If you have never seriously looked into staying at an all-inclusive resort, you may have some questions as to what “all-inclusive” really means. I am happy to say, you are not alone. Common knowledge is that all-inclusive means that meals and drinks are included. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all statement, as there are many, many different levels as to what you are really getting. However, food and drink is just the beginning of what can be included. Let’s take a closer look at what can be, or commonly isn’t, included.
Regarding meals, typically an all-inclusive resort will have several dining options right on the property. My favorite properties are those that offer enough variation in their options that you would not even want to leave the resort (and besides, you already have paid for all your meals anyways!). They will have both themed buffet-style options that do not require reservations, to more upscale, reservation-only restaurants that are a-la-cart (meaning you order what you want from a menu instead of helping yourself from a buffet). However, even when all meals are included, that does not mean you will have access to all restaurants! Several resort brands will restrict the more up-scale options to only their preferred guests (those with their version of elite status). Others have their resorts separated between kid-friendly and adults only, and so if you are on the kid-friendly section, you will likely not be able to enjoy the options at the adults only. Even more frustrating is that some brands will restrict the number of times you can dine at one of their a-la-cart options, forcing you to eat at their buffet-style option(s) for the majority of your stay.
Drinks are another area that varies wildly. Some resort brands include all drinks, including “premium/top-shelf” liquors. They will offer accommodations where you will have a full mini-bar right in your room that is restocked daily. However, this is the exception, not the norm. More common than not, “all-inclusive drinks” means that soda, beer, and maybe a “house” wine will be included. You will need to pay additional to enjoy their premium selections. For some, they would be plenty happy with the basic options, while others may be disappointed to find they need to pay additional fees for the premium drinks. The bottom line here, is know what is included for drinks before you commit!
Let’s look into some additional features that may or may not be offered. For me, one of the most important features is to have a stocked mini-fridge in my room. At a minimum, I like it stocked with water, juice, soda, and beer. Remember, it will be hot where you are going, and you will need to drink more water than normal (especially if you have been taking advantage of those included adult beverages!). It is no fun having to leave your room late at night or early in the morning to try and find some water! Some other basic room items that you would think should be included, may not be. I know of at least one brand that actually charges for you to use the room safe! Most include a coffee maker, with coffee, but not all. You will want to know whether these items are included or not to prevent disappointment upon arrival.
Another really nice feature that is usually not offered is transportation between your resort and the airport. This can be quite expensive to setup separately, so make sure you know whether these transfers are included or not. If they aren’t, I recommend setting them up ahead of time as this will save you time and money instead of dealing with this once you land in a foreign country. The best time to set this up is when you book your travels (you are using a travel agent, right
Tips. This one can be very frustrating. The majority of all-inclusive resorts will say that tips are included. However, almost all will still allow, or even encourage tipping for good service. There is one brand in particular where the staff can be very pushy, forcing you to tip. This can really be frustrating, as tips were supposed to be included, yet essentially, they aren’t. On the other side of the scale, there is at least one brand that forbids tips in almost all instances. Their staff could be let go for accepting one. Knowing a resort’s “real” tipping policy is very important, and can make or break your stay.
Some level of on-site activities is usually included. Typically, these are non-motorized water sports, snorkeling, games hosted by the resort staff, etc. However at least one brand in particular even includes scuba diving with their basic accommodations. For a non-diver, this won’t matter. However, for a seasoned diver, having up to 2 dives per day already included can save you some serious cash! Some may include jet-skis, water-skiing, or even glass-bottom boat tours; most will offer these for an additional fee. Golf is another feature that may or may not be included. Be careful here, as even when they say golf is included, it may only mean that the greens fees are included. You will still have to pay for a required cart and caddy (yes, almost all golf courses associated with these resorts require you to have a caddy).
Finally, we will end on location. In general, true all-inclusive resorts are only located in under developed areas, or those where traveling outside of the resort may not be safe. In general, they are located in the Caribbean and Central America, especially Mexico and Costa Rica. It is important to know that there are no true all-inclusive resorts in the United States, including Hawaii. This is a very common misconception as there are several resorts that have some “all-inclusive packages” you can purchase, however the resort itself will not be all-inclusive. You will need to read the fine print to really figure out how good of a deal this package would be. Or better yet, contact your favorite travel agent and have them do the legwork for you!
I hope this helped to educate you on what “all-inclusive” may or may not mean. If you have any questions, please contact us. You can also leave a comment right here. What other features have you had included that was a surprise? Or what wasn't included that dampened your vacation? Share your experience!
-Marshall, Owner of Clear Water Travels
Marshall & Bella
Clear Water Travels was established by Marshall and Bella (Danielle) O'Hearn to help ease and simplify the challenges of traveling. After having several friends and family experience avoidable setbacks on their trips, ruining the journey for them, we decided to open our doors and share our expertise to make traveling stress-free!
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