So I’d never taken an all-inclusive vacation before, and it sounded like a good deal. And depending on what you’re looking for, it can be well worth the higher room rate because of the convenience, as well as the savings that you might get if you take advantage of all of the things that an all-inclusive stay has to offer.
All-inclusive deals are especially attractive to people with larger families on a budget, because it saves them from the shock of seeing a massive tab at the end of vacation that they weren’t expecting. It also makes sense if you plan to stay at the resort the whole time, as you will be able to take advantage of (almost) everything on the premises without having to carry money or worry about the added expense.
But not all-inclusives are created equal, and it’s important to know what you’re getting when you sign up. Remember, just because it’s all-inclusive doesn’t mean that you’re not paying for it—that higher room rate is still money out of your pocket, so you want to make sure that it’s worth the price.
When all isn’t all
Find out exactly what is included. You would think that “all” inclusive would mean that everything is included, right? Wrong. In most places, spa services and motorized water sports are not included, and these are going to be extra charges if you choose to use them. Depending on the level of accommodation, you might also find that while it says that food and alcohol are included, there is some small print that says that there is a surcharge for certain foods, such as shrimp, steak and lobster. Some resorts also boast that their all-inclusive includes top-shelf alcohol; if this is not mentioned, assume that you’ll be drinking bar brand or will be paying extra if you prefer a specific type of drink. And tipping? Sometimes it’s included and sometimes it’s not; make sure that you know ahead of time.
Are all meals buffet-style in one place, or does all-inclusive include a resort’s better restaurants? I’ve stayed in places that feature both, and there is a big difference. While some buffets are massive and you have a lot of options, others may only feature five or six entrees. While this might not seem like a big deal, if you have food allergies or don’t like a specific style of cooking, it really limits what you can enjoy. At one resort in Jamaica, for example, I had the option of seafood dishes (I’m allergic) or local specialties that all included jerk seasoning (not a fan). Another resort offered such a large buffet that I couldn’t possibly try all I wanted during my short stay and also offered access to all of its finer restaurants, so I was in foodie heaven.
Be careful when you’re booking to look for the all-inclusive label. It’s easy to get confused when you’re resort searching on the Internet, especially when the majority of accommodations in a place are all-inclusive. Don’t assume that a resort offers this option unless it specifically says it; some resorts offer all-inclusive packages but also pay-as-you-go stays, and you want to make sure that you’re signing up for the one you want. One hint: if the room rate seems really low compared to other places, it probably doesn’t include anything other than your bed for the night.
More the merrier
Look for great deals for groups. If you’re having a destination wedding or are hosting a family reunion, talk to the resort about what else they might include; some resorts will provide a couple of extra rooms at no charge or activities for the bridal party—such as a catamaran tour—that wouldn’t normally be included in the all-inclusive rate.
Think about if you really need an all-inclusive. I’m a traveler that loves to take part in the local scene, so it’s rare that I spend much time on the grounds of a resort. That means that all of those meals and activities that are included don’t matter much to me because I won’t be there to take advantage of them. On the other hand, if you plan to do nothing more than lie on the beach, eat lots of food and watch your kids take part in numerous activities, an all-inclusive might be the perfect way for you to go.
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