April 23, 2014

Affordable Paradise

Choose an all-inclusive resort and leave your worries
and wallet at home

By Emily Coleman

Vacations Magazine: Affordable Paradise
Riu Hotels & Resorts
Everyone wants a vacation to be relaxing and restful, but sometimes traveling to another country can generate stress. Navigating a new city, handling foreign currency and searching for restaurants and activities can take away from a vacationer's bliss.

But one way to avoid the minor hassles of travel, and save some significant cash in the process, is to stay at an all-inclusive resort. Here, guests pay a set amount up front, eliminating the need to carry cash or fret over extra expenses. With the basic needs out of the way, guests are free to enjoy the location and really kick back. All-inclusive resorts are a popular choice in bright, tropical vacation destinations like Mexico, the Caribbean and the Bahamas.

There are varying degrees of "all-inclusive," but accommodations, meals, snacks, beverages (both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety), nonmotorized land and water activities, entertainment and gratuities are typically included. Hotel transfers to the airport are usually covered in the all-inclusive package, so guests can leave the airport and not worry about a thing until their return flight.

But not all resorts are created equal. "A lot of it depends on what the client is willing to spend and what's important to them," explains Elizabeth Jones, director of tours and resorts for Vacations To Go, which specializes in discounted travel.

"You can go to a budget property and just get a basic room, drinks and meals included. Or you could go to a more expensive property and have everything from scuba diving, motorized water sports, premium liquors and even white-tablecloth dining included. There's a very wide spectrum," she says.

No matter where you stay, your time at an all-inclusive resort can be as active or as lazy as you'd like it to be. While many resorts do not include scuba diving and motorized water activities in the up-front price, most still have a large assortment of recreational activities to keep you busy. Equipment for kayaking, snorkeling, bicycling, tennis and volleyball may be available. Guests can spend time at the fitness center, multiple pools or Jacuzzis.

Throughout the day, pool activities, crafts sessions, dance lessons and other entertainment might be scheduled, so you can pick and choose how to spend your time. Many properties have an activities director to devise amusements and act as cheerleader to get people involved. You might try your hand at water painting in the morning, learn the merengue before lunch, and in the afternoon, sip on a tropical drink you've concocted in a mixology class. And always waiting nearby is the beach, so if too much fun is wearing you out, a nap under a palapa might be in store.

"There's so much to do for people who want to be involved," Jones says. "There can be activities from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Every hour they're doing something different. You can relax and watch people or choose certain things to do yourself. All-inclusive resorts give you a great opportunity to do either."

Some all-inclusive resorts feature interesting amenities, like ice-skating rinks at Breezes Curacao and Breezes Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic or archery lessons at Club Med. Resort guests can enjoy an offshore island that's reserved especially for them at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay and at Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau. Beaches Turks and Caicos recently opened a water park, expanding the facilities by 10 times. Palace Resorts offers a special promotion that includes free off-site excursions, such as a visit to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum or sunset cruises in Puerto Vallarta.

If you can't stand to be far from the water, swim-up suites will have you as close as they come. These rooms sit along a lazy river, a long, winding pool that meanders through the resort, so you can walk out your door and slip right in. Such aquatic rooms can be found at El Dorado Maroma, El Dorado Royale and El Dorado Seaside Suites on Mexico's Riviera Maya and at Sandals Negril in Jamaica. Sandals Regency La Toc and Sandals Grande St. Lucian in St. Lucia and Half Moon Montego Bay in Jamaica have private pools attached to some of their high-end guest suites.

Spas are commonly found at all-inclusive resorts, though services will cost extra. Many properties have made a significant effort to improve their spa facilities; unwind with a deep-tissue massage and seaweed wrap or revive your skin with a purifying facial.

Avid golfers should keep an eye out for resorts that waive greens fees. However, it is possible that cart rentals and caddy services will cost extra.

Guests at an all-inclusive resort can expect the food selection to be assorted and plentiful. The atmosphere for dining ranges from open-air, beachside grills to more formal venues where reservations are required. Local flavors often influence the cuisine. Restaurants also cater to Old World tastes with French and Italian options, as well as the American standby, the steak house.

With gratuities included in the resort rate, there's no need to calculate tips at meals. Some properties strongly discourage gratuities, and staff members will often refuse them.

Just as resorts offer a diverse selection of activities and accommodations, the general ambience can vary as well. Some resorts work to create a fun and action-filled atmosphere for kids, like Beaches Turks and Caicos, with Kids Kamps, DJing classes for teens and baby-sitting (for a fee). Couples seeking a more romantic destination with a calm, low-key vibe should consider the Sandals properties in Antigua, the Bahamas, Jamaica and St. Lucia or Couples Resorts in Jamaica. At these locations, activities and dining options will be a bit more sophisticated. For a lively social dynamic, guests can opt for Club Med or Breezes resorts, where mixers and theme nights bring people together.

While an all-inclusive resort vacation has much to offer, it may not be the best choice for everyone. "If somebody is traveling to see a particular location, and they're going to spend the whole day, every day, off the property, then an all-inclusive is probably not for them," Jones says. Time spent away from the resort is time away from the amenities and services you've already paid for, and off-site meals and transportation will add extra costs. Dedicated foodies interested in sampling local restaurants every day would also find less value in an all-inclusive package.

The best prices for a tropical beach vacation often are found during the off-season in September and October. Summer vacations are over, and with the kids back in school, rates tend to go down. January and May also are good months to look for reduced rates.

Staying at an all-inclusive resort is a terrific way to cut down on the worries and decisions involved in planning a perfect getaway. A vacationer can enjoy the food, drinks, accommodations and many amenities at a resort without ever having to open their wallet.

Information: For information and rates at all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico and Bahamas, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in March/April 2009. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.

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