Mis Vacaciones a Riviera Maya, México

February 1st, 2010

To celebrate my wife’s birthday, we decided to go on our first all inclusive resort vacation. We stayed at the El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya, Mexico which is about a 20 minute drive from Cancun. As always, I returned home with some observations about healthy living.

The picture to the left is the view from the balcony of our room. The thin strip of blue above the palm trees is the Caribbean Sea. It may not be an ocean front view, but it was excellent nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it including falling asleep each night to the sound of the waves crashing along the shore.

Our Own Personal Communications Tower

Despite this being a great trip, it started off with a bit of concern. As we were being driven to our room in one of the many golf carts that the staff use to zip throughout the grounds, I was surprised to see the giant communication tower shown to right fixated in the middle of the resort. I was thinking that it would be just our luck to have a room in the building that it’s attached to. Sure enough, not only was our room in this building, but it was the room right next to the tower, and the head of the bed was against the other side of the wall that the tower is attached to. Ironically, neither of us were able to get cell phone service in the room or anywhere else at the resort, but this was fine with me.

Although the risks of electromagnetic radiation are surrounded by a lot of controversy, and although a week of exposure to this tower might not do any harm, I certainly didn’t want to spend my vacation thinking about it. Fortunately, we only had to sleep there one night and we were able to switch to a different room without any issues.

Hesitations About All Inclusive Meals

Although we typically don’t eat out more than once or twice per week because of the lower quality of food and unhealthy ingredients often used by restaurants, it’s something that we enjoy doing. Based on this, the prospect of an all inclusive vacation was very enticing, but worrisome at the same time. Although I’m not too worried about ruining my health from a week of unhealthy eating, I definitely respect how easily and dramatically unhealthy food can alter one’s mood and energy, especially since I’ve been very susceptible to this effect in the past. Sure, vacation is a nice time to indulge, but I don’t want to risk wasting any of my precious vacation time being irritable, tired, and depressed.

In 2005, my wife and I got married during a two week vacation to Hawaii. It was clearly one of the best experiences of my life, but this was despite waking up tired and depressed each morning. At the time, I couldn’t understand what was going on and thought I might be out of my mind, but now I know what was causing it and the short lived thrill of indulging on certain types of food simply isn’t worth it for me.

Most of my problems with unhealthy foods are related to gluten sensitivity. This can create quite a challenge when looking to indulge in something tasty because gluten is in just about everything besides natural whole foods. In addition, based on my nutritional individuality, I need to eat a majority of protein and fat to feel my best. Eating too much carbohydrate and not enough protein and fat typically leaves me feeling anxious and constantly hungry. At a typical American restaurant, there’s not much left on a breakfast or lunch menu after eliminating the choices that contain gluten or are high in carbohydrates. This is why one of my typical vacation preferences is to have a room with a refrigerator and kitchen.

Unfortunately, most resorts don’t seem to include menus on their websites, especially for breakfast, and the resort we were planning to stay at was no different. Having read a number of complaints about the food at all inclusive resorts certainly didn’t help, but after being told that most places have breakfast and lunch buffets that include meat, I figured that it was at least worth a try.

A Delicious Surprise

As it turned out, the food was one of the highlights of the trip. The resort had a number of restaurants to choose from, and instead of the typical buffet, they each had a full menu to order from. In fact, the meals were equivalent to what I’d expect from an upscale restaurant. The only downside was that the serving sizes were small, but with the appetizers and desserts, it wasn’t an issue.

In addition to the luxury of having every meal at a restaurant, I was thrilled by the many menu selections that were based on whole foods. Throughout the week, some of the delicious meals I enjoyed included beef tenderloin, flank steak, pork loin, leg of lamb, and duck leg, and this was for lunch as well as dinner. The duck was so delicious that I plan to make it a more regular part of my diet. Even for breakfast, there was plenty of bacon and salmon to help me start the day with a satisfying meal. There were plenty of fruits and berries as well which led to the invention of a new treat that I’ll describe later.

Overall, it was great to spend an entire week enjoying food that was both delicious and relatively healthy. It was a great balance between the excitement of indulging and the satisfaction of eating well. Even having a dessert with lunch and dinner each day didn’t seem like a big deal because the servings were usually modest and most of the menu choices weren’t as processed or loaded with sugar as most typical American desserts. Most important of all, the food I ate helped me to maintain a great mood all week and get the most out of my trip.

Open Bar and My New Favorite Drink

Another nice aspect of an all inclusive resort, which is probably favored by most people more so than the food, is the unlimited access to alcohol. However, the last thing I wanted to do was waste any precious vacation time recovering from a hangover. I don’t like to drink often anyway, but being that this was vacation, I didn’t exactly restrain myself either. It was especially nice having the wait staff bring drinks to us on the beach!

There were pools everywhere throughout the resort and they each had a swim up bar. Why anyone would prefer to hang out at a pool instead of a beach with the gorgeous turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea is beyond me, especially since chlorinated pools are a source of toxic disinfection byproducts like trihalomethanes. However, we did make a point of having a drink at one of the swim up bars just to experience the novelty.

Say what you will, I like “girly” drinks. I can’t drink beer because it contains gluten, and aside from a few types of lager, I never really liked it much anyway. I typically drink vodka and cranberry because it’s simple and I like how it tastes, but my favorite is Kahlua, vodka, and cream. I love the taste and the fat and protein from the cream help to offset the rapid absorption of the sugar and alcohol, but dairy doesn’t always agree with me. At the resort, I discovered an even better tasting alternative that quickly became my go to choice for the week. It’s called a tropical coconut and is made with Kahlua, vodka, and coconut cream. I’ve been planning to try something similar at home with coconut milk, but never got around to it. Now I will for sure!

My New Dessert Invention

During our first breakfast, I piled a bunch of random food on my plate which happened to include berries, cream cheese, and hazelnut cream. For whatever reason, I decided to put a small piece of cream cheese on my fork, scoop up a bit of the hazelnut cream, and add a blueberry, a blackberry, and a piece of strawberry. As strange of a combination as it may sound, it was delicious and instantly became a breakfast tradition for the rest of the week. This will definitely become one of the desserts that I occasionally enjoy at home.

An Unfortunate Example of Why You Should Exercise

The resort offered a 45 minute bike tour, and based on overhearing someone say that it was grueling, I thought it would be an enjoyable way to get some good exercise. I’d been using the resort’s gym each day, but because I didn’t like being in there when I could be outside enjoying the great weather, I thought this would be a good alternative. I was ready for a good workout and even wore my heart rate monitor.

Before getting started, the tour guide asked if anyone had a heart condition. I took this as a confirmation that we were going to do some real exercise. I was wrong. My heart rate stayed below 100 most of the time with the exception of a small hill that briefly caused it to rise to about 120. Sure, it was still exercise, but probably even less intense than a brisk walk on the beach. Furthermore, probably less than 15 minutes of the tour actually involved pedaling a bike.

Less than half way through the tour, a middle aged man fainted while pedaling and proceeded to fall off his bike. Apparently, he has a heart condition and chose not to say anything when the tour guide specifically asked about this. Fortunately, he eventually got up on his own after a major ordeal that lasted about 20 minutes, but the outcome could have obviously been much worse. It’s well known that moderate exercise improves cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of heart problems, and it really doesn’t have to take up that much time or effort. There’s no excuse to be this out of shape, and in addition to putting your life at risk, it can greatly limit your physical capabilities, your enjoyment of life, and cause your family unnecessary burden and sorrow.

Adjusting to Island Time

The cultures of tropical locations are notorious for a slow pace of life that is commonly referred to as island time. This often causes busy Americans a lot of frustration, even when on vacation. Although Mexico isn’t an island, the country seems to have embraced the concept of island time. Mexicans have a reputation for being hard workers, but based on what I’ve seen, they don’t rush and work themselves into a frenzy like many Americans do. The El Dorado Royale has a very large staff and I was both amazed and inspired by how happy most of the workers seemed to be, even the groundskeepers and cleaning staff who weren’t required to interact with guests.

Granted, it’s probably a lot easier to have a relaxed attitude in a tropical environment, but this certainly isn’t a requirement for taking life a little more slowly. Although this laid back mentality facilitated an unpleasant ending to a great week and nearly caused us to miss our flight home, I still think it’s a valuable lesson to learn from and is a much happier and healthier way to live. In fact, this same type of mentality is what helped me not get too bent out of shape about our transportation to the airport being delayed, waiting on a long line at the Cancun airport, almost missing our flight, arriving in Philadelphia to learn that our connection flight was canceled, and not arriving at home until 1 AM instead of 8:30 PM.

All Inclusive is Great!

Based on the great time I had on this trip, I’m now a big fan of all inclusive vacations and definitely plan on doing another one. Although most of our vacations typically involve more activities, it’s also nice to spend a week at a resort basically doing nothing. It’s also nice having restaurants and bars within walking distance and being able to come and go as you please without having to worry about money. In addition, if you don’t add on too many expenses such as excursions or spa visits, it’s much easier to account for your expenses which can help to reduce stress and make the trip more enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a specific place to try, I highly recommend the El Dorado Royale. It’s apparently typical for it to be quite windy this time of year, which was the case for us, but it’s a small price to pay to enjoy sunny 85 degree weather in the middle of winter. It certainly beats the 8 degree weather that we returned home to!

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