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It’s late December. Most of us are either hating/enjoying the confines of our own homes or traveling somewhere awesome/dreadful for the holidays. A select few, however, are using their vacation days the right way: at an all-inclusive resort. While the rest of us are gorging on glazed ham, they’re stuffing their faces with glazed ham, glazed doughnuts and any other foods they can find with a nice sheen on it. The buffets may be endless, but the question is, do the diners truly know what they’re doing? Like teenagers fumbling through their first roll in the hay, an uninformed visit to an all-inclusive resort will leave you full on bread and loaded with bad memories. You’ve got to have a plan, man.

The phrase “all-inclusive” conjures up visions of overflowing shrimp towers and fountains of beer, but without a plan, you’re nothing. Obviously every resort is different, but the routine is basically the same: three standard meals a day, several special food events (high tea, midnight pizza buffet, Twilight blood sausage party), and room service. It’s like a cruise, but without the Norovirus. The key to a successful all-inclusive visit is moderation, but a very specific kind of moderation. It’s not about controlling the amount of food you eat. It’s controlling the number of times you eat in a day.

If you had free room service at your disposal, wouldn’t you want to order it all the time? I would. At an all-inclusive, though, that means you’re spending a lot of time in your room. No bueno. So here’s rule number one: limit your room service. It’s the same food you’re getting in the restaurant(s) anyway, so there’s no need to bug out about the luxury of having someone deliver it to your temporary abode. If you need to have room service just because you can, use it for breakfast. That way, you can wake up, call for breakfast, get all of your morning routine stuff done, and by the time breakfast arrives, you’re ready to start your day and head out the door.

When it comes to all-inclusives, timing is everything. You’re on vacation, but that doesn’t mean time goes out the window. A lot of resorts offer activities at regimented times of the day. Plan what you want to do for the day and let that dictate how you’re going to eat. Let’s say you’re going snorkeling at 2 p.m. That means you want to go heavy at breakfast (it’s all-inclusive, dude – get the side of bacon AND sausage), light at lunch and then hit up some grub when you get back on dry land. This could be room service time, too, but wouldn’t you rather grab an impromptu order of fries at the bar? Yes. Yes you would.

In terms of actual ordering, it’s all about understanding the situation. All-inclusives are notorious for having terrible food. It’s the consequence of essentially serving so many people so much food for so many hours a day. Quality control can be hard to come by. That said, stick with simple things. If the resort is right on the water and you see fresh fish on its way to the kitchen, order the ceviche. If there are local specialties on the menu, go for those. Chances are the cooks are going to have a much easier time with blackened grouper than they are with sole meunière.

Whatever you do, make the most of your all-inclusive experience. Your next vacation could easily be non-inclusive. Next year, you could be freezing your toes off in Duluth where the only room service is an extra slice of Aunt Myrna’s meatloaf that you smuggled up to your room. Wherever you’re spending your free time these days, I hope you’re enjoying it. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

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