While every all-inclusive resort offers meals, drinks and entertainment in the nightly room rate, the amenities and perks you receive can vary drastically from place to place. You can spend as little or as much as you'd like on the experience, and book anything from a five-star luxury resort to a more economical option. But having so many choices can make it difficult to decide where to stay and which level of service you prefer. Here are questions to ask yourself as you narrow down your choices.
Do You Want an Adults-only or Kid-friendly Resort?
In an effort to lure couples to their properties, many all-inclusive resorts have added kid-free areas and adults-only resorts to their all-inclusive portfolios. If you're heading to an all-inclusive resort without the kids, an adults-only option can offer a more refined setting.
Still, bringing the kids doesn't have to spell vacation doom. In fact, many all-inclusive properties were designed with children in mind. Family-friendly entertainment, water parks and large kid-friendly pools are all-inclusive mainstays. Plus, some family-oriented properties, including many IBEROSTAR all-inclusive properties, offer on-site kids' clubs with babysitting services, so you and your better half can soak up some sun and surf or enjoy a romantic dinner.
Do You Want to Travel at an Off-peak Time or in Peak Season?
If you're traveling with the kids, you might have to plan your vacation around their school schedule. But if you're planning a trip with friends, you could save a bundle if you're willing to travel during the shoulder months or basically any time school is in session.
If you're heading to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean or Mexico, popular travel times generally fall between December and the end of spring break. So, if your schedule offers enough flexibility to travel between mid-April and November, you could score up to 40 percent in savings.
Which Island Do You Want to Visit?
While a handful of all-inclusive resorts sit outside of the Caribbean, the vast majority of properties can be found in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Barbados, St. Maarten and other tropical islands. While many of these islands offer similar scenery and amenities, the culture, language and ambiance of each can be drastically different. Which one should you choose? The answer depends on a variety of variables, including your budget, travel goals, companions and personal preferences.
If you're on a set budget, the best values can generally be found in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. But if it's culture you seek, you'll need to learn more about each destination to decide which place offers the food, arts and entertainment offerings that appeal to you. While there's no wrong way to pick a destination for your all-inclusive vacation, figuring out which place best matches your interests and needs is the best way to ensure a satisfactory trip.
What Are Your Activity and Amenity Preferences?
Beyond varying levels of luxury, you can also expect different perks and services available at different resorts. While most all-inclusive resorts offer nightly shows and some on-site entertainment, some offer additional amenities, including equipment for paddle boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling in the nightly room rate. Meanwhile, others offer fitness classes, group games and activities and one-on-one sports lessons. Before you book your stay, consider which types of amenities are available at your desired property to mitigate overpaying for unnecessary add-ons. And if you just want to relax on the beach all week, you may want to choose a less expensive property that doesn't offer all the bells and whistles of luxury resorts.
Will You Find the Best Value By Bundling Your Vacation?
Most of the time, you can save money by bundling your all-inclusive vacation with airfare on a discount travel site. Sites like Expedia.com, Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com can help you compare all-inclusive pricing and various flight options - all in one fell swoop. Meanwhile, aggregators like Kayak.com will let you compare pricing from each of the main discount travel sites side by side. If you're striving to cut expenses on your all-inclusive, compare costs for package trips versus a la carte pricing before you book.
The Bottom Line
From opulent properties with lavish amenities to cost-effective retreats with family-friendly perks, all-inclusive resorts run the gamut. At then end of the day, it's up to you to decide which type of experience you want, and ultimately, how much you'll pay for it.
Holly Johnson is the founder of travel website, Travel Blue Book, which covers travel experiences ranging from cruising to fine dining. Holly also writes about frugal living, travel and budgeting on her other website, Club Thrifty, and at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, Personal Capital and many other online publications.