Aug. 14, 2012 at 10:15 AM ET
Budgeting for summer travel can be difficult. Extra expenses like meals, entertainment and incidentals can quickly turn a planned bargain vacation into a bank-busting trip. So to avoid hidden fees and sticker shock, some savvy travelers are turning to all-inclusive vacations.
One advantage of booking an all-inclusive trip is that accommodation, meals, alcohol, recreational activities and gratuities are included. Travelers embark on their trips knowing that everything is paid for upfront, which makes for a less stressful holiday, notes travel consultant Ellen Paderson, the founder of Smiles and Miles Travel.
Paderson has traveled to nearly all of the all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. Not all all-inclusive resorts are created equal, she says, especially when it comes to pricing and the definition of all-inclusive.
"Travelers should ask their travel consultant to get the bottom line to avoid surprises," said Paderson, who has worked in the travel industry for 20 years. "Of course, if you like trying local restaurants, exploring other locales off the resort, touring, etc., the all-inclusive option removes much of the spontaneity that can make nice memories, too."
Some all-inclusive resorts offer many extras that aren’t included in the rate, such as spa treatments, golf and baby-sitting. Paderson’s favorite all-inclusive resorts include those that offer scuba diving at no extra cost; secluded, intimate resorts for romantic getaways; family resorts with many activities; and getaways with great food.
Despite the myth that all-inclusive resorts have bad, cookie-cutter, food-court dining and predicable buffet fare, many offer a truly luxurious culinary experience.
Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya (Riviera Maya, Mexico)
Set on more than 80 acres of protected mangroves, jungle and cenotes (natural freshwater wells), Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya is a five-minute drive from downtown Playa del Carmen.
Paderson describes Grand Velas as "very upscale." "The food is 5-star dining," she says, noting that there is great 24-hour butler service.
The resort has 15 restaurants and bars, including Cocina de Autor by Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso, which serves haute Spanish cuisine like fig and foie gras with grilled milk. Chef Ricardo de la Vegas crispy candied suckling pig tacos cooked in banana leaves, pineapple, and spring onion at Frida are a must-try. Other restaurant offerings include Piaf (French), Sen Lin (Asian), Lucca (Northern Italian), Azul (International), Bistro (French brasserie), Chak (organic desserts, wines, and coffee) plus 24-hour room service and five bars, including a karaoke bar.
Paderson recommends booking one of the rooms with a plunge pool and notes the childrens activities (the resort welcomes guests ages 12 and up) are exceptional. Rates start at $299 per person per night.
Azul Beach Hotel, by Karisma (Riviera Maya, Mexico)
The boutique resort with 147 rooms is "a great beach and excellent property for families with smaller children. Special features include candlelight dining on the beach, a fresh fish fry, a tequila bar and popcorn room service for families who want a night in to watch movies. Rates start at $274 per person per night.
Sun Palace (Cancun, Mexico)
The modern rooms at Sun Palace include 24-hour room service, in-room wine, a stocked minibar and a liquor dispenser with brand-name whiskey, tequila, rum and vodka. The resort features nine restaurants and bars serving international, Mexican, Italian and Argentinean cuisines. Sun Palace also has three infinity pools and a swim-up bar.
Paderson likes the Sun Palace for its stylish rooms, food and the fact that guests have exchange privileges to use the amenities at other nearby Palace resorts.
Beach Palace (Cancun, Mexico)
This Mexican resort has magnificent views of the Nichupte Lagoon. Two rooftop swimming pools and a range of amenities, including Jacuzzi tubs in all rooms, make Beach Palace stand out.
Paderson notes that the resort offers credits that can be used to upgrade your room or used to pay for excursions and tours.
El Dorado Seaside Suites (Riviera Maya, Mexico)
El Dorado Seaside Suites is an intimate, adults-only resort located on the secluded beach of Kantenah in the heart of Mexicos Riviera Maya. The 282-suite hotel is ideal for honeymoons and couples retreats.
The service and staff is impeccable. They have a great beach, said Paderson, who recommends booking one of the swim-up suites, where guests can step right into a lazy river that flows in front of their suite that connects to one of the hotels three freshwater pools.
The white sand beach features comfy beach beds and the spa offers its signature Beachfront Sky Massage on the beach. El Dorado Seaside Suites has six restaurants, including Arrecifes (la carte international cuisine), Sandwicherie (burgers and wood-fired-oven pizzas), Vida Garden Grill (Latin fusion with an extensive margarita menu), La Carreta (la carte Mexican), Mia Casa (Italian), and Klay Talay (Asian fusion) and two swim-up bars, a tequila bar and 24-hour room service. Rates start at $265 per person per night.
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