All-Inclusive Dos and Don’ts: 22 Tips For a Great Vacation
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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. One of the biggest benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is that you can transfer your points to 12+ 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. Check out our complete list of the best travel credit 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 sunscreen!!! 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, and don’t forget to grab our FREE “Travel More, Spend Less Roadmap!”
Until next time, happy traveling!
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Packing a swim suit and sun screen in your carry-on is genius. Especially when your bags get lost or delayed.
It’s been years since my last resort vacation but this winter we’re going to do it again. Cant wait. I’ll be using that tip.
I do this every time. I’ve spent hours by the pool in a T-shirt and jeans, and I got tired of sweating my butt off.
You can pack sunscreen as well, but make sure that it meets airline regulations. In the U.S., it needs to be less than a 3 oz. bottle. A stick of face sunscreen also works, and you can just use that on the rest of your body. Pack the bigger bottles in your checked luggage 😉
Have a great time this winter!!! Where are you going? Have you decided yet?
Not sure where we’ll go. We’re looking for a quick 3-4 day package. We’ve got small children and 3-4 days would be the longest we’ve ever been away from them. They’d be with their grandparents, but still.
I was hoping for a list of all inclusive resorts you had been to. Trying to convince my wife to go to Jamaica and stay at the Holiday Inn, but so far she is not biting on it.
Hey Byron, that may be a topic for a future piece 🙂 We think the Holiday Inn in Montego Bay is a great value. Overall, the food is pretty good. The drinks are flowing, the pool and beach are nice, and it’s all included. Plus, if you have young kids, they stay free. It sounds like you may have read this already, but if you haven’t, here’s a review we did of the resort: https://clubthrifty.com/holiday-inn-sunspree-resort-montego-bay-review/
Oh, you should go! We love it there. But there are also some Hyatt all-inclusives in Jamaica if that’s your country of choice. They are a little higher end. You can get two free nights with two Hyatt credit cards! =)
Be careful about “off-season” in the Caribbean, ie Hurricane Season (June 1 through November 30). If you book then, I recommend good travel insurance! We booked an all-inclusive in September to Jamaica and got lucky–we were initially thinking of Mexico, but had we booked the Mexican resort instead, we would have been rained out during that same week due to a hurricane.
Also, pack lots of sunscreen. Resorts sell it but they sell it overpriced and have a limited selection.
Before booking, I really recommend looking at TripAdvisor reviews for a place, so long as it’s 100+ reviews. Once you get to a certain level of reviews, you can start to believe them.
Lastly, I can’t recommend using a Costco Travel enough if you go the all-inclusive route and don’t have hotel rewards to spend. Their prices are really good for flights and lodging packages, and they usually include airport transportation and other perks (like vouchers for outdoor activities like tubing, ziplining, etc.) and still come out cheaper than booking through Expedia, Travelocity, or Groupon. Plus, Costco stands by the resorts they offer and are sure to only include well-reviewed places and they “warranty” their trips against issues that may arise, like overbooking.
Thanks for adding those tips!
Thanks for the tips! I don’t worry too much about weather because it can affect your travel at any time of year. We once got stranded in Jamaica for an extra 2 days due to winter storms back in the States. However, a travel insurance policy is definitely a good idea. We bought an annual policy from Allianz that we like. Here’s a link if anybody wants to check out their rates: https://clubthrifty.com/go/allianz-travel-insurance
And yes on the TripAdvisor and sunscreen. As I mentioned, we use TripAdvisor reviews all the time when deciding where to stay. And sunscreen is sooooo expensive on the resort. We got stuck without it once and had to spend like $30 USD for a 12 oz. bottle. Not cool…
Admittedly I’ve never done an all-inclusive but have often wondered if it would actually be a good deal considering I wouldn’t want to spend all my time at the resort. After reading this, it sounds like it may be worth grabbing my mug and sunscreen and giving it a shot — I appreciate the tips!
You should definitely try it 🙂 It’s a different experience, but it’s also nice not to feel nickeled and dimed every time you want something to eat or drink. As long as you do most of your dining on resort, you’ll probably come out ahead.
These are great tips! I always pack a change of clothes and swimsuit after my luggage was nearly lost right before I was supposed to get on a cruise ship. Never again!
Oh man, that would be the WORST! It’s not like they can just run it over to you once you’ve left port. Lately, I’ve been trying not to check a bag at all. But even if I do, I always make sure to have at least one outfit (and swimsuit) in my carry-on.
You have mentioned everything any individual needed for moving on to a vacation. Starting from the planning for a trip to the packing the luggage for the trip. And your tips also include the ones needed while in the trip.
Glad you enjoyed it 😀
Very inclusive list, this is, said Yoda 🙂 A great way to cut your food expenses is to book your stay at a B&B. Take a heavy breakfast/brunch and head out to enjoy the vacation, skipping lunch or just snacking instead before dinner.
My husband suggested that we should go on an all inclusive vacation, but I have never been on one before. That’s a good idea to set a vacation budget before we go, so we don’t go over a spending limit and we can still be money conscious even if we have an all inclusive vacation. Thanks for the great tips!
Hey there. Great article. I just booked my 15 year anniversary trip to The Majestic Colonial Punta Cana, Colonial club! Any tips you can give would be great! We are SO excited, this is our first kid free trip! Excursions/ day trips advice too if you can. I’m not big on crowds, so anything fun and romantic.
Sorry, I just saw this 🙂 Honestly, it has been a few years since we’ve been there, but we loved it. I wish I had some excursion advice for you, but we just sat on the beach the whole time. Ha! I’m pretty sure we did some free kayaking and then parasailed there. With the Colonial Club, you’ll have a butler. You may ask them to make dinner reservations on the beach or perhaps set up a special bath in your room. We went over Valentine’s Day and they did that for us. I hope that helps! Have a great trip!!!
Just booked a last minute holiday to the Royalton White Sands Jamaica – our first ever all-inclusive so was delighted to come across this extremely helpful blog post! I’m off to swot up on some survival phrases!
Fantastic! Have a wonderful time and thanks for reading 😀
We are having a problem finding transportation from the Punta Cana airport to our all inclusive resort about an hour away.
What do you suggest? We arrive there June 12, 2019. Thx
We are staying at the Villa Del Palmar Cancun. Have you stayed there? What is the best way to get to the ruins?