All inclusive vacations in Mexico and the Caribbean are extremely popular with families because they offer:
- beach and watersports
- extravagant pools
- kids' programs and family activities
- meal-time convenience and drinks on tap
- grown-up pampering- spa, dining, etc.
But with so many resorts, in so many destinations, how do you choose the right one? It ain't easy; and --given the dollar cost, plus the emotional investment in a family vacation-- the stakes are high. Scroll down to focus on nine different factors that may be important to your family.
I Want EVERYTHING Included
Most all inclusive resorts include almost-but-not-quite-everything: that is, all meals and snacks, drinks, kids' programs, and certain watersports and other activities.
- Generally "non-motorized watersports" are included: kayaks, windsurfers, aquak-trikes, etc., while "motorized" ones cost extra.
- Snorkeling gear is often free, but perhaps only for an hour of use. Snorkeling boat-trips generally cost extra.
- Scuba is generally extra
- Spas are always extra
- Off-property outings are extra, though a shuttle bus to a nearby town may be free
- Some NON-all-inclusives offer plans that include meals and/or activities
Noteworthy All-inclusive Resorts:
The Beaches brand gets a nod for "ultra-all-inclusive": even scuba is included (except for an introductory course.) Snorkeling trips are included too. Sign up early, though!
Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic offers all-inclusive pricing that includes luxe accommodations, a la carte dining and 24-hour room service, plenty of family activities, a kids' club, and Nick-themed activities and events.
Breezes Curacao is another place with free scuba: guests age 12 and up can first take instruction, and then do daily shore dives. Meanwhile Breezes charges a small fee for its premium restaurants.
At Club Med properties, a wide range of activities are free; note, however, that you'll pay a charge for Baby and Petit (toddler) kids' clubs. Guests also need to buy a Club Med membership (which includes travel insurance.)
I Want Quality Kids' Programs
Virtually every all inclusive resort offers some sort of kids' club.
Many are the "friendly little club" type: a cute spot with one or two rooms, toys and tv and maybe video games; often ages 4 to 12 are grouped together; care is provided by warm and friendly staff. Lots of kids have a great time at these kids' clubs.
- Club Med's kids programs are like kids' camps. Club Med Punta Cana has a club for 2-year-olds, 3 year-olds, 4-5's, 6-7's, etc., and myriad activities: circus school with trapeze instruction, inline skating, Hip Hop dance, archery, and more.
- Beaches resorts also offer multiple kids' programs for different ages.
- Coconut Bay St. Lucia - this value-priced resort has splurged not only on its lazy river and waterslides but also on a giant kids club, nap area, many activities, and minimal tv screens.
We Have a Baby or Toddler
More and more all inclusive resorts are providing nurseries and infant care. Even if you only use the nursery for a few hours during nap time, baby care can be a welcome break.
In another trend, many properties are also offering 24-hour room service, which is a nice convenience for families with a baby along-- as is a mini-fridge in the room.
Parents of babies may want to ask whether an on-site doctor or nurse is available; the bigger resorts are your best bet.
Noteworthy All Inclusive Resorts
- Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica offer the ultimate for parents of babies and toddlers: each family has their own vacation nanny throughout their stay, a friendly person who helps as much or as little as you like.
- Beaches Resorts have nurseries that take infants.
We Have a Teenager
Ah, teens: they make traveling with babies look so simple.
Some resorts optimistically set up a "teen room"; however this in no way guarantees that the room will actually attract teen specimens. Some resorts try to offer a teen program, then find that teens don't like rigid schedules.
Suggestions for Parents of Teens
- Is your teen interested in scuba? Tennis? Snorkeling? Hip hop? Pick a resort that matches such interests.
- Some older teens like resorts that don't allow little kids: Breezes, for example, has several resorts for ages 14 and up.
- is it possible to take a friend along for your teen? Everyone might have a better time.
- How about a Caribbean cruise? Disney and other cruises do a great job with teens.
Noteworthy All-inclusive Resorts, for Families with Teens:
- Club Med has "Passworld" for teens, at several resorts: a themed space to hang out, with cool activities, for two teen age groups. Club Med Punta Cana also has The Ramp: a structure with giant curved surface for roller-blading and skateboarding, a lounge tucked underneath, and on top a sail-like canopy that can act as a movie screen. Club Med has activities teens like, (such as Hip Hop dance.)
- At Franklyn D. Resort enthusiastic teen coordinators reach out to teens to involve them in activities.
There are Five of Us
Families with three kids are often frustrated when hotels and resorts allow a maximum of two adults and two kids per room. These rules are especially irksome if the kids are little and would be more than happy to all snuggle up on one bed. Many properties offer adjoining rooms, which may be a good -- if costly-- solution with older kids. Little kids, however, can't stay in a room alone, so sleeping arrangements get more complicated still.
Fortunately, a number of all-inclusive resorts are "family of five friendly", and some can accommodate bigger numbers too.
We Love Fancy Pools, Lazy Rivers, Waterslides!
However beautiful the beach, kids will still be drawn like magnets to a waterslide. Nowadays, resorts compete to have the best pools: freeform; zero-entry; kiddie pool; waterpark features like slides and squirters; and even full-blown waterparks.
Noteworthy All-inclusive Resorts
- The Atlantis, in the Bahamas, has a huge water park, over-the-top water slides, and also a large kiddie pool and other areas
- Comfort Suites, Bahamas is adjacent to Atlantis and offers access to the Atlantis' beach, pools, and waterslides but at a fraction of the price.
- Beaches Negril, in Jamaica, has an 18,000 sq. ft waterpark, with spiral tunnels, lazy river, splash deck with water cannons etc.
- Coconut Bay Resort- in St. Lucia, has a lazy river, waterslides, giant kids programs area, and good price point.
- Sunset Resort, in Montego Bay Jamaica, has a pirate-themed own waterpark.
Price is Important
With all their services and fancy pools, it's no surprise that many all inclusives cost a lot. A week at a Beaches might cost $10,000. Still, it's not unusual to find prices at $125/night for adults, and much less for kids, and off-season rates can bring prices as low as $75/adult.
Ways to Save Money
- Shop around for deals. Some promotions repeat regularly, such as the "Seven Day Weekend" at Club Med.
- Prices drop big-time in "summer", from May to December. This long "off-season" includes hurricane months, but there are ways to protect your holidays.
- Some resorts charge little or nothing for kids, either year-round or during special sales.