All Included, Except the Tip
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All Included, Except the Tip

All-inclusives dangle this bait: pay one price up front and stash your wallet for the vacation’s duration. My experience with the Sandals and Barcelos of the world has been, sure, you can get buckets of buffet food. But just try finding a server.

And I like service. If home is a DIY cafeteria, I want a sit-down vacation. I’m willing to and, if warranted, will generously tip for it. Because, argue it if you will, great service can overcome mediocre food.

This knock on all-inclusives explains why luxury resorts with food and drink included in their rates – ie, Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, for example, and all those African safari lodges – ban “all-inclusive” from their lexicon. But for those who don’t have $1,000-plus/night to spend, a new entry occupies the tolerable $300/night ground: Hacienda Tres Rios south of Cancun.

If you knew Tres Rios as the relatively undeveloped eco-park it was pre-Hurricane Wilma of 2005, you might be sad to know its 326 acres of rivers and forest is now bordered by a 273-room resort. Fortunately, the developers built the hotel on piers to keep it from disrupting the flow of water so important to the underground waterways of the Yucatan. They are also reforesting the mangroves decimated by the hurricane, taking guests through their nursery and even inviting them to muck around with the planting. Guests only have access to the park where you can cannonball in multiple “cenotes,” freshwater-filled swimming holes that expose that underground water system. The ultimate plan — to have five resorts ringing the park – surely paves paradise. Carpe dia.

But do us all a favor, keep some small bills handy. The food is unexpectedly good. Moreover, the service is outstanding. We took to carrying the peso equivalents of $1, $5 and once even $20 for the overjoyed Ismael who touted tamarind margaritas and blue corn and huitlacoche soup. Excellence should be rewarded, even when it’s “all included,” lest it die of minimum wage.