The Thrifty Traveler: The perks and quirks of large resorts

by Myscha Theriault
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Large resorts are a significant draw for many travelers. All-in-one activity options, happy hour offerings within easy walking distance, and included fitness classes make an attractive package when it comes to planning a low-stress getaway. There are perks and quirks with this type of vacation plan, however, and it pays to know what some of them are before you throw down your credit card.

Parking

One-stop vacation resorts provide the perk of only needing to coordinate parking upon arrival. After that, there isn’t necessarily a reason to deal with driving on unfamiliar streets, finding that missing parking spot near the hottest downtown restaurant or experience any of the traditional parking-related stress unless you choose. Couples can enjoy drinks on site, rather than one person constantly having to play designated driver.

The quirks? Parking is often nowhere near your room, which can be a huge pain if you forget something and need to run to the vehicle every time you want to swap out your hiking boots for that pair of dress shoes that you have in the bottom of your trunk. Parking is often available to resort guests only at an extra charge of $20 or more per day, which can add up quickly. Researching whether or not your resort of choice considers parking complimentary will keep this expense from being an inconvenient surprise.

Proximity

With free poolside music, on-property dining and amenities such as spas, golf courses and concert facilities, it can be a relief not to have to spend valuable vacation time strolling the nearby streets to find things to do. Entertainment can easily be found just footsteps away from your room or cottage. That said, if you’re in the mood for instant access to relaxation, walking nearly a mile through meandering hallways and stairwells to get to the nearest swimming pool or access your massage appointment can feel like a bit of a drag to say the least.

The best way to determine whether or not you’re up for a large resort experience is to think about how the size of the venue and number of other guests will make you feel. If the word that comes to mind is overwhelmed, then you might want to choose a more intimate escape and save the glitzier getaway for another time.

The value of on-site activities is also something you want to research ahead of time, along with how many of them are included with your resort fee. If a venue charges a modest daily fee that grants you access to golf carts, tee times, spa discounts, beach yoga classes, kayaks and more, that’s one thing. If you are throwing down 40 bucks a day to access a less-than-stellar fitness center and still need to throw down extra monies to park your car, that’s another. You may find off-site attractions are a better value. It’s all part of the trip research it pays to do ahead of time.

Logistics

With pets, some resorts are OK with your occasionally chatty dog being in your room while you have an early on-property dinner, particularly if you leave the desk attendant with your cellphone number so you can be on standby. Compared to some of the accommodations they make for other travelers, this isn’t a huge stress. Personally, we don’t reward this consideration by staying out late. We book an early dinner so we are out of the room when most other people are and back behind closed doors with our pooch long before most of our fellow travelers are returning and ready to go to bed. Not that we get the same consideration from their stereo-blasting teenagers mind you, but we do our part regardless.

Another perk with many of the larger resorts is that you stand a greater chance of having something for everyone when you travel with your entire family. With kid camp activities, bicycles, tennis court access and spin classes, the whole gang can have fun in one convenient location. As children age and interests diversify, this can be tough to accomplish under traditional vacation circumstances.

On the other hand, coordinating communications efficiently can often cost you a pretty penny if your resort charges a daily Internet access fee that’s nearly a third of your monthly total back home. This is a tad ironic, since many of the mid-priced business hotels tend to include it for free and often do a better job providing decent access speeds. Definitely check in advance to see if your Internet access on location will only be available for a charge. Whether or not you pay for it will be completely up to you, but at least you’ll be informed ahead of time.

An additional quirk is repeated luggage loading and unloading. This is of particular concern at those resorts where parking near the suite isn’t an option for anyone, and resort employees need to take you and your luggage there by golf cart or shuttle. Factor in stairs from the cart lane down to a lower level and then up again to your second-floor entry, and you can see how things can get seriously annoying in a hurry.

Intimacy

Not only do you not always want to walk a long distance to the resort pool, you also might not want to share it with 60 plus people you don’t know. That’s where smaller resorts, or even private vacation rentals can shine. Impersonal can often be the default mode for mega resorts, whereas many smaller places offer more personal service with absolutely no crowds to be found.

That said, every resort is different. Some really do it up right, with separate family and adults-only pools, private cottages and more. The right resort can still feel intimate and romantic for couples, depending on how set apart the accommodations are, immediacy of beach access, private pool availability and how the room service menu compares to the one at the restaurant across the property.

Bottom line?

Large resorts can be just what the travel doctor ordered, or less than suited for the vacation experience you’re trying to plan. Deciding exactly what you want before you book your trip, and researching as much as possible about the layout, ratings and amenities of the venue under consideration will go a long way towards making that determination.

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