Category Archives: Travel

All-Inclusives For Dummies

I just returned from a glorious vacation at an all-inclusive resort, a leisure concept ideal for frugal travelers like myself. The unlimited food, drink, and activities all seemed “free” once I arrived because I’d booked the trip 6 months ago, calculated how many margaritas I’d need to consume to get my money’s worth, and promptly forgot the price.

What the brochures don’t tell you is this: in addition to all of the above, you’ll have a front-row seat to some of the worst manners on earth.

I am not a vacation manners snob. I don’t expect formal dress after 6:00 pm or an engraved invitation to join the Zumba class. I drink my Diet Coke directly from the can. I like Downton Abbey but I love eating potato chips directly from the bag like a heathen.

I also love to give unsolicited advice online that I would never have the guts to say in person (you never know who has a concealed carry permit these days). If you plan a holiday to an all-inclusive resort, PLEASE keep in mind the following:

When visiting the dinner buffet, remember that WE CAN SEE YOU.

For God’s sake, you are not standing alone in front of your own refrigerator at midnight. Dozens of people just saw you pop that French fry in your mouth and lick your fingers before grabbing the next serving spoon on the line. And if you drop a piece of food – or as I witnessed last week, if you unceremoniously dump an entire full plate of food – alert an employee and let him know so an unsuspecting fellow diner doesn’t do the electric slide on your mashed potatoes.

Curb your entitlement, especially if you’ve passed it along to your bratty kids.

I was dozing to the relaxing sound of the surf when my reverie was interrupted by a nearby 7 year old (I’ll call him “Preston Winthrop Huffington III”). Mr. PWH3 had flagged down the beach attendant – rather aggressively for someone of his tender age – and was authoritatively dictating instructions on how he wanted his virgin piña colada prepared. I silently marveled at how well young Master Preston knew his own tastes in tropical drinks, until I heard his father begin the monologue that was his own drink order. Come on, people. You’re on the beach in Mexico – order a Dos Equis and shut up about it.

Share the chairs.

Sometimes vacationing at an all-inclusive feels like a high-stakes game of musical chairs gone wrong – while your every other gluttonous need is being met, you nonetheless become paralyzed with fear that you won’t get a seat by the pool. It is poor form indeed to wake at the crack of dawn, toss a towel on an empty lounger, and then return hours later when you finally feel in the mood to sit. Please remember that you are on vacation, not homesteading in Dakota Territory. Staking a claim to that chair is not the key to your family’s future. You will still get free drinks.

Say yes to decent dress.

Now I know why some restaurants have signs warning “no shoes, no shirt, no service.” If you ever wondered whom on earth needs a reminder like that, I can tell you – they were all at lunch with me! How appetizing it was to accidentally brush against the hairy back of the gentleman next to me in line for the salad bar. How delightful to follow behind others’ bare, sandy feet on the way to the ice cream. The sight of your toenails, however nicely pedicured (and they were NOT all nicely pedicured) does not enhance my dining experience.

As widely as some guests veered out of the etiquette lanes, spending time with them was way better than being in my hometown of Boston, where the snow has crushed our spirits and we’ve had to learn an entire new vocabulary with words like “ice dam,” “snow farm,” and “industrial melter” (I’m asking Santa for one ASAP).

Nevertheless, I will definitely go back next year if I can swing it. I need to gather data for “All-Inclusives For Dummies 2.” It would be negligent, really, NOT to go.

If I drink enough margaritas, the trip practically pays for itself.

On The Road

A middle-aged man forking long noodles from a Chinese takeout carton into his mouth. A young woman meticulously applying bright red lipstick. A girl completely engrossed in the screen of her smartphone (online shopping? tweeting? navigating? We’ll never know because we moved to the far lane, pronto).

Those are just a few of the characters we saw behind the wheel on America’s interstates last month, during our annual East Coast to Midwest Family Road Trip. I can’t think of a better way for entitled, slightly judgmental, over-educated Bostonians like us to experience The Real America than to drive across this particular slice of it. West on I-90 from Boston, pick up the Ohio Turnpike after Cleveland, and head north on 23 through Toledo to Ann Arbor and the countryside beyond. Toss in a few crisscrosses through Ohio (Columbus, Dayton, Bowling Green) and you’ve seen The Heartland.

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A few observations about my old stomping grounds from an East Coast perspective…there are parking lots everywhere, all of them with room to spare! Thanks to these ever present acres of concrete, parallel parking has become a lost art like operating a manual transmission or making play dough from scratch. The grocery stores standing watch over those parking lots are meccas of comfort and convenience that put our Boston markets to shame. I saw 2 or 3 Kroger stores that had actual wine bars in them. One of them also sold furniture and automotive supplies. The shopping carts still have that new car smell and look like they’d be offended if you even considered swiping them with an antibacterial wipe. They proudly await my arrival in neat rows, in their very own room (the store’s foyer, if you will).

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I hated returning home to my local grocery store (Shaws), which had always seemed perfectly acceptable but now seemed hopelessly sub-par. Not only is there no wine bar, there’s not so much as one dusty bottle (there’s a separate store for that in good old MA, because apparently the first thing the pilgrims did after landing on Plymouth Rock was establish a liquor distributors lobby that has clung ferociously to its monopoly ever since).

Here are other things you see along the interstates of the Midwest: billboards telling you that Jesus Loves You, cornfields that must have inspired the very concept of infinity, and the sloppy remains of wild animals that tried and failed to cross the road. Every so often you are treated to a vista worthy of poetry. In western New York, there are portions of I-90 that rise high enough to give drivers a glimpse of Lake Erie now and then, and it looks like a mighty ocean. Early in the morning in the higher elevations, fog settles comfortably in the valleys so it seems like you’re driving through the clouds when the road dips below the hilltops.

 

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Not that my children saw any of these sights from the dark cave they rigged up in the back seat (“The better to see you with, My Beloveds!” they whispered to the screens of their iPods and iPads).  A contraption involving blankets, extra sweatshirts, and a pillow pet blocked all light from the back seat, where they tapped away on their screens with a tenacity that would be truly impressive if applied to piano practice or the study of cancer cells.

The road trips of my youth were very different, as the three of us (the youngest in the middle and resigned to deal with “the hump”) craned our necks to look out the windows of our over-sized Buick, desperate to see something interesting. Maybe an unusual license plate, or a truck transporting livestock that we could see through the metal slats as we passed the poor unfortunates going to unthinkable destinations. We loved seeing a house being moved on a flatbed, each half adorned with fluorescent orange flags and taking up more than its fair share of the road. If we were lucky, we spotted a deer in a roadside meadow at dusk.

I saw all these things last week, much to my delight. But that’s because my eyes were on the road…not my cell phone, not my lipstick, and not my lunch.

They were on the road.