All-inclusive resorts: the good, the bad and the ugly

Greetings from Puerto Vallarta! I came here for the long weekend with my college kids and my son’s girlfriend. We’re staying at a property we used to enjoy when it was operated by Hoteles Camino Real, a high-end Mexican chain similar to Westin. But several years back the property changed hands and now is owned by AMResort’s Dreams. We have resisted returning to this location because Dreams resorts are all-inclusive properties — but since this was a short vacation, it seemed like a good chance to check things out.

Anne’s verdict: the location is as fabulous as ever, but the all-inclusive vacation model does not work for me.

The beauty of this location is that it lies about fifteen minutes south of the town of Puerto Vallarta on its own beach. Although Mexican beaches are public property, this one is inaccessible to outsiders to due to rocks on either side, and the road into the hotel is gated, so only hotel guests are allowed to enter. Thus the beach is clean, not crowded, and souvenir vendors are kept to a minimum. The surf is gentle enough to swim in. And yet, the shops and restaurants of PV are only a five-dollar cab ride away.


Saturday 26 May 2012


We were fortunate that Hurricane Bud brushed by us during the night and brought only heavy rain our first day and a half here. Today was partly cloudy, but much better than I had expected when checking the forecast before departing the Bay Area last week.



Sunday 27 May 2012



At the same time, this is my first experience with any type of all-inclusive vacation, where my room rate includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus all the drinks and snacks I want. The facilities are lovely, and in general the service is excellent. But they maximize profit margins by offering limited dining options, over-pricing pedestrian wines, and charging for “extra” services such as more than one wifi connection per room. (Sorry, when you’re from Silicon Valley, one Internet connection per room, even when on vacation, is not going to cut it.)

I would imagine the all-inclusive arrangement works well for larger groups, or for people who want to lock in their vacation expenses before leaving home. Also for folks who prefer to spend their vacations consuming alcohol throughout the day, and/or for those who prefer quantity over quality of food. We have witnessed both types of guests here.

Never mind: the breakfast buffet is perfect, we’ve  identified the best restaurant on property for lunch, and after one mediocre dinner on a rainy night when we couldn’t face going out, we committed to sampling the best of what Puerto Vallarta has to offer. Last night we went to an old favorite, the classic Daiquiri Dick’s, owned by a chef who moved down from Los Angeles years ago, and a sumptuous meal (with daiquiris and flaming coffee) cost only fifty dollars each.  Tonight we had what my son the foodie proclaimed our best meal yet at a place favored by locals, La Langosta Feliz, the Happy Lobster.

Here’s to living large — Salud!


Destination or journey?

Two weeks ago we went to Yosemite National Park, mainly to see the waterfalls.  This year’s record snowfall has led to spectacular amounts of water crashing over the falls and roaring down the Merced River.  On Saturday we took the most popular hike at Yosemite, to Vernal Falls.

When we got to the footbridge where lots of people take photos and then turn around, my enthusiastic companions suggested we take the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal.  What we climbed through was not exactly mist — more like driving rain on steep rocky steps — but we made it.  Not wanting to descend the slippery stones, I told my husband and son I’d be returning the long way, down the gentle John Muir Trail.  They came along, but Micah (my fifteen-year-old) continued to tease me by squeezing water out of his Camelback whenever I was about to cross a rocky section, just so I could experience wet stones.

While walking down, I stepped aside not only for people to ascend narrow portions of the trail, but also for folks in a hurry.  In particular, I made way for some young people literally running down the trail.  They didn’t appear to be members of a cross country team – they were just racing to the bottom.  All along the way, I observed people hiking quickly up as well as down the path.

Although their speed could be attributed to youth or superior fitness, it struck me that a number of my fellow hikers were indeed in a rush.  They seemed to want to go up the trail as quickly as possible, tag in at the turnaround, then dash back down.  Only to wait in line for the shuttle bus?  I’m not sure.

The whole experience caused me to reflect on the idea of the destination versus the journey.  It seemed the people who were zooming past me on the trail were not merely in better cardio shape – in many cases, they were focused on arriving, rather than on traveling.  These were not the people pausing to take in views of distant Illilouette Falls, or to record video of birds in the trees, or to notice wildflowers beside the trail.  They also were not the ones accompanying older relatives or children, pointing out trickles of water from cracks in the rocks where they stopped to rest.

No, they had more in common with someone I might see back home, darting through freeway lanes, not noticing when she cuts another driver off because she’s intent on getting to her destination.  In fact, some reminded me of  people who careen through the grocery aisles while yacking on their cell phones, but become irritated when someone slows down their progress through the checkout lane.  While this characterization may be a bit harsh, it points out a sad truth: many of us are so driven to get to where we’re going, to reach our own goals, that we ignore or step over people in our way.  We miss out on interesting experiences, and we hurt others’ feelings.  For some of us, this happens occasionally.  For others, it’s how we operate.  [Read more…]