Okay you know me, I'm usually more of an off-the-beaten-path adventure kind of guy but there are times when you just want to slow down, kick your feet up and just soak in the sun. When the beach is calling your name and you're looking to get away, the all-inclusive option is pretty attractive.
I’ve booked a fair share of all-inclusive vacations, and I know that it can get pretty overwhelming. Especially if you've never been before, there are so many unknowns and it's hard to know where to start. There are a bunch of deciding factors you need to know about so this should make the planning for any all-inclusive resort vacation.
Picking a Destination
Most people are familiar with vacationing down south in the Caribbean for some fun in the sun and away from our harsh winters. Cancun (Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico), Cuba, Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and Jamaica are often the most easily accessible and often most budget friendly. Expand out to the more “exclusive islands” and you can think about the Caymans, St. Lucia, Barbados, Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos. These islands are usually more expensive but as with most things, you get what you pay for.
While those are the obvious choices, there are a ton of other options out there that some may not think about. For instance, expand from the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and you have the entire Western coast of Mexico including Puerto Vallarta and Cabo. To the south of the Caribbean, there's also a plethora of countries to look at including Aruba, Curacao, Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Look even further, all-inclusive options in Europe may be a possibility for many. Flights to Europe are dropping all the time and so Greece, Italy and Spain may offer compelling options.
Finding Your Resort
Every resort is different but once you've narrowed down your preferences, it'll be a lot easier. While these aren't going to tell you exactly where you should go, this is meant to be a list of questions to ask yourself to help
- Proximity to town – If you're looking to do more partying or be closer to local communities, you may want to be closer. For instance, if you want to have easier access to Havana in Cuba, you'll want a resort nearby. However, if you want to be somewhere more secluded, you'll look for a property that's further away.
- Property amenities – It helps to narrow things down if you are looking for a resort that has specific features like a golf course or casino.
- Resort style – Some resorts are more geared towards families while others are adult-only. If you're not fond of crazy kids running and screaming, you're probably going to want to stick to something closer to the adult-only spectrum. If you're vacationing with the hopes of meeting other people to party with, you'll want to go to a resort that isn't for couples only. You can usually tell by from the reviews and the resort's own marketing.
- Excursion possibilities – Are you specifically interested in Mayan ruins or want to do an trip involving surfing? Certain locations are better known for certain things so if you have something in mind, that'll also help narrow things down.
- Quality of the beach – The beach is after all the one of the biggest reasons for doing an all-inclusive so you want to make sure it doesn't disappoint. Lately there's been a big seaweed problem in the Caribbean so I'd make sure to find out the situation before deciding on a specific resort. There are also certain places that have better sand than others. Of all the places I've been to date, I'd say Cayo Coco in the Dominican Republic has had the best white sand beach hands down.
- Quality of the food – Most all-inclusives aren't known for their food but there are definitely ones that are better than others. The best way to gauge the quality of the food is to just read the reviews. It's also nice to have a resort that has a good set of a-la-carte restaurants. This way you won't be stuck with the buffet all the time .
When To Go
There are really two things you want to think about in terms of when to plan head down to an all-inclusive resort.
- Weather – While it's usually hot all the time where you're planning on going, there are times in the year that are less hot than others. You also want to be careful around hurricane and rainy season because that could easily ruin your vacation.
- High vs. Low Season – In a lot of ways this coincides with rainy season and if you're ok with rolling the dice, there are some deep savings to be had. High season usually follows the school schedule so you're going to want to avoid March Break, Spring Break and summer vacation. These times of the year are when the resorts are at max capacity and you'll most likely have to deal with a lot of kids and large families. The prices are always its highest as well.
Transportation and Transfers
One thing that's easy to overlook is how the heck you're going to get from the airport and the resort and back. Depending on the package you buy, it may or may not be included so make sure you check. If it's not included, do some research (I will usually research the destination's TripAdvisor forums) and find out what's the best way to get there.
Booking Your Resort
There are a lot of different places and ways to book your all-inclusive vacation. The easiest way to book is to do it one spot which includes flight and hotel. That is by means not the only way to do it. If you've found a killer flight to a tropical destination, you can of course book a resort on its own.
Here are a few sites that I use:
- TripAdvisor – This will take you to some of the best Caribbean deals through TripAdvisor.
For my Canadian friends, I always check out these sites:
- Sell Off Vacations
- Red Tag
- Signature Vacations
When you're done searching through all these sites and you've decided on a property, I always find it's worthwhile to search the resort's website directly. They will sometimes have better prices than these search engines.
You Probably Didn't Think About These Tips
- Bring a thermos (I recommend the Bubba) to keep your alcoholic drinks cold so you can bring it to the beach and not have to refill all the time because I guarantee you their cups will be tiny.
- Invest in a small dry bag to keep your money and ID dry when you are in the water.
- Make sure you have a lot of dollar bills for tipping.
Happy resorting! Make sure you come back with a nice tan :)