I ONCE HAD ONE OF THE “best jobs in the world.” I worked for an all-inclusive resort as an activities and entertainment coordinator. Those who go on all-inclusive vacations don’t get to see the many things that happen behind-the-scenes. The job was enjoyable, but far from being all “sunshine and margaritas” like many seem to believe. Here are some things they don’t tell you about working at resort:
1. Work days can last over 15 hours.
Generally, out of all resort staff members, entertainers have the longest days. My day usually started at 8 or 9 a.m. sharp, and I would begin the day by either welcoming tourists to the the pool area and teaching aerobics or starting crazy games in the pool. We’d work until 5 p.m., have a two-hour break, then start the nighttime entertainments. Often, after the nightly activities or show ended, we’d stay in to prepare and rehearse for the next day. My days usually ended anytime from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
2. There is absolutely no frowning allowed.
When someone asks you how you are, “I’m fine,” or even “I’m great!” are not acceptable answers. Resort workers, especially entertainers, are always “excellent!” We had to always be perky and upbeat, even if we didn’t sleep the night before, even if we had a headache, or even if we broke up with someone that morning.
The No. 1 work rule at all-inclusives is that you always have to smile. Guests pay thousands of dollars to have a happy and memorable vacation and they don’t need to get their trip ruined by moody staff.
3. Partying is exhaustingly mandatory.
A big part of my job was to accompany guests to bars and dance clubs, host parties and make sure everyone had the time of their life. Which sounds nice, right? Sometimes it was. Having people from all over world tell me that I made their vacation fun was one of the greatest rewards of the job. But sometimes, especially after a 14-hour day, I just wanted to go home (or escape to a Mexico City Airbnb). But at a resort, if a guest looks bored, no one cares about how tired you are. You have to stay, start a party, and get the bored tourists out on the dance floor! If they’re just hanging around the bar, it’s your job to offer them (more) shots, and join them in having a drink.
4. A work week can last 8 days.
Generally, resort workers get one day off a week. But if a team member gets sick, or if there are more tourists or work than usual, the days off get canceled. When I once worked two weeks non-stop, some people told me I was lucky that it was only two weeks.
5. The pay sucks.
I knew I was going to get paid next-to-nothing for this job, but that didn’t matter; I took the job for the experience. But I was surprised to find out that my measly salary as an entertainer was actually among the highest salaries in the resort industry.
The majority of all-inclusive staff members — including those who work in the maintenance, food and beverage and laundry departments — make about the equivalent of around $300 USD a month — and these workers actually had families to support.
6. Guests first, food later.
Us entertainers were entitled to a lunch hour in the resort’s all-you-can-eat buffet … as long as all entertainment activities were properly planned, and as long as we continued to entertain guests during lunch. Most days were rewarding; I ate and sat with tourists from all over the world and learned about what they enjoyed about the resort and listened to their stories about what it was like to live in their part of the world. Some guests even taught me how how to say a few things in Dutch, German and Italian. But on busy days, we sometimes skipped lunch because we had to finish planning the theme nights or rehearsing for shows.
All, at my resort, entertainment staff were the only employees who were allowed to eat in the buffet. Other employees had to eat in the staff kitchen, where only one or two very basic (and sometimes gross) meals were available.
7. Things get crazy when there’s a natural disaster.
All-inclusives are in areas that are prone to natural disasters. One day, prior to wrapping up my daily activities, I was told that we couldn’t go home because a hurricane was heading our way and we had to prepare the resort and all the guests for it.
Everyone who worked at the resort spent that night sheltering everything that could potentially get blown away. When the hurricane landed, we sheltered all the terrified guests and organized a whole night of shows and activities to get their minds off it. Then the next day, clean-up week begins. We pulled tree branches out of the pools and pathways, lugged outdoor furniture back to their original spot outside and cleaned mud and sand everywhere.
8. You form friendships that last anywhere from one week to a lifetime
Working at a resort is so exhausting that most workers do not keep the job for more than a year, particularly in entertainment. I was almost always saying goodbye to a team member, and training someone new, even though I myself was only there for a few months.
But as a person who values human connection, I took as much time as I could to personally get to know many of the people I worked with. Some told me about their pasts, and some divulged their dreams about the future. Having the opportunity to meet so many fascinating people even for a brief period of time was incredibly rewarding.