I was inspired this morning by this great list of all-inclusive resorts published by Caribbean Journal. Some I have visited before & some have been on my bucket list for quite some time. I’m a huge fan of the all-inclusive concept & have been checking them out regularly since 1998 with our 1st trip to Sandals 🙂 They’re certainly not for everyone, but the ease with which they operate, and all they have to offer, makes them a no-brainer in my book.
I’ve been to Sandals, Beaches, Excellence, Melia, Iberostar & several other all-inclusive chains, big and small. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the more laid back, less cookie-cutter resorts, without an overwhelming number of activities or the invigorating “party” atmosphere. It could just be that I’m getting old, but I like to think at this point in life, I’m more than capable of entertaining myself… lol. Don’t get me wrong, I always love some local, live music in the evening & I’ll never pass up a good snorkeling or boating excursion. But usually I’m just there to relax, read my book on the beach, do a little sightseeing & enjoy a delicious meal each night!
The beauty of an all-inclusive (AI) lies in its simplicity… one-stop-shopping if you will. Pick your resort & then enjoy everything a small beachside village would have to offer, without ever having to leave the property. You’ll have the option of fine dining from all nationalities, shops, a beautiful spa, a gym, a water sports center & more. Easy peasy.
With that said, it becomes more a matter of personal preference when selecting the perfect AI. For me, it’s all about the beach & the food. I don’t need a super luxurious room, a fancy spa or lots of theater-style shows, but those amenities are important to some, and widely available. I enjoy a good “adults-only” resort (or at least an adult “section”), but when traveling with my son, I need to adjust our requirements a little and include a good pool & an active kids club.
AIs are found mostly in Mexico and the Caribbean with an extreme number on the Yucatan Peninsula & in the Dominican Republic. You definitely get what you pay for, however sometimes the brand name alone, dictates a higher price but not necessarily a better experience. It’s important to read reviews & be clear on what type of resort you’re looking for. Here are a few things to consider:
– Size of the resort. AKA… how far do you want to walk to the beach or to dinner. Layout plays a part here as well… some resorts lie parallel to the beach, while others form a long, perpendicular strip from the main road to the sea. Another trend seems to be combining multiple properties into one, creating a huge mecca of dining options, pools, etc. It all depends on what you need to keep you entertained and your mobility level.
– Variety (and quality) of restaurants. If a buffet for breakfast & lunch and a few a la carte options for dinner are sufficient, any AI will do. However, if you want access to room service, need to order breakfast off a menu or would like a high-end French meal for dinner, you’ll need to stay on the upper end of things. Some of the smaller resorts may only have 2 or 3 restaurants, but if their focus is on quality, you should still receive an excellent variety of fresh & creative food. Some of the best food I’ve had at an AI was at the Excellence Punta Cana last year… here’s just a snapshot of the types of items available at the BREAKFAST buffet!
– Room accommodations. Do you want to be next to the ocean? Do you need your own swim-out pool? Are 2 beds a requirement? As with all resorts, most AIs offer a large variety of rooms and the cost will most likely be determined by the view & proximity to the beach. Many AIs now also offer an exclusive section (usually adults only), that includes a private stretch of beach, select restaurants and other upgraded amenities – it’s up to you to determine if this extra expense is necessary. Reading resort reviews on TripAdvisor or other trusted sites, is the best way to find this out for each particular resort. Here’s a perfect example… our room at the smaller, Pineapple Beach Club in Antigua wasn’t the most luxurious, but it literally sat on the water, with a huge balcony… I couldn’t have asked for anything better!
– Location. Do you want to explore the town/culture/sights or just stay put? Some of the best resorts are often farther from any centralized “downtowns” or local hot spots. Consider your sightseeing needs when making our selection. Also, depending on the length of your stay, you’ll want to consider the drive time to & from the airport. In Cancun, for example, most resorts are on the main strip, with a quick, 20-min ride from the airport. If you venture out towards the Riviera Maya area, however, you’re looking at 45 mins to an hour. For shorter trips, the closer the better, but if you have the time, the ride is often worth it.
All-inclusives offer something for everyone and are often easier when traveling with kids or a larger group. It’s also nice to pay for everything up front & not have to worry about extra expenses once you arrive (other than trips to the spa, gift shop or unplanned excursions). Personally, I like to make as few taxing decisions as possible when I’m on vacation, so the concept works wonderfully well for me. The only way you’ll know for sure, is to do your homework, get recommendations from friends & try it out!
Here are a few links to some of my favorites:
Melia Caribe Tropical – Larger, well-established resort in Punta Cana. Go for the upgraded “Level” if you’re leaving the kids at home 😉
Excellence Punta Cana – Beautiful, adults-only resort. Amazing food & my favorite stretch of beach.
Iberostar Costa Dorada – Smaller, open-air resort on the north coast of the D.R. Great food & service.
Flamingo Beach Resort – Experience “pura vida” at this laid back, boutique resort. Soon to become a part of the Margaritaville chain… hoping that doesn’t spoil the atmosphere. Here are some pics from last year’s visit 🙂