Mention the words “all-inclusive resort” and thoughts of bad buffets, watered-down drinks and wristband-wearing guests doing the conga may come to mind. But all-inclusive resorts, which have traditionally included basic accommodations and meals, are reinventing themselves with chic rooms, sophisticated restaurants, butlers and activities all wrapped into one price.
Many hotel brands are also offering all-inclusive options for travelers who want to know exactly what their vacation will cost. For example, the Fairmont Mayakoba, an upscale resort just south of Cancún, recently introduced its first inclusive meal plan with the “appetite for luxury package,” which starts at $499 a night, per couple, and covers the room, two children five years or younger, bike rentals and unlimited food and beverages.
In the last year, at least two Starwood resorts, the Westin Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal in Costa Rica and the Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort in Panama, have gone completely all-inclusive with meals, accommodations and children’s club all covered under one price — a first for the company. The pricing direction was largely “a response to demand for more vacation packages from our customers,” said Trip Barrett, a vice-president for Starwood’s Latin America properties.
The new breed of all-inclusive resorts can be particularly attractive to travelers looking for one-sum vacations in these uncertain economic times. “There’s a psychological effect here,” said Scott D. Berman, head of the hospitality and leisure division at PricewaterhouseCoopers, “to know your vacation is already paid for and you’re not going to be opening your wallet every five minutes à la carte.”
But travelers need to do their research. While most all-inclusive resort offerings are covered in the price, expect to pay extra for special services and amenities like spa treatments, premium drinks and late-night baby-sitting. And while practically every place claims to have something for everyone, you can still end up feeling out of place if your travel style clashes with other guests. “I’ve been to several cheap all-inclusives that cater to ‘everyone’ — not just families — and I can’t count the number of inebriated pool-goers, partying-all-night-in-the-room neighbors and lap-dancing waitresses I have encountered,” Kyle McCarthy, editor at FamilyTravelForum.com, wrote in an e-mail.
To help you figure out if an all-inclusive might be right for you, here is a sampling of new or recently redone resorts that go beyond the usual buffet spreads and bland accommodations.
Standout features: Thirty new rooms designed for families with two bedrooms and one and a half baths, a children’s art studio created with the Pop artist Romero Britto and a Le Petit Sports program, which introduces young children to sports through storytelling and games on pint-size tennis and golf courses.
Beyond the basics: In addition to the usual meals and water sports, you get children’s programs for ages 4 months to 17 years, including a “baby restaurant” and teenagers’ hangout.
What’s not included: Evening child care; spa treatments at the Club Med Spa by L’Occitane; excursions like airboat rides on Lake Okeechobe.
Cost: From $1,064 a person a week to $2,135 a person a week. Children (2 to 16) pay half rate.
FOR THE SPA-OBSESSED:
The BodyHoliday, Saint Lucia
Standout features: A recently renovated skin-care clinic, featuring Thalgo products and a couple’s treatment room, and a newly expanded water-sports center, which offers water-skiing, sailing, tubing, snorkeling and windsurfing. There is also a dive shop with a training center.
Beyond the basics: A daily 50-minute spa treatment, farm-to-table meals, fitness classes and wellness and weight-loss programs ranging from archery to “cellulite flushing.”
What’s not included: Premium drinks, restaurant specials, scuba diving sessions, specialty spa treatments and appointments on day of arrival or departure and off-site adventures like mountain biking.
Cost: From $450 a person a night.
ME Cancun, Mexico
Standout features:Five restaurants, seven bars, including the refurbished Rose Bar, which features Bali beds (day beds with white linen roof coverings) and misting fans, and the Beach Club, with an Infinity pool and D.J. jam sessions. The resort, which became an all-inclusive property last year, hosted the MTV series “Real World” in 2009 and features the Real World Suite with a pool table and removable stripper pole. A corner of the resort was recently designated the Chill Out Zone, a music-free area with large daybeds for guests who simply want to relax.
Beyond the basics: Live D.J. performances are held each weekend. This spring, popular D.J.’s will periodically host day and night pool parties and D.J. Labs for guests who want to learn the art of spinning.
What’s not included: Premium coffee and most premium liquors; private beach dinners; beachside Bali beds; off-property excursions like visits to nearby archaeological sites; and with few exceptions (guests staying in suites get a treatment) the spa, which features a coed hydrotherapy zone with whirlpools and showers that shoot water from various angles.
Cost: From $298 a night for two people.
FOR ECO-MINDED FAMILIES:
Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort & Spa, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Standout features: Last year the resort overhauled most guest rooms, installing water recycling systems, solar water heating, low-energy air-conditioning, and wooden furniture made from forests certified as responsibly harvested. A water park with 17 slides uses rain capture and filtration systems to help conserve water.
Beyond the basics:From May to October guests can participate in a sea-turtle release program. There is also an on-site freshwater swimming hole, mangrove swamps and Mayan ruins to explore just steps from the resort.
What’s not included: Spa treatments, scuba diving, premium liquor, and off-site excursions like deep-sea fishing.
Cost: From $188 a night for two people sharing a room, including all taxes, fees and tips.
Standout features: After a multimillion dollar renovation in 2010, this property — which was formerly a Four Seasons — offers a milelong private cove beach, seven à la carte restaurants, an 18-hole Greg Norman championship golf course and a 17-acre marina in case you want to bring your yacht.
Beyond the basics: Seaside villas come with private butlers.
What’s not included: Treatments at the 29,000-square-foot spa, private cabanas, off-site excursions, greens fees and marina slips.
Cost: From $770 a person a night.
This story, "Including More in All-Inclusives," originally appeared in the New York Times.