With a few exceptions, our trip to Mexico was damn near perfect. One exception (extreme illness) I’ve already discussed. The other I’ll discuss now.
After spending five blissed-out days in Tulum, Alex and I packed our duffels and shipped out to Dreams Puerto Aventuras. Dreams, for those of you who didn’t receive copies of our Priceline itinerary, is an all-inclusive resort. Pre-departure, A. and I had ambivalent thoughts about staying at such a place. On one hand, Cabanas Tulum was a known quantity (and a kick-ass one, at that). On the other, neither Alex nor I had stayed at an all-inclusive, and we were lured by the promise of unlimited, top-shelf booze, unlimited room service, &c.
I feel sheepish even writing about my baser, capitalist desires. I’ve read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” — I knew, on some level, what I was getting myself into. But my thought of myself sunning on a chaise, posed as in a circa-75 Helmut Newton portrait, being brought drink after drink by a cabana boy? Couldn’t resist it, nevermind that I don’t own any shoulder-baring Halston cover-ups. (source)
Expecting the best, aware of the worst, Alex and I booked a two-day stay at Dreams.
On arrival, we were handed flutes of sparkling wine — tepid wine, though that couldn’t have been helped, given the intense outdoor temperatures. Off the bat, we hit a service snag: the desk clerk gave us guff for not having a printout of our reservation confirmation. Really? I thought, juggling my flute, my carry-on, my purse, and my half-dried swimsuit. It’s 20-effing-11: don’t you all have the reservation saved electronically?
They did, it turns out, though Alex had to sign into his email account (using the concierge’s enormous Dell desktop) to retrieve it.Already, I digress: the service — most of it — was blandly pleasant. The purpose of this post is to complain about Dreams’ godawful food. Yes, yes, I’ve been known to complain (sometimes hyperbolically), but hear me out. If you’re not convinced of the resort’s culinary Reign of Terror, at least you’ll have a chuckle or two.
We had our first sit-down meal at El Patio, which specializes in “delectable Mexican cuisine,” according to Dreams’ website. It took nearly half an hour to be seated; A. tried to order a pre-meal tequila, which request was rebuffed by the hostess. No matter: soon enough, we were sipping pina coladas, spiked versions of Orange Julius fare.
El Patio was the best of the onsite restaurants. My steak fajitas, Americanized though they were, weren’t gristly. (The tortillas, however, had clearly come from a resealable plastic bag.) To my delight, I noted chunks of actual avocado in my guacamole. Alex reported that his steak was alright. Considering the dining horrors we’d come to endure, alright seems like high praise. The drinks, sadly(?), were the highlight of the meal.
Later that same night, we ventured to the bar for more pina coladas. The bartender, overwhelmed by a slew of wedding guests, turned us away, advising us to get our drinks via room service, instead.
Fair enough: room service was one of the amenities that sold us on Dreams. We placed our order (two pina coladas and a club sandwich with fries) and waited. And waited, and waited. Played a few hands of rummy, drank light beers from the minibar, and wondered if we’d been forgotten. Would we be stranded, coladaless, forever? After an hour of waiting, Alex called room service to discover that our order had been lost.
Such things happen, but such things seem more annoying than normal when you’re at a resort that prides itself on “unlimited luxury.” Due to the late hour, room service was unable to provide us our coladas. We did get the sandwich, a bastardization of the classic. Crustless and soggy, it contained road-sign yellow cheese-food and chopped raw onions. The fries, at least, were edible.
The following night, Alex suggested we try Portofino, Dreams’ [supposedly] most upscale restaurant. The wait for a table was just over an hour; in the dark, we sat on a bench by the empty pool, drinking scotch & sodas. How strange, to occupy such an empty space, knowing that people are everywhere (if hidden).
Portofino’s decor can best be described as 90s vomit: ostentatious light fixtures, bold-patterned textiles, clear plastic chairs. Early 2000s, maybe — I’m not the design expert here — but outmoded any way you slice it. The house wine was half a step below Carlo Rossi. Mediocre as it was, the bread basket signaled salvation. We were starving.
This dinner’s theme was Go Big or Go Home: we ordered two appetizers (Caprese salad and mixed salad), an intermediate course (mushroom risotto), and two entrees (filet x 2). Quick! Which dish was least offensive?
Answer: Caprese salad. Though the tomatoes were pink/mealy and pesto took the place of fresh basil (slackers!), the mozzarella was good. That said, how does one fuck up sliced mozzarella? Evidently, one does not.
The mixed salad was an atrocity, accompanied as it was by previously frozen green beans and canned peaches. That’s right: freaking canned fruit, which was billed as “candied” or some such. Alex and looked at each other in shock: surely, the subsequent courses wouldn’t be this flimsy?
But you know where this story is headed. The risotto (raved about by ladies at the pool) tasted like knockoff Olive Garden — edible, yes, but far from palatable. Mostly, it was salty. Salty and brown, capped with a tiny bit of parmesan that no doubt came from a plastic tub.
Most egregious were the steaks. Disconcertingly homogeneous in size and shape, accompanied by more frozen beans, the steaks were as close to flavorless as food can get. As Alex said, “It’s like they sucked out all the natural flavorings and replaced them with chemical preservatives.” Omaha Steaks would have seemed princely compared to this swill.
We took a few bites of steak before bolting. That’s right: we left mid-meal, not notifying our waiter or the hostess. Our exit was lushly freeing, exuberant in the same manner of skipping class.
Still hungry, we hit up the Seaside Grill to see what we could get. Shortly after we were seated, a man with an earpiece approached us.
“Mr. Ryan, Mrs. Ryan*? We notice you just left Portofino — did you encounter problems there?”
“Actually,” Alex said, “we did.” He related our story: the ungodly wait, the distant service, the laughable wine, the shoe-leather steak.
“You can tell me honestly,” A. said to Earpiece Dude. “When you go home at night, you eat better steak than that, right? You wouldn’t serve your family a steak like that.”
“I’m sorry for your negative experience, sir,” the man answered, unable to confirm what everyone knew was true. “Allow me to rectify the situation.”
And so we were showered with more crappy food: a meat empanada (pork or beef: it was anyone’s guess), a watercress salad with chopped spinach subbed in for the title ingredient, stale cookies. More cheap scotch. If I hadn’t so thoroughly enjoyed kvetching about the food, I’d have been thoroughly depressed.
I understand that Dreams targets a fairly narrow demographic; I now know that I don’t fit within that demographic’s boundaries. I’m not a 24-year-old who wants to get shitty on Malibu, nor am I an Indiana wife burdened by the malaise of My Rural Existence. Still, Dreams’ marketing is entirely deceptive: there’s nothing luxurious about the place. Sysco slop is Sysco slop regardless of where it’s served.
Bottom line: if you like to eat food, do not visit Dreams Puerto Aventuras.
*All resort staff (incorrectly) referred to me as “Mrs. Ryan,” despite my attempts to correct them. Random people asked me if I was married, with children; they seemed perplexed — disconcerted? — when I said “no.” In some cases, I said, “Well, I’m from San Francisco,” which placated them. Heteronormativity!