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How to Make an All-Inclusive Resort Stay More Exclusive

Locations in this article:  Los Angeles, CA

There are pros and cons to the all-inclusive resort experience. It’s convenient, easy for families and large groups, and often affordable.  But you might find limited options, as well as less personalization and customization than at a standard resort. Don’t be limited by what you see if front of you. Cole Ruth has 10 ways you can jail-break the all-inclusive resort to create an exclusive, personalized travel experience.

All-inclusive resorts have a certain appeal. It’s not hard to convince the stressed-out executive, parents of young children or the lazy traveler to let someone else take care of the basics. But the removal of choice can also take away the adventure. So before you head off for that week of doing nothing in particular, consider these tips for turning the standard resort regimen into an extraordinary experience.

1. Take Your Food To-Go

After three meals a day at the same restaurant, you may want to change up the ambiance. Ask for your food to go, grab your beach towels and eat down on the beach. Some hotels will even arrange a basket for you; it never hurts to ask. This is also a great way to transform a rainy day in your room. Put on a movie and have an indoor picnic.

2. Spice It Up

In an effort to appeal to a wide a variety of pallets, the kitchens at all-inclusive will often dumb down the spice and heat level of the local cuisine. Often the food that the staff eats is not the same as what you’re getting. That habanero salsa you keep waiting to see on the buffet? Oh, it’s back there. You need only to ask for it.

3. Challenge the Bartender

Like the food, drinks at all-inclusives are often made with mixes and the bartender will often take the easiest tack. Want your margarita with real limes? Bring a piece of paper with the ratios on it. If necessary, use Google to translate it for you.

4. Make your Kids Feel like VIPs

If your all-inclusive is geared toward an adult audience, you may have to ask for things like pool toys and a kid’s menu. But even here, there are ways to make your kids feel special. Include them in happy hour by ordering mango smoothies or virgin piña coladas. Or arrange to get out of the sun with an afternoon tea. On a recent trip to an all-inclusive resort, a mother of two young children asked room service to deliver a plate of fruit every day after naptime. “It was hard for them to be grumpy when a plate of fresh fruit was delivered to them in bed!” she recounted happily.

5. Read up on the Amenities

It’s not every day you can take a Hobycat for a spin around the lagoon. Resorts often have a menu of water sport options that include no-cost items like paddleboats, sunfish and windsurfing that get you off the resort grounds and make a fun diversion from the daily sunbathing routine. Some resorts have tennis courts and other sports facilities. Find out what’s on offer and see it as an opportunity to learn something new.

6. Check out the Neighborhood

You often won’t know until you get there if your resort has the best surf or sand on the beach. It pays to take a walk down the coast. On a recent trip to Cancun, I noticed the Hard Rock erecting a giant stage. Though no one would tell me who was playing, on the way back from dinner I heard the familiar melody of a F.U.N. song floating on the night air. Running down to the beach, I was treated to a front row seat at a concert that would have cost a pretty penny back home. Not to mention that I got to rock out with sand between my toes.

7. Class it Up

Many all-inclusives offer free cooking classes, staged daily poolside or in the bar around happy hour. Morning beachside yoga is not unusual. While diving trips usually cost extra, beginners should feel free to ask about an introductory lesson in the pool.

8. Arrange a Private Cooking Class

If pizza-making and guacamole-mixing are old news to you, don’t be afraid to ask. Determined to learn how to make a Yucatán dish called cochinitas pibil, I asked our maid if she knew anyone local who could teach me. By the next day the hotel had arranged a private lesson with the head chef.

9. Make a Break for It

The concierge may advise you not to make an unsupervised trip off the reservation. Remember that many people have done this before you. Be a smart traveler. If the city is known to have pickpockets, take precautions to keep your valuables close to your body. Leave your jewels in the safe. The only way you’ll ever really be able to say you experienced another country or cuisine is to jump on a bus, walk into a market where locals shop, and eat at a cart or street food stall.

10. Request a Little Romance

Enjoy your dessert in the tub. If your bathroom isn’t stocked with bath salts or bubbles, don’t be afraid to ask for some. Then order up a bottle of champagne and strawberries. Who knows? They may even send along some chocolate dipping sauce.

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By Cole Ruth for Cole Ruth is a writer, sailor and chef. She has traveled all over the world, often on boats with good food. She currently makes her home in Los Angeles and blogs about her adventures on her website,