All-Inclusive Resorts: Worth Including in Your Travel Plans?
Unlimited. What a gorgeous, magical word. It sings in the ears, a sweet melody promising beachside margaritas, moonlit meals, round-the-clock snacks, and an assortment of activities that cater to anyone and everyone. U-u-nli-i-i-imited …and it’s all included in the price of a hotel stay, you say? That's enough to send most of us sprinting for our closets, pulling down luggage from the top shelf, and stuffing it with long-neglected beachwear. Just hold on a second, though, because there’s a lot to consider when planning a vacation. Sure, all-inclusive hotel experiences offer a lot of perks, but there are also a good amount of drawbacks to staying behind gated walls that shut out the surrounding countryside. It’s a situation that fairly cries out for a Pros ‘n’ Cons list. Shall we?
All-Inclusives: The Pros
As you may induce from the name, everything is included
It says it right there in the name: ALL-INCLUSIVE. Maybe the biggest perk of staying at an all-inclusive resort is being able to leave your wallet in your room's safe. As soon as the staff sees that magic wristband, there’s nothing you can't do. Hit the pool, stroll the beach, grab an ice cream with extra sprinkles, slurp a Cuba Libre on a pool floatie while getting a pedicure... it’s all fair game, and nobody bats an eyelash. There's something beautiful about having everything at your fingertips without needing to stow your cash deep in a beach bag or dorky money belt.
All-inclusives are typically located close to a major airport and provide round-trip transportation from the runway to hotel grounds. No rental car hassle, no need to play the “Will-this-cabbie-transport-me-or-murder-me” game; the resort’s got a shuttle leaving in 10 minutes. Lounge chairs, pool towels, and umbrellas are available at all swimming holes, and there's no need to get up for a drink—servers are always on call, collecting orders for any beverage that you desire.
Not every country you visit will be an idyllic, carefree paradise. Mass poverty and political unrest are sad realities in many nations around the world. In such places, a tourist wandering around out in the open with nice clothes, electronic devices and a valid passport shines like a beacon of opportunity to would-be thieves. An all-inclusive resort provides a guarantee of security in such places, so you can relax and enjoy your vacation without feeling like you need to watch your back all the time. Now, it bears mentioning that even in countries that aren’t 100% safe for tourists, there are still plenty of safe areas you can and should go; a little internet research or, even better, consulting with a concierge, can keep you clear of any rough spots in the vicinity.
Food and Bev
Food and drink are constantly at your disposal at all-inclusive resorts. Buffets are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not to mention the poolside grills, ice cream shops, and specialty restaurants featuring diverse cuisine suited to a multitude of tastes. Feel like staying in for the night or eating breakfast in bed? A fully stocked minibar and room service are available 24 hours a day at most resorts.
It's the Action, Jackson
Like activities? All-inclusive resorts have you more than covered with a wide array of activities for guests to do. From oceanfront yoga and water aerobics to nightly entertainment and occasionally casinos, there is truly something for everyone. Special activities exist for your kids as well, so while they're hanging with kids their own age, you can grab a paddle-board or kayak and hit the high seas. Activities like jet skiing or spa treatments generally come at an additional cost, but are usually worth it.
Going over-budget on vacation is the easiest thing in the world. Not only are there hotel and flight costs to keep track of, you also have to keep both eyes on your spending the moment you step off the plane. Food, activities, shopping, and souvenirs – it all has a price tag attached. Booking all-inclusive eliminates those worries—once the purchase button is pressed, you know how much your vacation will cost. Many packages even sweeten the deal by including airfare.
Good for Noobs
New to traveling and nervous about planning a vacation on your own? An all-inclusive resort could be just the thing. Simply book your dates, board that plane, and upon arrival, you’ll realize you never have to leave the resort if you don’t want to. All-inclusives come in all shapes and sizes—find the one that suits you and the only thing you’ll have to worry about is how to split your time between relaxation and action-packed activities.
All-Inclusives: The Cons
Welcome to Meh-xico
Many all-inclusive experiences are less authentic than staying in a hotel in the center of the city. These resorts cater to the masses and provide their clientele (mostly from North America and Europe) with food, activities, and accommodations they find appealing. The food tends to be mediocre, and won't necessarily reflect the cuisines perfected by your chosen destination. Instead, be ready for pizza, pasta, and other standard fare. Bland food or no, many people choose not to leave the resort. But when you stay put, you are not offered the opportunity to experience the destination's culture – you may as well be in Columbus, Ohio. If you do want to leave the hotel, it might take a while to truly escape the resort-like atmosphere, since many all-inclusive hotels are bundled together, and it might be a bit of a trek to get to get to anyplace remotely authentic.
A Never-Ending Fight for Chairs
The sheer size of most all-inclusive hotels gives a glimpse at the massive numbers of guests you’ll encounter. That can create a competitive environment. Making an all-inclusive vacation successful is a science. How many chairs do you want positioned together at the pool or beach? If it's more than one, you’d better arrive early and stake your claim before the masses come pouring in. What’s more, if you want to eat at one of the specialty restaurants, you must make a reservation. These restaurants are extremely popular, as they’re likely a better option than one of the buffets. So: make your reservations early …not just early in the day; consider making all reservations—from specialty restaurants to spa treatments—upon arrival. It’s the only way to be sure you’ll beat the competition. Ah, competing with other families for limited amenities …just the way you imagined spending your vacation, right?
Chaos, Cacophony, and Clamor
All-inclusive resorts can be extremely LOUD. At a family-friendly hotel, the sound of screaming, splashing, happy children echoes for miles around. Of course, there's nothing better than seeing and hearing your children having fun, but just bear in mind: it’s everybody else’s children, too. The sound is ever-present and becomes the soundtrack of your stay. An adults-only resort might seem a likely solution. Think again. Leaving aside for the moment the constant, blaring music (if you’re able), you may find you’ve traded one type of child for another: the child that emerges when profound inebriation pays a call. An open bar is, after all, an open bar, and some of us deal with it better than others. Heck, we’ve all had a bit too much to drink from time to time (and it is, after all, a vacation), but there’s no abandon quite like the abandon of a dry-cleaner from Ames, Iowa in a place they never plan to be again with an unlimited supply of alcohol: they won’t remember it, and you can’t forget it.
If you're looking for an intimate beachside vacation, you should probably exclude all-inclusives from consideration. Sometimes the grounds are so large that shuttles have to take you from your room to the beach or from pool to casino. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun getting lost on the streets of a city you've never visited before, but getting lost at your hotel? That’s pretty much just a pain in the ass.
You don't experience the place you spent all that money to get to
It is beyond easy to get wrapped up in the amenities of your resort, so there's a good chance you may never leave the property's limits. You may have an amazing experience and go home saying you loved, for example, the Dominican Republic. However, the reality is, you never really saw the Dominican Republic. You never ate true Dominican cuisine or interacted with locals other than the staff at your hotel. You didn't love the Dominican Republic, you loved your resort. The airfare to Toledo’s a lot cheaper, why not just go there next time? Once you experience a few all-inclusives, they all start to feel the same, regardless of whether you're in the Bahamas or Mexico. It’s a vibrant, diverse world we live in; if you’re paying to travel somewhere, you may as well actually experience some of it while you’re there.
How They Getchya, A.K.A The Fine Print
Read the fine print. Although your resort is all-inclusive, not everything is actually included. Every resort has its own list of amenities that come at an extra cost, but keep an eye out for things like off-property excursions, spa treatments, and motorized water sports. You might also find that many of these resorts charge an additional fee for the use of Wi-Fi, telephone services, laundry, and certain top-shelf liquors. Before you book, make sure you fully understand what you're getting for your money and decide if the included amenities are worth it. Most of the time they are . . . but pay-Wi-Fi? Please.
What to Do If You GoYou might think that all-inclusive resorts are the bee’s knees. Alternatively, you might think they’re the wasp’s fiery, agonizing sting. However, if you play it right, there’s no reason you can’t have the best of both worlds:
Get Out of Dodge
Remember, just because everything is included doesn't mean you are under lock and key. The first thing to do is consider your location. Choose an all-inclusive resort that is not nestled miles away from a major city or village. Pick a destination that is a quick cab ride to local restaurants, shopping, and activities that will allow you to embrace the culture, get a taste of some history, and get a glimpse into everyday life at your destination.
Ask for Advice
Not sure what to do or where to go? Ask. Talk to friends and/or family who have traveled to your destination before, and find out what they loved most about their visit. Also, be sure to visit blogs and websites for recommendations of activities outside your resort. For even better guidance, ask your hotel staff. Staff members are all locals and can often recommend surprising places to visit that TripAdvisor doesn’t have the first clue about. Finally, don't forget to visit the concierge …that's what they're there for! Get out there—eat authentic food, meet authentic locals, and barter with authentic street vendors selling authentic handmade goods destined to sit on your mantle until your spouse says, “Can we please finally get rid of that thing?”
Book Some Excursions
If you're uncomfortable venturing out on your own, there are plenty of excursions available that’ll whisk you away from the beach and bring you to ancient ruins, show you interesting museums, or even take you on a guided ATV tour. These excursions are extremely convenient, since they usually begin and end at your resort. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, rent a car and explore on your own. Grab a GPS or a map and hit the road on your own excursion.
Doin' the Due (Diligence)
If you want to leave hotel grounds, it is absolutely essential to do your homework. There are some locations where it is simply not safe to leave the security of the resort. Do research before picking a destination. Make sure your resort is in an area of town that is safe to travel solo without the supervision of a guide. If you want to get out and explore new territory, pick a resort that is close to a popular town or city.
It boils down to this: everybody has a different idea of what the perfect vacation looks like—sedentary, pampered and laid-back, or experiencing everything and having adventures …or somewhere in-between. All-inclusive resorts can be part of a great time, whatever you’re looking for in a vacation – if you do them right. And now you know how.