Recently, major hotels and resorts have created their own programs that not only rival but surpass the original. The majority are located in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Let's take a look at what makes up an all inclusive vacation. The biggest benefit of an all inclusive vacation is the amount of amenities received for money spent.
Bang for the buck. Dollar for dollar, it would be difficult to go out and put together the components of an all inclusive vacation on your own for anything close to the amount of money you are charged. You can hand pick a hotel, pay for your air fare, and pay for all your meals ala carte, but unless you are really going top drawer, the differences aren't that great and the all inclusive will offer the best value in an all around quality vacation.
What's included in an all inclusive vacation? Just about everything except for off-site excursions, motorized water sports, and some top shelf spirits and wine.
Let's check off what is included: your room, food and drinks, airport transfers, as well as many resort activities like biking, kayaks, hobie cats, floats, and snorkel equipment. Nightly entertainment is often part of the package. Don't expect Vegas, but it is often quite enjoyable. Depending on the resort, you may luck out with some included nine-hole par three golf, or horseback riding.
Don't expect to see wave runners, jet skis, water skiing, parachute rides from the beach, or anything that uses gasoline to run them. Renting a waverunner to you for $75 an hour is a big moneymaker for them. If you're content to take a hobie out or putz around on a kayak, you will be happy. But many of us like to go out for that sunset cruise, remote snorkel trip, or scuba dive and almost all of these will cost you extra.
Since I like my cocktails let's talk about what's available. Most of your beer choices will be what's available locally with an addition of something like Heineken. Everyone blends a tasty pine colada along with most other blended drinks. Most of the name brand liquors are available, some with more choices than others. If you are a wine lover, you may have to make do with some basic choices. Don't expect Veuve Cliquot champagne without having to shell out some bucks. They all offer some quality upscale choices for an additional charge. There are some resorts that offer the equivalent of two buck chuck, while others do make a decent attempt to have something drinkable. Some of them have caught on to the bargains and quality available from Chile and Spain. I would steer away from any wine produced in Mexico. Personally, I enjoy a golden margarita topped with Grand Marnier as an alternative. Food and drink usually represents one of the biggest expenditures on an all inclusive vacation. If you like your cocktails, this can mean a decent savings.
We recently returned from Sandals Saint Lucia. There are three in Saint Lucia, Sandals La Toc, Sandals Grande, and Sandals Halcyon. I'm happy to say that they now offer Stone Cellars wine made by Beringer Vineyards of Napa Valley California. It's not $25 wine, but it's as good as you will find offered as complimentary. We consider the Sandals Saint Lucia Resorts to be one of the best all inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Learn more about the Sandals Saint Lucia Resorts here.
Not only is the cost of meals through an all inclusive plan far less than what you would pay for individual meals, it's also much less of a hassle. You don't have to carry cash around, and there's never a huge bill waiting for you and your friends. Having twenty four hour room service available at some resorts is a plus. My wife's kids stayed up all night long partying while the grilled lamb chops kept coming at the resort we were married at in Jamaica. The only four star restaurant at an all inclusive in the Caribbean!
The food can vary from resort to resort. Check with your Travel Agent before you go. Some resorts serve excellent food. Gone are the days when ordering a beef entre was a disappointment. I was amazed at the quality of lamb chops and filet mignon ordered at our favorite all inclusive resort in Riviera Maya. If you eat out at fine restaurants on a regular basis, pick one of the best resorts and you won't be disappointed.
One last area to report on with respect to all inclusive options. If you are interested in cruising, there are a few cruise lines that offer alcoholic drinks, wine, and beer included in their pricing. It will cost more, of course, but the upside is these are more upscale luxury experiences and can be worth the extra cost to some.
Just like anything else, you get what you pay for. In this case, you get a whole lot more with an all inclusive vacation. With the incentives most resorts are offering, there are some really terrific bargains out there. Check out the resort ratings. Compare the costs between resorts and you'll get a good idea of the range of activities offered and quality of the resort. Your Travel Professional should be able to give you a good idea of the differences between all inclusive resorts.
About the Authors
Sue and Charlie Shimkus are owners of Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise established in 1974. Sue has served on the travel advisory board for Alaska, Hawaii, & Ireland and executive board of the local chapter American Society of Travel Agents. Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise is a member of the Signature Travel Network. Visit Lake Zurich Travel for Expert Travel Advice and resources finding the Right Vacation for you!
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