All Inclusive Resorts: Why, What, Where, and Which to Choose?

Beaches Turks and Caicos: shore

Beaches Resorts 

All inclusive resorts are a top choice for family getaways in the Caribbean and Mexico, and here's why:
Beautiful beaches. Ah, those photogenic beaches! (Do check, though, whether a beach is swimmable: not all are. Also, sometimes beaches change dramatically due to hurricanes or erosion, so always read recent visitor comments for individual resorts.)
Beautiful pools: most resorts offer several free-form pools. Often at least one pool has water park features, and some properties have an on-site water park.
Activities, landsports, watersports: in addition to sports, resorts also offer fun such as pool games, or perhaps a family scavenger hunt. Night-time entertainment is expected, too.
Kids programs: most all inclusives offer at least a kids' club for ages four to twelve, and some go above and beyond with terrific programs for several different age groups, and perhaps infant care and teen programs as well.
Meals and drinks: it's easy to feed the family at lavish buffets; meanwhile cravings for gourmet meals can be met at specialty restaurants. Room service, offered at some properties, can be a nice convenience for families.
Safety: families feel safe in their enclosed mini-worlds even in countries where crime rates might otherwise give pause; also, parents feel comfortable letting older kids run around on their own on the property with their pals.
Opportunity to try new sports: snorkeling, sailing, tennis, maybe even trapeze can be tried. Kids can sample an activity, try it again later -- all with no pressure about cost. Some resorts even include scuba for ages 12 and up.
Grown-up pampering: a spa is de rigeur, as is least one fine-dining restaurant are de rigeur. And it goes without saying that golf is available. (Spa always costs extra, as does golf in most cases.)

01 of 06

What's Included?

Lazy River, at Coconut Bay Resort on St. Lucia. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

All inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico aim provide guests with a complete vacation, and hopefully this starts at the airport when the guests arrive.

  • Arrival and transfer and from the resort: ideally, on arrival, all you need to do is find the booth or representative for your resort and be whisked away. (You may spend some time waiting on a shuttle bus, though.)
  • Multiple restaurants: typically, dining options include one or more buffet restaurants that feed kids with no waiting and that often have a kids' section; one or more a la carte restaurants, usually with a specialty such as Japanese cuisine, Mediterranean, etc; and at least one poolside snackbar. Note that at many resorts guests have limited access to the a la carte restaurants and must make reservations in advance.
  • Drinks are provided, and range from self-serve soda dispensers to fancy cocktails. Liquor varies from house brands to premium.
  • Watersports: typically, guests at an all inclusive resort have free use of non-motorized watersports, such as kayaks, windsurfing, and sunfish sailing. Sometimes lessons are included. Quite often, all inclusive resorts include snorkeling boat trips at no charge; a few -- such as Beaches resorts -- even include scuba for ages 12 and up.
  • Kids programs: many all inclusive resorts have a basic kids' club for ages four to 12. Others go all out, with separate programs for 4 or 5 distinct age groups. Some all inclusive resorts also offer infant care and teen programs. (Read more about kids clubs.)
  • Family activities: bingo, scavenger hunts, beach parties...
  • Night-time entertainment: shows ranges from cute-but-amateurish to professional caliber. Many places have theme nights.

Some resorts have nice little touches, such as sand toys available for borrowing.

- continue to All Inclusive Resorts: What You'll Pay Extra For

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02 of 06

What You'll Pay Extra For

Spa area, at Club Med Cancun Yucatan. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
If you book a spa treatment, arrive early and relax in the spa area. Photo © Teresa Plowright.

Generally you should be able to have an entire vacation with what's included. But of course, there's an innate human tendency to spend more, and here are some common extras:

  • excursions such as horseriding, ATV's, explore-the-country
  • golf is usually extra
  • scuba is usually extra (-not at Beaches, though)
  • snorkeling boat excursions are sometimes included, sometimes not
  • spa is always extra
  • baby care: probably included if it's offered. Baby Club Med is extra, at Club Med resorts.
  • special outings at the teen club: sometimes an off-property outing is offered and will probably cost extra

Elite levels of service: some resorts offer luxuries such as butler service with higher-priced rooms or suites.
Tipping: most all inclusive resorts have a "No Tipping" policy, and at some places tipping is strictly forbidden. But at other places (and often at resorts in Mexico) dollar bills frequently change hands: read visitor comments at TripAdvisor, and you'll get a sense of whether tipping happens at a particular property or not.
- continue to What to Watch Out For

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03 of 06

What to Watch Out For

Avalon Reef Club, Isla Mujeres. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

Most people are happy with their resorts but complaints do surface, and they most often concern the same little things.

  • Often, pools are heated only by sun, and sometimes pool temperature may be cool
  • At many resorts, lounge chairs are at a premium and guests have to claim them early in the morning
  • Silly as it sounds, some places are strict about towels. You may be issued a Towel Card, which you exchange for a towel at a towel center; you can get fresh towels as much as you like, but when you leave, you need to get the card back, and take it when you check-out
  • Noise at night: not a common complaint, but if your child is a light sleeper, you may want to request a quiet room
  • Many resorts offer limited access to their a la carte restaurants, and a common complaint is that making reservations is difficult
  • It may be hard to get a spot on scuba or snorkeling trips
  • Some places provide free gear (for snorkeling, for ex.)-- but only for an hour. Or only until 5 p.m.

- continue to What's the Price Range?

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04 of 06

What's the Price Range?

Day bed, at Club Med Cancun Yucatan. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

Given all the activities and features expected at all inclusive resorts offer, it's no surprise that many cost hundreds of dollars per person per night. Also, families with school-age kids are often only able to travel during peak seasons, when prices are highest.
A week for a family of four at, say, a Beaches, could cost $10000. (Keep in mind, this includes snorkeling and scuba every day if you can get a spot.)

On the other hand, you may find getaways at less than $100/adult/night. Just don't expect five-star service at bargain prices! Be reasonable. (Check out some value-priced all inclusive resorts.)
Families may be able to find lower rates through promotions.

Watch for Specials at Top Resorts:
Club Med, for example -- whose all inclusive resorts have terrific kids programs-- repeats several excellent specials for families through the year. Franklyn D. Resort, where families have their own vacation nannies, likewise repeats specials throughout the year.

"Summer" Rates:
"High season" for the Caribbean is relatively brief, from Christmas through March Break, but the all inclusive resorts there are just as appealing any time of year. Generally, prices drop mid-April and "summer" rates stay low well into December.

Be aware, though, that several of these "off-season" months are also hurricane season, and even if the risk of a direct hit by a hurricane is small, they spread bad weather in a wide radius. Read about hurricane season, and strategies to reduce hurricane weather risks.
Kids Stay Free: Keep an eye out for this popular type of promotion, which can mean major savings for a family.

- continue to Where to Go?

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05 of 06

Where to Go?

Water park, at Beaches Negril. Photo courtesy of Beaches.
Water park, at Beaches Negril. Photo courtesy of Beaches Resorts.

- continue to Which Resort is Right For You?

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06 of 06

Which Resort is Right for You?

Photo courtesy of Moon Palace all inclusive resort.
Photo courtesy of Moon Palace Golf Resort & Spa, just south Cancun in Mexico.

With so many choices in so many destinations, how do you choose the right one? Given the dollar cost, plus the emotional investment in a family vacation, the stakes are high.

Scroll down to focus on eight factors important to many families, and click on the statements that apply to you.


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