14 Resorts in 3-days!
In April 2017 I took an AmResorts “Fam Trip” a travel agent tour of several all-inclusive resorts in– Cancun, Cozumel, and Mayan Riviera, Mexico. I love these tours– a great way to see, eat, sleep, photograph, and meet the managers of some beautiful resorts. Here I will share some of the new and fun things going on at the resorts.
Seen one resort and you think you’ve seen them all? I don’t think so!
I now can say that I have stayed at, visited, and toured several all-inclusive resorts. My last trip when I stayed at a great all-inclusive on the Mayan Riviera was fantastic, and it may have even nudged its way up in rank over a cruise. In my opinion, this is the best vacation choice when needing some downtime and relaxation.
I have learned that all-inclusive resorts are not all the same. Although their structure is basically beach, swimming pools, food and bars, they really can be very different. Just like cruise ships, they have been evolving and updating too. Some can feel very garden and jungle-like with birds and iguanas, while others have a young South Beach Miami/Las Vegas ambiance. I’m also noticing more resorts focusing on health and wellness featuring smoothie bars, California lite cuisine, quality fitness centers, and outdoor training circuits.
Some questions to ask yourself and to relay to your travel planner when choosing a resort –
Swimmable beach or swimming pool, what’s more important?
Beach shade (from cabanas or palm trees)–nice for sleeping, reading, or keeping kids out the direct sun?
Room location? Ocean-front or garden view each have benefits. Ocean-front is great, but remember direct sun can make it hot in your room and on your balcony, plus you better have good dark curtains/shades for keeping out the morning sun. Garden view is obviously cooler (temperature-wise) and you have birds and flowering bushes for a setting. Some people prefer a location downstairs near the pool, usually if you have kids going in and out, and need to lug baby supplies.
Large or small resort? In a small resort the staff knows your name, and restaurants and pools are near. Large resort– the choice in activities, bars and restaurants is abundant. Also, if you like to go for morning or after-dinner walks, it’s like taking a stroll along the paths of a small village.
The a la cart restaurants that I have encountered in most resorts have been superb. Most resorts have some specialty restaurants that require a reservation. These can be steakhouses, Mediterranean, and Japanese with sushi. One resort I know of has an open-air thatched-roof lobster house where you can have lobster prepared every way possible. One evening we tried out what was called “culinary theater”. We dined slowly on a four-course meal while watching the chef on stage being projected on big screen monitors as he prepared each dish.
If you think you’ll want to participate in some activities outside of the resort, again resort location is key. Some resorts can be 2-3 hours from zip-lines, ATV rentals, and waterfall hikes. For instance, in Mexico, Riviera Maya around Playa del Carmen will be the better location than Cancun for being near the adventure parks, and cenote swim and snorkel areas. The same is true for Jamaica–the Ocho Rios area is where the bulk of jungle adventure tours are as opposed to the Negril side of the island.
Here is a list of some of the unique offerings and amenities I have seen in some of the all-inclusive resorts I’ve toured —
Heated bathroom floors
Jarred baby food offered at the buffet
Room scent and pillow menu
Adult au naturel beach areas
Beachside outdoor movies
Family rooms with minibar to include juice boxes and milk
I have just returned from a few days in Jamaica, where I attended a travel agent tour of resorts. I would like to share a couple of tidbits on what Montego Bay and the Ocho Rios area have to offer.
The Lay of the Land—
Sangster International airport in Montego Bay is the major airport, where 95% of passengers arrive.
Montego Bay has several resorts and from there you can go west about 1 ½ hours to the Negril area or about 1 ½ hours east to the Ocho Rios area. The one big difference I learned about these two areas is that Negril area resorts are all about the white sand beaches. I didn’t see Negril, I only toured Montego Bay and the Ocho Rios area. I heard someone say the two can be compared to the difference between Cancun and the Mayan Riviera. The resort beaches I saw at both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios were coves with quiet waves (good for swimming with children), although a little jagged and rocky, with landscapes that are tropical with trees and flowering bushes. Cruise ships dock on this east side of the island and there are many activities for excursions.
What To See and Do—
Dunn’s River Falls and river tubing
Horseback riding, swimming with dolphins, night kayaking in the luminous lagoon
Mystic Mountain–chairlift to the top of the hill above the tropical rainforest and bob-sled down and/or zip-line
Whitewater rafting on the Rio Bueno River, or a tranquil raft down the Martha Brae River
Many beautiful golf courses
Besides the gorgeous resorts, the other accommodations we toured were several beautiful villas. Some were standalone with very private waterfronts, and some were high on a hill overlooking the ocean and golf course inside of a resort. All had private pools, some came with golf carts for tooling around, all came with up to 5 house staff to cook, clean, and arrange for anything you might need. I was most amazed by the value of these. Some were 5-7 bedrooms that felt like staying in your own private resort. To rent one of these and split the cost for a family reunion or a group of golf friends would be ideal. The total price would end up being very reasonable.
I will definitely be back again. If I had to pick one personal favorite of the resorts we toured, mine would be the Half Moon Resort—golf, spa, tennis, dolphins, quiet, villas, cottages, beach, and superb restaurants.
My spa experiences while traveling are a fairly recent phenomenon. I have to say it all started the week that I overindulged–too many in 1 week, I just couldn’t take anymore. We were staying at La Quinta Resort just outside of Palm Springs. The fantastic hotel package that included unlimited daily golf (for you know who), and a daily spa treatment for me. What a way to sample the menu of treatments, some of which I’d never heard of before. The La Quinta Spa is a wonderful place and I made my reservations for the week, with a line-up of things like sacred hot stone, reflexology, an orange blossom wet scrub, and a facial. By the 4th day I was feeling like it was a little too much and I even tried to cancel the last one, but there was a penalty so I forged on to one more massage. Somehow, after (mostly enjoying) a week of excess, I felt I had evolved into a spa expert. And that is how I became more adventurous in the world of Spas.
In China, I had a half day to wander around by myself since my spouse wanted to take a long walk to Tiananmen Square and back. I was not interested since we were going to be there the next day on a tour anyway. I was walking around the neighborhood of our hotel and saw a massage place (I hate to say parlor). I walked in and asked if anyone spoke English–no, but the receptionist handed me a menu written in English and I chose a basic simple massage for 90 yuan — about $15. It was a really hot day and the building was not air-conditioned. I was led to a room that was hot, humid and smelled of cigarette smoke. The girl had me put on silk pajamas for my massage, and she did a great job. It was a nice experience, no English spoken the whole time and the girls were very friendly.
Cusco, Peru: this was probably the creepiest experience. This place was upstairs over a tattoo parlor. I was a little over-anxious about being able to see my belongings while I had my head in the table. This was because the walls were curtains, so I ended up moving my stuff underneath the table so I could watch it.
Since I’m not crazy about spending top dollar for hotel spa treatments, I’ve learned you can usually go down the road for a lot less. This is what I did in Scottsdale, AZ. Again we were on a golf trip staying at a nice resort. I’m sure they had a nice spa, but before we left home I had googled the neighborhood and found a nice place with a specials coupon and made a reservation.
Sometimes, I indulge while on a cruise. Ships will usually have special prices on port days. The last time I had a spa treatment on a cruise was in St Croix. My masseuse was a lovely lady who told me all about her granddaughter, who called her “grand-nanny”. Grand-nanny was only 37 years old! I’ve read that when cruising and you want to know the inside scoop at the ports, ask the crew. I asked her about what to do in St Croix and she told me where to find a public free beach within walking distance of the ship where the locals and crew go. I followed her instructions and it was a quite suitable beach.
In a couple months we are going to Italy and we will have several free days in Siena. Isn’t this the land of Roman baths? Guess what I’ll be looking for?
Slow Travel: this topic has recently caught my attention. In the past I have always been a pretty hyper traveler. Usually, travelers have a short time in one place and I try to cram in as much as possible before moving on. It was on my last trip to New York City that I started to seriously thing about going slower. During that trip my husband and I stayed in the same hotel for 6 days. It was nice to spread my stuff out, hang clothes in the closet, plug in the white-noise machine, and really settle in. After that trip I started to examine other ways to take it slow. Hotels– Boutique hotels have become the new trend, replacing the popularity of B&B’s of the 80’s and 90’s. For the slow traveler a hotel is more than just a place to sleep at night. It is also considered part of the location experience. If you are in Inverness, Scotland, do you want to stay at a sterile chain hotel? On the other hand, it could be dangerous to enjoy your hotel so much that you don’t want to get out and sightsee. I remember staying at a hotel in Beijing, where there was a large breakfast buffet area with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a tranquil garden. Each morning there would be a Tai Chi class going on outside the window. Watching participants dressed in white and moving slowly together in unison made you want to eat slow and linger. I’m sure the hotel had that arranged on purpose. Cruises– There is a new flavor of international cruises which feature ships staying longer in a port. I know that Azamara was one of the first to start this. Usually a ship stays in port about 8 hours during the day. More and more, some cruise lines are staying in port overnight. This way people can visit a city in the evening and enjoy the nightlife. Sometimes, the feel of a city is very different at night than in the day. Another type of cruise that fits this slow pace is the repositioning cruise, where you can be at sea for 5-6 days at a time. All-Inclusive Resorts– To me, this is the kind of vacation that people with stressful, high-pressure, and physically-demanding jobs crave. They love the idea of falling into a beachside lounge chair and hardly moving from it for the week. This is the ultimate slow vacation. Drinks are brought to you and the restaurants are only a few steps away.
Everyday I discover more on this topic, and I plan to continue reading up on this immersive style of travel. But I will be doing it slowly…