Saturday, April 12, 2014

All Inclusive Resort: Not the Best Choice for Solo Travelers

For the last leg of my vacation in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico, I decided to try an all-inclusive resort. I had never been to one before and was curious about how I would like it. Using the TripAdvisor website to do my research, I chose Grand Sirenis Riveira Maya Resort and Spa. From Tulum, I took another (very cheap) taxi ride to Akumal, which is part way between Tulum and Cancun. As I arrived on the property, I was awed by the sheer size of the property. It went on for miles and miles. The grounds were gorgeously landscaped in a tropical resort style, and very well kept.
Beautiful landscaping on the grounds of the Grand Sirenis in Akumal, Mexico.

Jungle foliage right outside my door.
The main lobby for the resort was enormous and had a cavernous feeling to it. The architecture was inspired by Mayan temples and featured an open-air A-frame shape, all done in white. It reminded me of the Contemporary resort at Disney World.

Unlike the other hotels I stayed in while in Mexico, the staff at the Grand Sirenis had a rushed and harried air about them. This was not a laid-back easy-going place. I imagine dealing with thousands of demanding American travelers every day is pretty grueling. Anyway, I received my room assignment (a bit of a disappointment because it was very far away and did not have a water view, as I had hoped for), and then took a golf cart on over. Unless you want to spend half your vacation walking between relaxation spots, you pretty much have to take the golf carts everywhere on this resort because it is huge. My room was attractive but as soon as I entered, I noticed it smelled strongly of mildew. It's a humid region and being right on the ocean, I'm sure mold and mildew are a common issue, especially in the air conditioning units. I turned off the air and opened my patio doors to let in some fresh air. Later I went to the gift shop and picked up some incense and that helped quite a bit as well.

The ubiquitous towel animal was awaiting me in my hotel room.

Simply and cleanly decorated.

Private patio seating area faced the jungle.
After getting to my room, I decided to make all my reservations for the things I wanted to do while at the resort. These included trying one of the non-buffet style restaurants, and getting a massage on the beach - a longtime fantasy of mine. The reservation process turned out to be quite a bear and took up almost an entire afternoon. The system was that you had to personally go see the concierge for your block of rooms, and wait to speak to him or her. There was an annoying woman taking her turn in front of me and you'd think she was planning an event for the queen of England. She just took so much time and couldn't make a decision about where and when to do the things she wanted to do! I tapped my fingers, hovered menacingly, and sighed loudly several times to express my impatience and displeasure, but she just ignored me and continued with her hemming, hawing, and indecisiveness. Finally, her equally irritated husband pulled her away and I was able to make my appointments. I was bummed that I'd wasted so much time on the "business" part of enjoying the resort. Then I headed out to finally enjoy the beach (after a trek back to my room to change, of course).
The individual blocks of rooms, all centered around a hallway that can be driven through by golf cart. You can see the guests lining up to speak to the concierge on the left.
One of several gorgeous pools, that were very uncrowded.
The resort seemed only moderately full; most of the guests were families with children, or big families on group vacations. My time at this resort was the only time I actually felt lonely on my solo trip. I decided an all-inclusive resort is not the place for single travelers. Being around all the couples and groups made me really notice that I was on my own. Also, I don't think it's a great value for single travelers. You can't really get your money's worth at the all-you-can-eat buffets, and the set-up of the beach and pool areas are not conducive to people who are there by themselves. For instance, when I wanted to enjoy the water, there was no place to put my room key, camera, phone, etc. I ended up asking one of the towel shack attendants if he could watch my stuff for me - not a very secure alternative.
This pool featured a net for water volleyball, and a swim-up bar. It was so lovely, though the cocktail I had tasted cheap and watery. I didn't even finish it.
The beach was really nice, though rocky - bring your water shoes! I wore my new Birkenstocks into the water, which was probably bad for them, but I really had no choice. Not only was there a band of pebbles and dried brain coral between the sand and the water, but once you got into the water, the floor was rocky as well. Super ouch!
Pretty beach, but with a band of rocks and sharp coral towards the water's edge.

This photo was taken on a deserted spot of beach right near the spa building. It was all rocks and coral, so not good for laying out, but lovely nonetheless.

I collected a bunch of brain coral for myself and as souvenirs for my son and my nephew. I found one in the shape of a heart for my son!
It wasn't easy to be lazy or feel indulged at this resort because the size of it made getting around, and getting what you needed, a chore. I never could find anyone to bring me tropical drinks on the beach, but I did get my beach massage - albeit it was not what I'd imagined.
This is the massage hut on the beach, but it's only for couples massages! Boo!
The tropical-looking palapa on the beach front was only available for couples massages (another example of how this resort was not solo traveler-friendly). For single massages, there were cabanas set up on, of all places, the busiest section of beachfront! Although the massage therapist did a good job, I could not really relax because of all the noise and traffic of people tramping by. The cabanas were also open in front, so anyone could look in and see you half-naked! As the masseuse worked away on my tense shoulders, I could hear all the boisterous family conversations of guests sitting right outside my cabana. It was hardly the zen-like experience I imagined, and in fact, I didn't even notice the sound of the waves because of the chatty guests all around me.
My last day in Akumal was cloudy and rainy, but still beautiful. This resort even featured it's own tiny ruin, seen here on that little rock island. I can't deny the natural beauty of the place, but as an introvert, I wished I had it all to myself.

Here is a view of the side of one of the blocks of rooms, this one facing the pool area. There were a ton of staff everywhere, and they did an amazing job of keeping everything looking very clean and tidy.
I wanted to love this resort, but it just wasn't for me. The conspicuous couples and groups emphasized my alone-ness, and yet there was none of that good kind of solitude that is renewing and good for the soul and peaceful. I did get "hit on" in a strange way by a divorced, middle-aged guy who said he was there for his daughter's wedding. He plunked down opposite me while I was eating at one of the dinner buffets, and was chatting me up in a flirty way. I was polite and friendly, but completely uninterested. At one point, he offered to get me another glass of wine (they were set up, already poured, on a tray on one of the serving tables). When he returned, he abruptly set down my wine and then said, "Okay, well see you later!" It was weird! But maybe he had picked up on my "I'm just being polite and humoring you" vibe.

I wonder if all-inclusive resorts specifically for singles would be a better value and more fun for me, and perhaps I will try one sometime, if I can sniff one out that doesn't seem cheesy. My tolerance for cheesy is incredibly low!