How to Choose the Right Caribbean Resort Meal Plan

Meal plans -- prepaying for some or all of your dining while on vacation -- have long been offered by resorts. The Caribbean, in particular, helped pioneer all-inclusive packages, where you pay one price for your food and drink as well as your room and resort amenities. On the other end of the spectrum is going a la carte -- a fancy way of saying that you'll pay as you go for all of your meals.

But those aren't your only choices: Many hotels and resorts continue to offer packages that include more limited dining options. Some, in fact, offer the entire range of choices, from pay-go to all-inclusive -- even big, brand-name resorts that you would not expect to include any dining plans at all. Let's take a look at these plans to help you decide which one makes the most sense for your Caribbean vacation plans.

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European Plans

Mango Bay resort dining
Mango Bay

When you book a hotel and you get only a room with no meals included, that's referred to as the European Plan or EP. In the Caribbean, most resorts are either European Plan or all-inclusive, although some will offer other meal plans for an additional daily charge.

When you book your accommodations under the European Plan, food and drinks are not included. This means you will have to budget for food, drinks, tips, and taxes. If you plan to eat away from the hotel or resort all or most of the time, you might choose the European Plan.

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The Modified American Plan

Ramona restaurant at the NIZUC Resort and Spa
NIZUC Resort and Spa

Hotel guests on the Modified American Plan, also known as MAP, get two meals daily in hotel restaurants in addition to their meal, rather than paying for meals a la carte. The two meals are typically breakfast and dinner, although MAP can also refer to breakfast and lunch plans. Some hotels also may offer special incentives, like "kids eat free," either as part of a MAP package or a standalone enticement for those traveling under a European Plan.

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The Full American Plan

Medi restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Curacao resort.
Hyatt Hotels and Resorts

The Full American Plan refers to hotel packages that include three meals daily (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Some Caribbean hotels offer such plans to guests, but a more common alternative is the All-Inclusive plan.

The dining packages offered by most Caribbean cruise lines can be considered the Full American Plan since they include all meals but not alcoholic drinks. Cruise lines typically offer inclusive meals in their main dining rooms but charge a premium or otherwise limit access to more upscale "specialty" restaurants onboard.

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All-Inclusive Plans

Dining at the Garden of Eden, Breezes Bahamas

Hundreds of hotels and resorts in the Caribbean offer all-inclusive plans to guests. A property may be exclusively all-inclusive or offer an all-inclusive option in addition to other dining plans like the Full American, Modified American, or European plan.

Unlike these other plans, All-Inclusive plans do not pertain only to dining. Every all-inclusive plan includes all meals at the resort, but Caribbean all-inclusive plans also typically include activities such as the use of fitness centers, non-motorized water sports, and sometimes kids' clubs, golf, tennis, and other activities. Spa services are not usually included, however.

Most plans at exclusively all-inclusive resorts also include unlimited drinks, including beer, wine, and liquor. Some plans limit these offerings to local or "well" brands, but some include all top-shelf drinks. Caribbean cruise lines often call their offerings " all-inclusive," but alcohol is not generally included in such plans.​

As for dining, at a minimum, your all-inclusive plan will include three meals at the resort's main restaurant or buffet. Many all-inclusive resorts also include meals at "specialty" restaurants, such as steakhouses, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, or Creole eateries. Some resorts may limit your access to their more upscale dining venues, or charge you an extra fee for dining there, however.

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