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Are All-Inclusive Resorts A Good Deal?

(March 2000)

All-inclusive resorts can really help vacationers get the most out of their travel dollars. My family and I have found all-inclusives and cruising to be the best vacation values available. Today, about 200 of the 1,500 hotels in the Caribbean are either all-inclusive resorts or offer all-inclusive packages. These include chains with several locations, such as Almond Resorts, Sandals, Club Med, and SuperClubs, as well as smaller resorts and hotels. There are resorts that cater to couples, families, singles, and gays. In the daytime, you can relax on the beaches or poolside, or indulge in many of the land and water sports that make these resorts so much fun. At night, you can dine on excellent cuisine, and afterwards, take in a show or dance the night away to live entertainment.

Most everything is taken care of, from hotel transfers to evening entertainment. At most resorts, you will not pay for a single drink, meal, or sport. Even tipping is included. However, each resort has its own unique style, and policies can vary widely among all-inclusives. With so many to choose from you need to know your particular vacation style. Choosing the right resort for your style and budget takes a full understanding of what is, and what is not, included in an all-inclusive resort package. For example, water sports at one resort may be substantially different than water sports at another resort. Likewise, meals at one resort may be all buffets, whereas at another they might be five courses of your own choosing. The basic concept of an all-inclusive resort is that you pay once for a certain combination of services. It usually covers most things you might want to do, but not always.

As for activities at resorts, what is included? Different resorts have different personas. Some have 'round-the-clock fun and activities, others have no schedules, and some don't even have amenities like clocks, radios, or televisions. There are numerous resorts with golf, tennis, and other sporting activities. Depending on the resort, you generally are allotted a certain number of tee times or uses of certain equipment. In addition, some activities may have to be done during scheduled times such as water skiing and wind surfing. SCUBA is offered at many resorts for an additional charge. If you are not certified, most resorts offer a "resort certification" which will allow you to go on closely supervised guided dives. A resort certification is a great introduction to the sport. If, however, you are already a certified diver, some resorts, such as Sandals, Beaches, and Gala Resorts, offer one or two tank dives a day in their all-inclusive packages.

Many people wonder about the dining options at all-inclusive resorts. Again, the quality and quantity vary widely from resort to resort. Usually, there's a wide array of food, and styles typically range from buffet to gourmet dining. In between mealtimes, there are snack areas. Some resorts even boast 24-hour room service.

Families will have no problem finding an all-inclusive resort to meet their needs. So what's included at family-type resorts? One thing to consider is that many resorts allow children under a certain age to stay for free. Most resorts have fully-supervised fun for kids, which gives parents lots of time to relax and play. A good number of family resorts feature kid-only pools, play areas, and meals. Depending on the resort, child-care services range from as-needed babysitting, to all-day children's programs, to individual nannies.

Is airfare included when you purchase an all-inclusive package? It depends. Some of the larger resort chains such as Sandals and Club Med offer packages with or without air. The same goes for tour operators such as Apple Vacations and FunJet Vacations. Often, purchasing airfare as part of the package can be a better deal than doing so separately, unless you are using frequent flier miles. Larger resorts and tour companies buy bulk air that stays the same rate throughout the year. However, checking the various fare sales can sometimes yield bigger savings. Check Smarter Living's Deal Alert section to see the latest offers.

Lucy Hirleman, Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and President of Berkshire Travel, Inc. in Newfoundland, New Jersey, believes that all-inclusive resorts offer a great value. Hirleman also notes, however, that they aren't for everyone. "I always tell my clients you don't want to book an all-inclusive package if you aren't going to use most of the services or components," she notes. "You don't want to pay for things you're not going to use. I tell my clients if you eat like a bird, lay on the beach, don't drink, or participate in water sports, all-inclusives aren't for you."

Hirleman states, "Picking an all-inclusive resort depends upon the destination. For example, destinations such as Cancun, St. Thomas, and Bahamas have an infrastructure that is well-suited to all-inclusive and not all-inclusive resorts because there is a wide selection of restaurants and amenities for tourism." She goes on to say that, "there are certain islands that don't have the tourism infrastructure in place and are best suited for all-inclusive resort vacations, namely Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Both islands are not easy to drive around because their infrastructure wasn't set up for tourism."

So, is an all-inclusive resort right for you? If you are the type of traveler that enjoys sampling all of the local fare, then spending all of your time at an all-inclusive resort is probably not for you. If you like to go somewhere just to relax and not worry about taking out your wallet every couple of hours to pay for food, drinks, or activities, then there's probably an all-inclusive resort that's just right for you.

Great resources for researching all-inclusive resorts:

Le Beach Club - Hal Segal, author of the Resort Report newsletter, offers a great website including trip reports from vacationers to hundreds of resorts.

About.com's Hotel/Resorts/Inns - Provides a listing of resources to help you find the perfect place to stay.

About.com's Honeymoons & Romantic Getaways - The best place to visit if you are planning to get away from it all with the one you love!

Carib Guide - Fantastic resource on everything in the Caribbean.

Resorts-On-Line - A comprehensive source for all online resorts.

Vacation Hotline - A great guide to prices at various resorts.

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