Getaway Day: How To Find A Truly ‘All-Inclusive’ Resort

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True all-inclusive resorts are exactly what their name implies. (Photo credit: Rafael Leao via Unsplash.)

By Cat Zuniga

You’ve probably seen the phrase “all-inclusive” in travel brochures or on travel sites. But what does “all-inclusive” really mean?

I would argue that the term “all-inclusive” is almost meaningless, because it’s been used so loosely in many travel circles. These days an all-inclusive could be anything from a “traditional” all-inclusive to a “luxury inclusive,” with many stops in between.

The “traditional” all-inclusive vacation consists of all your meals, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), gratuities, taxes, and daily activities, in addition to your chosen accommodations.

With these vacations, there are no overwhelming or surprising costs that might pop up. You can leave your wallet or purse locked in your room safe, and enjoy your entire stay with peace of mind.

So when is an all-inclusive less than meets the eye? In my opinion, the red flag should pop up when a resort that purports to be all-inclusive does not start its description with “all” and end it with “inclusive,” with nothing else in between (except maybe a hyphen).

A good example of a less-than-all-inclusive inclusive is “Escape Inclusive,” one of Marriott’s packages at its Caribbean properties. Escape Inclusive limits where you can eat your meals and places surcharges on some menu items. A few drinks are included, but additional drinks cost extra. And while the use of sports facilities may be included, the equipment may not be.

Here is where I must make my plug to use a travel specialist – and if you know all that I know, you’ll be glad you did! We sell more than 300 all-inclusive resorts, and we don’t even offer all that exist — and even I don’t know all the inclusions or exclusions at all these resorts. I’ve been traveling to all-inclusive resorts for more than eight years, and something is always changing. Given that, it’s best to have someone who knows more than you, does all the research and matches a destination to your budget and particular tastes. Using a travel specialist is always your best option.

I also have to interject here regarding cruises … ocean cruises, that is. Traditional ocean cruises are not all-inclusive. If you’ve been on one, you know what I mean. Alcoholic drinks are extra, tips are extra, specialty restaurants are not included, and a host of other services are extra-cost. Check our other posts for more on this, or contact us.

Now, on to more comprehensive vacations. As you progress up the ladder in terms of cost, the traditional all-inclusive merely serves as the foundation for an extravagant, option-packed all-inclusive vacation.

These experiences include more concierge levels, room butlers, pool butlers, world-renowned chefs, gourmet cuisine, 24-hour room service, VIP lounges, private airport transfers, and so on,.They’re often marketed under the headings of “Gourmet Inclusive,” “Luxury Included,” “Unlimited Luxury,” and “Opulent Inclusive.”

Anyone confused yet?

Some of these terms apply to specific resort brands. “Gourmet Inclusive” is more of a traditional all-inclusive most often found at the Karisma hotels and resorts.“Luxury Included” is a term often used by Sandals and Beaches Resorts, and accurately describes their comprehensive all-inclusive plan. These chains include motorized sports like scuba diving, which is not often included at other resorts. Most other resorts only include all non-motorized sports. Golf is also another inclusion at most of their properties.

“Unlimited Luxury” is used by the AMResorts family — resorts like Zoetry, Secrets, Dreams, Sunscape, Breathless, and NOW — to distinguish their product from their competition. There’s a varying degree of luxury within these chains, as they cater to different types of vacationers. Find that travel expert!

“Opulent Inclusive” is more of a travel professionals’ term used to separate a resort from the masses. A luxury hotel needs to include expensive decor, top-shelf liquors, high-end cuisine, butler services, pool and beach wait staff, 24-hour room service, VIP treatment, and much more. These resorts have received the AAA Five Diamond Award repeatedly, and they have no problem living up to the title. Some of our favorites are Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancun, any Zoetry, Secrets Maroma, Secrets the Vine, and Dreams Riviera Cancun, just to name a few. Yet another reason to contact your travel specialist!

Let’s look at the pros and cons of an all-inclusive vacation.

Pros. An all-inclusive vacation removes the guesswork from the cost of your vacation by letting you pay upfront for all your meals and drinks. Aside from tips for your transportation to and from the airport/resort and the resort staff (not required but much appreciated), you may not need to fork over any additional cash during your trip.

Also, although every all-inclusive resort is different, many have lots to keep you busy: nightly entertainment, live music, high-quality shows, water aerobics, kayaking, boogie-boarding, beach volleyball, and even board games!

Once you arrive at the resort, you don’t have to worry about getting from one place to another or struggle with dining options. Everything has already been thought of and is simply awaiting your arrival.

Cons. Although an all-inclusive vacation can the best bang for your buck, it doesn’t really let you immerse yourself in the local culture and customs. If all you do on your vacation is plop down poolside or beachfront with a drink in hand, that won’t be a problem. And regardless, staying at the resort shouldn’t hold you back from experiencing the local culture. If you want to know more, ask the staff at the resort, look into excursions, tours, and local attractions you might want to try or check out. If you feel safe in the area you are staying, you might want to take a taxi and explore on your own. The point is you have options, and you are not limited.

If you are a big review-reader, you’ll find that the food is the No. 1 complaint about all-inclusive resorts. Although many resorts offer the ability to order off a menu at some of their restaurants, you’ll find that the majority offer buffet-style meals. Personally, I don’t mind eating buffet, as long as I can find something to eat. However, not everyone is a fan. If you have dietary restrictions this could still be a good option for you. If it concerns you, know that most resorts cater to all kinds of diets, and will usually have additional options for you. But if you are looking for a culinary experience, you should probably choose a resort with more varied dining options.

Finally, you might want to know where all-inclusives are found. Typically you’ll find them in tropical destinations – Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic – as well as Costa Rica and Fiji. However, you will not find any all-inclusives in Hawaii or Tahiti. People often think that there are some in these locations, but take my word for it: there are not.

We strongly recommend travel insurance with all these all-inclusive vacations, and one last time … USE YOUR TRAVEL EXPERT FOR GUIDANCE!

Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at http://www.TarverdiTravel.com.