How will you ever achieve that perfect full-body tan if your hand is constantly reaching into your pocket?! That’s why our editors have rounded up a list of our 10 favorite all-inclusive beach resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, where the focus is on the sun, surf and sand — not on opening up your wallet. We know that tallying up all of those “extras” (like meals, tips, cocktails, and activities) can be a real buzzkill on your happy-go-lucky vacation, so we propose bunking down at one of these all-inclusive gems instead. Ranging from luxury to boutique and from mega-sized to eco-friendly, these standout properties deal with the costs in their all-inclusive up-front pricing, leaving their guests to enjoy a blissfully cash-free adventure once there. After all, that soft sand is no place for hard cash!
Almond Beach Village
Straddling 32 beachfront acres on the grounds of an 18th-century sugar plantation, this 395-unit all-inclusive resort is large enough to cater to honeymooners, families and conventioneers alike. The handsome rooms at Barbados’ Almond Beach Village offer guests fine amenities like mahogany-stained two-poster beds and private balconies or patios, but the abundant fun-in-the-sun activities are the real lure. Caribbean waters beckon with wind surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, sailing and reef fishing, while tennis, golf and a “Kids’ Club” (giving mom and dad a chance for some quality alone time) round out the activities on dry land. Guests can savor unlimited meals and cocktails in one of the resort’s restaurants and bars (or via room service), or hop aboard a complimentary shuttle to Bridgetown for a day of shopping and sightseeing
An alternative to the barrage of luxury complexes lining the Mayan Riviera coastline, this rustic-chic resort in Tulum offers a healthy, tranquil retreat with no pretensions. Amansala is best known for its six-night "Bikini Bootcamp" — a robust regime of yoga, meditation, salsa dancing and more, designed to get guests (note that some retreats are women-only) into tip-top swimsuit-shape. This all-inclusive program includes cabana lodging, with digs ranging from a one-room thatched-roof hut to an ultra-classy luxury suite — expect private bathrooms, mosquito-netted beds and running hot water (in all but one unit). Rates also include all meals, with an emphasis on low-fat, organic ingredients (think freshly caught grilled fish and fresh mangos). The coup de grace on the package, though, are the heavenly extras like massages and a Mayan clay treatment, piled onto the traditional resort offerings like snorkeling, bike-riding and more.
Azul Beach Hotel
This stylish small hotel in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, offers big-resort amenities with a boutique sensibility. The self-proclaimed “first all-inclusive boutique resort,” Azul, with just 97 rooms, offers sweet respite from the rowdier neighbors in nearby Playa del Carmen and Cancún. All-inclusive rates include food and drinks from the four restaurants and three lounges, champagne at check-in, and activities for kids and adults (think yoga classes, not limbo contests). After a morning Spanish class, snag a seaside cabana and let a “Beach Butler” (he’ll be the one carrying the mineral-water vaporizer) take care of the rest.
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort
Nestled along a 1,000-foot stretch of palm-lined beach, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort offers travelers a great-value, all-inclusive resort experience in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ beautiful St. Thomas. Complimentary use of water sports toys like sailboats, kayaks, windsurf boards and snorkel equipment provide plenty of active ways to work on that tan, while a warm staff and restaurants doling out eclectic Caribbean and Continental cuisine — and mouth-watering culinary treats like lobster, fresh seafood and filet mignon (all included at no additional cost) — encourage guests to linger back on resort grounds. The rooms, each boasting a waterfront balcony, are situated just steps from the beach and offer guests a bright and airy, if somewhat basic, place to rest their heads.
Okay, it’s expensive, but Jamaica’s most extraordinary resort includes the opportunity to relax in the villa where Ian Fleming penned all of his James Bond thrillers, complete with your own private beach and zero-entry swimming pool. Enveloped by nature, as Fleming wished, each of the five villas has an entertainment bungalow equipped with queen-size day beds, panoramic flat-screen TVs and well-stocked bars. All meals are included, and water sports/snorkel gear are provided by the discreet staff. Perhaps the best pastime, however, is to marvel at your surroundings and crack a book — say Fleming’s "Dr. No." Note: GoldenEye is currently adding 40 additional villas (construction is expected to be complete in early 2010), so inquire about noise when booking a room.
Le Blanc Spa Resort
Situated between the Caribbean Sea and a picturesque lagoon, this 260-room adults-only Cancun resort boasts breathtaking views and an atmosphere custom-made for romance. Some of the offerings on the long list of all-inclusive treats include dining options at haute eateries, premium drinks, non-motorized water sports, regular entertainment and even butler service. In-room amenities offer guests equally enticing luxuries such as a free bottle of wine upon arrival, LCD TV with satellite cable, bathrobes and slippers, BVLGARI bath products, purified water and an upgraded liquor dispenser featuring premium scotch, vodka, rum and tequila. Other non-inclusive services are worth the additional splurge — don’t miss a treatment in the large onsite spa, an outing on the nines or a must-do tour of the region’s magnificent Mayan ruins.
Occidental Grand Aruba
One of Aruba’s latest all-inclusive luxury resorts sits on the island’s lovely Palm Beach and boasts all the deluxe trappings you’d expect (and more): a lagoon-style pool, a casino, Las Vegas-style shows and no fewer than six dining options, with mouth-watering ethnic food options on the menu, from Caribbean fusion to classic Italian to pan-Asian. Some 398 well-appointed rooms tout mahogany-stained two-poster beds outfitted with damask linens and private balconies (many are ocean-facing). You’ll find more outdoor activities on offer than the island has Divi-divi trees — spend your days enjoying the pristine surroundings via sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and other water-sport rentals.
Royal Hideaway Playacar
This adults-only, all-inclusive, 200-room Occidental resort, set on the beaches of Mexico’s Playa del Carmen, is hard not to like. It’s neither small nor independent, but you never feel crowded. The impressively manicured grounds are home to six pools, including a huge infinity pool overlooking the ocean. You’ll pay top dollar to be here, but meals in their six specialty restaurants are free and unlimited, as are top-shelf liquors. Hand-carved wooden furniture and marble bathrooms lend a sense of style and sophistication to the guest rooms. Note that while tax and gratuities are included in the rates, you’ll need to shell out for airport transfers.
Sandals Royal Bahamian
It may be expensive, but it’s the most luxurious of all of Sandals' resorts and one of the most comfortable properties in the Caribbean and Bahamian regions combined — an estimated $20 million was pumped into restoring this property on the site of a hotel originally built in the ‘40s. The all-inclusive nightly rate affords access to the massive complex’s seven sprawling pools (as well as six whirlpools), eight restaurants, full-service spa (treatments are out of pocket, though), extravagant gardens, and even a private off-shore island reached by ferry or kayak. Personal butlers attend to guests in the top villas and suites.
Named after a golden hibiscus-like flower that flourishes here, this private stretch of sand called Majahuitas is also home to a bucolic, solar-powered resort made up of eight enchanting casitas. The 18-acre oasis, accessible only by boat from Puerto Vallarta, is a primitive-style enclave (there are no phones, Internet access, or — gasp — electrical outlets in guestrooms). Despite the lack of modern conveniences, this world-away sanctuary provides a not-to-be-missed experience for nature lovers; there’s a nearby underwater canyon and a jungle upstream well worth exploring. Since the sun is the major power source here, dinners are oh-so romantic — lit solely by flickering candles in a massive chandelier. Delicious and hearty gourmet breakfasts, lunches and dinners are included in nightly rates, as are non-motorized water sports, and boat transfers to the island (if you're staying for four or more nights).
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