“If you’re new to all-inclusives, now is a good time to check out one,” says Christina Jelski, senior hotels editor at Travel Weekly, a specialty publication. With big, traditional hotel chains like Marriott and Hyatt entering the sphere, resorts are raising the bar. “We’re seeing a lot of premiumization in the all-inclusive category as resorts focus on delivering a five-star experience.”
The closure of resorts worldwide during the pandemic gave them time to renovate and redesign themselves. Many in Mexico and the Caribbean now have luxury suites, private beaches, water parks, and even butler service. The biggest change, says Jelski, has been the food, as resorts are starting to favor quality over quantity. Though the extensive buffet remains an all-inclusive staple, fine-dining restaurants that pay attention to detail and ambience are becoming the norm. “I’m blown away by the options, the emphasis on local cuisine, and the diverse dining experience,” she says.
Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie is an all-inclusive fanatic. He and his wife Renee, who live in Los Angeles, have vacationed at more than a dozen resorts over the past 20 years, leaving their three children with their grandparents. “We usually go to Cabo San Lucas when we’re in the mood,” he says. The Mexican city is “easy to book, easy to plan, and easy to unplug and lie on the beach without worrying about where to eat or what to do.”
An all-inclusive vacation is exactly what it sounds like: You pay upfront for a package that includes your room, meals, tips, and perks like health clubs, non-motorized water sports, yoga sessions, kayaking, and salsa lessons . Once you arrive at the resort, you never have to leave the property. “Your most important decision is, ‘Do I want my cocktail frozen or on ice?’ says Lauren Doyle, President of Travel Mechanic at Ensemble Travel Group in Raleigh, NC
Doyle says expect to pay around $200 per person per night for a decent all-inclusive. “You can find cheaper ones, but I wouldn’t book myself or customers in them.”
For many, an all-inclusive offer is the ideal getaway. Here are questions to consider before booking.
What type of property appeals to you? An all-inclusive resort is like a cruise ship. If it doesn’t fit well, you’ll regret your choice. Accommodations are designed to cater to specific travelers such as singles, couples, families, members of the LGBTQ+ community, adventure seekers, luxury seekers and those who prefer an adults-only environment. Consult a travel advisor; someone who has personally visited several properties in different destinations can help narrow down your options.
What would you like to take with you from your vacation? “If your goal is to get somewhere, relax, and ‘switch off’ the world as soon as you step off the plane, an all-inclusive vacation could be a great choice,” said Kristin Jaffe, CEO of Winkaffe Global Travel in Columbus, Ohio. However, if you enjoy exploring a destination — rent a scooter, hike to a volcano, have lunch somewhere nearby, go rafting, then grab a drink before returning to the resort — is an all -Inclusive offering may not be the best fit because you essentially pay twice for meals and activities, says Roland Alonzi, an Atlanta-based travel and tourism public relations specialist who represented Jamaica for seven years.
If you’re looking for a place for a family or multi-generational vacation, all-inclusives might be what you’re looking for, says Alonzi. “You can do things together or you can go your own way and regroup later,” he says. “Family-oriented resorts have kids’ clubs, so adults can do whatever they want knowing the kids are in good hands. Plus, the kids can always grab a burger, hot dog, or quesadilla, and you don’t have to pay $22 for room service.”
Though many vacationers are content to lounge on the beach with a margarita in hand, travelers looking for a more curated experience may opt for a luxury all-inclusive with a focus on wellness or adventure. But you pay more. High-end boutique resorts with butler service, five-star restaurants, and even private plunge pools are much more expensive — $750 to $1,000 per person, per night — but the amenities and service you get match the price. Jaffe recently stayed at a wellness-focused all-inclusive resort in the mountains of Costa Rica, where they climb a giant tree to a canopy overlooking the mountains, indulge in spa treatments, and dine on delicious, healthy food could. “There were maybe 30 people living on the property, which gave it a really exclusive feel,” she says.
It’s really Everyone– included? The term all-inclusive can be misleading. Sure, your package covers the basics, but what else? An adults-only resort might offer a romantic sunset catamaran cruise and candlelight dinner, while a more adventurous property might offer ziplining, hiking jungle trails, or exploring an underground cave. With rare exceptions, though, you’ll pay extra for spa treatments, golf, off-property excursions, and some fine dining, which can add up quickly.
how isolated is it As mentioned, all-inclusive resorts are designed so you never have to leave the property, and many travelers revel in the idea of vacationing in a “bubble.” However, the downside of staying in a safe compound is that you can’t always experience authentic local culture or visit nearby restaurants. One man’s private paradise is another man’s minimum-security prison. Ask how close the resort is to town and if there is easy access or a resort shuttle.
Can you get two experiences for one? Certain brands are building multiple resorts in the same location, each targeting different audiences. Stay in one and get access to the restaurants and amenities in others. For example, you can leave the kids in your family-friendly accommodation and head to an adults-only gourmet dinner next door.
How do you get to and from the airport? “Outside of some international airports, it can be the Wild West, and drive times to resorts can be up to an hour,” says Alonzi. “This can get pricey, as some taxis or shuttles charge $100 or more.” Find out if airport transfers are included in your package or if you can pay an extra fee to have resort transportation.
Is tipping really included? Even if a resort promotes a tipping ban, a savvy traveler still packs a wad of dollar bills. “Tipping is a way to recognize people who are good at what they do,” says Saglie. “At the end of the day, a few bucks given on Day 1 or 2 to employees you keep coming across goes a long way in enhancing the experience.”
Does it make financial sense? While an all-inclusive can be inexpensive, it doesn’t always save you money. You may want to compare the nightly rate of an all-inclusive to that of a nearby traditional hotel with similar amenities.
Go Far Grow Close’s avid travel blogger Nicole Hunter had an “aha” moment after a less than stellar all-inclusive getaway in Cancun prompted her to price out a traditional hotel stay in the same area in Mexico less than a year later. Her conclusion: she paid too much for the all-inclusive. “There’s nothing wrong with all-inclusives,” says Hunter, who lives in Vancouver, BC. “However, you pay for what you want to do, but also for what you don’t want to do. If they offer free tennis lessons and you’re not playing, your price includes the cost of the tennis pro and court maintenance.” The same goes for unlimited alcohol. Unless you’re a big drinker, you’re paying for a perk that you won’t use.
Consider accommodation, food, alcohol, activities, and ground transportation to determine which costs more. Then decide what makes more sense for you, your budget and your vacation expectations.
Daily is a Denver-based writer. your site is dailywriter.net.