An all inclusive resort holiday — to some, it sounds like holiday heaven on Earth. To others, it sounds like a waste of vacation days. Until recently, I wavered between the two without having any actual experience to base my opinions on. Sure, I went on an all inclusive cruise with my mom and loved it, but we were busy with shore excursions and activities every day — not to mention it was a high-end, luxury brand. Would I enjoy a value-based, beachfront all-inclusive resort?
For the past few years, my girlfriends have been campaigning for just that. Typically we all head to Myrtle Beach together in the summer, but lately they’ve been sending me great deals on all inclusive package holidays that are pretty competitive with what we spend for a week in Myrtle, anyway. Still, I’ve been hesitant. So when The Grand Mirage invited me to come to their resort and try out the all inclusive experience in Bali, I jumped at the chance to see how this type of vacation worked for me.
After leaving Ubud, Anders and I set off for Nusa Dua, the area of South Bali known for wall-to-wall resorts. We checked into The Grand Mirage for a four nights all inclusive experiment.
The Grand Mirage has a total of 301 rooms and suites, three on-property restaurants, a large pool, and half a kilometer of beachfront. Having stayed at mega-resorts like The Atlantis in the Bahamas, I was actually surprised at how manageable and intimate the Grand Mirage felt.
The rooms at Grand Mirage are very comfortable and well sized for two people to spread out and feel at home. Our first night we were placed in a ground floor room which I really disliked due to the lack of privacy. When we moved upstairs I was much happier — I could keep the balcony doors open at all times to let in light without worrying about someone peeking in the room. The ocean views made me smile every time, as did the live orchid plant in every room.
While the standard rooms were, well, a high level of standard, I was able to peek into a suite at one point. The suites appear to have been renovated and updated recently and are very stylish and modern. The hotel was at full capacity while we were there, but I would recommend springing for the upgrade to anyone considering the Grand Mirage.
Food is obviously a huge part of the all inclusive experience. It’s nice not only to not have to pull out cash at every meal and also to let go of the (admittedly self-imposed) pressure to research the trendiest restaurants and the best value breakfasts. As someone who is normally on a budget, I definitely factor in prices when deciding on what to order at a restaurant, and it was such a nice feeling to realize I was deciding with my stomach rather than my wallet.
The Grand Mirage has four dining options. Our favorite was Jukung Grill, shown above. It had beautiful ocean views, steak on the menu for dinner, and a delicious banana spring roll dessert. We also liked Grand Cafe, which served breakfast each morning and had buffets for lunch and dinner. One night we had dinner at Chopsticks, which is at a sister resort but is also included in the Grand Mirage package. There was a set Chinese menu that we were able to pick options from — we loved it! (Also, Bintang lovers will not this is the only restaurant where you can get the classic Bali beer as opposed to the cheaper local brands served at Grand Mirage.) The fourth restaurant, La Cascata, we never tried — the dining room looked a little stuffy and the menu wasn’t too enticing. Still, there was enough variety between the restaurants and menus that I could have been very happy eating at Grand Mirage for a week without feeling stifled. Anders has stayed at several all inclusives around Europe and was very impressed with Grand Mirage’s offerings in comparison.
One touch that I loved about Grand Mirage was that the mini bar and room service were also included. When I was a kid and staying in hotels with my parents, mini bars and room service were the ultimate life indulgence and that mentality has stuck with me to today. We had dinner in bed one night watching movies and breakfast on our balcony our last morning, and both were such luxuries.
One thing that always made me hesitant about an all inclusive was thinking I would get bored within the confines of a gated resort. I tend to be pretty active and adventurous, and I like to spend my travels scuba diving and biking and jumping out of places! But I was reminded of a very important lesson at Grand Mirage: everyone needs a holiday sometimes.
Because there were plenty of activities at the Grand Mirage. Free use of non-motorized watersports, plenty of paid options to Jetski and Banana Boat around, and daily offering of everything from bike tours to yoga. But if our four nights there, we shifted into vacation mode immediately and couldn’t really muster the energy to do anything more intensive than debate whether to go to the pool bar or sit on the beach. In our defense, we accomplished one thing — playing tennis on the free courts.
Along with food, unlimited alcohol seems to be an integral part of the all inclusive experience. Again, it was wonderful to be able to order a cocktail without wondering about my bank balance and fretting about my cash levels — alcohol can be a huge drain on a travelers’ budget. It felt so deliciously indulgent to sit on the beach in the middle of the day and work our way through the cocktail menu.
Recently Grand Mirage has adjusted their all inclusive menu, and wine and premium beers like Bintang are no longer included. That’s a shame because sometimes I was a little bit over the sugary cocktails and would have loved a glass of white wine with dinner. But we did love our pina coladas by the pool, and our rum runners on the beach!
I have thoroughly documented my spa addiction on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that when the Thalasso Spa in the Grand Mirage invited us to experience a couple’s massage treatment I almost knocked Anders over on my way out the door. While certainly more expensive than other locations in Bali, Thalasso is still a deal compared to hotel spas back in the West, with massages starting at $48 for an hour. My masseuse was insanely talented — I wanted to cry when I woke up at the end and realized I had slept through the last twenty minutes (note to self: go easy on the cocktails before heading to the spa).
I realize that the demographics of every all inclusive is different. Some are more singles and nightlife based, others are geared more towards families, and others still are more couple-y and honeymoon focused. Grand Mirage is definitely geared mostly towards families, though we did see couples and groups of young people around as well.
Unless we were seated at the swim up bar, Anders and I mostly avoided the munchkin brigade by favoring the beach instead of the pool. And as we were drinking throughout the day, we actually really enjoyed taking it easy at night. At one point I noted an unexpected perk of the all-inclusive — when we weren’t worrying about where to eat or what to do or how to allocate our budget, we were able to enjoy some serious us-time that led to great conversations and treasured memories.
I confess — I really liked it.
Would I want to travel this way all the time? No. If I only had a few days a year to travel, is this how I would spent them? Probably not. But as someone who has the flexibility to travel often, I enjoyed the indulgence of a few days that were not spent traveling but truly vacationing. Setting aside time to not worry about absorbing new cultures or climbing new mountains or conquering language barriers and to instead just focus on relaxation and relationships was absolutely a gift. I can definitely see myself rotating this all inclusive thing into my travels every few years.
Of course, there are trade offs. All inclusives are typically based on value for the masses and getting a good deal. I might be broke but I’m still a design snob, and some of the common areas are looking a bit dated and could use renovation. But you know? This kind of trip is not about Architectural Digest award-winning rooms. It’s about being a little buzzed and laughing in the afternoon sun with your toes in the sand, ordering the entire dessert menu from room service at midnight, and having deep conversations over dinner without worrying about how to split a bill. Full tummies, good friends, great times, no stresses.
Next time my girlfriends back home email me the link to an all inclusive deal, I’ll be happy to sign up. Maybe it will even be back at The Grand Mirage.
Have you ever stayed at an all inclusive? What were your thoughts and impressions?
All inclusive rooms start at $235 per night. Many thanks to the Grand Mirage for their hospitality. While I was a guest of the resort, as always all thoughts and opinions are my own.