All inclusive packages can be incredibly relaxing and enjoyable experiences, but only if you choose the best vacation spot for your expectations. Early on in our relationship, I suggested to my husband (then boyfriend) and his brother that we go to an all inclusive resort in Mexico and they literally scoffed at me, "no way, waste of money, no culture, lame". Long story short, after the first 3am room service order of steak and french fries and a mini fridge full of beer, they were hooked. Saying that, not everyone has a phenomenal experience on all inclusive trips, so my goal is to provide you with resources and research tips to help you align your expectations with your all inclusive vacation choice.
First, decide what is important to you based on the following categories. You may not find a resort that meets all your needs, but you can make an informed decision based on your priorities.
- People/Atmosphere: Each resort caters and appeals to different crowds, so you want to ensure you have an idea for what you are looking for and an idea for what you'll be getting. Most resorts don't openly publicize this, so it helps to read reviews and become familiar with what is offered to gain an understanding for the atmosphere. Categories include: college aged/spring break/party, older/retirees, couples/romantic, families/kid friendly, holistic/health focused.
- Location: Think about what type of environment you are looking for. Just because a resort is on a beach, doesn't mean that they're all the same. For example: most people don't know that you aren't allowed in the water in most beaches in Cabo San Lucas AND that very few are private beaches so you will most likely be attacked by beach vendors trying to sell you blankets and henna tattoos... again, not something resorts openly advertise. Questions to ask yourself: do you want privacy/quiet, do you want to be in walking distance to the town/attractions, do you want to swim in the ocean, do you want to be in the middle of all the action?
- Food/Drinks: Quality of food and drinks varies drastically between resorts and strongly influences the price you pay. Few all inclusive resorts offer top shelf drinks without an additional charge, but the higher your price point, the more likely you'll get higher quality beverages. Same goes for food... you'll want to know how many restaurant options are available and what quality of food is provided. Be sure to also check on room service, some places only offer this as an additional fee and only during certain times.
- Entertainment: Often the type of clients the resort caters to will dictate the entertainment available. I'm talking anything from wet t-shirt contests to light music by the fire. The first all inclusive we went to had constant entertainment, including organized sports, classes and nightly shows; however, we recently went to an adults only resort where no one participated in any of the events offered and it was quiet after 9pm. Both were great, but had we not known what to expect we could have easily been disappointed.
- Value: Getting the most bang for your buck is important, but so is aligning your expectations to meet your budget. If you find a discount deal for a week in Mexico for $300, that's great, but don't complain when the drinks are watered down, the punks next door are noisy and there's a diaper floating in the pool. However, you can also pay way too much for way too little if you're not careful.
TIP: I check Oyster.com before ever booking a hotel/resort. They send in their own team to rate and photograph each hotel to provide you with truthful, detailed reviews. I also read through tripadvisor.com reviews so I can hear what real people have to say. This way I know what I'm getting before I get there.
PLANNING AHEAD: Be sure to call your resort ahead of time to make reservations for on-site restaurants and excursions because they often fill up fast and if you're not careful you'll end up eating dinner at 10pm. Also ask if there's anything they suggest you bring (snorkel gear, tennis rackets, water shoes, etc.) so that you don't have to pay a premium when you arrive.
Finally, make sure you even want to go on an all inclusive vacation. I love them in certain situations and for certain people, but not all the time.
DO go on an all inclusive vacation when:
- You want to relax
- You have a budget you want to stick to/you don't want to worry about money
- You don't want to make decisions
- You have medium to high expectations, but don't expect perfection
DON'T go on an all inclusive vacation when:
- You have a list of sights/attractions you want to visit
- You are highly interested in experiencing the culture
- You want to be spontaneous
- You want to be in control of every decision
- You don't like being in one place for too long