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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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