We love traveling. And, when it comes to our favorite type of travel, we aren’t that picky.
Sometimes we prefer visiting historical sites. Other times, we like a bit more adventure. Occasionally, we just want to take a vacation where we hit the beach and relax.
That’s where all-inclusive resorts come in.
We’ve always been beach people, so it should come as no surprise that our first international vacay was to the Majestic Colonial All-Inclusive Resort in Punta Cana. Here, we fell in love with the Caribbean, became obsessed with traveling, and discovered the incredible joys of an all-inclusive resort. We were hooked.
These days, traveling to all-inclusive resorts is one of our favorite ways to relax. After visiting dozens of resorts across the Caribbean and Mexico, you could even consider us all-inclusive experts. And even though most beach towns don’t have sightseeing passes like their big city counterparts, there are still several things you can do to get the most value for your all-inclusive experience.
With Spring Break right around the corner, here are some of our favorite tips for making the most of all-inclusive resorts.
All-Inclusive Do’s and Don’ts: The Financials
Do set a vacation budget. – Before planning your trip, make sure you have a solid budget in place. The last thing you want is to get your relax on, then come home to a stressful pile full of bills you can’t cover. Search for hotels and flights within your budget, then think about any excursions you may wish to take. I’ve found most people do best when they keep a travel fund in an account they don’t normally touch. This helps them not spend it prematurely, plus it’s fun to watch it grow! Use this simple sinking funds technique to get started..
- Don’t forget to include tips. – Even though it’s an “all-inclusive resort,” most don’t include your tips. (Some hotels do and will let you know that tips are not allowed.) Like service industry workers back home, many resort employees depend on tips to supplement their incomes. Include the cost of tips in your travel budget, and just consider them part of your trip. Generally speaking, USD is preferred, so just bring a stack of ones with you for meals, drinks, and housekeeping. I find that bringing $100-$200 for a week is usually plenty.
Do consider value and price point. – I’ve stayed at all different types of all-inclusive resorts, from luxury resorts charging $1,200 a night to budget friendly all-inclusives where you can stay a week for less than 2 grand. While luxury resorts typically have a little better food, service, and nicer rooms, it comes down to how much you value those items and the type of trip you’re taking. For instance, you may be willing to pay more for a romantic retreat than you would on a trip with the kids. Consider the level of pampering you need, then compare that to the budget you can afford.
- Don’t think “luxury” means “better” beach. – If you’re on a tight budget, consider staying at a cheaper resort. For me, traveling to the Caribbean isn’t about pampering; it’s about the sun and the beach! Standard resorts usually cost 2 to 4 times less than luxury resorts even when sharing the same stretch of beach! If you don’t spend much time in your room anyway, you can find great value and beautiful beaches for far less.
Do travel “off-peak” whenever possible. – Traveling “off-peak” can literally save you thousands of dollars. Not only are hotels cheaper and less crowded, you’ll save hundreds of dollars on flights as well. Off-peak season in the Caribbean is generally considered June through November. Don’t forget to play around with pricing for different days of the week, too. You can usually save money by staying mid-week (ie: Wednesday through Tuesday) instead of checking in on a Friday or Saturday.
- Don’t expect cheap rates during the holidays. – We love taking our kids to the beach around Christmas time… but it’s definitely not cheap. While Spring Break tends to be expensive, in my experience, Winter Break is even worse on your wallet. If you insist on traveling around the holidays, try booking a few days after Christmas. Heading to the beach over New Year’s can save hundreds compared to staying over the Christmas holiday itself.
Do use hotel cards with free nights at all-inclusive resorts. – Using points and miles is a great way to save on any vacation. Several hotel cards gift cardholders a free night after meeting certain conditions. Additionally, you’ll earn points toward free or reduced hotel stays when you spend on the card.
- Don’t forget to consider flexible rewards. – Travel rewards cards can help you save even more. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can transfer your points to 11 different participating travel partners. Other cards allow you to redeem points as a statement credit for qualified travel expenses, regardless of brand. Most cards also provide generous signup bonuses, yielding even more value. If you need help choosing the right card, please contact us for free rewards advice! Or, you can compare our favorite rewards cards here.
All-Inclusive Do’s and Don’ts: Planning for Arrival
Do read reviews. – One of the best ways to compare resorts is to read reviews from others who have stayed there. These reviews give you a good idea of a resort’s value and are chock full of information about what you can expect. When we’re deciding on a hotel, we’ll read as many reviews as we can find. We also spend hours reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Honestly, reviews almost always influence our choice of accommodations.
- Don’t believe everything you read. – Although reviews are great, it’s important to remember that you should take each review with a grain of salt. Hotel reviewers are notorious for complaining about little things. I swear to God, I’ve read reviews where people complained about cracks in the sidewalk… for reals. So, if a resort gets mostly good reviews, it’s probably a safe bet that you’ll enjoy your stay – unless you hate sidewalk cracks. In that case, you probably won’t be happy anywhere.
Do assess the restaurant situation. – Each all-inclusive resort handles their restaurants a bit differently. At most resorts, you’ll have a number of spots to choose from throughout the day. However, you may only be allowed to eat in some of them once. Most on-property dinner spots will require reservations, and some resorts allow you to eat at restaurants located at their sister properties. Still other places have premium restaurants that are included for an upcharge. It’s good practice to know how the restaurants work before booking your stay.
- Don’t assume “cheaper” means bad food. – While you can expect luxury all-inclusives to serve restaurant quality food, don’t assume the food at standard resorts is sub-par. Many affordable all-inclusive resorts have food that is very good to excellent – especially at the dinner spots. Again, you can find plenty of information by reading reviews before you book.
Do pack a swimsuit in your carry-on and bring plenty of sun screen. – Here’s a tip to get your vacation started right: Pack your swimsuit in your carry-on luggage. If you arrive early in the day, this can be a life saver. Check-in is usually about 3 P.M., and you don’t want to spend hours waiting around with nothing to do. Drop your bags with the staff, change into your swimsuit, and hit the beach instead. Oh, and pack a ton of sun screen!!! The sun is hot, and you’ll burn to a crisp without it. All-inclusive resorts are notorious for charging ungodly amounts for sun screen, so make sure to bring your own.
- Don’t forget to check the dress code. – Speaking of clothing, don’t forget to check the dress code. Many resorts require certain attire to be worn at dinner. For ladies, a few beachy dresses will usually suffice. Men may need long pants, a button up shirt, and closed toe shoes.
Do consider transportation. – After you land, you’ll need to find a ride to your resort. Some all-inclusive resorts include a free shuttle from the airport. Others do not. Taxi rides can be expensive, so it’s best if you have a plan before you land.
- Don’t be afraid to hire a private transport. – When we travel, we often book a private transport to the hotel. That way we don’t have to wait for a bus or make a gajillion stops on the way to our stay. These local drivers are (typically) very safe and more affordable than you might think. Again, do a little research and you’ll easily find somebody to use. Build the cost into your travel budget, and you’re good to go!
All-Inclusive Do’s and Don’ts: Enjoying Your Stay
Do get off the resort. – I know how easy it is to get sucked into resort life, but make an effort to get outside the resort – at least once. Resorts are great, but there are so many things to do and see in the world. Don’t miss your opportunity to take advantage of it. Use a local guide for an excursion, wander around the markets for free, and experience a little bit of the culture. Build it into your budget, and your trip will be that much more meaningful.
- Don’t eat away from the resort (too much). – One of the best ways to experience a culture is through their food. On the other hand, all-inclusives are meant to be relaxing vacations, not necessarily cultural experiences. The beauty (and the value) of an all-inclusive is that you don’t feel nickeled and dimed every time you eat a meal or grab a drink. While you might want to eat a meal or two outside the resort, do most of your drinking and dining on property. If you’re searching for a cultural or culinary experience, book your stay at a regular hotel instead.
Do bring a mug. – Look, I’ve got this all-inclusive thing down pat, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you need to bring your own mug. I mean, who wants to get out of their beach chair every 30 minutes just to get a drink? Bring a big mug (like this one) and proudly use that sucker every time you head to the bar. It will save you hundreds of steps and hours of relaxation time.
- Don’t worry about bringing towels. – Towels are a pain in the butt to pack. They take up gobs of valuable suitcase real estate, plus they’re usually damp when you bring them home. Skip packing your own towels and use the beach towels at the resort. Present the towel card you received at check-in, grab a towel, then return it when you’re done. It’s as simple as that!
Do expect a clean room. – No matter where you stay, you should always expect to have a clean room. You are in the Caribbean, so an occasional mosquito, bug, or baby gecko may sneak in. And while the air conditioners may not work exactly like the central air in your house, your sheets and showers should be clean.
- Don’t expect everything to be like home. – When traveling to another country, keep in mind that this isn’t home – nor should you expect it to be. Sure, you may be a paying guest, but you’re still a guest. There are differences in culture, economic development, and occasionally struggles with communication. So, if you’re traveling to a country where Spanish is spoken, don’t get upset when the locals (or some of the staff) don’t speak English! It’s your responsibility to learn a few Spanish “survival phrases” instead. Most people genuinely want to help you enjoy your stay. If you make an honest effort to communicate in their language, they’re usually delighted to help. Remember, it’s their country, not yours. Be respectful, don’t be a jerk, and treat it like you’re a guest… because you are.
If this is your first time traveling to an all-inclusive resort, I hope you love the experience as much as we have. Hopefully, these tips have helped ease your concerns and provided you with a few things to remember before you leave. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments below. Until next time, happy traveling!