Tips for booking an all-inclusive vacation

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Looking for an easy-to-book getaway that takes the guesswork out of daily planning and keeps your credit card safe in your wallet? Try an all-inclusive resort. Some travelers may turn their noses up and buy into the old stereotype: scanty accommodations; mediocre all-you-can-eat buffets; and 24/7 parties with scantily-clad guests soaking up the vibe of an 1980s summer camp. Don’t make that mistake. All-inclusive resorts have evolved.

“If you’re new to all-inclusives, now’s a good time to visit one,” says Christina Jelski, hotel editor at Travel Weekly, a trade publication. With the arrival of large traditional hotel chains such as Marriott and Hyatt, resorts are raising the bar. “We’re seeing a ton of premiumization in the all-inclusive category as resorts focus on delivering a five-star experience.”

The closure of resorts around the world during the pandemic has given them time to renovate and recreate. Many in Mexico and the Caribbean now include luxury suites, private beaches, water parks and even butler service. The biggest transformation, says Jelski, has been in the food, as resorts begin to prioritize quality over quantity. While the hearty buffet remains an all-inclusive staple, upscale restaurants that pay attention to detail and ambiance are becoming the norm. “I’m blown away by the options, the focus on local cuisine and the diverse dining experience,” she says.

Gabe Saglie, editor of Travelzoo, is an all-inclusive fan. 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 head to Cabo San Lucas when we’re in the mood,” he says. Mexican Town is “easy to book, easy to plan, and easy to unplug and lay on the beach without worrying about where to eat or what to do.”

An all-inclusive vacation is exactly what it sounds like: you prepay for a package that includes your room, meals, gratuities, and perks like health clubs, non-motorized water sports, workouts yoga, kayaking and salsa lessons. Once you arrive at the resort, you never have to leave the property. “Your biggest decision is, ‘Do I want my cocktail frozen or over ice?’ says Lauren Doyle, president of Travel Mechanic at Ensemble Travel Group in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Doyle says you should expect to pay around $200 per person per night for a decent all-inclusive. “You can find cheaper than that, but I wouldn’t book myself or clients with them.”

For many, an all-inclusive is the ideal getaway. Here are the questions you need to consider before booking.

What type of property appeals to you? An all-inclusive resort is much like a cruise ship. If it’s not a good fit, you’ll regret your choice. The properties are designed to meet the needs of certain travelers, such as singles, couples, families, members of the LGBTQ+ community, adventurers, luxury seekers, and those who prefer an adult-only environment. Consult a travel consultant; one who has personally visited several properties in various destinations can help you narrow down your options.

What would you like to take away from your vacation? “If your goal is to get somewhere, relax, and be able to ‘switch off’ the world the second you step off the plane, an all-inclusive vacation might be a good fit,” says Kristin Jaffe, CEO of Winkaffe Global Travel in Columbus, Ohio. However, if you like to explore a destination – rent a scooter, hike to a volcano, have lunch at a local spot, go rafting, then have a drink before heading back to the resort – an all-inclusive might not be. the best in shape, because you’ll essentially be paying 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-inclusive packages do the trick, says Alonzi. “You can do things together or go your own way and regroup later,” he says. “Family resorts have kids’ clubs, so adults can do whatever they want and be sure the kids are in good hands. Plus, the kids can grab a burger, hot dog, or quesadilla anytime they want, and you don’t have to shell out $22 for room service.

Although many vacationers are content to lounge on the beach with a margarita in hand, travelers looking for a more curated experience may prefer to opt for luxury all-inclusives with an emphasis on wellness or relaxation. ‘adventure. But you will pay more. High-end boutique hotels with butler service, five-star restaurants, and even private 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 she was able to climb a huge tree to a canopy overlooking the mountains, indulge in spa treatments and dine on delicious healthy food. “There were maybe 30 people staying at the property, which gave it a really exclusive feel,” she says.

Is it really everything-understood? 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 candlelit dinners, while you might be able to go ziplining, jungle hiking trails, or explore an underground cave at a property to enjoy. the adventurers. With rare exceptions, however, you’ll pay extra for spa treatments, golf, off-property excursions, and some high-end restaurants, all of which can add up quickly.

How isolated is it? As noted, all-inclusive resorts are designed so you never have to leave the property, and many travelers relish the idea of ​​vacationing in a “bubble.” But the downside to staying at a secure resort is that you can’t always experience authentic local culture or frequent restaurants in the area. 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? Some brands build several resorts in the same destination, each addressing different audiences. Stay in one and access the restaurants and amenities of the others. For example, you can leave the kids at your homestead and go next door for an adults-only gourmet dinner.

How are you going to get to and from the airport? “It can be the Wild West outside of some international airports, and travel times to resorts can take up to an hour,” says Alonzi. “It can be expensive, with some taxis or shuttles charging $100 or more.” Find out if airport transfers are included in your package or if you can pay extra for the resort to transport you.

Is the tip really included? Even if a resort promotes a no-tip policy, a wise traveler will always pack a wad of dollar bills. “Tipping is a way of recognizing people who are good at what they do,” Saglie says. “At the end of the day, a few dollars, given on day 1 or 2 to the staff you meet constantly, goes a long way to improving the experience.”

Does this make financial sense? While an all-inclusive package can be cost-effective, it doesn’t always save you money. You might want to compare the price of an all-inclusive night’s stay with that of a nearby mainstream hotel with similar amenities.

Passionate travel blogger Nicole Hunter of Go Far Grow Close had an “aha” moment after a less-than-stellar all-inclusive getaway to Cancun prompted her to price a traditional hotel stay in the same region in Mexico less than a year later. Her conclusion: she was paying too much for the all-inclusive. “There’s nothing wrong with all-inclusive packages,” says Hunter, who is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “However, you pay for what you want to do, but also for what you don’t want. If they offer free tennis lessons and you don’t play, your rate includes the tennis professional’s fee and court maintenance. The same goes for unlimited alcohol. If you’re not a heavy drinker, you’re paying for a perk you won’t use.

Factor in accommodations, food, alcohol, activities, and ground transportation to determine what costs the most. Then decide what suits you best, your budget and your vacation expectations.

Daily is a Denver-based writer. His website is dailywriter.net.