OPINION: Choose food wisely at all-inclusives

by Rebekah Benoit

sea-shore-motion_426-19323889Is there anything more relaxing than a vacation in beautiful Mexico? The turquoise water, the fine white sand between your toes, hours spent relaxing blissfully in a lounge chair while warm tropical breezes sigh in your ear…this is what I anticipated last week as I boarded a plane for eight beautiful days in Mexico.
And here’s what I got instead: two days on the beach, and six more spent huddled, shivering, sweating and vomiting, on the cold marble tiles of the bathroom floor. I’ve travelled to the Caribbean and to Mexico many times before, and I’ve never gotten so dramatically and painfully ill. I thought I’d covered all my bases – I made sure not to eat off our resort, which was all-inclusive and boasted a five star rating. I washed my hands like a fiend every time I passed a sink, and I steered clear of such notorious stomach-busters as soft cheese and other dairy products and sushi. I drank only bottled water provided by the resort, and to clinch it, I even took Dukoral, a vaccine to prevent travellers’ diarrhea, before I left.
We arrived on Friday. By Sunday afternoon, my head had started to pound and I was exhausted to the point of actually falling asleep at the dinner table. By that evening, I was sweating and shivering uncontrollably, For the remainder of my vacation, I was confined to my room, unable to stir more than a few steps from the bathroom, battling dehydration and vicious stomach cramps. Within two days of falling ill, my husband, sister and brother-in-law had also become sick. By the time our day of departure rolled around, the four of us could barely hobble to the shuttle, dehydrated and clutching our stomachs and cursing our bad luck. We’d all followed the recommendations that every traveller knows to prevent getting sick and yet we’d all succumbed to a particularly virulent bout of gastroenteritis. Talk about the vacation from hell!
In hindsight, there were some clear signs from the very beginning that we’d chosen a poor all-inclusive. We ignored some clear warning signs that should have sent us fleeing to the nearest taxi. So, in the hopes that my misfortune might benefit some other poor travelling soul, here are some clear signs that you’ve chosen a bad all-inclusive.
1. The resort does not make obvious efforts to promote cleanliness around food areas. When we visited one of the many buffets at the resort, we noticed something surprising: virtually no hand sanitizer anywhere. On other vacations, I’ve seen these hand-cleansing stations at the entrance to every food area, and often an employee manning it to make sure everyone cleans their hands before entering.
2. The gift shop is always sold out of Pepto Bismol and Immodium. In the depths of our misery, we haunted the hotel gift shop in search of stomach remedies. We learned that we had to show up early in the morning, as these were always sold out well before noon. If your resort can’t keep Pepto Bismol on the shelves, there’s a good chance that a lot of guests are sick and quietly suffering behind closed doors.
3. The all-inclusive fees seem too good to be true. We were delighted that our resort was offering a 50 per cent off sale on all-inclusive fees. In hindsight, this should have seemed fishy. After all, we were travelling during Easter, one of the busiest travel times of the year. If your hotel is struggling to fill rooms and offering deep discounts during busy travel times, there may be a reason this resort is unpopular and guests are choosing not to return, or recommend it to their friends.
4. There are obvious food-handling safety issues. Toward the end of our visit, we developed a keen eye for food handling safety and noticed some glaring flaws. Foods which should have been kept cold, such as dairy products, yogurts and cheese, and even sushi, were allowed to sit out until they reached room temperature.
Sadly, I have to admit that I’m leery of visiting Mexico again. My vacation truly became an ‘intesti-monial’ for making wise food choices at an all-inclusive, and even now, I’m still feeling the physical effects of my illness, nearly a week after my return. It’s sad that one bad experience has soured me on an entire country, which has many beautiful sights and experiences to offer travellers, but I’m just not willing to risk getting sick again. My advice? Don’t discount Mexico, but spend your first day on your resort with a magnifying glass, ensuring staff is making every effort to keep you healthy.