Last year, I was talking with a friend right after she had returned from a relaxing week in the Caribbean. “We did an all-inclusive,” she said to me with a glimmer in her eyes. “A what?” I had no idea what she was talking about. After chatting about it for a quite a while, she clued me in on how an all-inclusive vacation works and what some of the perks were. To say I was intrigued would be an epic understatement. According to my friend, she could travel to any all-inclusive vacation spot in the Caribbean or Mexico and have almost everything included in one low price. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; my friend and her husband had paid only $700 per person for an entire week at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. Not only were their flights and lodging included in her cost, but all of their food and drinks (even alcohol) were included as well. She seemed downright enthusiastic about their experience and went on and on about how amazing the whole thing was. I had to find out more.
To satisfy my curiosity, I started playing around with dates and locations on travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity. What I found out was a complete jolt to my system: all-inclusive vacations were cheap. Dirt cheap. Since I love to travel and hate to spend money, I started to wonder if I should go on an all-inclusive vacation myself. My husband and I had been putting off a honeymoon for nearly seven years at that point, mostly due to being stingy with our cash. Could an all-inclusive vacation provide the answer?
Our first all-inclusive
Once I showed my husband my research, he quickly got on board. Of course. Why wouldn't he want to travel to a tropical beach and enjoy unlimited food and drinks all day and night? We bounced back and forth between several locations. I initially had my heart set on going to Aruba. However, my enthusiasm waned as the price crept slowly upward with each passing week. Then it was Club Med in Turks and Caicos. Then Jamaica. Then Mexico. We ultimately chose to do our first all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic. When all was said and done, we paid less than $1000 per person including airfare to spend 7 days and 6 nights at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana.
The hotel's website made it look too good to be true — with tropical beaches and lush landscaping, live entertainment, and six restaurants and seven bars at our disposal. As our vacation date approached, I started to wonder if the resort could possibly deliver what it promised for the price we paid. Regardless, I decided to go with an open mind and low expectations. Even if it was awful, I would still get a kid-free week with my husband and the honeymoon that we never had. “I'm going to have a good time no matter what,” I told my husband as we boarded the plane.
All worries were completely dashed from my mind when we arrived at the resort. It definitely delivered what it promised –and then some. I nearly cried when I saw the pristine beaches and absolute beauty of the area where we would be staying. It was then and there that I totally understood why my friend had promised that “once you go all-inclusive, you never go back.” It finally made sense.
The pros of an all-inclusive vacation
Most all-inclusive resorts are located on beaches in Mexico and in the various islands scattered throughout the Caribbean. However, some all-inclusive resort chains like Club Med offer all-inclusive vacations in varying landscapes all over the world. Regardless, the general premise for all-inclusive resorts is the same: they offer lodging, entertainment, and all food and drinks for one low price. It is also possible to book a package including airfare which can trigger an additional discount.
The benefits of choosing an all-inclusive vacation are too numerous to count. First, they take the guessing game out of the cost of your vacation by letting you pay for all of your meals up front. Second, aside from the cost of transportation to your resort and some money to tip the staff, you may not need to fork over any cash during your trip at all. Every all-inclusive resort is different, but some offer live entertainment, live music, and high-quality shows on the premises. Others include some activities in the cost of your trip, such as zumba classes, water aerobics, kayaking, boogie boarding, and board games.
All-inclusive trips are also incredibly easy to plan. Aside from selecting a resort, choosing flights, and arranging for transportation, very little else needs to be done. Once you arrive at the resort, you also don't have to worry about how to get from one place to another or where you're going to eat. Everything has already been thought of and is ready and waiting upon your arrival.
The cons of an all-inclusive vacation
Although an all-inclusive vacation can get you a lot of bang for your buck, it doesn't really allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture and customs of the country you're visiting. If all you do is plop yourself down on a tropical beach with a drink in hand, you may not get to experience much of what the country has to offer. However, staying at an all-inclusive resort shouldn't hold you back from experiencing some local culture. Most resorts offer excursions by trained guides who will take you off of the resort to visit some of the local attractions. If you're staying in a particularly safe area, you can even take a taxi into town to explore on your own.
If you read vacation reviews, the number one complaint about all-inclusive resorts is the food. Although some all-inclusive resorts have restaurants where you can order off of the menu, almost all of them offer the main portion of their meals buffet style. I personally don't mind eating at a buffet as long as there is something that I can eat. However, not everyone is a fan of buffet-style dining. If you can generally find something to eat wherever you go, the food selection would probably be fine. However, those looking for a culinary experience should probably choose a vacation where the dining options are more varied.
Tips for selecting an all-inclusive resort
I've written about the value of vacation before, and I truly believe that all-inclusive resorts offer a lot of value for your money. If you're looking for a relaxing trip on a budget, an all-inclusive vacation may be right up your alley. Here are some tips for those looking for the perfect all-inclusive resort:
- Shop around. Make sure to check travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline for the best deal. You can also use these sites to include airfare in your total cost.
- Be flexible with dates. Consider arriving and departing mid-week or vacationing off-peak to get the best deal.
- Be flexible with your location. If you have your heart set on a particular resort, you may end up paying more. Instead, be flexible when it comes to where you stay. Consider a resort that is having a sale or even staying in an alternate location.
Have you ever been on an all-inclusive vacation? If so, what did you think?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.