Full disclosure — I’m an all-inclusive resort addict. There’s just something about free booze, free food and free water sports that make you never want to go back to that regular old hotel with ridiculous surcharges again.
Every time the topic of vacations comes up among friends, I’m that girl. That dog-with-a-bone, all-inclusive truther who just can’t let it go already. What’s even more pathetic is the fact that I am not paid by any all-inclusive resort to push my agenda (though I am open to bribes!). I just had a really, really good time on every all-inclusive vacation I have ever gone on, including my Sandals “weddingmoon.” I refuse to vacation any other way.
If you’re on the fence about booking, here are a few little-known all-inclusive facts that may push you over the edge.
1. All-inclusive options range greatly
Image: Dessert at LE CHIQUE/AZUL Sensatori Mexico
Take a moment to absorb this pearl of wisdom from Carl Howard, destination wedding, honeymoon and group travel specialist, before you click to book your getaway. Howard, who works closely with the multi-award-winning Karisma all-inclusive group, says, “There is a huge variety of ‘inclusive’ product in the market — from very basic to very high-end. The really low-cost inclusive resorts tend to have very basic rooms, small beachfront (if any), buffet style meals and serve ‘domestic’ brand alcoholic beverages. Mid-priced inclusive resorts tend to offer a variety of buffet restaurants with à la carte options in the evening. A new variety of more deluxe resort has become very popular with an emphasis on luxurious accommodation: restaurants featuring only à la carte services, top-shelf alcoholic beverages and butlers.”
2. Flexible dates can score you a better deal
As a work-at-home writer and editor with kids who aren’t in school yet, I take pride in snagging sweet off-season deals, normally in the fall or spring. Sarah Black, a fellow all-inclusive truther and Philadelphia publishing professional, agrees that keeping travel dates flexible is the best approach to take before booking a trip. She advises, “If your travel dates are flexible, even by a week or two, you may get a better deal. When my husband and I were researching travel for a stay at an all-inclusive resort, we noticed that the prices changed by season and sometimes by week. We’d pick the region we wanted to visit and an approximate time of year but stayed flexible on the exact dates.”
3. There’s something for everyone
Besides a little R&R, many all-inclusive resorts are themed with a specific purpose tailored to your needs. Think singles only, family friendly or on-site wedding services. Five-star Palladium Hotels & Resorts is one prime example of a one-stop shop. In partnership with NYC-based celebrity wedding designer Karen Bussen, Palladium Resorts now offers a variety of wedding packages in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. On-site venue options include a gazebo with Caribbean views, a colonial chapel, an indoor ceremony site surrounded by vegetation and an open altar on the beach.
4. Passports are optional
My ears perked up when I heard Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family vacations expert at About.com, say, “One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that you don’t have to travel to Mexico or the Caribbean to find a great all-inclusive resort.” After reading Kelleher’s complete list of the best all-inclusive resorts for families in America, I have Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Florida bookmarked for when my kids are old enough to sleep in their own beds.
5. Travel insurance isn’t included
Just imagine how devastated you would be if you got hurt or sick on vacation and had to pay out the yin-yang to cover the cost of treatment. I’m happy to say that I’ve made it through all of my all-inclusive travels safe and sound, but that doesn’t mean I won’t cover my ass on my next trip. Sharon Mostyn of RoamRight travel insurance cautions, “‘All-inclusive’ may not necessarily mean ‘all costs covered,’ especially if a traveler experiences a medical emergency while on vacation. Unexpected medical costs — and even an evacuation home — can be extremely costly for unprotected travelers. A good travel insurance plan will cover these costs as well.”
6. Special requests are welcome
Though all-inclusive is a package deal, it doesn’t mean your requests will fall on deaf ears. As a parent of a young child with food allergies, Jacques De Paep, Palladium Hotel Group’s commercial director for North America, sets my mind at ease. He says, “Different colored cards, each representing a different food allergy, are placed next to all buffet line dishes, so children and parents know what they can eat without having to think twice. Chefs and food preparation staff have been professionally trained in the preparation of dishes for gluten-free (celiac) and type 2 diabetes diets and seven other common allergy/special diets, including allergies to nuts, fruits and vegetables, seafood, eggs, dairy and lactose, fish and monosodium glutamate.”
7. Tipping is included — with a catch
Every time I’ve gone all-inclusive, tipping has been a nonissue. Gratuity is lumped in the package sum, and that’s that. Black describes a different approach to all-inclusive tipping that, as an ex-waitress, I can get on board with. She says, “After not getting great service at an all-inclusive in Baja California, I asked a resort employee what they actually got on the gratuity. I don’t remember the figure, but it was shockingly low and not what we’d tip in the U.S. We started tipping on that trip — especially servers and bartenders — and were treated like royalty.”
8. Social media tells all
If something goes wrong on vacay nowadays, the world is going to hear about it. (Carnival #poopcruise, anyone?) When booking a trip, Kathy Halpern, vice president of Sales & Marketing for Palace Resorts, urges travelers to use the social media mob to their advantage. “Invaluable social media channels and forums have forever changed the way we do business, communicate and discover. When choosing an all-inclusive resort vacation, discerning travelers should always do their homework by using the tools available to them, such as TripAdvisor and Facebook, to read up on past guest experiences. Currently, most of Palace Resorts’ properties are ranked within TripAdvisor’s top 10.”