The all-inclusive debate

Now, if we’re being honest we haven’t been on an all-inclusive holiday in years. More than years, a decade! But because my boyfriend Alex broke his leg pretty badly in a skiing accident in January, climbing Mount Everest was off the cards and it seemed like the only viable option. We have always been a little travel-snobby about them if we’re telling the truth. You don’t get to see the really heart of the country, you don’t really even leave the hotel because you’ve paid an arm and a leg to have everything at your finger tips, so why would you?

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However, I swallowed my pride and my travel-snobbery, and we booked a week all-inclusive at the Atlantica Grand Mediterraneo – Resort and Spa through TUI. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound too bad does it? But still, before we went I was dubious. Is this going to be fun? Am I going to enjoy fancy hotel living? Am I going be able to experience Corfu? Yes, you go on holiday to relax and unwind but you also go to experience something new – was this going to be a new experience? Once you’ve done one all-inclusive haven’t you done them all?

There was one little thing I have to admit I was pretty excited about though and that was unlimited food and drinks whenever you please; and unlimited Greek food at that! Hallelujah! Not knowing when the next meal is coming is one of the hardest parts of travelling in our opinion, so this was a turn up for the books.

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Before I continue I have to say, I completely understand why parents choose these options and this is why we have had experiences of them in the past as our parents did. Everything is planned for you, you need do nothing and with children involved this must be the dream. We however did ensure we were booking into an adults-only resort. I work with children all day everyday when I am at school and although I love them to teeny pieces, this was meant to be a calm and relaxing time.

So, a 5:55am flight out of Gatwick and off we went. Some people see the flight times as a negative, having to leave so early, but we love this. Being able to nearly have a full day on your first day? Ideal! And you can always sleep on the sun lounger!

One thing that is slightly stressful, and which will slightly stress the most seasoned traveller, even if they won’t admit it is; how do you get from the airport to where your staying? Do you get a bus? Is that going to take you to the right part of town and do you want to waste three days of your holiday getting there? Do you get a train? But again, will it take you to the right part of town and then will you have to get a bus on top and get lost? Do you get a taxi? How much will that be and do you get it from one of the dodgy guys hanging out the front, or do you get the ‘official’ airport taxi (who knows if they ever really are!?) and pay a fortune, only to find out you have to pay extra at the end because you surprisingly brought baggage with you on holiday!? How inconsiderate.

Now, this is the first time in a decade I didn’t have to have this internal battle in my head. I simply walked outside into the smiling face of a TUI representative and was told the number of my coach and off I went, leaving the tired and transfer-frazzeled, none all-inclusive travellers behind me. I was quite smug.

Unfortunately, not all is well in the all-inclusive world before you get to your hotel. Something which is even more stressful than the transfer debate, is seeing your hotel for the first time, or what could be. Are you going to like the place you’ve paid an arm and a leg for? Are you going to like it enough to spend a whole week there?! Sometimes you pull up to a hotel and you pray to the gods its not yours with your fingers crossed under your chair.

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However, I needed to back myself. One thing I do pride myself on is planning and doing my research and I should have felt confident I would be happy with my choice of hotel and I was when we got there. I was praying to the gods with my crossed fingers this time it would be mine.

We jumped off the coach and headed into reception to be greeted by a glass of bubbles and snacks (well Alex didn’t jump he has a broken leg but you know what I mean). Well I was pretty happy so far. One slight hiccup our room wasn’t ready, but ‘why don’t we head to the bar and have a drink while we wait?’… Okay! I was warming to it already.

It’s not often that you walk up to a bar (especially in London) without a slight fear of the bill at the end. Sometimes you sneakily order a single even though you want a double, because you’re buying a round for five people and want to be able to at least live off beans on toast for the rest of the month. Or on holiday, when the Euros you exchanged at M&S before hand are dwindling by the minute and you need to be able to afford a taxi back to the airport, or a bus, or a train… who knows, so you get a small local beer. But ta-da!!! All this fear disappears in the all-inclusive world. You can have what you want, when you want and as much as you want of what you want without even needing to look at the right hand side of the menu. This is a blessing but can also be your downfall if you know what I’m saying.

So we had spent some time at the bar, we had checked into out room (lovely I might add) and it was time for the pool. Now, there are three things which define your status when in an all-inclusive resort; how tanned you are, your sun lounger spot and if the staff know your drinks order without asking.

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Luckily, I already had a tan from London being shockingly hot this summer, and from spending some time aboard not to long before. Alex was slightly letting the side down but I had enough to carry us both (you really don’t want to be the typical English person with t-shirt tan marks on the first day and then slight tomato tinge by the end.) Also, we had already spent time at the bar so they new we were angling for Strawberry Daiquiris but hold on the plastic straw.

The only problem we had was sun lounger location. Arriving half way through the day means all the best spots are taken which results in you having to either sit in the spot which get the earliest shade, close to the bins so you can’t move without being stung by a wasp or just in the middle of everyone so you can hear all the classic British problems, including it being too hot or whether it was time to go in the pool.

We accepted our fait and spent the afternoon listening to all of British problems, but with Strawberry Daiquiris on tap so we lived. I was determined however this was not going to be a regular occurrence and proceeded to force Alex out of bed at 7:30am every morning to get the best spot. Only the most tanned, most well known by the staff, older couple were before us so we were set.

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Now, one thing I was on the fence about was the food. On one hand I was thrilled that there were three buffets a day where you can have as much as you want and sample lots of different dishes. On the other hand I was completely gutted there were three buffets a day where it’s all a bit chaotic, your mind is drawn in lot of different directions so your plate ends up being a messy mountain of random combinations and you have to serve yourself.

However, I devised a plan. We would have three to four dishes (I wasn’t limiting the amount) and they would be starters, main, main and desert. The main dish would be made up of carbs, meat and veg and they would be well-rounded meals. It was like playing SNAP and having to match all the dishes provided to make a meal. Also, if you have one option a day you shouldn’t have run out by the end of the week.

In all honesty, despite our efforts and well thought out plan, we did get a little bored… three meals a day in the same place doesn’t spark excitement and we have to admit one full on fail on Asian night where we were offered spaghetti bolognese with a sweet and sour twist with herb and lamb meatballs. Top marks for creativity but it didn’t quite/at all work. However, surprisingly, Greek night was incredible.

In my opinion the food is the biggest downfall of the all-inclusive experience, and food is one of our greatest joys while travelling (one reason we probably like Italy so much) so this did make me a little sad.

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On the point of things that make me sad, one other thing which I had forgotten all about on all-inclusive experiences until I heard the music thumping was water aerobics.  Now, I understand that people are basically lying on sun loungers the whole day and they need a little bit of time to move. But while I’m in the middle of my relaxing holiday, reading the ‘Danish Girl’ and finding out if Lily is ever going to be able to be the women she want to be, I do not want to have a European song contest version of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ blaring in the background with some shouting ‘swing those hips.’ It’s just not ideal and something that makes me quite sad inside. Needless to say I didn’t partake in this particular activity, but I hold by hands up to all those who managed to drag themselves from their sunloungers and get involved.

In conclusion, for someone like me the all-inclusive experience is an interesting one. There are clear perks and aspects I love, the ease, the unlimited bar tab and the main daily activity of sun worshiping. But, there are things which just don’t sit right with me, like the buffet food, water aerobics and not being able to explore the country and understand it. The first three days I really struggled with the latter and would go on daily morning hikes around the area, finding different beaches and mixing with the locals. However, as time moved on, I did start to relax and accept that this wasn’t that type of holiday, we were here to relax and help Alex fix his leg so by the end of the week (to my surprise) if I even needed to get up and go to the loo is was a huge exertion of physical and mental energy. I found time to just sit and read or bob in the pool and stare out to sea for hours. For someone who struggles to relax it was soothing and the best sleep that I’d had in years. That could also be down to the 7:30 am wake up calls and unlimited bar tabs however.

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By the end of the week I can genuinely say I was sad to leave. It had been a beautifully relaxing week and experience I had long forgotten as a holiday option. There are parts of it that still make me screw-up my nose in judgement but there are parts which I truly appreciated.

I am not saying from here on out me and Camilla are going to throw away our backpacks for a life of all-inclusive, but I am admitting there is a place for these types of holidays and maybe one, once or twice a decade isn’t the end of the world.

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