Shea and I have been on a handful of all-inclusive vacations over the years. Every place has had its good and bad points but overall, these varied trips to Mexico (Mazatlan, Mayan Riviera, Cancun), Cuba (Varadero) and most recently, the Dominican Republic (Bavaro), have given me a pretty good idea of some of the things I prefer in an all-inclusive…
10 Things I Look For in an All-Inclusive in no Particular Order (along with which resort the photo shows in brackets)…
- Great Pools (preferably multiple)
The Grand Palladium Bavaro in the Dominican Republic is one we’ve stayed at which had great pools. We especially enjoyed the one with a lowered edge at the side where we could sit on deck chairs right in the water and where the kids could glide right into the pool! The Infinity Pool at the Riu Cancun was cool too.
(Grand Palladium Bavaro)
- Decent, non-repetitive food
Food in all-inclusives can run the gambit from blah to pretty good. The main thing is having lots of options so you can mix it up from day-to-day. Some resorts have “theme nights” which helps add variety too.
(Riu Cancun stands out as some of the best all-inclusive meals we’ve ever had…)
- Beautiful beach
We’ve been to resorts where the shore is being reclaimed so there are enormous concrete slabs in the water just off-shore – yikes! Or on the Pacific coast of Mexico where there were stories of raw sewage being pumped into the ocean – eww!
(Varadero Beach is possibly our favourite beach of all-time.)
- Cool, unique bars
We’ve stayed in a couple all-inclusives that had piano bars, others that had great views or cool designs.
- Kid’s Club
It’s best to find one with lots of activities, scheduled and otherwise. Although we tend not to utilize these options to their full extent when we go preferring to spend time with our kids instead of dumping them off, it’s nice to have the option available. (A good kid’s pool/water park is cool too although we’ve never been to a resort that has a full-on water park with (big) slides, wave pool, lazy river, etc.) (Iberostar Varadero)
- Ocean View Room
This has been more common in the hotel-style resorts we’ve stayed at than the villa-style. You don’t tend to spend a lot of time in your room anyhow but it’s nice to be able to see the ocean (or sleep with patio doors open listening to the waves) when you do.
(Oceano Palace, Mazatlan)
- A La Carte Restaurants
Most resorts feature an assortment of a la carte restaurants that you can book ahead early in your stay or (less likely) wait in line for the same day. These can give you a range of different cuisines and help break up the monotony of the buffets. Some highlights from my past stays include a Brazilian style restaurant, a Japanese teriyaki place, a tapas bar, an outdoor Italian grotto (this is where we had our wedding reception actually).
Yeah, I know – you don’t go on holiday to keep up with Facebook and e-mail. But in our wired age, it can be useful to have wifi to check everything from Wikipedia for info about an attraction you’re going to visit to letting the kids have some down time with YouTube in the evening before bed.
(WiFi can be spotty where ever you go but it’s also getting better everywhere – the resort we stayed at most recently in the Dominican Republic wasn’t supposed to have in-room Internet but we ended up being able to get online. Cuba has the worst reputation for Internet but even Cuba’s resorts are increasingly offering Internet – though you pay for it by the hour and it’s apparently not much better than using dial-up!)
- Nearby City/Attractions
This isn’t a must-have but I’ve often enjoyed the resorts that were located within a decent-sized, tourist friendly city (Mazatlan, Cancun), ones where you could check out a different city as a daylong excursion (Varadero, Playa Del Carmen, Havana) or ones that nearby attractions (Aztec pyramids, ruins, islands, etc.) over ones where you felt like your only option was to stay at the resort all week (although that’s fun too but if I’m in a foreign country, I’d like to get a little taste of the local culture too!)
(Mazatlan Central Market)
- Swim-up Bar
We haven’t had a swim-up bar at every resort we’ve gone too but they’re definitely one of the things I enjoy the most – nothing like sitting in the middle of a swimming pool in the tropics drinking a pina colada!
(Grand Palladium Punta Cana)
Bonus: Five Things I’d Like To Try At An All-Inclusive In The Future…
- Swim-up suite
Often these types of rooms are “no kids allowed” so not sure when I’ll get the chance.
(Grand Palladium Bavaro)
- Overwater Suite
It’s rare in the Caribbean but a room built right over the water would be pretty cool!
- Personal Assistant
Flip side of the last one, I’d love to try the very unique Franklyn D. resort in Jamaica that assigns you a personal assistant as part of your vacation package. The assistant does a variety of tasks including looking after your kids if you want while you go for a meal with your partner or whatever!
(Franklyn D. Resort)
- Water Park
As mentioned above, I’d love to try a resort with a full water park. Seems counter-intuitive when you have the ocean but a nice option, especially with kids.
(Sandos Caracol Aqua Park)
This mega-resort in the Bahamas just seems like the best all-around family resort out there.
Bonus #2 – Five Amenities I Never Use
- The free diving lesson in the pool is something I never get to even though every resort offers it. Always feels like it’d be a time share presentation as they’d show you a couple things to try then try to sell you diving tours.
- Gyms. Trust me, I don’t go to all-inclusives to exercise! 😉
- I also never use tennis courts/basketball courts/archery courses/bike rentals – not because I don’t want to do these things but more because, unlike sitting on a beach, they are things I can do at home.
- It’s not that I never use the nightly entertainment shows most resorts offer – it’s just that I find them very “take it or leave it” – some are great (a Michael Jackson impersonator in Cancun) and some are pretty cheesy. At the same time, I like resorts that have informal entertainment – a band playing in the lunch buffet room, dance music by the pool, live music in the lobby bar in the early evening.
- All resorts will have water, pop and beer in your in-room fridge but we stayed at one resort (Riu Cancun) that had hard liquor dispensers in the room. Sounds great except it was cheap local brands that tasted like paint thinner so I had a couple drinks from it the first night and never used it again!