Sunday, January 30, 2011

5 WAYS: To Experience a Resort

Not every trip we take needs to be filled with one of a kind, local experiences.  Sometimes when we travel we just need to unwind, relax and stay put in a place that isn't home.  I recently took a much needed long weekend at an all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.  This was my first vacation at an all-inclusive, and quite frankly I avoid them for their over-the-top cheesiness and mediocre food.  But this trip was a little different.

Maybe it was timing.  Maybe it was stress.  Maybe it was just because I needed to get away.  But on this trip I embraced everything I dislike about resorts and came to see it as a sub-culture filled with unique qualities (albeit at times toned down for the masses), not as a superficial Disneyfied place.

That's right.  Even at an all-inclusive I got a flavor for the local culture and broke out of my comfort zone.  So don't discount them when dreaming up your next vacation.  And arrive with an open mind ready to relax, have fun and even learn a thing or two.

So here's the first edition of what I hope to be a recurring post called 5 WAYS.

5 WAYS for you to get local at a resort:

  1. Make friends with the staff.  I recommend starting with the bartender.  Ask for restaurant, sightseeing and nightlife recommendations. Let him/her know you're interested in a less touristy locale (or the best tourist spots if that's what you're looking for).  Nine times out of 10 you'll get great advice.
  2. Eat the regional menu options.  Even in an all-inclusive you'll find local foods in the buffet and specialty cocktails at the bar.  There will surely be hamburgers and fries aplenty, but make an effort to taste test local fruits, veggies, entrees and drinks.
  3. Turn on local TV or radio.  Rainy day and stuck inside?  Or maybe you just need some background noise while getting ready for a night out?  Turn on the radio or TV and tune in to a channel you normally wouldn't.  And if you are traveling internationally, TV novellas are incredibly entertaining in any language.  
  4. Embrace resort entertainment.  Sure it can be cheesy, but you'll often learn something - whether it be about people from another country or the local culture.  In my case, the local entertainment included weddings.  I spent a half hour being an uninvited guest to a beach wedding and it was a beautiful and memorable experience.  The resort disco was also an interesting time filled with local music and a diverse crowd.
  5. Learn the language.  Again, the hotel staff is great for this.  Learn a few phrases or words that you think will be helpful during your stay (please, thank you and beer come top of mind).  While most staff at resorts usually speak English, you can definitely earn a few brownie points by speaking the native language - even if it's a word or two.
BONUS WAY (5+1): Meet people.  Resorts (especially those in warm locales) tend to attract an international guest list.  Brits, Germans, Italians, Aussies and even local Mexicans were all staying at my resort.  I think meeting new people is one of the best things about traveling and resorts often become little melting pots of people from all over the world.  So make a new friend and learn a bit about where he/she is from.

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