Aaah … the warm salty breezes caressing your skin as you luxuriate on a comfy lounger by a sparking sea, drinking the best pina colada every made, delivered by a handsome beach waiter … and then ice water rains on your reverie as you realize that there’s not a lounge chair to be found, the beach has piles of seaweed stacked everywhere, beach service is “nada,” and the closest bar makes a 10K seem short.
Research is the key to avoiding this disappointment. All inclusives are not created equally. And a little digging will help you figure out the best one for your specific needs. Assuming you’ve already decided that all-inclusive is the way you want to go – because many factors go into that decision itself – this piece is designed to help you select the best all-inclusive for you!
There are three major topic areas to consider when selecting an all-inclusive that will leave you rested and recharged: location; amenities & extras; and reviews.
Sometimes you have a destination in mind … and if so, can skip this section! But other times, you know that you want some sun, some fun, and some reinvigoration – but don’t care specifically where you go. Start by considering which island destinations appeal most – and how easy they are to get to from your home city. Is a non-stop flight a requirement? If so, that narrows the pool considerably. Or, are you willing to stop? Would you consider an island served only via connection on a small plane or ferry? Do you care how long it takes to get there? Once you arrive, how quickly do you want to get to the “rest & relax” part and be done with travelling? Some resorts are within minutes of the airport; others, for example all those located in Negril’s seven mile beach area, require an arduous two-three hour bus ride to get to. For us in Chicago, one of the easiest destinations – and one that assures warmth year-round – is Mexico. We can literally leave home early in the morning and be in the Yucatan – getting a tan and having a cervesa — by early afternoon. First and foremost – make sure that it will be WARM in your destination when you want to travel. There’s nothing worse than anticipating 90s and getting low 70s! Think about proximity to the equator! Always warm there ….
Amenities & Extras
You’ll be paying – a LOT – upfront for the reward of travelling purse & wallet-less during your stay (while on the resort). But this is not the time to glaze over while being mesmerized by the buff guy and the lithe, tan model in the invariably white swimsuits on the resort site! Read the fine print. Resorts vary widely in terms of amenities offered. The amenities referred to range from spa services to sports to number and types of dining options. To explore the questions to ask about amenities, click here.
So what’s important to you? First question, without doubt, is whether you desire a couples-only destination, or if a family resort is fine. There are ways to escape little ones at the family resorts, but you will hear them in the periphery. If it’s isn’t your interest, choose an adults-only place, for example Sandals Resorts, http://www.sandals.com/, or Secrets Resorts, http://www.secretsresorts.com/. If you’re travelling with the kids, both the Beaches Resorts and Dreams Resorts (the family arms of the above two organizations) offer many great options.
Once you’ve answered that, you aren’t done … Do you like the look and feel of a mega-resort, or do you prefer a smaller resort that blends with its surroundings? Do you need multiple pools, perhaps one for adults only? Do you want a long beach for runs in the morning? Need calm surf for little children – for example, don’t be fooled by the Baja resort pictures – many have unswimmable beaches! Need shade? What’s the palapa setup and can you be assured of getting one each day?
How much of a foodie are you? Resorts vary widely in their dining offerings. The most extensive offer as many as ten restaurants featuring a range of cuisines from Brazilian steakhouse to Asian Grill to Sushi to Italian. But lots of resorts offer significantly fewer! How are those restaurants grouped as far as buffet vs. sit-down? And what is the reservation policy? How do you feel about waiting to eat every night? Or, will it bother you to be limited to dining in the sit-down restaurants for just part of your stay. Some resorts limit sit-down dining to 3 of seven nights, for example. And, oops – only brought shorts and flip flops – is there a dress code? For more about packing, click here.
Do you expect beach service or are you happy walking to the nearest bar? And, by the way, where the heck is that bar? And does it have “premium liquors,” or just the average stuff?
Do you want a kids’ club? Do you want a lot of water sports? Motorized sports? Are you looking for a raucous, college party environment, or have you left those days behind and just want a nice chill vibe spiced up with the occasional mudslide or game of beach volleyball? Do you want excursions – deep sea fishing, diving, spelunking, jungle adventure? Some resorts are on a tiny spit of sand in the middle of nowhere (fine by me) and don’t offer any of those things! Are you interested in spa services, or maybe circus fun for the kids?
All of those questions bring us to reviews. Sites like Trip Advisor are really are helpful – as background information – in making your decision. Now you know the old adage that a typical unhappy customer tells 10 people about his problem … and the satisfied customer doesn’t tell anyone? Well, use that as your context when reading the traveler reviews. Still – if you see a theme emerge; for example, “I went to the beach at 6am and all the chairs were already taken,” you might want to think twice!
It’s true that in the end, you have to wonder how bad any sun-filled, seafood-driven, and mojito-fueled vacation can be … but why not take steps to ensure that it’s excellent, and not just OK. Be diligent; visit specific resort websites; visit travel outfitter sites (such as Apple & Funjet); consider the questions I posed and read for info that helps you get a feel of the place. Then simply count the days to sand, sun, sea, and aaah….
Packing –efficiently — for the all-inclusive is both an art and a skill, one that’s honed over many trips. You’ll be tempted to bring it all: a different outfit for breakfast, beach, and dinner for the entire length of your trip. But the reality is – unless you’re travelling with small children who need to wear at least two of the three foods they eat at any meal – you’ll wear and re-wear. Smart travelers know that one or two easy outfits work for an entire week of breakfasts, typically something worn over a swimsuit like a cute sundress for ladies, or a simple t-shirt and board shorts for men. Then … it’s swimsuits all day long, with a coverup for lunchtime since some restaurants require it (and, really, not many of us want to sit down to any meal in a bikini). Dinner is where you’ll see the gamut of apparel. Whatever your style, pick several combinations that you can shuffle night-to-night.
For women, I like one dressier outfit – perhaps a little dress and sassy shoes; one pair of white jeans worn with two different elegantly casual tops, and perhaps a pair of elegant long shorts. This is more than adequate to see you comfortably through 7nights, and ensures that you won’t spend the next 7 washing clothes! Ditch the hair dryers and straighteners as most of these destinations feature high humidity – and because, frankly, they take precious time away from enjoying the surroundings! And finally, consider shoes wisely. Most resorts have some type of irregular paving in at least some places … Cute flip flops – casual for the beach and dressy for evening — or comfortable mid-heel wedges work, plus a pair of running shoes for the perfect beach run in the morning. Throw in a wrap to chase the evening chill and you’re good to go.