Creating Your Own Eco-Lodge Trip— at an All-Inclusive Resort
All-inclusive resort as an eco-lodge substitute? Sometimes we eco-minded individuals hesitate to book a traditional vacation because we feel it’s not environmentally oriented enough. But we can also find the green in unexpected places, like all-inclusive resorts.
In winter 2017, I decided to extend a trip to a friend’s condo on the eastern shore of Florida by booking a stay at the Club Med in Port St. Lucie, which is about two hours north of Miami. As someone who primarily eats a plant-based diet and whose leisure revolves around human- over motor-propelled activities, I really wasn’t sure that a vacation package would satisfy my requirements for relaxation, renewal, exercise, and interactions with the organic world.
I should not have been hesitant. Here are some ways I converted the options available to me during my Club Med stay into a vacation grounded in connections to nature and mindfulness.
Making good transportation choices
Instead of renting a combustion engine-propelled car and contributing more emissions to the atmosphere, I took public transportation from one Florida city to another: a mass transit bus. Although it was not an express route, I read and wrote and arrived in plenty of time to check in at a reasonable hour and become acclimated to the all-inclusive facility’s footprint.
Also, by not driving a car to my destination, I was necessarily limited to the resort during my stay, but I knew that I had limited options ahead and made a conscious decision to walk whenever possible and slow down my usual go-go, fast-fast, I’m very, very late pace. (And, yes, I could’ve called Uber had I gotten desperate)
Plant-based food options
As a vegetarian, I’m accustomed to scanning restaurant menus and seeing few interesting selections. I had braced myself for the Club Med buffets; I expected too much meat and too few vegetable and fruit dishes. I was pleasantly surprised, not just that there were vegetarian and vegan dishes at each meal, but there were bountiful plant-based choices. I now think that progressive attitudes toward the importance of what we eat are becoming more commonplace around the globe. They certainly were apparent at my all-inclusive resort.
For each of the three meals served per day, I had lots from which to choose.
Breakfast: Grits, quinoa cereal, oatmeal, roasted potatoes, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo, fresh grapefruit, oranges, mango chunks, strawberries, melon, apples, peaches, yogurt, in-house baked breads, scones…..
Lunch: Veggie burgers, broccoli slaw, noodle/ potato/ rice salads, cucumber and tomato compotes, margarita pizza, salad bar, crepes, …
Dinner: I sometimes gave into a little dairy indulgence with items like adult macaroni and cheese, Brie and basil bread, or cream of spinach soup. But I found lots of vegan items, due to the bounty of sauteed vegetables and fruit displays. Asparagus, green beans, summer squash, roasted onions, and other vegetables became the base for various dishes. There were also specialty vegan items like dahl or burritos.
Desserts: Oh! How I had to pace myself and resist tiramisu, cheesecakes, key lime pie, fresh fruit tarts, fudge, genoise, mouse, layer cakes…
People-powered leisure activities at the all-inclusive resort
When I’ve booked cruises in the past, I’ve felt swept up in the impetus to add on expensive travel excursions, which involved motorized transportation to and from the ship, sedentary activities, and lots of consumption. My experience at the all-inclusive Club Med was just the opposite. Here’s what my daily schedule looked like– all of which were included in my reservation:
Yoga by the water’s edge before breakfast. The spring mist off the Intercoastal waterway set a meditative tone.
Zumba — that dance/ gymnastics/ exercise trend — was a fun and energetic late morning group activity.
AquaGym was my first time of the day immersed in the water. With the sun beaming down on a heated Olympic-sized swimming pool, I reached upward and hopped and scooped water and splashed, all to a techno beat, led by a peppy and lithe fitness instructor.
Laps in the pool have been a lifelong leisure activity for me, but, as I get older, I find that my stamina lessens with infrequent swimming. I knew that I would have to build my endurance, so I started slowly and methodically. On the first day, I gave myself the freedom to know that swimming requires focused breathing, and I was out of practice. I did four lengths the first day, and, by the time I was ready to head back home upon departure, I was up to twenty lengths– pretty good!
Kayaking is always my boating choice, and every day I would grab a single kayak from the fleet and paddle out of the cove and into the Intercoastal waterway. With the spring sun and light breezes beckoning me, I zipped along and identified trees and local flora. (I also watched out for manatees, which, alas, I did not see, as the March water temperature was still a bit too cool for their bodies.)
Driving range visits and hitting a bucket of balls is a little more exercise and a little less savoring the natural world, granted, but it came with my all-inclusive package, and it offered me some really good stretching. Watching the sun lower into the horizon at the end of a satisfying day gave me solace, and the action of swinging the clubs was good for my muscle tone and poise.
Connecting to nature
Each day, I would step out onto my balcony to watch the pelicans diving in the nearby cove. Cormorants and anhinga would rest with their wings spread, drying out before their next fishing excursion. Hawks would dip and float on the upper wind currents. Egrets and blue herons stood silently, awaiting fish to swim by, of which there were plenty: those amazing schools of leaping and diving fish would constantly swim through our cove.
One day, when I was kayaking, I happened upon a pod of dolphins. They submerged and broke through the wave’s surface, rolling and flipping and diving again. The natural world right outside my door was such a daily gift, and I made sure to cherish it.
Yes, there are opportunities for the all-inclusive Club Med to do even more if it might someday want to call itself an ecologically-oriented resort. Instead of small plastic bottles filled with shampoo, lotion, and body wash, they might offer large portioned, refillable containers. Rather than landscaping with gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers, they could use old-fashioned human power like hand mowers or rakes. Lots of the property had sustainable landscaping comprised of perennial grasses, trees, and shrubs alongside sand, but it might be time to remove the small patches of grasses as well, due to their need for chemical applications to stay weed free.
Perhaps we as tourists should be a bit more sustainable in our vacation practices, too, by being conscious of water usage by only requiring sheet and towel service every other day (such a sacrifice!). Food waste in the dining room was truly excessive, and I know that I could be more careful to take smaller portions of items of which I did not have familiarity.
Eco-tourism is absolutely wonderful, and I recommend it whenever possible. But sometimes a trip that is affordable, stress-free, and invigorating can be adapted into an ecologically sound and healthy vacation. After all, isn’t that what going on holiday should be all about?