All-inclusive vacations: know before you go

Voyager Guru

Are you looking at booking an all-inclusive vacation, maybe even for the first time? You’ve come to the right place. I'm a huge fan of the all-inclusive experience, but not every hotel is created equal. It’s really important to have the right expectations and pick the right hotel to ensure a smooth and luxurious vacation. We’ve compiled a list of the top ten things that will absolutely ruin your all-inclusive vacation so you can make the right decision for your dream destination.

#1: OVERLOOKING RESTAURANT OPTIONS

One of the most important aspects of any all-inclusive luxury vacation is the food and dining experience. Something many travelers overlook is exactly what is available at that hotel for your room type/dates/package. You may be surprised to find out that there are a lot of hotels that limit their a la carte options to a certain type of room or number of nights. For example, let’s say you are booked at All-Inclusive A for 5 nights and according to the website, they have 3 a la carte restaurants so you are looking forward to trying them all. Only, upon check in you learn that those a la carte restaurants are only open to club level guests staying for more than 7 nights. Or let’s say you book All-Inclusive B and you find out upon check-in that their a la carte options charge a surcharge for non-suite level guests.

How disappointed would you be? Our best recommendation is to dig deep on the hotel website to identify what, exactly, is available. Higher end resorts will typically have better, and more, a la carte options, so it’s just about reviewing the Food and Beverage or Dining page on any hotel’s website as they must disclose these things to potential guests. If you’re still not sure, check TripAdvisor. Guests will always complain if they feel duped or misled.

#2: PAYING FOR THE 3 STAR EXPERIENCE AND EXPECTING 5 STAR SERVICE

Having realistic expectations for what you are getting yourself into is critical. Resorts like Le Blanc in Los Cabos have a steep price tag for a reason – they’re exceptional and offer exceptional services and amenities, like full sized bottles of high end alcohol in the rooms. If you’re paying $100 a night, don’t expect to come home to a 5 star turndown with gourmet chocolates on your pillow, it’s just not going to happen. Too often, we see travelers who expect personalized services and amenities, true butler service and a bespoke experience when they’re only paying $200 a night. But, if you’re looking at a $200 night all-inclusive, you can assume that at a minimum, $100 of that goes towards food and beverage, so really you’re staying at a $100 a night resort. At $100 a night, do you think the hotel can support personal butlers that truly do their best work? Or gourmet chocolates made on site delivered to your door? No.

Our recommendation to combatting this is first and foremost looking at the price. Next, look at the amenities- what is listed? What do TripAdvisor reviews say? Know that if you’re paying around or under $200 a night, you must lower your expectations from the personal butlers and caviar.

#3: NOT KNOWING WHAT ACTIVITIES ARE INCLUDED

The term “all-inclusive” most commonly refers to food and beverage, and not everything on property. Very few hotels include activities and excursions in the price, beyond non-motorized water sports like paddle boarding or kayaking. Sandals is an exception to this rule. Sandals includes scuba diving and other sports, but know that this is very rare. Typically, you’ll find options to rent snorkel gear for free and those non-motorized water sports I mentioned, but anything resource intensive or activities that require humans or associated costs like gas, will cost extra. Our recommendation here is to review the hotel’s website carefully as they often list their activities they offer. Many will have asterisks next to non-included items:

#4: NOT BUDGETING FOR EXTRAS YOU WANT

That leads us to our next point: not budgeting for the extras you want can really ruin your vacation. For example, if you were expecting to scuba dive, make sure you know that it’s included before you go. Similarly, the spa is typically not included so make sure you budget for that massage. Most resorts offer a selection of house wines, beer and alcohol, but if you’re a big fan of good wine, for example, be sure to consider that if you’re looking for a bottle of nice wine here and there. Bottles of wine at dinner will typically cost extra.

#5: NOT CHECKING THE PRICE OF THE EXTRAS

On a similar topic, not checking the price of the extras in advance can lead to a BIG surprise upon arrival. We’ve stayed at some all inclusive resorts like Heritance in the Maldives that charge 3-6x what the normal price of an activity would be. We’ve stayed at almost a dozen resorts in the Maldives now and have always find the prices of activities to range from reasonable to “yea that’s in line with a 5 star”. However, we didn’t follow our own advice and were absolutely shocked at the prices of scuba diving, jet-skiing and more. It greatly limited how much we were able to take advantage of the activities during our stay. Typically, this exact scenario won’t be an issue in places like Cancun or Punta Cana thanks to local competition. However, if you’re headed to a remote island, our recommendation is to check in advance.

#6: NOT VERIFYING THAT ALCOHOL IS INCLUDED

I hate to be the one to say this, but if alcohol’s not included, it isn’t actually an all-inclusive. It’s a rare hotel that does this, but sometimes hotels will mask their package as “all-inclusive”, but they’ll leave out the part about alcohol. That’s actually called Full Board (check out our full video about the differences in meal plans). Typically hotels will use the word “inclusive” and it’s incredibly misleading:

This is more likely to happen at a resort that offers multiple meal plans, rather than a fully all-inclusive property. For example, if you are staying at a property that offers breakfast plans, half board plans, full board plans or all-inclusive plans, you may find yourself confused by the offerings and choose the wrong package. Be sure to check the details of any package by reviewing the “inclusions” section before booking.

#7: NOT EXPECTING TO TIP FOR BETTER SERVICE

One of the biggest things that will ruin your all-inclusive vacation is thinking tipping won’t improve the service you get. This is particularly true in places like Mexico or the Caribbean, where tipping culture has become so commonplace that it almost feels like you’re doing something horribly wrong if you don’t tip everyone. While there are resorts that forbid tipping, the majority have accepted it as a commonplace way to improve service. Unfortunately, this means that when you go to certain hotels that may not have the best management or training, sometimes, your service will be completely nonexistent if you don’t have a dollar handy at every turn. Max and I intentionally do not tip on day one of any media stay in order to accurately rate service across the board. We’ve seen far too often that without throwing a dollar or two someone’s way, we’re simply ignored. Going into any vacation knowing this will make things a lot less resentful and awkward when you’re there.

One recommendation is to not be fooled by the commonplace marketing messaging saying things like “all gratuities are included with your package”. That’s usually wholly untrue. We recommend bringing $5-10 dollars per day to hand out to staff who are polite and helpful. Note that you don’t have to tip, but typically you’ll find much better service if you do.

#8: SETTING THE WRONG EXPECTATIONS FOR “BUTLER SERVICE”

Butler service is a big topic on its own, but this all comes back to expectations and what price you paid. We’ve stayed at some of the best hotels in the world who have had incredible butler service. We’ve also stayed at some resorts where butler service can be a glorified, named concierge at best and an absolute disappointment at its worst. A resort like Le Blanc offers impeccable butler services that truly earn that title: unpacking your clothes, showing up to your room with coffee as a morning wake up, running a diffuser in your room with different scents to promote relaxation, etc. That price tag is high and it’s for a reason. If you are booking a mid-range 4-5 star hotel in most markets, the butler service will be more like a concierge that is there to assist you with reservations and requests. Going into it, we recommend asking your butler for their number on Whatsapp (international chat app) in order to ensure you can communicate with them without having to go back to your room to find a phone. This is a common way for butlers to communicate with guests around property. Also, keep in mind if you really don’t like your butler, ask for a new one. It’s always an option and while the new one may not be amazing, they may be better than the first one you got.

#9: ASSUMING ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS INCLUDE TRANSFERS

This is a big no-no and can really ruin your trip. Unless you’re booking at an Eden Roc, a Le Blanc or similar tiered property, you will need to pay for your transfer (of course, Sandals again is an exception). This can be anything from a $20-50 cab ride in Cabo to a $500 per person transfer in the Maldives. It’s very important to keep that in mind as you book your hotel – that is an added cost to budget for. Unless the transfer is specifically stated as included on your offer or for the hotel you’re booking, it will cost extra. Our recommendation is to check around on TripAdvisor and google for airport transfer companies, as they will typically be cheaper than a taxi.

#10: BOOKING THE WRONG ALL-INCLUSIVE FOR YOUR NEEDS

Ten years ago, there weren’t that many all-inclusive resorts and the ones that did exist were all kind of the same. Today, all-inclusive resorts have grown tremendously and they all cater to different tastes and types of travelers. There are, of course, family resorts versus adults-only resorts. But, there are also resorts that focus on different things: foodie? wine lover? seclusion? party? There is a resort for you. At the end of the day, this is really the one thing that can completely ruin your vacation.

If you pick a resort that doesn’t meet your needs, you’re not going to have the same fulfilling vacation you could have had. Take the time to think about your priorities: what are you looking for for your trip? Are you looking for good food, pools to hang out in, unique rooms that doesn’t say “corporate” and a place to dine on lobster for free? Then you’re probably looking for something like a Sanctuary Cap Cana. Versus, if you’re looking for a place to meet others, cool design, go to bars at night, hang out in a lazy river and swim on the beach all day, perhaps you are looking for something like a Royalton Bavaro or similar. If you’re a family, you’re not going to want to stay at a property who promotes couples and romance on their website and vice versa. There truly is something for everyone and it ultimately comes down to your needs and your budget. Showing up to a place that is not what you expected or doesn’t offer the amenities you’re looking for can ruin your trip. Take the time to do the research, read reviews, or contact us and get our advice- we’re always happy to help!

CONCLUSION

There are lots of things that can ruin your trip, but there are also lots of ways to avoid that disappointment. Picking the right hotel, particularly when it’s all-inclusive, is critical. Let us know if the comments if you’ve had any of these experiences or if there are other handy tips for travelers to avoid! As always, reach out to us on instagram or email if you need some help picking hotels- it’s what we love to do and we’re always happy to connect with you :).

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