Forget the stereotype of watered-down booze, tacky wristbands and bad buffets. Today’s all-inclusive resort boasts rooms with private pools, gourmet white-linen restaurants, butler service and spas, not to mention, golf courses, scuba diving and entertainers with names you know. Some tips before you book an all-inclusive getaway.
Why all-inclusive is hot
You know from the get-go what your vacation will cost. Lock away your wallet and relax. Even better, competition has caused an upswing in quality. “There’s an all-inclusive for every budget and every taste,” says Tom Carr, president of All Inclusive Outlet.
Once limited to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, all-inclusives are popping up in places such as Curacao, Aruba, St. Lucia, Costa Rica and Panama. Another trend: shared facilities. Stay at one, play at all. For instance, hoteliers such as Iberostar, RIU and Barceló may operate two to five connected resorts in one destination, allowing guests to use restaurants, bars and pools at sister properties. Bye, bye boredom.
What to look for in your vacation package
Check out the timing and the fine print. All-inclusives are not all created equal and you want to avoid what insiders call the “conditional” all-inclusive. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting. Says Apple Vacations Business Development Manager Angie Sievers, “Each property is different. Some truly include everything; others have restaurants, premium drinks or activities that cost extra.”
Typically, entry-level prices start at less than $100 a night per person. This includes a minimum of three meals daily, all beverages including alcohol, lodging, gratuities, activities and entertainment. Luxury resorts can be as little as $175 a night per person. Also, ask about resort credits. Palace Resorts offers up to $1,500 in credits to use at the spa, at the golf course, for outside tours and other amenities. Sievers suggests surfing the Internet to get a good feel for a property. Many have sites with photos, video and even live webcams.
Travel in the Caribbean off-season (May or September to mid-December) for the best deals. If surf, sand and sun are more important than destination, try Cancun/Riviera Maya, Dominican Republic and Jamaica for bargains. These areas are dominated by all-inclusive resorts and the competition creates greater value.
But maximize your investment. “Instead of the cheapest three-star, consider spending a bit more for a 4½ star resort. You’re likely to get much more – nicer room, more restaurants and amenities — for your dollar,” advises Ellen Sisser, an industry veteran with Omega World Travel in Fairfax, Va. My suggestion: Use a travel agent for advice. An agent can narrow the options in minutes.
A few resorts to try
Looking to gather the entire family? Check out Azul Resorts, Dreams Resorts (which offers a group rate starting with just six rooms), or Iberostar, all noted for their family-friendly environments. Shhh… it’s adults only at El Dorado Resorts, Couples and Excellence Hotels. Secrets The Vine in Cancun boasts an on-site wine cellar, wine tastings and cocktail classes.
Karisma Hotels brand themselves “gourmet inclusive,” offering foodies beach paella parties, all-lobster menus, and a fresh fish market where you can choose from the catch of the day for a chef to prepare to your liking. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, the first Hard Rock all-inclusive, sports a rock ‘n’ roll theme and Vegas-style gaming on the beach.
Zoëtry Resorts focuses on wellness, health, and organic foods. That sort of “zen” mentality was totally unheard of 10 years ago, notes Travis Katz, CEO of Gogobot, the Internet’s largest social trip planning service. “Like the Baby Boomers served originally by Club Med, the all-inclusive has grown up.”