In Defense of the All-Inclusive Resort Vacation

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of all-inclusive resorts.

What’s not to love about AI resorts? 

I have no problem with beaches, pools, buffets and all the margaritas you can drink. I love aqua aerobic classes and cheesy nightly shows. So why do I usually turn my nose up at AI resorts? Because I don’t think they’re real traveling. And yes, I acknowledge that this is my inner travel snob talking!

To me, traveling is discovering new places, trying new foods, seeing attractions, interacting with local people, learning more about the local culture and having genuine experiences in a new place. Most of that is hard to accomplish at the swim up bar of a resort. That’s not to say it’s impossible – you can always leave the resort, go into town and discover something new. But I think the problem is when people don’t. I know lots of people who don’t experience more of the world outside of their AI resort.

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So what changed?

My perspective!  I still don’t think spending a week at an all-inclusive resort is traveling. But, I do think it is a vacation. And those are sometimes not the same thing. In my opinion, a vacation is a break from your real life where you get to relax and recharge. On vacation you don’t have an itinerary and you’re not constantly on the move. It’s not always possible to fit in a lot of “vacation” time when you’re busy traveling through a new country. But an AI resort is all about the vacation!

Our trip to Mexico

Colin and I just got back from a week at an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco, Mexico. I was hesitant when this vacation opportunity first came up. I really didn’t want to spend money on a week at a resort. But the idea of ticking Mexico off my list (I can’t believe I hadn’t been to Mexico yet!) and spending time with my boyfriend in the sun, instead of alone in Snowcouver, sold me on it.

The view from our room!

The view from our room!

And I’m super glad we went! Things have been a bit stressful in the last month or so preparing for our move, Colin’s mom selling the house and trying to fit my freelance work and new job opportunities in where I can. It was really nice to take a break from it all. I originally thought I would bring my laptop and just do my freelance work in Mexico. But I wanted to have an actual vacation. So I worked hard ahead of time and spoke with my editors so that I could have a full week off. I still did a bit of work but I was mainly in relaxation mode!

Hola Senor Iguana!

Hola Senor Iguana!

I loved our routine in Mexico: sleep in late, head to the Mexico restaurant for breakfast, meet Colin’s family on the beach, grab lunch, switch to the pool, shower up, go to dinner, and then enjoy some music or entertainment outside. We mixed things up with some aqua fitness classes and catching some of the nightly shows as well.

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And we also did some non-resort activities. We took a cab into town one day and got to visit the local market, a church and a famous pizzeria. We also went on a snorkelling excursion, but I got seasick and came home early. And we did get to practice and use our Spanish, which was a really fun challenge. I loved using my limited language skills with the staff and learning new words en espanol! So we did get a dose of “travel” on our vacation.

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So really no complaints about lying under beach umbrellas, dipping in the ocean, grazing the buffet (there were churros!), dancing to a DJ and drinking way too many margaritas. But now we’re back to real life: packing, cleaning and working. While I don’t miss the constant sunscreen application, I do miss the waves, drinks, sun and chill vibes that you might only be able to find at an all-inclusive resort.

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

The Lees take The Dominican Republic!

Christmas is my favourite holiday. And I’m a pretty big supporter of spending the holidays back home with family and not escaping to some Caribbean resort.  But this year, I got to do both!

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I had a whirlwind tour of Toronto that lead straight into a sleepless Christmas Eve and 4am airport arrival on Christmas Day for our flight down to Puerto Plata.  14 Lees, including 4 under 8 years old, boarded the plane to spend a week stuffing our faces, sunning our skin and enjoying one another’s company. It was busy, humid and blissful – all at the same time!

Highlights of our trip:

Pools, beaches & endless drinks: Everyday was some lovely combination of wading in the Atlantic Ocean, playing in the sand, swimming in the pools and complimenting all of that water time with delicious strawberry daquiris (poco rum por favor!).  I especially loved watching Lee and Nathaniel dig huge holes on the beach (for hours!), doing hilarious aqua aerobics with my dad (who was the only male in the class), and catching our resident Water Baby, Lara, as she flung herself tirelessly back and forth in the pools.

Jade living the island life

Jade living the island life

The boys & a bird

The boys & a bird

All that food! Suffice to say, we ate A LOT in the DR. I honestly don’t remember feeling hungry at any point during our trip.  Some of the food was better than others; some was a lot better.  My favourite meal was our night at the a la carte seafood restaurant where I was ready to marry my salmon entree.  A few other dishes, like the warm bread pudding, chicken parm at the Italian restaurant, or the daily omelette station at breakfast were close competitors, but the salmon won out.  However, the insane feast they put out for New Year’s Eve (complete with ice sculptures, a sushi station and multiple roast pigs) was probably the most impressive to witness.

Nightly shows: Every night our resort put on a show.  And most nights it wasn’t that spectacular.  The magic show was creepy, the African show was a little culturally-insensitive and we never did make it to the tropical show.  But Michael Jackson Night was, surprisingly, stellar! We were blown away by the MJ look-a-like, the amazingly talented dancers and the perfect compilation of Michael hits.  We were that family clapping and singing along in the back row.  We’re sorry.

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Dune buggies! While I opted out of the waterfall outing (it involved hiking and leaping – no thank you), I was pretty stoked for dune buggies.  Our family of five headed out to drive over bumps and through puddles on a course that took us into a forest, village, field and beach! It was crazy messy and a huge adrenaline rush to be going so fast.  I even put my fears aside and took the wheel for a stretch of it.  The whole morning was a ton of fun and I would definitely recommend it.  However, don’t wear flip flops to drive – big mistake.

Dune buggies!

Dune buggies!

A ride up the cable car: We headed off the resort one day and up the cable car (of which mountain, I couldn’t even say) to get a great aerial view of Puerto Plata.  The views were awesome and the cool trails at the top made for a very scenic mini-hike.  After the mountain, a few of us headed into the city centre for lunch, a walk and a visit to the Amber Museum.  Lunch was a bit of a gong show, but all in all the day was enjoyable.  It was nice to spend some time away from our resort and to practice my Espanol!

The views of Puerto Plata

The views of Puerto Plata

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Ocean World: Another off-resort activity took us to Ocean World, where we snorkelled in a pool with fish, took in sea lion, dolphin and shark shows, played with birds and hung out on the beach.  Sure, it was a bit overpriced and definitely catering to tourists, but that didn’t stop us from being in awe of the amazing animals. Jade even has plans to get a degree in marine biology and return to work as a trainer!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Awesome family moments: The best part about our trip was spending so much time with this side of my family. Jadey and I roomed together, and got to bond over hilariously loud shower songs, early morning wake-ups and helpful sunscreen applications.  Dad worked hard at improving his (very limited) Spanish during our week in the DR and it was really fun to help him out with that.  Staying up late and drinking with our uncles will always be a fun time that Jade and I won’t forget.  And bringing out the girly side of our adorable cousin Lara by painting her nails and singing Frozen songs at the top of our lungs is easily one of my favourite memories.

Jade & baby Lara :)

Jade & baby Maddy 🙂

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From getting all dressed up for nightly dinners and dancing at the New Year’s Eve party to walks along the beach at night and a luxurious visit to the spa, this trip was certainly awesome and unforgettable.

Welcome to Paradise…

…Island, The Bahamas!

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My parents planned a surprise family vacation and the mystery destination was badabadabadabada (that’s a drum roll) ATLANTIS in THE BAHAMAS!

This is a pretty big trip for a family who is used to weekends in Buffalo and shopping trips to Michigan.  Perhaps my parents have become island junkies.  Their last two vacations were to Hawaii (Jade and I were left at home) and Jamaica (Jade made the cut for that one, I did not).  Anyway, we were all psyched for The Bahamas. It was supposed to be a surprise for everyone but I think I was the only one in the dark.

Lee trying to navigate

We took a flight out of Buffalo to Charlotte, NC and then from there to Nassau, Bahamas.  We stayed at Harborside Resort, an apartment-style hotel across from Atlantis.  We had full access to all of the amenities at Atlantis (water parks, beaches, casino, etc.) but had the luxury of a full-kitchen and living space.

Part of the Royal Towers

Atlantis is absolutely breathtaking! Apart from how huge the whole complex is (there are shuttles to get from the different buildings), we were stunned by all the detail.  Mirrors covered in seashells and leaf imprints on the concrete steps.

Our view of Atlantis

Our apartment-hotel complex

Our first day we explored the property (or the quarter of it we were able to get through).  We walked through the most impressive aquarium exhibit I’ve ever seen and checked out the pools and water slides.

Jade directing fish traffic

The next day we decided to do Atlantis right – swimming in the pools! There were lots of pools to choose from and a bunch of cool water slides to try.  My favourite (and the only one we ended up going on) was an inner-tube slide that spits you out into a shark pool! Granted, you’re still in the tube, which is in a tunnel, but technically I was swimming with the sharks!

Floating through a tunnel next to the sharks

We also went on the Rapid River (think Lazy River on steroids) which Jade and I enjoyed.  Ali and Lee didn’t have as great a time.  They got tossed out of their tube a few times and Ali actually ended up hitting her head.  Silver lining: while alerting management to the hazardous elements of the ride, Ali was offered a free dolphin excursion that Jade and I got to enjoy!

Nurse Sharks looking hungry

On our third day we decided to take the ferry into Nassau.  We passed a bunch of cool beachside properties (apparently one was Mick Jagger’s) and some very impressive cruise ships.  Once in town, we hit up the liquor store because nothing says family vacay like drinking beer out of paper bags! We visited the very touristy Straw Market where Lee picked out necklaces for Jade and me.  After that we headed over to the Fish Fry for some “authentic” (or so our cabbie said so) Bahamian cuisine.  It was pretty yummy but everything was fried.  I guess I could have deduced that from the name of the area…

Classy Family Photo FTW

Lee chowing down at the Fish Fry

After a day in town we spent the night exploring the Marina Village.  We got ice cream and then Jade and I went to watch 21 Jump Street (hilarious, btw) at the movie theatre in Atlantis.

Hi Stingrays!

Day 4 had us back at the pools at Atlantis. We visited one pool that had windows at the back where you could see right into an aquarium.  We visited the beach and walked through lots of the marine life exhibits to see sea turtles, sharks and sting rays!  That night we cooked fish in our own kitchen that Ali had bought from the seafood market in town. Delish!

Our 5th day was definitely a lazy one.  Jade and I took Lee to the pool at our resort and then met our parents back in the room.  Everyone napped, watched TV and lounged around.  I think the intense heat was finally getting to us.  That night we enjoyed home cooked lobster (also from the market).  Bahamian lobsters look a lot more ferocious than the ones I enjoy in Chinatown.

Hi Lobster

Thursday, Jade and I headed off to the dolphin excursion.  The whole family had already been swimming with dolphins in Jamaica so now it was my turn.  We had to wear a wetsuit…worst thing I’ve ever put on! It was hot and uncomfortable and not remotely flattering.  Once in the water, we were introduced to Cosmo, the biggest dolphin at Atlantis.  We gave him pats and high fives.  And then Bimini, one of the younger dolphins, came by for hugs, kisses and more pats.  Her dad, Echo, came to join her so we got more dolphin time!  After taking some photos and getting splashed, all of the dolphins came together to put on a little show of flips for us.  Dolphins are such beautiful creatures and so friendly.  It was definitely a memorable experience.

Lee making friends with a sea turtle

After the dolphins, we met up with the rest of the fam and spent the day swimming at Atlantis.  That night we went out for dinner at Dune, a fancy beach-side restaurant within Atlantis.  It was very delicious, expensive and one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.  We also found a hermit crab and a kitten came by to visit! When we got home, the family surprised me with a belated birthday cake and presents. Definitely one of the most amazing days!

Our view at dinner

Happy Belated Birthday!

On Friday we boarded the Flying Cloud and set off for a morning of snorkelling! The boat ride was really fun and bonus: I didn’t get seasick! Snorkelling was…an experience! I had snorkelled before, the last time I was in the Bahamas, but forgot how gross salt water really was.  Every time I swallowed a mouthful or got some in my eyes I wanted to vomit.  But it was really cool swimming with the fish! Ali brought food to feed them so tons of fish were swimming all around us.  My dad even got hit in the goggles by one! Back on the boat, we enjoyed complementary snacks and rum punch!

Our snorkelling boat!

Our last day, Saturday, came way too fast.  After packing up and checking out, we went back to the Royal Towers to walk through the aquarium again.  Even though we had seen it before, we were all still enthralled by the creatures behind the glass.  We got to touch starfish and watch gigantic manta rays do flips in the water.  We hurried back to get our stuff and headed to the airport.

It’s Patrick!

Lee giving the fish a goodbye kiss

Our first flight got us to Atlanta where we hung out for 5 hours! We snacked on cake and watched Harry Potter 🙂 And then boarded the next flight into Buffalo.  From Buffalo we drove across the border and crashed in Niagara Falls.  We ended up staying in a pretty sketchy motel, which was quite the shock after a week in paradise.  The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a local diner and drove home!

The set for the next Saw movie

Last family meal = diner breakfast

Overall, amazing vacation and a chance to relax and experience some incredible stuff with my family! It’s hard to get all our schedules to coordinate so I’m really glad we took advantage of this time to get away together.  Looking forward to the next trip!