Because time is linear, I wasn't able to advise otherwise when my grandparents and great-grandparents decided they would move to a country that enjoys half a year or more of solid winter conditions. I may have suggested they look into Florida, but then again, I'm not sure how many options there were when one wanted to escape Ireland's potato famine or the social upheaval around Russia and Ukraine. Either way, my home is Canada and despite a climate that makes having two December babies fairly immobilizing, I love it. I also, like most people, long desperately for respite in the form of a hot holiday and, fortunately for me, the wish materializes most years. This year like many others, we chose an all-inclusive resort which as you may know, comes with some pros and cons, all of which I've been thinking about as we plan next year's getaway. Here they are, alongside some tips on how to pick the best resorts.
Sidenote: last we spoke, I was pondering an inflatable swan travel companion. Long story short, we didn't take it. 🤐
Aw, isn't Paris cute? Okay! Pros:
- Budgeting is easy. Other than going off-resort, the only cash you'll spend is on tips and souvenirs.
- The flights are good. Saskatoon to Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico... Usually you'd have a layover but when you book an all-inclusive, you're likely using a travel company which means a champagne charter.
- Food and drink is unlimited! (Too obvious?) Local fruit and drink is often better than what you'd find in Canada in the middle of winter and fare of every sort is available at the buffets. Plus at most resorts, you can book a la carte restaurant reservations, be a bar fly in a few different spots (but who wants to leave the beach bar?), and order room service for no additional fees.
- The staff gets to know you which doesn't happen when you're going to various non-resort restos daily. It's a welcoming, relaxing feeling that my daughter Petra especially enjoyed.
- There are Kids Clubs that offer crafts, games, dances, and other beachy or poolside fun. Technically they usually start at age 4 but if you accompany your little one, they are welcome to participate. At four though, your chance for some child-free fun begins! And the kids LOVE the independent part of their vacay, too.
- Resorts have nice lounge chairs, provide towels, and keep your beach spic and span. That's service you don't get at a public beach.
- There's bug control. Okay, this may sound like a con if you're anti-deet but I'm anti-bite, so it's going on this side of the list.
- It's easy to get off the resort for excursions like ziplining, swimming in cinotes (underground caves), or scuba diving because your tour representative offers packages that include transportation. These are an extra charge but so worth it to explore another country a bit! We didn't go this time because I'm breastfeeding my son and my daughter was obsessed with the pools but I've enjoyed my share of excursions.
- Entertainment on resorts is usually fantastic whether it's a mariachi band outside the buffet, a jazz singer in the lobby bar, or a full-blown production in the amphitheatre every night. It's the kind of thing that pleases all ages, even if you're watching the Lion King sung in heavy Cuban accents.
- It's hard not to think about the food waste. Yes, the staff eats when the buffet is closed to hotel guests but it's hard to believe their appetites could take care of all those leftovers. Ugh.
- You have to get over feeling more like a tourist and less like a traveller. There are french fries at every buffet and the handmade wares are all very beautifully displayed in the lobby boutique. I've made my peace and can enjoy the experience in a different way than going to another country and soaking up the culture but yeah, if you're hoping for "authentic", an all-inclusive isn't going to deliver.
- Some resorts are hard to escape. My Jamaica and Dominican experiences, though five star properties, were kind of like compounds. I tried to go for a walk out the front door and the staff warned me not to. Yikes.
- The buffet is both a pro and a con. I mean, germs on handles and watching what other people eat? Gotta just forget about it. If you're especially bothered by it, choose food from a chef station where they make a specialty each meal-- omelet bar, grilling station, there are usually a few.
- If you don't take advantage of the entertainment, a la carte reservations, or excursions, you might end up with that Groundhog Day feeling. 5-7 days is my max but oh, they are glorious days.
Have any to add? Let me know and I'll add 'em if we agree! ;)
As for how to choose an all-inclusive that's right for you and your family, word of mouth is a good bet if you trust your friend has similar taste (thanks, Denise!) but even with a recommendation, I'd consult TripAdvisor for other unbiased reviews. Usually I make a list with prices, pros and cons (a recurring theme in my life), and use my own rating system until I pitch my top three to my husband. It's a whole thing. As for countries, everyone likes different things: Cuba tops my list with its white sand, walk-for-ages beach, turquoise waters, and STUNNING city of Havana and I fail to understand other people's complaints about food and their different definition of "five-star". The dairy, bread, and service are amazing but the ketchup tastes different and the sheets are thin? Who cares. But that's just me! Talk to friends to see why they like or dislike a destination to be best informed as you pick a place.
In the meantime, here are a few snapshots from our recent beach vacation to Iberostar Tucan in Playa Del Carmen whose wildlife on the property included howler monkeys, flamingos, swans, and more. It was a waterfall-filled wonderland but mostly I took pictures of my kids.
Oh, and that's my mom and I parasailing! Easy access to that sort of thing is another pro.