An all-inclusive vacation is a very alluring concept. All you need to do is book your trip, pack your bags, and show up for the flight—the rest is already managed for you.
While staying at an all-inclusive resort can be a lot of fun and take a lot of the worrying out of making travel plans, there are still some things you should know before your plane leaves the runway.
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Make Sure Your Resort Offers The Experience You Want
There are tons of different all-inclusive resorts out there, many of which are tailored for specific kinds of traveler. There are kid-friendly, adult-only, and senior citizen resorts that will all offer slightly different experiences and amenities. If you're looking to party hard with other people, you should probably choose an adult-only location.
Research Each Resort Thoroughly
Don't let yourself get caught up in the stunning pictures online: Most resorts will showcase their best aspects, which often include VIP sections. Make sure to go through all the images available onsite and see if you can find tagged photos from actual visitors on social media to see if the resort actually lives up to the hype.
Check What's Actually Included
All-inclusive does not always mean 100% all-inclusive; certain excursions, spas, and on-site restaurants have extra costs outside your package, and some resorts only supply 1–2 meals per day. Make sure you read over the fine print for what's included in the deal, such as airport-to-resort transport, the number of meals, and activities (drinks are generally 100% included).
Don't Expect Gourmet Meals
Most all-inclusive resorts have to accommodate a large number of guests at any time, and therefore, buffet-style meals are the norm at these resorts—the bigger the resort, the blander the food. You're going to find mostly American food available, and it won't be particularly tasteful/seasoned in order to please the majority of diners.
Tipping Varies Between Resorts
Some resorts include tipping fees in the overall price, whereas others don't. Check before leaving home what the resort's policy is on tipping, and carry cash accordingly for resort staff members, such as cleaning staff or bar staff. American money is accepted at most locations.
In addition, tipping occasionally at the bar can mean you'll get faster service and/or stronger drinks from the bartenders!
Don't Lose Your Wristband
When entering the resort, you'll likely be given a wristband for your stay. This wristband gets you into the resort and bar areas (often with certain colors identifying whether a guest is legal drinking age).
You can incur some pretty hefty fines if you lose the resort wristband, with some resorts charging from $75–$100 per day.
Pay Attention To Hours Of Operation
"All-inclusive" is not synonymous with "always available," so make sure you take note of times different areas and services—the pool, the spa, the gym, and restaurants—are open.
If you miss a mealtime, there will often be a snack bar somewhere on the resort where you can chow down something to hold you over until the dining hall reopens.
Pack The Basic Needs So You Don't Overpay There
While there are stores that sell all the basic health and beauty supplies—sunscreen, Advil, aloe, etc.—they generally overcharge quite a bit. For example, a bottle of sunscreen that would cost $4 at home will retail there for as much as $27. Take caution to pack all the essentials before leaving home.
Read Reviews From Past Visitors Before Booking
Once again, a resort might look like a dream come true in their website's photos, but everything isn't always as it seems. Read reviews from past travelers to find out what times of year to travel and how the resort manages issues (e.g., electrical outages) to avoid being stuck in a beautiful place with outdated infrastructure.
You Get What You Pay For
Not all resorts are created equally, and many have differing levels of service. If you book a trip to the cheapest all-inclusive resort you find, you're likely to deal with poor service and watered-down drinks. There's nothing wrong with booking a cheaper location—just don't expect the Ritz.
If you're planning on having a boozy trip, consider bringing your own travel cup along with you. Especially during peak travel season, lines for the bar can get really long, and the drinks are often watered down and served in small plastic cups.
Bringing your own travel cup means less time waiting in lines and also it's more environmentally-friendly.
Bring A Printout Of Your Reservation And Itinerary
Even if your resort does provide Wi-Fi, it might not always have the most reliable internet connection. Bring a printout of your full itinerary and reservation confirmation to make each step—airport check-in, airport-to-resort transport, and resort check-in—as seamless as possible.
Compare Across Multiple Travel Sites Before Booking
Many different travel sites and airlines will offer all-inclusive packages to the same resort, and prices will vary across all options. Looking at all available options on multiple sites will ensure you're getting the best price for the same experience while also ensuring you get the most convenient flights available.
Research The Resort Location
Especially if you're unfamiliar with the island/city where the resort is, take time to learn a bit about the local culture and the precise location of the resort to make sure your vacation meets your expectations.
For example, if you're looking to stay on a Caribbean island and expect to see the typical "blue-green water" on the beach, you need to choose a resort on the side of the island that faces the Caribbean Sea, not the Atlantic.
Research The VIP And Normal Packages At The Resort
Most resorts will offer guests the option to upgrade to a VIP package either before leaving home or upon arriving at the resort. VIP packages might include such things as Wi-Fi (if not offered resort-wide), special beach seating, a sea-view room, etc.
While some of these packages might be worthwhile, others are not, so make sure you understand the differences between packages before splurging.
Arrange Your Arrival And Departure From The Resort Ahead Of Time
As mentioned before, most resort packages offer transportation to and from the airport. However, many of these shuttle services require you to book a seat on the shuttle ahead of time.
Make sure you look at the shuttle schedule and booking requirements before you leave home, and reserve a ride back to the airport soon after reaching the resort.
Check Ahead About Whether The Water Is Drinkable At The Resort
Many of the islands and cities where resorts are located do not have drinkable tap water. Research in advance as to whether the local tap water is drinkable, and if not, bring a reusable water bottle with you.
Most resorts will have water coolers available for you to refill bottles to make sure you stay healthy and hydrated.
If You're There During Peak Season, The Early Bird Gets The Beach Towels And Chairs
On-site, there are generally a limited number of beach chairs and pool chairs available, and the same goes for towels. If you're there during peak season and beach towels aren't delivered to your room, make sure you go to the towel station pretty early before they run out.
In addition, you might have to wake up early to reserve or claim a beach chair before there are none available.
You Don't Need To Eat And Drink It All
It might be an all-inclusive resort, but that doesn't mean you have to indulge in everything. If you overeat and over-drink every day, you're going to end up feeling sick and miserable for the majority of your trip.
Make sure to pace yourself at the buffet and moderate your drinking so that you can enjoy every day of your vacation.
Pack Your Bags And Get Ready To Relax
Once you've gotten through all the research, planning, and booking, all you need to do is pack up your bags and get to the airport knowing that there's nothing left to worry about once you get there.
Grab your boarding pass, kick your feet up, and have a good time!