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The Ins and Outs of All Inclusive

It’s that time of year where your social feeds are clogged with people going down south for vacations. You’re either green with envy or not interested in this style of getaway. I’ve been booking all inclusive vacations religiously for the last 18 years. It’s literally my idea of a perfect vacation, but I get how it’s not for everyone. If you’ve ever considered booking one but haven’t pulled the trigger, here are the Ins and Outs of All Inclusive vacations.

What is an All Inclusive Resort

Wikipedia defines an all inclusive resort as: “a holiday resort that includes at a minimum lodging, three meals daily, soft drinks, most alcoholic drinks, gratuities, and possibly other services in the price. Many also offer sports and non-motorized water-sports and other activities that are included in the price as well. They are often located in warmer regions of the world, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean”.

When you book an all inclusive vacation, everything you need is included in the sum you pay upon booking. Of course, like every experience, there are always extras you can tack on if you want more.

What kind of traveller are you

People have different needs and expectations for their time off. Some people want to relax and unwind while other’s want adventure and to explore. Before booking a vacation, it’s important to consider what you want out of it. For me, when I’m booking an all inclusive vacation, its because i’m looking for a relaxing getaway. Maybe you need a change of scenery or just a change in climate. Some travellers really want to experience the culture of the country they’re visiting and immerse themselves in it. You can satisfy both types of travellers with an all inclusive vacation, but the explorer will likely pay more money.

“I don’t want to just lay around for a week”. You don’t have to. There are gym facilities and often sports like tennis and volleyball which you can book time with. There are dance classes, yoga, and scuba diving lessons. You can also take advantage of amenities like kayaking and snorkelling. You can use an unlimited amount of times during your stay (subject to availability).

What do you want to spend

The all inclusive vacation experience can range in price depending on the type of experience you want. There are base level accommodations, which is still luxurious and includes all the amenities you want in an all inclusive. You can upgrade your room to things like suites, swim up rooms, or private butler service. There are also adult only sections, and VIP. You can also book off-resort excursions, that can be adventure activities or cultural exploration. These can be either half day and full day trips. They include all kinds of activities such as catamaran tours with snorkelling, dune buggy rentals, and safaris. For the cultural explorers, you can visit local industries depending on the country. Learn how to roll cigars in Cuba, or visit a sugar cane or coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic.

What I like about the all inclusive vacation is that almost everything is taken care in one payment before you go. I say almost because you have to consider the controversial topic of tipping while on resort. It says gratuities are included in your price, but tipping is a common practice you will see once there. This can be a hot topic: do you tip all the wait staff while you’re there? The bartenders for preferential treatment? Do you tip housekeeping as well? Really, the choice to do so is yours.

Most resorts offer their pricing and accept US dollars. I would recommend exchanging your own currency (if necessary) at your bank before you go. Most airports and resorts do offer a money exchange on site for a fee. There are also shopping areas on resort and in local towns which vary from market stalls to full shopping centres.

To stay on, or leave resort – that is the question

This is also a controversial topic when it comes to booking all inclusive vacations. Do you stay on the resort the whole time you’re there, or do you venture in to the nearest town? Is it safe to leave the resort? That answer will vary for the country you are visiting and the city you’re closest to. Check travel advisories from the Canada government website before booking. You can also check reviews on travel sites for people’s experiences.

Drinking water is still a concern in many of these destinations when you leave the resort. On resort, the water is treated but they also provide bottled water in rooms for drinking, coffee making or even brushing your teeth if you desire. Anything you drink off resort that’s not in a sealed bottle can be a concern, including ice cubes.

Lots of places will have local tour guides on site selling off resort experiences. They range from excursions to tours, to shows at local nightclubs. Excursions you book through the resort will include transportation, generally by bus, but there are also local cab services available. I believe you can rent cars in most places as well but this is not something I’ve ever looked in to.

What to eat

The first time I took an all inclusive vacation was to Cuba and I was 22. I didn’t know what to expect, but I know the food was not the main feature. Since then over the years, I find a lot of people will ask ‘What was the food like?’ when deciding which country to travel to. It’s a popular opinion that the food in Cuba isn’t great, while the Dominican is not bad, and its better in Jamaica and Mexico. Believe me when I say this all depends on the resort and the taste of the person you’re talking to.

All resorts have buffets you can eat all your meals at, but that’s usually your only option at breakfast and lunch. There’s usually also a 24 snack bar for in between meal times. I enjoy the buffets myself because no matter what I’m in the mood for, they have it, not to mention an entire dessert buffet which I never neglect.

In addition, all inclusive resorts offer รก la carte restaurants which require a reservation made with guest services. These have a dress code of long pants and no beachwear. The food here is substantially better, and you can choose your courses from a menu. I always prefer dinner at the รก la carte restaurants myself but it really depends on personal preference!

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Its so easy to book online or with a travel agent
  • All planning is done for you – flights, transportation, accommodations, meals, etc.
  • You can literally eat all you want any time you want
  • Lots of space and availability at the pool or beach
  • Everything is pretty close – food, rooms, pool, bar
  • It can be as lazy or busy as you want it to be.

Cons

  • a 5 star resort in the Caribbean is not the same rating as it is in Canada
  • There are often people on the beach or by the pool trying to sell you everything from excursions to trinkets. This can be a LOT if you’re not interested and just want to be left alone.
  • Breakfast and lunch are always buffet style. A la Carte restaurants are only for dinner reservations.

The post pandemic experience

The masking rule was dropped in Canada just before we went on our most recent trip to the Dominican Republic. While all the staff on our resort had masks, rarely were those masks covering their nose and mouth. Most buildings are open air but there are definitely areas of congestion, like the buffets, where this could be a concern for some.

In the past, most resorts I’d visited pre-pandemic had a hostess with sanitizer at every restaurant that greeted people upon entry and ensured they used it. I was surprised that this was not the case on this trip. We had brought our own bottles of sanitizer just out of habit, but we were very glad we did. There was always sanitizer at the gym, but there were no cleaners or cloths to wipe down equipment after use. Otherwise there were no real precautions at this point, but restrictions had already been lifted in most countries.

All in all, you have to find the right vacation that fits what you’re looking for. All inclusive vacations get pigeon-holed in to one experience- laying around all day and not leaving the resort. That doesn’t have to be the case. If you choose to read reviews on travel sites, you need to take them with a grain of salt. People will complain about anything. I find if you look at where those complainers are geographically, you will also notice a pattern. Travel agents are a great asset as they have been to many places themselves. They also gain valuable insider feedback from the clients they send as well. Whether you’re traveling on a budget and you want to shop deals online, or you’re celebrating a momentous occasion and want to spring for a little extra, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your very own getaway.

The world is an amazing place! Get out there and see it! Happy traveling!

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