Caribbean all-inclusive resorts have evolved from budget properties with limited arrival dates and big buffet lines to including a broad variety of offerings -- up to and including five-star luxury -- with amenities appealing to everyone from singles to seniors.
Picking an All-Inclusive Destination
The Caribbean is the prime destination for all-inclusive vacations.
Nearly every major resort in the Dominican Republic is all-inclusive, for example:
Other top destinations for all-inclusive travel include the Mexican Caribbean, Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbados. Altogether, you can find all-inclusive resorts on more than a dozen Caribbean islands, as well as in Belize, Costa Rica, and even Venezuela. Resort choices range from high-rise hotels in hotspots like Cancun and Punta Cana to private-island hideaways in the Grenadines.
Who Should Take an All-Inclusive Vacation?
In tough economic times, there may be no more appealing travel destination than an all-inclusive resort, where guests pay one price for accommodations, dining, drinks, entertainment, and activities. The cost-certainty of an all-inclusive vacation is something that appeals to almost every traveler, even those on the high end.
Moreover, hidden charges are relatively rare at all-inclusive resorts: guests may pay extra for spa services or scuba diving, but won't get whacked with a huge bar tab like they typically do on a cruise.
Never having to reach into your wallet once you arrive also eases fears about loss or theft of cash or credit cards; many all-inclusives -- notably the SuperClubs, Couples, and Sandals/Beaches resorts --- also forbid staff from taking tips.
What Kinds of Amenities Can You Expect at a Caribbean All-Inclusive?
All-inclusives once appealed primarily to bargain-hunters and honeymooners, but within the last few years the big all-inclusive chains like SuperClubs and Sandals/Beaches have made a big push into the luxury market. The Breezes Grand Resort in Negril, Jamaica, for example, is billed as "SuperInclusives" that feature gourmet dining and golf, while resorts like Sandals Negril tout "Luxury Included" packages that feature swim-up River Suites and butler service. The Paradisus resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic also have a fine reputation, while guests at the Petit St. Vincent and Palm Island resorts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are exclusive private-island resorts catering to very high-end travelers.
What's the Food and Drinks Like at Caribbean All-Inclusive Resorts?
While buffets haven't disappeared from Caribbean all-inclusives, most now offer at least the option of dining at one or more full-service restaurants, and some resorts offer top-shelf drinks and an impressive mix of specialty and gourmet dining experiences, from classic Caribbean and Creole restaurants to English pubs, Japanese teppanyaki houses, and elegant French bistros.
Which All-Inclusive Resort is Right for You?
Most all-inclusive guests applaud these improvements in food quality and selection, but there also are features and benefits of all-inclusive resorts that resonate particularly well with certain types of travelers, including:
Young and single travelers are often budget-conscious travelers, so all-inclusives can be a perfect match. Free-flowing drinks and planned poolside activities and nightlife also provide plenty of opportunities for mingling with other singles.
Some all-inclusives cater exclusively to couples (Couples Resorts, for one obvious example), making them an ideal choice for romantic, kid-free getaways.
On the other hand, properties like the Franklyn D Resort and Beaches Boscobel in Jamaica appeal primarily to families with children, providing child care and endless entertainment options that can keep the kids busy and give mom and dad some precious "alone time."
Seniors can do as little or as much as they want at an all-inclusive resort, some of which are quite upscale, like Barbados' Turtle Beach Resort or private-island resorts like Petit St. Vincent in the Grenadines.
Couples Swept Away (Book Now) in Jamaica has established a niche for itself as a destination for tennis lovers, with 10 lighted courts and lessons included, and a handful of resorts have even started including diving or motorized water sports in their packages.
Spas have also become nearly standard at all-inclusives in the Caribbean. While most charge extra for services like massages and facials, the Verandah Resort & Spa in Antigua offers an all-inclusive package that includes a pair of massages and credits toward other spa services.
All-inclusives also have become a popular choice for all kinds of group travel, from business and incentive groups to family reunions and intergenerational travel. Corporations like to know the cost of incentive programs up front, and resorts like Sandals Grande Ocho Rios and Sandals Grande Antigua allow groups free use of onsite meeting rooms and can help facilitate team-building and other events.
Who Might NOT Like an All-Inclusive Vacation
One of the strengths of an all-inclusive resort is that they provide all of your food, drinks and entertainment, so you literally never have to leave the property. To some travelers, however, that thought is anathema.
Most all-inclusives offer excursions as paid add-ons, but pay-one-price resorts remain a poor match for "Type A" personalities or independent travelers who want to immerse themselves in local culture. One good option for restless travelers may be the Palace resorts in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, which include excursions in their all-inclusive packages.
Travelers looking for a truly intimate experience may be limited to choosing from a handful of exclusive all-inclusives, such as private-island resorts, while nondrinkers may not be satisfied with the perceived value of an all-inclusive vacation.
Finally, since most all-inclusives are beachfront resorts where a majority of activities revolve around the sand, surf, and sun, they probably won't appeal to non beach-lovers.
If you want to feel like all of your needs are taken care of without having to leave the property, then the all-inclusive option will surely satisfy. However, if you prefer to go "off-campus" and choose your own food, drink, and activity venues, then perhaps look into a less insular lodging option.
Singles are usually more budget-conscious travelers, partly because they tend to be younger. They don't want to have to come up with any extra money because typically they don't have any.
That makes singles ideal candidates for an all-inclusive vacation at a resort like SuperClubs' Starfish Trelawny (Book Now) or the independent Sunset Beach Resort (Book Now) in Jamaica, which offer budget inclusive packages without a lot of frills.
Sandals recently introduced a new "value-oriented" brand, Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts, with properties in Antigua and Jamaica priced 35-55 percent lower than the Sandals and Beaches resorts.
For singles interested mostly in drinking and lying on the beach, a budget all-inclusive may be all you need. Singles like all-inclusives because alcohol is included and the single supplement tends to be lower than on a cruise ship. To help keep costs down, look for a resort that will allow four guests in a room. Properties in Montego Bay and Cancun are popular with singles because they offer the nightlife that young travelers crave.
Resorts with swim-up pool bars and lots of organized activities also are popular with singles. Finally, younger, more inexperienced travelers like an all-inclusive vacation because it minimizes the amount of planning and arrangements they need to make on their own in an unfamiliar destination.
Although they're no longer the majority, a number of Caribbean all-inclusives remain couples-only or adults-only properties, which many consider a "must" for a romantic couples getaway. Among the all-inclusive brand-name chains, the couples-only Sandals resorts are especially renowned for their exotic, romantic locations. The Sandals Royal Bahamian (Book Now), for example, features a private offshore island, villa suites at the exclusive Royal Village, an excellent spa, and white-glove service at a choice of eight gourmet restaurants.
The romantic appeal of all-inclusives has long attracted newlyweds, and paying one price for the honeymoon eliminates a major source of stress for young couples.
Most all-inclusives welcome honeymooners with at least a few extras like champagne in their room upon arrival, and also offer destination-wedding services for those who want to get married during their stay. The complimentary wedding package at Couples resorts, for example, includes a personal wedding coordinator, nondenominational ceremony, wedding cake, flowers, and couples massage.For an additional $399, couples can get a private wedding reception for up to 10 guests, a private candlelit dinner, and other amenities.
The key to picking a family friendly all-inclusive is relatively simple: find a resort that has lots of other families as guests. Many all-inclusives provide special children's programs, but such programs are only as good as the other children in them.
Jamaica has become an especially attractive destination for families, with all-inclusives like Beaches Boscobel (Book Now), the Sunset Beach Resort and Spa, and the Sunset Jamaica Grande boasting full-scale water parks on property.
Jamaican culture also is very family oriented, and nannies and other child-care staff win praise for their friendly and caring attitude towards children.
Beaches' resorts also offer a variety of activities featuring Sesame Street costumed characters, such as baking cookies with Cookie Monster and Story Time with Elmo; Crayola Art Camps; and Xbox 360 gaming centers for older kids.
The many activities offered onsite at all-inclusive resorts also help insure a pleasant family vacation; the kids never have a chance to get grumpy and bored.
Even the pickiest eater can find something they like to eat at an all-inclusive buffet, and kids are free to graze all day without running up a big tab for mom and dad.
Teenagers can be a tough sell for any family vacation, and while Beaches and other all-inclusives offer special teen programs -- such as teen-only nightclubs and excursions -- many older teens turn up their nose at such segregated activities.
Families with teens may want to steer towards resorts that are active and energetic, such as the Cancun Palace.
As with families in general, the dining choices offered by all-inclusives appeal to family reunion groups. Moreover, all-inclusives "level the playing field" for families whose members come from different income brackets -- so you don't have one family holding back to save money on food while another splurges.
As with families, the security provided by a gated all-inclusive resort is important for seniors; activities like tennis and biking also are attractive to older guests.
For many seniors, however, the availability of free, unlimited alcohol is not a big attraction, and most want to steer clear of boisterous, singles- or family-oriented resorts and destinations -- choosing an all-inclusive in the Riviera Maya, for example, over Cancun.
Seniors tend to be more seasoned travelers and therefore gravitate toward the high-end all-inclusive resorts; fine-dining options also are a big draw for seniors, such as the Breezes Grand Negril.