01 of 05
Why Go All-Inclusive?
Sometimes the best vacations involve never straying from your chaise lounge on the beach, never having to sign for the pitcher of piņa coladas you had with lunch, never having to think about anything except “What time is sunset?” or “Do we want breakfast served on the terrace or inside the room where it’s cool?” This is basically why all-inclusive resorts exist. As such, you probably already know that the Caribbean is a hub for this type of experience; each island has plentiful options, whether you’re planning a family vacation, a romantic escape, a destination wedding, or a wild rumpus with friends. The unifying element of these all-inclusive hotels is that your room rate will often include all meals, drinks (including alcoholic beverages – a critical distinction!) and all land and non-motorized water sports (i.e., golf, tennis, snorkeling equipment, paddle boards, etc. tend to be available onsite and are complimentary). Beyond that, you’re going to want to focus in on the things that matter to you – perhaps it’s the kid-friendly activities, a chic look, and feel, the beach situation, gourmet dining, peace and quiet, a level of service that leaves you speechless…
Keeping a range of budget and vibe requirements in mind, we’ve hand-picked four favorites to give you a taste of the possibilities, starting with a solid option on Jamaica’s North Coast.
02 of 05
The Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa in Jamaica
A prime beachfront location on Jamaica’s breathtaking North Coast (about 40 minutes from the Montego Bay airport) is reason enough to put The Grand Palladium Resort & Spa at the top of your list. It’s bookended by two scenic coves – Gully Beach (rustic, secluded) and Sunset Cove (beautiful turquoise water, a jerk shack, games, and activities); there are also a number of petite lagoons, including Coral Beach, a tranquil, child-free escape with excellent sunset views.
The GPLH specializes in destination weddings and it seriously couldn’t make planning one any easier or more cost-effective. You’ll choose a package from a portfolio of seven pre-designed wedding styles art-directed by Karen Bussen, the famed New York-based celebrity party planner and author (packages start at $1,100—not a type-o). Couples are treated like royalty; meanwhile, the resort’s massive infinity pool (said to the largest on the island), onsite babysitting service, splurge-worthy Zentropia Spa and 24-hour sports bar will easily entice wedding guests to RSVP in the affirmative.
A recent renovation of the suites’ interiors treats guests to pristine, spacious accommodations on par with a luxury hotel. Adopting a Hollywood Regency-meets-British Colonial aesthetic, each suite has either a balcony or a lanai (many have two!) affording views of the ocean or the resort’s lush landscaping. For the ultimate in romance, stay in Honeymoon Villa 3011, a tasteful mashup of lusters and textures with two extra-special amenities: a supersized Jacuzzi and a gloriously private outdoor shower.
Rates from $386 per night (double occupancy)
03 of 05
Curtain Bluff in Antigua
You expect a lot from a property that was named Number 1 Best Resort in Antigua in the 2015 Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards 2015, and Curtain Bluff more than delivers on its promise of laid-back luxury and gracious service. You arrive and are greeted like an old friend – no paper bracelets, the unpleasant hallmark of lesser all-inclusives – with an offer of “Can I send a turkey sandwich up to your room? How about some rum punch?” From check-in to check-out, staff and management have a way of letting you know that they are “on it,” whatever “it” may be, in the most assured and professional, yet incredibly soothing way.
Housed in white cliffside cottages, the resort’s 72 rooms overlook a rustic stretch of Atlantic coastline on one side; the “Caribbean” end of the resort centers on a tranquil, jade-green lagoon, perfect for swimming. Go ahead and spend the day lounging under a palapa – staff will magically appear with cool towels, bottled water and hard-to-refuse offers to fetch you a frothy cocktail.
Dinner is an elegant, chef-prepared, al fresco affair served in one of two restaurants. Menus change nightly, but fresh, local fish options abound (think: baby conch à la bourguignonne, pan-fried grouper served with tropical fruit-and-tomato relish or pan-seared wahoo). The next morning, one phone call prompts the appearance of banana pancakes, fresh fruit and good, strong coffee on your private terrace, pounding surf in the background, pelicans flying past.
Curtain Bluff’s vibe is predictably hushed and quiet, so not great for families with loud children or those who are looking for a nightly dance party or aerial acrobatic shows. The resort is, in fact, tailor-made for romantic idylls, and recently launched a lavish “spa takeover” package that includes a sunset dinner on the spa’s terrace, a couple’s massage in outdoor treatment rooms that overlook the sea, a dozen red roses, a bottle of champagne, personalized embroidered spa robes and sleeping under the stars in a canopy bed. Heaven.
Rates for the package start at $5,000; room rates from $820 per night (double occupancy)
04 of 05
Sandals Emerald Bay in the Bahamas
Sandals is a big name, Great Exuma is not (compared to say, Paradise Island). Add the fact that Sandals Emerald Bay used to be a Four Seasons resort, and you’re looking at an incredibly elevated all-inclusive experience that departs from what you might expect from a megachain. It’s set on a sublime one-mile-long stretch of beach on the largest of the 360 islands comprising the easy-going Exuma chain of The Bahamas. Certainly, there is great conch and culture, but Great Exuma is considered an alternative to the typical Bahamian experience. It’s not over-crowded—you feel like you’re vacationing on an undiscovered island paradise.
The 249-room resort’s luxurious oceanfront accommodations help in this regard –even the spacious standard rooms offer a certain VIP cachet (i.e., a fully stocked bar at your disposal, so you don’t have to rely on room service when it’s wine o’clock). Should you want to vacation like an actual baller, some rooms come with a personalized butler service option where an attendant caters to your every need, from booking dinner reservations and securing prime seating to personally serving you drinks while you lounge on the beach.
Seven gourmet dining options, from La Parisienne (French cuisine, white glove service) to The Drunken Duck Pub (the Sandals version of a traditional British pub serving local and imported brews), mean you can dress up one night, pad around in your caftan the next—don’t miss Barefoot by the Sea, an unbelievably scenic spot for breakfast, or blissfully casual, seafood-centric meals.
The resort’s most standout feature? Only a spectacular 18-hole championship golf course designed by legendary golf pro Greg Norman. The course’s first nine holes take you through a mix of seaside dunes and mangrove preserves while holes 11 through 16 traverse the rocky peninsula, offering stunning views of Emerald Bay. (Turns out, our golf expert is a fan, too.)
Rates from $356 per person, per nightContinue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Club Med Punta Cana in Dominican Republic
People love the Dominican Republic’s incredible beaches, Latin rhythms and the fact that its popular all-inclusive resorts tend to be very well-priced. Which is why the island itself makes for a great family getaway. And while Club Med Punta Cana is a sure thing in this capacity, here’s some good news for couples, girlfriends enjoying a long weekend and anyone else who appreciates a quiet, kid-free situation at the pool: The resort recently added a chic, adults-only zone called Zen Oasis, a tranquil escape from the rest of the resort’s high-energy scene.
Set on a secluded beach on the northeast side of the resort, Zen Oasis is designed to deliver an experience that’s focused on rest, relaxation and wellbeing, complete with a sprawling pool (with no tweens hogging the hot tub!) and a breezy palapa for yoga sessions. The 78-room retreat has the look and feel of a boutique hotel – Asian-inspired décor done in soothing neutrals with sexy red accents, spa-like bathrooms with rainfall showers, L’Occitane toiletries, complimentary yoga mats and outdoor lounge spaces with plush daybeds.
Beyond Zen Oasis’s doors, you can further enhance the relaxation theme of your vacation with lots of time at the Club Med L’Occitane Spa. Try one of the new “VIP Couples” packages, which combine an array of customized services –“Lagoon Invitation” is a four-hour indulgence that includes a scented bath, body scrub, full-body massage and facial. Pricey, yet hard to resist…
Rates vary, depending on the season; March 2016 rates from $268 per person, per night