“As long as the resort has a beach and a bar, I’ll be happy.”
“We don’t need anything fancy.”
“That’s more than we want to spend, do you have anything cheaper?”
I hear variations of these quotes quite often, and this is a great example of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Why are some all-inclusive resorts super cheap, while others are several hundred or even thousands of dollars more?
Never fear, travel agent here to put in the work and give you answers! I decided to conduct a personal experiment. I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and stayed in two different all-inclusive resorts. The first was a 3-star budget resort. The second was a AAA Four Diamond property. I will refer to them as the Budget Resort and the Premium Resort. Both were family-friendly all-inclusive resorts.
Here is what I learned.
Budget Resort – We arrived and walked into a tacky open-air lobby where we were greeted with a long check-in line. The line moved very slowly and it was HOT! A resort employee eventually came by and offered us either watermelon or pineapple juice, which was much appreciated. We arrived about 30 minutes prior to check-in time, but were told our room wouldn’t be ready for 90 minutes. We had to come back and wait in the long line again to receive our room key.
Premium Resort – We arrived and walked into an air-conditioned lobby with great décor and fun music playing. They had lots of employees working the check-in desk so there was no wait. We were given flowers (when we checked out they gave us bead necklaces) and asked what we wanted to drink from the bar during the check-in process. We arrived 4 hours before check-in time and were given a room within 30 minutes.
Budget Resort – The elevators to the guest rooms are not air conditioned and they are very uncomfortable. The room is very basic. The beds are hard as rocks. We have a room with 2 double beds and they’ve been pushed together. There is a minibar stocked with the basics along with 4 bottles of cheap alcohol. There is a sign saying they refill the minibar every 2 days. We stayed 3 nights and it was never restocked.
The only toiletries are a bar of soap, a shower cap and a 2 in 1 shampoo dispenser in the shower. Speaking of the shower…it’s weird. It is small and at times when I’m showering the water completely shuts off and then comes back on with a burst of cold water. That’s fun! The towels are old and scratchy.
There are no robes/slippers in the room. There is no clock. There is no turndown service. There is no room service. There is no Wi-Fi in the rooms, only the lobby. The Wi-Fi is also limited to two devices. I try to purchase Wi-Fi to be used in my room, which would also give us use on 2 additional devices for about $15/day, but it never works.
Premium Resort – The elevator is air-conditioned, fast and plays fun music. The room is decorated very nicely with small touches that really reflect the vibe of the resort. The bed is ridiculously comfortable. There is a large Jacuzzi in every room. We’re given every toiletry you could possibly want along with a sewing kit and shoe horn. There are comfortable robes and slippers in the closet. Our minibar is stocked with the basics and we have 4 bottles of premium alcohol. The shower is large. The resort offers free Wi-Fi everywhere on unlimited devices. They also include free calls to the US and Canada. There is an expansive 24-hour room service menu. Turndown service brings cookies and chocolates.
Budget Resort – There are two pools. One is more geared towards kids with slides. The other has a swim-up bar. There are lots of lounge chairs around the pools. You must use your towel card to check out a towel each day. If you don’t turn the towel in you will be charged $20. The pool water is very warm and feels like a bathtub. There are bugs floating EVERYWHERE. The grout is dirty. There is sand in the bottom of the pool. There is no wait service at the pool.
Premium Resort – Again there are two pools, with one geared towards the kids and the other with the swim-up bar. The water is refreshingly cool. I don’t see a single bug in the water. The pool is very clean. Towels are given freely at a hut by the pool. There is no shortage of lounge chairs around the pools. They have wait service that will bring drinks and food.
Budget Resort – The beach area is large with lots of loungers. There are a few umbrellas available. The sand is quite rocky and hurts my feet, so I don’t spend any time in the ocean. There is no wait service at the beach.
Premium Resort – The beach area is a good size and they have roped off sections of loungers which means the beach vendors cannot bother you when you’re inside that section. Each pair of loungers comes with an umbrella, a table & a hook for your beach bag. The beach is nice and sandy with no rocks in site. There is wait service that will bring you drinks and food.
Budget Resort – The majority of the restaurants are buffet-style. The two restaurants with menus are still not exactly what you would consider a true a la carte restaurant because you only choose your entrée and dessert. The other courses are either buffet-style or are chosen for you. The non-buffet restaurants have two seatings so you must show up at a specified time if you want to eat there. They also did not have full bar service, only offering beer or wine. The wine was terrible. I didn’t see anyone finish their glass. The food was pretty good. I wouldn’t say it was memorable, but it was serviceable. Servers rarely came by to check on us and I was often left with an empty water glass.
Premium Resort – They have several true a la carte restaurants serving dinner. No reservations are required and their aim is to never have anyone wait longer than 5 minutes to be seated. The food is very good. They have full bar service. The complimentary wine is tasty. The service is attentive. In the morning for the breakfast buffet you’re handed a mimosa when you walk in the door. They have a menu of juices/smoothies on the table. There is a bloody mary/mimosa bar. They offer several buffets at lunch and a wood-fired pizza stand.
Budget Resort – Have you ever heard someone complain about the drinks at all-inclusive resorts being watered down? I guarantee they stayed at a budget resort. The liquor selection was small. At times the wait for a drink was very long with a line of 10 people in front of you. The bartenders weren’t very good or very happy. We even had one bartender that didn’t know how to make a margarita. In Mexico. We found we could drink all day long and never even feel the liquor kick in. The only thing I got was a whole lot of empty calories and a burning sensation in my throat from the very cheap alcohol.
Premium Resort – They had a huge selection of top-shelf liquors. The bartenders were happy and I was always served very quickly. The drinks were tasty and strong. After two yummy mango margaritas I could feel the alcohol kicking in! When I asked for water it was poured from a bottle.
Budget Resort – About 90% of the guests were locals. Announcements were made in Spanish first, then English. As Americans we have a difficult time meeting other guests at the resort. The resort was always packed with people. We joked that it felt like we were at Disney World because of the huge crowds.
Premium Resort – There was a good mix of locals vs North Americans. Announcements/entertainment is done in English. Within minutes of getting in the pool we’ve started making friends. The resort is at capacity, but never feels crowded.
I have NEVER had a client come back from a vacation at a Premium Resort and complain. No one has ever said “I wish I hadn’t spent the extra money to upgrade my vacation experience.” You work hard and deserve a great vacation, not a mediocre one. I can tell you that if I had spent my hard-earned money on vacation at the Budget Resort I would have been unhappy. Your vacation time is precious-make it count!
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