All-inclusive resorts used to have a reputation for shady clientele, poor food, sub-par accommodations and indifferent staff. Boy, how times have changed. These days, there are all-inclusive properties with five star ratings, gourmet restaurants and top-flight spas located in some of the most beautiful locations in the world. (Most are in the Caribbean or Mexico, although there are some in the South Pacific, Asia and Europe.) It’s a great concept providing a world-class experience that you pay for prior to arrival. This allows you to enjoy the amenities, food and a full list of activities without having to take out your wallet at all during your stay, making you feel more like a pampered guest than a paying customer.
All-inclusive resorts are amazing, but like most travel, you want to get the best deal on a destination that truly suits you and your travel companion(s). To that end, here are a few tips for making sure you have a great all-inclusive experience.
- Pick the Right Type of Resort – I put this one first, because it is the MOST important. If you and your significant other are looking for a romantic getaway, and you book it at a family focused all-inclusive because you really liked the photos on their Web site, you will not be happy with your experience. A family all-inclusive is a fabulous place IF you are bringing children with you. (Beaches is a good example for families.) If you are a traveling without children however, you want to find a resort that’s adults only and all about couples. Sandals is a good example of this type of all-inclusive resort where everything is geared to couples. On the other hand, if you and your single friends are looking for a place to party all night, you definitely don’t want to be with children or honeymooners. Never fear, there’s an all-inclusive for that too.
- Book as a Group – If you have a group looking to go to an all-inclusive resort, be sure to have one designated person making the reservations for everyone. This will absolutely get you the best rates available at the resort you select. Even better, call your favorite travel planner (guess who I think that should be), and she can take care of all the reservations and logistics for you. On top of that, your travel planner may have a line on resort credits, specialty dining coupons or spa treatments for your group, so don’t miss out.
- Bundle Airfare – Just like booking as a group, if you bundle your airfare with your resort reservations, you will often get a much better deal. Many times, airlines, tour companies and all-inclusive resorts have hammered out deals that can’t be beat using the a la carte method.
- Book “off season” – Just like any other destination, all-inclusive resorts have an “off season” that you can take advantage of to beat the crowds and save some money while having the same fabulous time you would have during “high season.” For all-inclusive resorts, after Spring Break and before the summer travel rush is the most economical time, so plan your trip for late April or May (before Memorial Day weekend) to get the best deal.
- Know the Tipping Policy – Tipping is always a sticky topic when traveling, but it’s a bit more confusing than usual at an all-inclusive resort since you pay for most activities, food and beverages prior to arrival. There are some resorts that have a no-tipping policy and some that are fine with tipping their staff, and you want to understand the individual policy so you can relax during your stay. If you use a travel planner, they will give tipping information with your travel documents. If you are a DIY person, you can check with the reservation agent during booking or the concierge upon your arrival to get the standard tipping practices for that particular resort.
- Make Dinner Reservations – All-inclusive resorts provide multiple restaurants and watering holes throughout the property. Many of these are buffet style with an amazing assortment of delicious food that you can enjoy whenever you want. Some of the restaurants however are considered “specialty dining”, and man are they fabulous. However, you will need reservations and, ideally, you should make them before you get to your resort. (Yet another reason to use a travel planner to handle little details like that.) If you don’t have time to make them before you go, do so immediately upon arrival. You don’t want to miss out!