October 21, 2017

All-Inclusive Luxury Escapes

“You have no worries, no concerns. It’s ultimate relaxation.”

By Rebecca Matheson Ortiz

Vacations Magazine: All-Inclusive Luxury Escapes
Michael Stavaridis/Sandals Resorts
Welcome to the high life.

Luxury all-inclusive resorts and upscale cruise ships cater to your every desire. You can feast in indulgent restaurants, test your water sports skills in crystal-clear seas or utilize butler services for your plush lodgings. And the best part? You won't even have to reach for your wallet. That's the beauty of this vacation style -- all the necessities, from your room and a variety of activities to cuisine and top-shelf beverages, are included in a rate that's paid upfront, so you can stop sweating the small stuff and start living big.

"It's a very easygoing, relaxed experience. You could just sit there all day and not have to worry about any stress of 'How much does that cost?' or 'Where did my credit card go?'" says Elizabeth Jones, vice president of operations for discount travel provider Vacations To Go.

Whether you're looking for a romantic resort escape for two in the Bahamas, planning a fun family affair in the Caribbean or cruising to remote Antarctica, you'll find yourself pampered by the following five properties and four oceangoing vessels. Discuss details and discounts with the travel specialists at Vacations To Go, who handle both resorts and cruises.

Resorts
Stretching out along the waterfront without fretting over your bar tab is just one way you can ease into vacation mode at all-inclusive resorts. Throw on your swimsuit, grab the sunscreen and head to a lounger by the beach or pool, where a friendly staffer will deliver beverages to you, but never a bill.

Sandals Resorts International is a family-owned company that offers its all-inclusive expertise across five brands and 24 properties. One of its namesake lodgings is Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis and Spa Resort, a couples-only resort in the Exumas, on the western edge of the Bahamas' Out Islands.

Emerald Bay's 500 acres meet the sea in a mile-long arc of shoreline and tout a Greg Norman-designed championship golf course and three freshwater pools. The property features 11 restaurants and six bars, including the Drunken Duck Pub, with classic British bar fare, as well as eateries for Indian, Italian, French and Japanese cuisine. A piano bar, karaoke spot and chocolate buffet add zest to the evenings.

Stays here focus on romance and rejuvenation. Be sure to choose accommodations featuring one of Sandals' trademark "tranquility tubs" built for two, or opt for a Love Nest Suite for extra privacy and secluded comfort. Butler service is another all-inclusive perk available in certain room categories, so consider an upgrade and leave restaurant reservations, beachfront cocktail orders and more up to your own personal attendant.

Sandals' family-friendly brand, Beaches, includes the Caribbean's Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa. Among included amenities for children are a 45,000-square-foot water park with slides, a lazy river and swim-up soda bar; costumed characters from Sesame Street who perform at stage shows, character breakfasts and nighttime tuck-ins; an Xbox Play Lounge stocked with the latest games; and kids programs for infants, toddlers, tweens and teens.

"The kids are just laughing the whole time," Jones says of these activities, which are supervised by Beaches staffers with International Nanny Association certification. "The camps get so creative, and they also take them swimming out in the ocean."

The resort sits along a 12-mile stretch of Grace Bay on the isle of Providenciales. "It's one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. It's a pure white-sand beach," Jones says. Accommodations are spread out among four themed villages -- Key West, Caribbean, Italian and French -- and suites are geared toward families as large as 14 people, so you can choose the vacation venue that's right for your brood. Peruse lodgings in the Italian Village, with sea views and quick water park access, where included comforts range from concierge service to in-room gaming consoles.

And, with 22 eateries and 15 bars, the resort offers something to please every palate. Kids love the burgers and pizza at Bobby Dee's, a '50s-style diner found inside a replica pirate ship, and sitting at the grill of the property's teppanyaki restaurant. Adults in need of a date night might prefer the gourmet fare of Sky, a romantic rooftop spot overlooking the ocean, or the fresh, Mediterranean-inspired seafood dishesof Neptunes.

Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya is an adults-only, all-inclusive, all-suite property that belongs to AMResorts, a company focused on relaxation, gourmet food and amenities designed to spoil. That includes a connection to natural wonders -- located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula along Akumal Beach, Secrets Akumal is found near a coral reef known for its green sea turtle population. Guests are encouraged to grab goggles and head out into the turquoise waters for a swim or snorkel among the reptiles.

Sporty guests can engage in water polo matches, yoga classes and target practice with an archery or rifle instructor. Golfers enjoy waived greens fees at the nearby Riviera Maya Golf Club, and bike trips to the Yal-ku Lagoon, another enviable snorkeling spot, are offered three times a week.

Each of the 434 suites is decorated with locally embroidered textiles and equipped with a whirlpool tub and private patio. Camp out with the help of 24-hour room service or, if you'd like a second option for a midnight snack, Coco Cafe is one of the resort's six eateries and open 24/7. Guests also can enjoy Mexican dishes at El Patio, nosh on fresh seafood at Oceana or grab a cushy porch swing and a top-shelf cocktail -- always included in the price of your all-inclusive resort stay, of course -- at Rendezvous, the lobby bar.

Finest Playa Mujeres by Excellence Group is an all-ages property located north of Cancun, Mexico. Excellence is touted for its attention to detail, which is evident in this resort's cozy suites, fine dining venues and customer service.

Finest Playa Mujeres groups children by age to provide tailor-made experiences, from spa treatments to kayaking, ziplining and paddleboarding excursions, while venues built for little ones include a kids pool, playground and mini-theater. Meanwhile, adults traveling without (and perhaps hoping to distance themselves from) kids should consider the resort-within-a-resort concept, Excellence Club, with a private bar, restaurant and pool as well as secluded suites reserved for grown-ups only. A concierge also is available to club members 24 hours a day.

"The service there was great. Everybody learns your name," Jones says.
Swim-up patios, plunge pools and Jacuzzis are available among the 450 all-suite accommodations. For nourishment, 12 restaurants prepare made-to-order meals sourced from local ingredients whenever possible; Tinto and Tapas, for instance, offers small plates and a range of sangria recipes, while La Cocinita serves up burgers, tacos and nachos from a Volkswagen bus turned food truck.

Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso is one of more than 100 Iberostar Hotels and Resorts properties dotting the globe. Hugging the coast of Mexico's Riviera Maya, its distinctive architecture echoes a neo-Renaissance style, though vibrant indoor gardens and accommodations with stunning views of the Caribbean embrace tropical surroundings.

In addition to the usual all-inclusive benefits, this adults-only resort offers scuba, dance and tennis lessons in its upfront fee. Pillow menus and aromatherapy moods (including "romantic" and "relaxing") help personalize your home away from home, as do your choices for in-room minibar supplies. Guests of oceanfront and villa rooms are treated to extra perks, including butler service covering the packing and unpacking of luggage, clothes ironing finished overnight and a personalized late checkout, should you wish to extend your stay a few hours during your final day at the beach.

And, as for its five bars, four restaurants and buffet, "It was some of the best food I think I've ever had. Their burger wasn't just a burger, it was a Kobe beef burger," Jones says.

Cruises
Opulent cruise lines forgo drink packages and specialty restaurant fees, instead opting to include beverages and fine dining in the upfront cost of the vacation. Guests are then free to fully immerse themselves in rest, leisure and far-off destinations.

Since introducing its first ship in 1990, Crystal Cruises has earned high marks for its personalized service, celebrity chef-designed menus and destination-immersion programs. Complimentary shore excursions available on select sailings add to the appeal.

Crystal offers the largest ships out of our four featured luxury lines, making it the perfect choice for those wanting amenities like the theaters and multiple dining venues (including Silk Road and The Sushi Bar, from Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa) featured aboard the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. But there also is a smaller cruiser with its own advantages: the company's newest vessel, the Crystal Esprit.

This 62-passenger all-suite yacht was built for expedition cruising. Passengers can Jet Ski, snorkel, kayak, fish and swim from the water sports platform at the ship's aft while docked around the Seychelles and other island hot spots, and bicycles are available in certain ports for touring new lands. And, though Crystal's larger ships offer a handful of complimentary shore excursions with the You Care, We Care voluntourism program, the Crystal Esprit extends the freebies to all adventures on dry land.

A seven-night sailing on the Esprit sets off from St. Martin on Dec. 3 to explore Anguilla, Antigua and St. Barts, with prices from $4,795.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, with rates covering everything from drinks to shore excursions to Wi-Fi, currently is undergoing a $125 million, two-year refurbishment to keep its vessels shipshape.

The Seven Seas Explorer debuted in 2016 and is the standard to which the rest of the fleet now is held. It boasts 375 all-suite, all-balcony accommodations, and its intimate atmosphere is felt in a crew-to-guest ratio of 1 to 1.38. Specialty restaurants Pacific Rim, with pan-Asian cuisine, and Prime 7, where USDA prime beef is aged for a minimum of 28 days, delight foodies.

High rollers can hit the casino, while the Meridian Lounge hosts resident vocalists and the Constellation Theater stages original musicals and cabaret shows. On most itineraries, an onboard lecture program from The Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys includes history lessons, wine tastings and cooking demonstrations.

For a 12-night cruise departing Nov. 12 and traveling between Rome and Lisbon, with stops in Monaco, France and Spain, fares start at $7,499.

Seabourn Cruise Line is famed for its all-suite fleet and a culture of hospitality. The company also is partnered with UNESCO, encouraging visits to World Heritage destinations and sustainable tourism.

The 600-passenger Seabourn Encore debuted in 2016 and features a water sports marina, open bar policy and personal suite stewards ready for guest requests. Included in the upfront price, an onboard Wellness Guide will be available to you for yoga and meditation classes, and a Shopping With the Chef program delivers peeks into your destinations' favorite food markets, where you'll gather spices or sip wine alongside your ship's top culinarian.

Five eateries available on the vessel include The Grill by Thomas Keller, created by the Michelin-star restaurateur who developed the venue's twist on classic chophouse entrees. The Patio, The Colonnade and a sushi bar provide
other enticing bites.

In the evenings, guests might watch movies under the stars or join a Rock the Boat dance party. Daytime pursuits include lounging by the two swimming pools, playing cards and breaking a sweat in the fitness center.

A 16-night, round-trip sailing departs Auckland, New Zealand, on Dec. 20. Prices start at $6,999.

Silversea Cruises, boldly forging its way to more than 900 destinations across all seven continents, specializes in small ships that indulge the mind, body and soul. The fleet, with all ocean-view suites and butler service for each, features vessels small enough to traverse narrow waterways and cozy up to far-flung piers for a unique vacation experience.

The Silver Cloud will wrap up a retrofitting this November as it becomes an Antarctica-bound expedition ship with a 200-passenger capacity. Onboard perks include 16 Zodiacs prepped for rugged shore visits, 19 destination experts ready for questions and special presentations and, a major factor of the renovation, a reinforced hull that elevates the Silver Cloud to an ice-class vessel.

Inside, guests will find the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant in Antarctica among eateries. There also is a library, casino and show lounge for both films and live entertainment. Facials, massages and other treatments are available at the Zagara Spa for an added cost, but a fitness center provides complimentary aerobics and yoga classes as well as circuit training.

A 10-night sailing on the Silver Cloud travels to the Antarctic Peninsula on Dec. 1, sailing round trip from Ushuaia, Argentina. Prices start at $15,600.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.


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