All-Inclusives… Yay or Nay?

20170801_063332I 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 ūüôā 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.

Sandals Royal BahamianI’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.

Pineapple Beach Club

Perfect local entertainment!

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:

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Melia Caribe Tropical – Larger, well-established resort in Punta Cana. ¬†Go for the upgraded “Level” if you’re leaving the kids at home ūüėČ
Excellence Punta Cana РBeautiful, adults-only resort.  Amazing food & my favorite stretch of beach.
Iberostar Costa Dorada РSmaller, open-air resort on the north coast of the D.R.  Great food & service.

COSTA RICA
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 ūüôā

ANTIGUA
Pineapple Beach Club & Galley Bay¬†– Both part of the Elite Island Resorts chain… Visited the quaint Pineapple this year (here’s my review), looking to try the more upscale Gally Bay soon!

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Pura Vida in Pictures

 

20160130_172633Our Girls Getaway to Costa Rica was a complete success! ¬†Perfect weather, an incredibly¬†relaxed¬†resort & the discovery of “Pura Vida” – the simple life at it’s best.

We really enjoyed the Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa, as it was a change from our usual “stock” all-inclusives. ¬†The intimate atmosphere made everything so accessible… just a few steps from the pool, to the restaurant to the beach. ¬†The service was excellent & the staff was friendly & knowledgeable, offering helpful advice on what to see & do. ¬†We loved the open-air feel of the resort & enjoyed all of our meals & drinks outside in the beautiful, tropical setting.

For a full review of this resort, check out my latest article on Trip101.com: ¬†“Discover Pura Vida at Costa Rica’s Flamingo Beach Resort”

But for the “Photostory” – just keep scrolling ūüôā

I’m starting with my favorite thing to do on vacation… ¬†Morning coffee on the balcony. Here it came with a great view & a strong Costa Rican brew.

Here’s our actual room from the inside & out. ¬†Basic accommodations, but with everything we needed. ¬†And our 2nd floor “Poolview” room was a winner as we could see both the pool AND the ocean – jackpot!

I loved heading over to the beach early in the morning and enjoying this long, beautiful stretch all to myself.  And I mean EARLY as the symphony of tropical birds had me up every day by 6am!20160130_0618302016-01-30 06.44.57

The sun rose from behind the resort, so the ocean lit up before the sand… so pretty to watch!

This the main Arenas Restaurant, with air-conditioned seating inside and this awesome screened-in patio outside, looking over at the beach.  Drinks & dinner were also available upstairs at the open-air, Sunset Lounge.
MainRestaurant

We did make a few friends during our stay… ¬†this guy crawled right up onto my chair to say hello one afternoon!PhotoGrid_1454433100894

Here are a few more shots from around the resort… As you can see, it’s all about the water. ¬†The covered pool is for the kids – such a great idea!

We did venture out and took a Sunset Catamaran Cruise on the 47′ “Panache” –¬†a beautiful boat, manned by a super fun crew. ¬†We stopped to snorkel, had some snacks, enjoyed the complimentary cocktails and ended with an amazing sunset…

Speaking of sunsets… staying on the Pacific side of Costa Rica guarantees some breathtaking views every night. ¬†These were taken as we walked down the beach to¬†“Coco Loco” – a restaurant/bar that sits right on the sand.

Costa Rica is famous for its surf… Unfortunately the only wave I “caught” was this one, just as the sun was setting.

This really was a perfect destination… totally relaxing, friendly people and a great place to reconnect a little with nature. ¬†The “Pura Vida” lifestyle certainly is amazing!

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Last but not least… for the Foodies: ¬†Two delicious ceviches, fresh fish tacos (at the airport of all places) and my favorite cocktail – The Green Monster! ¬†Cheers!!!

 

Next Stop… Costa Rica!

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One month from today, I will be waking up here… at the Flamingo Beach Resort in the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica. ūüôā

This year’s “Girls Getaway” was booked faster than any other. ¬†We found an AWESOME deal on the airfare… an unheard of $275 for round-trip, non-stop flights from Newark on United. ¬†This made the destination a no-brainer. ¬†Then we quickly selected this resort based on it’s beautiful beach, the all-inclusive option, a full range of amenities (including ¬†a spa) and the stellar reviews we read online.

This will be my 2nd trip to Costa Rica, the first being a cruise stop on the Caribbean side where we explored the city of Limon, zip-lined through the rain forest, ¬†and came up close & personal with a 3-toed sloth who had ventured down from the trees to do his weekly “business” (my highlight of the trip). ¬†But now I’m heading to the Pacific Coast, to this fairly new tourist destination where people are scooping up properties, surfing the many beaches and living the “Pura Vida” lifestyle.

Flamingo Beach is considered one of the nicest in the area, featuring white sand, gentle waves and that gorgeous Pacific sunset. ¬†The resort itself, however, is a little different than where we usually stay. ¬†It’s much smaller, the pool is fairly basic (although it does have a swim-up bar), the rooms look very nice but not overly luxurious and there’s only 1 actual restaurant, compared to the 5 or more we’ve been spoiled by at our previous resorts. ¬†But we’re looking forward to trying something new and everything here sounds amazing. The area looks gorgeous, the service sounds top-notch and the food should be a real treat as the resort utilizes its own organic garden & meals here feature fresh, local specialties.

I can’t wait to hear the monkeys in the trees, be surrounded by tropical vegetation, paddle board in the Pacific & catch those spectacular sunsets every night. ¬†I think this is going to be a good one!!!

If you’ve been here… please share your must-see or must-do list in the comments below!!! ¬†Thank you!

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Visit the resort’s web site here: www.resortflamingobeach.com

And check out their great video:  https://youtu.be/e9E0Tz3zyCE