Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Cult, er, I mean Club.

It’s been four weeks since I got back from the Dominican Republic.

Despairingly, my tan has faded and my post-holiday blues are at an all time high. The just-above-freezing temperatures in the mornings in London recently haven’t helped matters; after a blissful week in 33c heat at a 5 star LHVC resort (plus a couple of nights spent at Airbnbs in Santo Domingo, the country’s capital), I arrived back in Blighty with an almighty bump. I swapped flip-flops for knee-high boots, traded shorts for jeans, and my bikinis are now up in the loft with the rest of my summer wardrobe. Get me back to the Dom Rep, to the sunshine – and to the luxury I’d become accustomed to at LHVC.

What’s LHVC, you ask? It’s an acronym for ‘Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club‘ – though if I’m honest, the letter C could easily stand for ‘Cult’. Because after a week, that’s what it felt like I was being seduced, cajoled into. And it clearly worked, because after four weeks, I’m desperate to get back there, to be waited on hand and foot, to have my every culinary need catered for, to be sleeping on a big, comfortable bed every night, back in my big, spacious hotel room (complete with Jacuzzi bath).

I’ve been brainwashed.

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LHVC is an exclusive club for elite holidaymakers, for those that want all-inclusive to the max. So understandably, I did feel like an impostor when mum and I rocked up at the resort in Puerto Plata late on the Saturday afternoon. After a day that was, for the most part, spent travelling in a (cheap-yet-comfortable, and extremely air-conditioned) Caribe Tours coach, we looked unkempt, disheveled. We were clearly not the kind of people the resort was marketed towards – or were we?

Everything about LHVC has been designed for those who want exquisite, luxury, splendour, refinement. It’s designed for those who want fine dining, bottomless champagne, an endless supply of ice-cold cocktails bought to them whenever they want, wherever they are. It’s designed for those who want to relax on beautiful beaches, in well-maintained gardens or by crystal clear pools. Or for those that want to rejuvenate in the Yin Yang spa, or to play a round of golf on the resort’s private 9-hole course. It’s for those who want to holiday in the epitome of paradise.

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People like me? Possibly.

The grooming for this exclusive club started as soon as we’d checked in and received our wristbands. “I’m your chauffeur this week, let me drive you to your accommodation”, said a young, handsome man wearing a safari-style linen uniform, complete with freshly pressed creases in his shorts and a khaki safari pith. He took our small case (couldn’t do just carry on with both of us and a giant flamingo pool float in tow), heaved it onto the back of a golf buggy and told us to climb on.

Having been on the coach for so long, we’d have preferred to stretch our legs – but after about five minutes on the buggy and having still not reached the illusive “accommodation”, we realised that walking just wasn’t going to be an option at this hotel. It was huge. Plus no one was walking anywhere – everyone was hurling around in golf buggies. I felt like part of a real-life version of Mario Kart, with everyone zipping in and out in front of one another, overtaking on straights, and nearly tipping as they sped around a tight corner too fast.

Looking at the map I’d received when checking in, the sheer size of the LHVC resort was suddenly apparent. It took about eight minutes to drive from the  reception to our accommodation block. Once parked, the chauffeur carried our luggage up two flights of white marble stairs, then opened the door to our room with the key card. Following him in, mum and I were both in awe – it was undoubtedly the biggest room we’d ever stayed in.

“You want drink? Let me check,” he said as he opened the mini fridge. “Only water, I will get you beer.” And he did: about three minutes later, another young guy was knocking on the room door, clutching four bottles of Presidente beer. Reading the tell-tale look on our faces, he knew we wanted a cold drink, but were worried about the price of these magical beers. “No problems,” he said as he cracked one open and handed it over, “all inclusive.”

I was definitely starting to warm to the idea of this 5 star luxury lifestyle, I must confess.

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That first afternoon was bliss. Mum and I sat by the pool (one of 12, but don’t ask which one) reading, relaxing and sipping on cocktails from the bar (one of 12, Pirate’s Cove Whiskey Bar – though neither of us drank whiskey). All the travelling to reach Puerto Plata had been worth it, we’d found paradise. We were slowly being lured in.

 

Join our club, be a part of the family.

First came the obvious, propaganda-style messages, the kind that couldn’t really be avoided.

“LIFESTYLE IS FAMILY” boomed a deep, male voice from the wall-mounted screen in our room. On the first night at the resort, each lying on our own freshly made king-size bed, my mum habitually flicked on the television. We both sat there in silence, watching the screen. Transfixed by scenes of a young, thin, beautiful (perhaps enhanced, digitally or cosmetically) couple walking hand-in-hand across the Harmony Beach, the Serenity Beach, the Deja View Beach, mum and I watched wide-eyed. Like the X Factor announcer bellowing “It’s Time. To Face. The Music”, the male voiceover paused dramatically in all the right places. The backing track was building to a crescendo, but it was a finale that never seemed to come. Just as we thought Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club couldn’t get any better, we were shown something else, something more luxurious, more exciting, more beautiful. There was even a helicopter pad, for Pete’s sake.

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The voiceover rattled off the resort amenities like a luxurious Fortnum & Mason shopping list: 12 bars, 11 restaurants, 12 pools, seven beaches and over 1,000 magnificent “accommodations” at the Lifestyle Holiday resort in Puerto Plata. No rooms here, these were accommodations –  take your pick of a 1 bathroom, a junior suite, a 2 bathroom, a penthouse, a presidential suite, a villa, a crown villa, a royal villa. Enough room for your entire party, however many you’re travelling with. You’d even get your own personal chef if you opted for one of the villas.

But that’s not all: join the club, the Lifestyle family, and VIP members will have access to the sister resort in Punta Cana, as well as the newly built resort in Cancun. Which is the “largest resort in Mexico“, I might add. Oh, and the cherry on top of the already-smothered-in-sickly-sweet-icing cake: joining the club means discounted rates at other hotels and resorts in the network, in over 120 countries worldwide.

As soon as the 45-minute programme ended, it began again. Not that mum or I minded. We were gradually getting sucked in; it was like watching the showreel of best bits from an actor begging for work, on repeat.

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Under the influence.

After the obvious signals, came the subliminal ones. The ones that I didn’t really notice until I’d left the resort and was back in Britain, where I’ve been forced to make my own coffee, pour my own water and make my own bed.

Feelings of inferiority hit mum and I on the second day: we only had lowly yellow wristbands. We weren’t allowed to eat at the gourmet Azul restaurant on the fourth floor of the Tower, which offered amazing panoramic views of Puerto Plata. We weren’t allowed to eat at Rodizio – a Brazilian churrascaria which we’d heard had the best barbecued meat in the whole of the Caribbean. And we weren’t allowed to drink in any of the VIP bars, including the Breezy Blends Bar at the Harmony Beach – which I was particularly gutted about, as the frozen slushies looked amazing.

On the second day we were given a taste of the high life while on a tour of the resort with the lovely Jessica. Though she wasn’t pushy or too salesy, we were constantly told that none of this would be available to us unless we signed on the dotted line, joined the club and got a gold wristband.

I so wanted that gold band, until Jessica told us how much it would cost to get it.

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Money over mind.

I’ve already mentioned that I felt like an impostor at the resort. But I also felt like a criminal, a burglar. At times during our holiday at LHVC I was suddenly wracked with guilt for not paying the full price for our stay. Though simultaneously smug and proud for putting all my money-saving skills into practice. If I’d been a bank robber, this would have been the ultimate ‘job’, the make-or-break heist. If it had all gone terribly wrong, it would have broken me, quite literally. At the usual price of £108 per night for the room, I would’ve had to file for bankruptcy if the receptionist had suddenly said “I’m sorry Ms Talbot, it looks like there’s been an error – you owe Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club £757 before I can give you your room key”.

Fortunately nothing of the sort was muttered. In fact, as we got to the front of the queue to check-in to our one bathroom accommodation at the Tropical hotel, it was the total opposite: “Well today is your lucky day Ms Talbot, the Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club has upgraded you to a junior suite in the Cofresi Palm Resort and Spa“. A room that should have cost £1,177 for the week, which I’d paid just £158 for.

Aside from the debate on the ethics of staying in a luxury, all-inclusive resort (a debate which I’m still on the fence for), paying less than £500 per person for a holiday in a country that relies so heavily on tourism, and was recently hit by a devastating hurricane, left a sour taste in my mouth. To overcome my guilt, I gave in to Ellery, the sales rep for the Yin Yang spa, and got my nails done by the lovely Karen. Sure, it was more than I’d usually pay for getting a manicure, but I was in a 5 star luxury resort, and I needed to look the part. Plus Ellery was quite cute (wink wink).

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So, would I join the Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Cult, er, I mean Club?

If I had that kind of cash, of course I would. Who wouldn’t want to be treated like royalty, have every need and whim catered for? The staff were friendly, the entertainment team were one of the best I’ve ever met (but more on that in another post), the food was decent and the resort was beautiful. Also, the fellow guests we made friends with around the pool weren’t the elite, VIP, super-stick-thin, beautiful holidaymakers that were featured in the promo video – they were regular nobodies just like mum and I. So by the end of the week, we didn’t feel too out of place.

But sadly (for me, probably not for my bank manager), I just don’t have a spare $23,000 lying around to pay the one-off, 35-year membership fee to join LHVC. Or an additional $250 for every week I want to book a junior suite at the resort. Nor an extra $60 per person, per night for the all-inclusive service – which you have to take, as there are no other boarding options available in the resort. Sorry LHVC, you’ll not be gaining a new family member out of me, as much as I’d love to join.

Will I go back to the Dominican Republic, though? Yep – I think I mentioned how cute Ellery was (wink wink). Will I be staying at a Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club resort again? Only if I win the lottery – or find a deal at that unbelievable price again. Which kind of amounts to the same thing really.

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111 thoughts on “Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Cult, er, I mean Club.

  1. Oh my god, you are too funny. This post had me crying tears of laughter- I can totally relate to that imposter syndrome when I visit resorts like this. I’m glad you had such a lovely vacation. It really is hard not to miss it once you’re back home!

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  2. Looks like a gorgeous place. I had a similar experience at one of those time-share places in Fiji. We were sold the dream, the exclusive dream…shown to the penthouse suites and finest aspects of the resort, and how much we would spend on holidays over the next 20 years…then with the upfront costs. You have to be strong to walk away!

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  3. Well, I came back from Florida 7 days ago! And, like you, at the airport, I had to b changing into boots and coat etc. And what a weather to come back to! Glad you enjoyed your trip and got to spend time with your mum. I did too.

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    1. Thank you Joleisa – we had a great holiday together! And guess what, my brother and dad are in Florida right now! 😂 they’ll have the same temperature shock when they arrive back, I’m sure! X

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  4. OMG, I love your writing/journalism style and photography! I’ve just spent several minutes pouring over your blog. Thanks for your review of this “club/cult” 🙂 I have been getting mailings for it and I always wondered about the experience and, of course, the costs which I assumed were astronomical… You answered all of my questions and you have a new subscriber too 🙂

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  5. Ohhh there is nothing worse than coming back home to the cold weather! What a gorgeous place you stayed, I dream of holidays like that! I think I’ll wait until the kids are grown and I can actually enjoy it!

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  6. This place is stunning!!! I would feel out of place too! We got suckered into a timeshare and it was def not the best investment. I am the most gullible person ever and did not do my research, but they’re amazing at their job. We went to Cozumel for our honeymoon and bought a day pass at one of the resorts and had a similar experience. Our plain bands only allowed us into certain areas and if we wanted to go to the way cooler ones, we would have to pay. It sounds like a lovely trip nevertheless. I hope you stay warm!

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  7. LOVE LOVE LOVE your perspective! I would be in my glory at a resort like this but also feeling way out of place. So nice to know I’m not the only one who would feel that way.

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  8. Hahaha, when I read that title I did do a double take, and half expected this to be an expose piece! But I totally get what you’re saying – this is the good sort of indoctrination, shades of 1984 and all 😉 And why wouldn’t you be seduced by such all inclusive luxury and top end facilities and services? Though, like you, I would truly feel like an imposter in such surroundings, given my usual method of travel 😉

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  9. Your holiday sounds insane and your deal was also incredible. It’s a shame that without finding a deal you won’t be going back but at least you still got to experience it x

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  10. Oh my goodness that place looks like heaven! I’m just back from a Caribbean trip and I hear you about the cold, british weather and subsequent depression. Why, why do we live here when warm sunny places exist?!

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  11. Hilarious post! I have been in your situation before, where I thought I got a great deal for an awesome vacation spot and when we get there we are sucked into hours of talks to convince us to ‘buy into it’ . We have never caved in either but we try to avoid these because we just want to enjoy a no hassle vacation.

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  12. Er, I was a part of a vacation cult er club for 21 days in Hawaii last November at the Disney Resort and oh boy do I get the blues too still, I miss it every day. I love your photos and your writing, they are both excellent. I love the sunset photo especially.

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  13. Great post! I remember once my husband spoke at a conference and I went along. The hotel was the most luxurious I’ve ever been to and I felt like an impostor the entire time too. We literally kept pinching ourselves. x

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  14. reading the title first, it made me feel like the post is going to be negative as you called it a cult but I was clearly wrong as I read your post. I was never a fan of all-inclusive but your experience and the photos were very enticing. I’m sure if I was there I would be brainwashed too! I should try this sometime!

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  15. Wow, this vacation club sounds like a good bargain! I can’t believe you spent so little for the gorgeous resort, I wouldn’t say no! I’m really missing the sunshine now after reading this!

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  16. Love how you’ve written this post and in someways this is bit like a pre-vision of what I’m going to feel like when I return back to England after I spend new years in Morocco – I’m gonna be back in early Jan (already not looking forward to it) – However getting back to your post, just from your pictures it’s easy to see why you’re missing it and I can imagine how it felt like a cult haha. If I was in your shoes, I would also feel like an impostor, like I’d always be looking around in paranoia for them to throw me out haha.

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    1. That’s exactly it Amit – I was constantly pinching myself thinking “this can’t be real” and wondering when there was going to be a catch and they’d realised I only paid £158 for the week for both mum and I, then would be landed with a very hefty bill haha! x

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  17. haha…u r funny ..love the way u tell ur story…i can totally relate to the feeling of imposter..i actually have the same feeling when i stay in such lavish resort..so glad u had such a nice time..this resort looks amazing..and hey u dnt have to feel guilty..after all money saving trick comes over time and that’s not free of cost..

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  18. That’s funny of how you were being imposter. I cannot afford such luxurious stays but sometimes I like to spend for a luxurious holiday. There are many such clubs here in Thailand – if I stay there for a night I can actually visit another snall country for the same money. But I am glad you had a good time there with your mom. It’s OK sometimes to have such luxurious holidays. It’s great actually.

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  19. I can definitely relate! I am usually a backpacker but I have booked a fancy resort for my upcoming trip to Mexico, with a jacuzzi on the balcony and a private beach so I am kind of excited on one side and scared that I wouldn’t belong there on the other side, haha. I will have to check out the LHVC, your upgrade sounded amazing!

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  20. Wow – sounds like an amazing holiday! Totally jealous at the amazing price you paid 😉 I’m looking to go on a really nice holiday at the end of next year so I will check out the LHVC x

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  21. This place looks like the epitome of luxury. I know what you mean about feeling like an impostor when somewhere is so fancy, but it usually doesn’t take me long to forget about such things and relax – it must be the surroundings 😀

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  22. What a beautiful resort… I went to the Dominican Republic years ago, and although our hotel was nice, it definitely wasn’t like this!! That Pina Colada looks awesome too! Imagine having that kind of money though, seriously! 😀

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  23. Wow that’s a hefty price tag? I mean, honestly it sounds amazing but I can’t help thinking you could experience a similar slice of luxury for less. I think I’d be suffering some serious impostor syndrome too!

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  24. The DR is a beautiful Caribbean destination and is actually quite affordable for a holiday if you can bypass the most high-end luxury resorts. But I realize that was not the purpose of this post. Certainly you and your mum enjoyed being treated like royalty for a few days, why not? Seems like a wonderful experience. Liked reading this post and looking at the photos too.

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  25. Thanks for the wonderful thorough review of this beautiful resort. I am glad you got this deal and a fraction of the cost to stay here but dont feel like an imposter. You deserve to be in luxury and it was your moment to experience this!

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  26. Wow!! This place is amazing! I have been recently to the Dominican Republic and is such a special country. Loved your photos and really makes me book the next flight and check in to this Resort!!

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  27. So that’s how luxury vacations are done! Looks like you scored a fantastic deal. And had a lovely time. Those prices though…I guess in this case you really get what you pay for.

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  28. No wonder that you wish that you were back at the LHVC because from where I am sitting it looks like my idea of heaven. No wonder that you didn’t want to come to London and who can blame you, it is absolutely freezing out here! I just checked out their website and I love that they even cater for weddings and have spas in their resorts as well x

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  29. The DR is such an amazing place to visit and vacation! I would love to go there and experience the same lux life you did! I love all the bright colors and the yummy drinks!

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  30. My goodness, what a stay in the lap of luxury! You truly had it all with everything from beautiful rooms, to all you can eat (and drink), to lots of relaxing things to do. So much fun that you were able to experience it all with your mom. x

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  31. Wow, an amazing stay in nature and with luxury. I was feeling jealous of the scintillating views you witnessed, lol. Sipping cocktails relaxing on the beach bed and looking some fantastic views is something I love to do!

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  32. wow what a beautiful resort! All inclusive and your own king size bed? I have never stayed outside of the United States before, really just sticking to the Pacific NorthWest. I fear that I would stick out like a sore thumb in a place so fancy! Ahh but to dream is almost as good.

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  33. We’ve never been to the Dominican Republic so it’s lovely to see this post. The cult/club you stayed at looks amazing and beautiful. It’s the sort of place that make you feel glad that you are alive.
    It looks like they have tried really hard to integrate the natural world into as many aspects of the resort as possible. A Lovely post, thank-you 🙂

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  34. any resort that requires buggies to get around is massive and I can’t believe how many pools there are! It’s a stunning place to visit and so luxurious. Would have broken our bank too! but it’s lucky you cost saved, no harm in that, you should be proud!

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  35. What a holiday! The Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club sounds absolutely amazing. I I hope to visit such a beautiful resort. To come back to England after that, well I would be feeling blue too. I will deffo save this blog post as I would want to visit this place in the future. When I have more money! Thanks for sharing

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  36. I’m giggling over the Mario Kart comment because I can so relate! LOL! I haven’t ever been to an inclusive resort like this, but the place I live is very uppity and I feel like a vagrant most days because I’m so different from they are! I only ended up here because it was the only place that would take my dog, but luxury is not my middle name. I like being normal 🙂 Having said that, if I was going to go to the Dominican Republic, I would probably want to go here, but only if I could meet you and your new friends there for the week because you are hilarious! You bring the pink float, I’ll bring the sunscreen. The pictures are beautiful!

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  37. Reading that post was a bliss. I could clearly visualise everything. To be honest, make the most of every situation. Don’t feel bad because you are not paying full price. The place looks amazing though xx corinne

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  38. 12 restaurants, 11 bars?? This sounds like a little city in itself! Honestly I have never heard of Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club and I will certainly not be able to afford it. But I can see why its a ‘cult’ haha, look at that resort, I’d spend a whole week there relaxing by the pool or just sunbathing, while being treated like royalty. Lucky you, sounds like the perfect little vacation. And a great change in the weather too 😉

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