What’s with our attachment to resorts? I swear, we hear the word and instantly conjure images of being fanned with palm leaves while being funneled full of pina coladas. Well, let’s go ahead and reprogram your brain because resorts are your grandparent’s idea of a good time, and not a friend to the experience-hungry traveler (especially with kids) on a budget. Let’s talk about the time I went to Miami, when my husband and I booked a nice, large-scale hotel – pretty much a resort – thinking it’d be uber-convenient, especially when traveling with a toddler. Imagine being able to eat, swim, get a snack at the gift shop, and access the beach – all within steps of your room in case of the inevitable toddler meltdown! Instead, we found out the hard way that the inconveniences and costs of a resort-style hotel totally outnumber the benefits.
LACK OF OPTIONS
First, we weren’t in love with the food from the resort’s ONLY restaurant. Even if you love the resort’s restaurant(s), you will grow weary of seeing the same waiter fake a smile for you.
Also, everything is expensive! I felt tangible PAIN every time I had to fork over $5 for bottled water (not even for the jumbo-sized kind, either) at the gift shop. And it wasn’t just the provisions that fell below par; but we also got super-bored of the whole campus in about two hours (a toddler can only climb up and down so many wing-backed chairs). Hey, even while staying at a yoga resort in Tulum – the very definition of paradise – I left campus every day for a change of scenery. We could have done ourselves a huge favor and opted for the following kind of stay instead.
Take a small, boutique hotel like The President; an Art Deco inn right on the main drag of South Beach. We actually ended up eating breakfast here every day because of the cheap prices, the variety of meal/price options and most importantly, the hostel-like vibe. A revolving door of International guests, folks sharing the paper and swapping travel stories…you know, that overwhelmingly awesome vibe that is the WHOLE reason you travel? Anyway, here, breakfast for the guests is included (even the coffee, which would have saved us obscene amounts of money thrown to the Starbucks monster). Did I mention that originally, when I was booking our resort, the option to include breakfast cost an extra $20/person per day? Tell me how much sense that makes when you can get eggs, fruit and potatoes at The President for $6.99? That’s breakfast blasphemy!
Guests of this smaller hotel eat up yet another treat for both wallet and senses: Dozens of culinary options, in all price ranges, within walking distance. At our resort, to break up the monotony, the only thing we had to look forward to was the food, which was the same style and cost the same $24.95 a head. So, what would happen if we wanted a $3 bagel for breakfast? A $7 sandwich for lunch? A $2.50 scoop of gelato? Sorry! You’re stuck with a $6 cup of gift-shop Hagen Daas (in a flavor you haven’t eaten since the 90s)!
Speaking of gift shops, The President’s nearby convenience store would have been invaluable for diapers/milk runs, a piece of fruit, and bottles of water that cost $1, not $1 million. And let’s talk liquor stores – crucial! A mini bottle of cheap wine was $12 at the resort. Options are IMPERATIVE when you’re on any sort of budget.
Lastly, the GROUNDS. The pool was okay but when you have kids, you swim for 20 minutes then it’s diaper change time and either they’re done or you are utterly fried from keeping them from drowning during that time. Same goes for the beach access; it’s convenient, for sure, but don’t let that be the deal-breaker when booking a smaller hotel, because any beach worth visiting also has a public entrance, and it’s usually in the cool part of town, which conveniently allows you to plan other activities around beach time.
You’re probably shocked and saddened by this news that our ol’ resort fantasy is just that – fantasy. Our hotel was indeed easy on the eyes. Lounge chairs on the beach. Seemingly all the luxe amenities one would need. But there was nothing practical about it. And it felt impersonal. And repetitive. We got the greatest satisfaction (I.e. Keeping our toddler happy for the longest amount of time) by driving to the main drag and taking the baby into different shops and hotel lobbies and parks and cafes. In fact, our favorite day was when we left the hotel in the morning, came back midday for nap time (always plan your day in two halves with a toddler: pre- and post- nap!), then went right back to the main area. We pretty much avoided the hotel like the boring money pit it was. And I encourage any budget-minded traveler looking for economy of experience to do the same.