All-inclusive resorts: The ultimate guide for first-timers

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Pack up your suitcase and get ready to relax while you sip on the — included — cocktail. Whether you’re an all-inclusive regular or this is your first venture into the world of all-inclusive resorts, here’s everything you need to know to make the most of it.

Ocean with a swing and other beachy vibe items.
Photo credit: YayImages.

What is an all-inclusive resort?

The concept of an all-inclusive resort is that your vacation includes not just your lodgings but your food and drink and activities, as well. Different resorts define this differently and may include more or less as part of their package, so always research your specific all-inclusive resort.

Typically, an all-inclusive resort features a wide range of amenities and services. You’ll generally find multiple dining options, bars, pools, a fitness center and entertainment activities that range from evening shows to watersports.

The restaurants often feature buffets with some a la carte restaurant options. And most all-inclusive resorts allow guests to enjoy unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Some resorts are adults only while others cater to families. You can find upscale resorts as well as those that are more affordable, often with fewer amenities, which allows everyone to find the right style for their lifestyle and budget.

All-inclusive resorts are common in Mexico, from Cozumel and Cancun to Riveria Maya and Puerta Vallarta, as well as across the Caribbean, from the Dominican Republic to Turks and Caicos. There are beach resorts in Cuba, too.

All-inclusive resorts are also popular in southern Europe, with many located in and around Spain, as well as many in North Africa.

The United States has fewer all-inclusive resorts, and they tend to be ranches or wellness retreats rather than beach vacations you may think of instinctively.

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Why choose an all-inclusive resort?

If you’re looking for a hassle-free and relaxing vacation, an all-inclusive resort is a great option. With everything included in the price, you can focus on enjoying your time away.

Beach with chairs and down umbrellas near sunset
Photo credit: YayImages.

They take the hassle out of planning your vacation. Everything is taken care of for you, so you can relax and enjoy your vacation — just figure out your beach packing list and go.

All-inclusive resorts offer a variety of activities and amenities to suit all interests. Whether you want to relax on the beach, explore the local culture, or go on adventures, you’ll find something to do at an all-inclusive resort.

They can also be a great value for your money. The price of your stay typically includes your accommodations, food, drinks and activities. This can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re traveling with a family.

“Whenever possible, we’ll try to book an all-inclusive resort for a simple reason: we know what we’re spending upfront. There are no surprise charges or unexpected expensive dinners at the resort restaurant. You know what you’re getting and how much — how can you beat that?”

— Leah Ingram, Real Sophisticated Consumer

What is and isn’t included at an all-inclusive resort?

While individual resorts have different inclusions and exclusions, you can typically expect resorts to provide meals and beverages, as well as organized activities, such as water sports, fitness classes, live performances and children’s programs.

As you do your research on where you plan to stay, look into all these differences because they can add up throughout your holiday.

Some resorts limit the number of reservations you can have at their a la carte restaurants during your stay, so you end up eating most of your meals at a buffet. Others allow you to eat as often as you want at any restaurant you want, so long as there is space available.

The drinks are also generally included, though almost all resorts will have at least some beverages available for an add-on charge, such as a higher-end bottle of wine. Resorts also vary in the type of liquor they carry and how many top-shelf options they offer.

Fresh coconut at the tropical resort beach bar..
Photo credit. YayImages.

The definition of water sports varies by resort, as well. Many resorts will include an hour of snorkeling equipment per day or use of kayaks or other non-motorized equipment. The Sandals and Beaches chain is one of the few that includes SCUBA diving for certified divers as part of your stay.

Most resorts charge for motorized water sports such as boat rides, jet skis and the like. And every resort will charge for any new SCUBA certifications you wish to take.

Some resorts will have a limited number of included excursions, from nature walks to snorkeling, but almost all charge additional fees for their excursions if you want to venture outside the resort and off the beach.

Items like specialty dining, hair braiding or babysitting generally incur an additional charge, though most include a daycare like kids’ camp as part of your package.

Resorts also generally charge for spa treatments you may enjoy while on vacation.

In general, more activities and amenities are included in the cost of your stay, especially when you compare it to a typical hotel. Most regular hotels charge a daily resort fee in addition to your room charge in vacation destinations like these.

“With two small kids, an all-inclusive resort is always a winner for us. The convenience they provide is incomparable. With the variety of meals, snacks and entertainment for kids all included, we can relax and enjoy our vacation without the stress of researching the places to eat or constantly looking for things to do for our kids.”

— Tamara, Thriving in Parenting

Do you tip at all-inclusive resorts?

The tipping policy at all-inclusive resorts varies greatly. This is one area to confirm before you travel.

The Sandals and Beaches Resorts prohibit tipping and any tips the staff receive must be turned in to become donations to their Sandals Foundation. Employees who are caught accepting tips and don’t turn them in are fired.

Instead, they rely on The Loop, a feedback system on their app, and traveler comments on TripAdvisor to recognize their outstanding employees who are then in line for bonuses and promotions. The only exceptions to their tipping policy are the butlers, private nannies and spa services.

Most other all-inclusive resorts allow and encourage tipping. Some resorts may state on their websites that tipping is included in your package price, but they don’t prohibit tips the way Sandals and Beaches Resorts do.

The employees prefer tips in US currency, regardless of what country you call home. Do not bother to exchange your money for local currency.

Bring plenty of $1 and $5 bills, as getting change is often a challenge.

You typically tip everyone from your bartender to your waitstaff, as you’re used to. In your room, you often tip the housekeeper separately from the person who stocks your fridge, so keep that in mind.

You also can tip the groundskeepers who work incredibly hard, as well as your butler if you have one, the bell desk staff, room service staff, concierges you may work with, any excursions you join, etc.

The amount that you tip will vary by resort, but typically, you want to tip about $1 per drink, $2 for breakfast or lunch buffets per person, $5 for dinner per person, $20 and more per butler shift, $2 to $5 for service in your room and an appropriate amount for any tours you enjoy.

Final thoughts

All-inclusive resorts give more cost certainty than many other styles of vacation. They typically offer tons of included activities and entertainment for all ages, which provides convenience, relaxation and a sense of value for guests who stay there.

The variety of amenities and activities available on-site compared to traditional hotels and vacations means guests can spend their time immersed in the resort’s offerings, making it an enticing option for those seeking a stress-free and all-encompassing vacation experience.

Michelle Price is a food and travel writer at Honest and Truly who almost has an empty nest. She loves to provide both the inspiration and the confidence you need to help get you into the kitchen and on the road to enjoy new flavors and experiences.

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