
posted by spilon at 1:38 PM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: One thing to be aware of is that if your friends are really into the "lie around on the beach all day" kind of vacation and you make plans to jet off and do exciting things elsewhere, there will be tension. Before you get all excited about the stuff nearby, think about the extent to which you want to share your vacation with the friends you're travelling with.

Me? I'd pack plenty of sunscreen, a good pair of sunglasses, a broad-brimmed hat, and a Kindle, and prepare to sack out hard. But I like that kind of thing.
posted by KathrynT at 3:11 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have probably already checked this out, but the first time we went to an all inclusive in mexico it also had a time share section. A couple we met had been gifted the time share, but it turned out it didn't come with all inclusive option like the rest of the hotel. You had to pay extra for the days you were there. In cancun this would not be a problem because there is tons of great places to eat and drink and places to buy beer and liquor, but you would want to know ahead of time.

I have only been to the hotel zone once and as much as i have ragged on the area and claimed we only liked smaller towns south, i had a great time. all the resorts pools face the beach so you don't really notice all the hustle and bustle out front unless you want too. it is kind like vegas, sure it is cheesy, but embrace the cheesy and you will probably have a great time.
posted by domino at 1:46 PM on January 22, 2014

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