Choosing an All-Inclusive Resort

I now can say that I have stayed at, visited, and toured several all-inclusive resorts. My last trip when I stayed at a great all-inclusive on the Mayan Riviera was fantastic, and it may have even nudged its way up in rank over a cruise. In my opinion, this is the best vacation choice when needing some downtime and relaxation.

El Dorado Royale Resort
El Dorado Royale Resort, Mexico

I have learned that all-inclusive resorts are not all the same. Although their structure is basically beach, swimming pools, food and bars, they really can be very different. Just like cruise ships, they have been evolving and updating too. Some can feel very garden and jungle-like with birds and iguanas, while others have a young South Beach Miami/Las Vegas ambiance. I’m also noticing more resorts focusing on health and wellness featuring smoothie bars, California lite cuisine, quality fitness centers, and outdoor training circuits.

Jewell Paradise Cove Jamaica
Jewell Paradise Cove Jamaica

Some questions to ask yourself and to relay to your travel planner when choosing a resort –

  • Swimmable beach or swimming pool, what’s more important?
  • Beach shade (from cabanas or palm trees)–nice for sleeping, reading, or keeping kids out the direct sun?
  • Room location? Ocean-front or garden view each have benefits. Ocean-front is great, but remember direct sun can make it hot in your room and on your balcony, plus you better have good dark curtains/shades for keeping out the morning sun. Garden view is obviously cooler (temperature-wise) and you have birds and flowering bushes for a setting. Some people prefer a location downstairs near the pool, usually if you have kids going in and out, and need to lug baby supplies.
  • Large or small resort? In a small resort the staff knows your name, and restaurants and pools are near. Large resort– the choice in activities, bars and restaurants is abundant. Also, if you like to go for morning or after-dinner walks, it’s like taking a stroll along the paths of a small village.
Lunch at Generations Resort Mexico
Lunch at Generations Riviera Maya

Restaurants

The a la cart restaurants that I have encountered in most resorts have been superb. Most resorts have some specialty restaurants that require a reservation. These can be steakhouses, Mediterranean, and Japanese with sushi. One resort I know of has an open-air thatched-roof lobster house where you can have lobster prepared every way possible. One evening we tried out what was called “culinary theater”. We dined slowly on a four-course meal while watching the chef on stage being projected on big screen monitors as he prepared each dish.

Excursions off-premises
If you think you’ll want to participate in some activities outside of the resort, again resort location is key. Some resorts can be 2-3 hours from zip-lines, ATV rentals, and waterfall hikes. For instance, in Mexico, Riviera Maya around Playa del Carmen will be the better location than Cancun for being near the adventure parks, and cenote swim and snorkel areas. The same is true for Jamaica–the Ocho Rios area is where the bulk of jungle adventure tours are as opposed to the Negril side of the island.

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Adventuras Mayas cave snorkeling

Here is a list of some of the unique offerings and amenities I have seen in some of the all-inclusive resorts I’ve toured —

  • Heated bathroom floors
  • Jarred baby food offered at the buffet
  • Room scent and pillow menu
  • Adult au naturel beach areas
  • Beachside outdoor movies
  • Family rooms with minibar to include juice boxes and milk
  • Specialty coffee shops
  • Free shuttles into town

Visiting Jamaica…Ya Mon!

I have just returned from a few days in Jamaica, where I attended a travel agent tour of resorts. I would like to share a couple of tidbits on what Montego Bay and the Ocho Rios area have to offer.

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Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort

The Lay of the Land—
Sangster International airport in Montego Bay is the major airport, where 95% of passengers arrive.
Montego Bay has several resorts and from there you can go west about 1 ½ hours to the Negril area or about 1 ½ hours east to the Ocho Rios area. The one big difference I learned about these two areas is that Negril area resorts are all about the white sand beaches. I didn’t see Negril, I only toured Montego Bay and the Ocho Rios area. I heard someone say the two can be compared to the difference between Cancun and the Mayan Riviera. The resort beaches I saw at both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios were coves with quiet waves (good for swimming with children), although a little jagged and rocky, with landscapes that are tropical with trees and flowering bushes. Cruise ships dock on this east side of the island and there are many activities for excursions.

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Mystic Mountain

 What To See and Do

  • Dunn’s River Falls and river tubing
  • Horseback riding, swimming with dolphins, night kayaking in the luminous lagoon
  • Mystic Mountain–chairlift to the top of the hill above the tropical rainforest and bob-sled down and/or zip-line
  • Whitewater rafting on the Rio Bueno River, or a tranquil raft down the Martha Brae River
  • Many beautiful golf courses

Renting Villas
Besides the gorgeous resorts, the other accommodations we toured were several beautiful villas. Some were standalone with very private waterfronts, and some were high on a hill overlooking the ocean and golf course inside of a resort. All had private pools, some came with golf carts for tooling around, all came with up to 5 house staff to cook, clean, and arrange for anything you might need. I was most amazed by the value of these.  Some were 5-7 bedrooms that felt like staying in your own private resort. To rent one of these and split the cost for a family reunion or a group of golf friends would be ideal. The total price would end up being very reasonable.

Villa overlooking Tryall Golf Course
Villa overlooking Tryall Golf Course

I will definitely be back again. If I had to pick one personal favorite of the resorts we toured, mine would be the Half Moon Resort—golf, spa, tennis, dolphins, quiet, villas, cottages, beach, and superb restaurants.

Half Moon Resort
Half Moon Resort
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Lunch at Half Moon Resort