An all-inclusive resort often seems like the obvious choice when planning a budget-friendly vacation. Everything is (supposedly) included, so (supposedly) what you pay upfront is the only fee you'll incur, and you can (supposedly) drink, dine, and play till your heart's content. But unfortunately, some hotels that bill themselves as "all-inclusive" have plenty of caveats: VIP-only pools, limited dining hours, and hefty fees for just about anything extra -- to name just a few. So you won't be met with any pricey surprises on your next getaway, we did the research (an expensive task when weeding out the not-so-all-inclusives!) and found a dozen all-inclusive properties that truly offer a great bang for your buck. These 12 hotels, in the Caribbean and Mexico, are the best of the best for those on a budget.
1. Majestic Colonial Punta Cana
This family-friendly all-inclusive resort with 658 suites has an attractive setting, affordable prices, and a compact layout (no shuttle) that puts everyone within walking distance to the beach. Food is above average for an all-inclusive (especially at this price point) and variety is excellent. The beach is the biggest draw, and there is also a large and lengthy pool area that runs the length of the resort, a number of bars, and a charismatic animation team. Rooms have classic, romantic style and marble bathrooms with jetted tubs (indoor or outdoor). Adults who choose to upgrade to the Colonial Club have access to a private lazy river pool and separate lounge for drinks and gourmet treats.
The Majestic Colonial Punta Cana will be closed for renovations from August 26, 2017 to November 26, 2017.
2. St. James's Club Morgan Bay, St. Lucia
The St. James's Club Morgan Bay is a family-friendly, 22-acre property in St Lucia. With four pools, six restaurants, an excellent kids' club, and an extensive water sports pavilion, this is one of the most amenity-rich resorts on the island. While some guests might appreciate the minimalist rooms, others might find them dull, and bathrooms are small. Beyond the generic furnishings, all 335 units feature private balconies or terraces, many with full ocean views. Most appealing of all are the resort's all-inclusive rates, which are virtually unbeatable across the entire island.
3. Solmar Resort All-Inclusive, Los Cabos
This mid-range all-inclusive property is on the smaller side, so guests get all of the perks of an all-inclusive in a more intimate environment. It also means guests don't get a ton of food options; there are just a couple restaurants on-site -- one serves sushi, and the pool bar and snack bar also serve bites -- but guests are entitled to eat free at a few restaurants at other Solmar properties. The real highlight is the hotel's beachfront location, within walking distance of the marina and downtown. All room feature kitchenettes. Although the beach is not swimmable, the Solmar still attracts folks to the sandy stretch plus its pool with a swim-up bar.
4. Gran Caribe Real Cancun
The massive Gran Caribe is an affordable four-pearl all-inclusive resort in Cancun's Hotel Zone with 470 suites. This beachfront option features a great location with bright white sands and clear waters just steps from the room. All rooms here are suites with living areas, balconies, or terraces (some are semi-private versus private), and updated marble bathrooms. This family-friendly choice -- with a kids' club, teen club, water park, and beach volleyball -- is good value.
5. Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort And Spa
A mega-resort, the Grand Palladium feels like a shopping mall but is expansive enough for privacy, romance, and fun. It has numerous pools (including the largest in Jamaica), large rooms, name-brand liquor, tasty breakfasts, mini-golf, and more -- all for lower rates than lesser-equipped all-inclusives.
6. El Cozumeleno Beach Resort, Cozumel
El Cozumeleño is a mid-range all-inclusive resort located directly on a long, narrow beach in northern Cozumel. Its 252 rooms are no-frills and some have dated technology, but all units are spacious (especially those in the original building). The pools are the highlight here (one has a popular swim-up bar), but golf is also a draw due to the resort's location across the street from a beloved golf course. Breakfast and lunch are pretty average, but dinner is tasty and the menu changes every few days. Overall, the hotel is a solid pick for families and value travelers.
7. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The massive, all-inclusive Hard Rock is a sleek option in Punta Cana, located on a gorgeous stretch of white-sand beach. Getting from one place to the other on the sprawling property can take some time, but the hotel provides a shuttle. In addition, the size allows the resort to have broad appeal -- it attracts families, couples, and partiers. The signature Hard Rock rocker vibe can be seen throughout the hotel, whether it be in the music-themed decor or the free guitar rentals. On-site amenities such as golf, an arcade center, and a sprawling fitness center help keep guests busy. There are plenty of dining options as well.
8. Royal Solaris Los Cabos
The 390-room, mid-range Royal Solaris is an affordable all-inclusive option on the beach geared toward families. This attractive time-share property (beware of sales pitches) has ample amenities, including a massive outdoor pool, multiple restaurants, a spa, and more. Rooms have traditional furnishings and balconies -- though some are tiny. Daily activities keep the masses occupied, and while the beautiful beach is typically not swimmable, it offers tons of sandy space and loungers under thatched umbrellas. Thanks to a kids' and teens' club, nightly entertainment, dance classes, and a water park, families are the norm -- but couples can relax at the spa or adult-only pool.
9. Samba Vallarta - All Inclusive, Puerto Vallarta
Compared to the many massive hotels at the north end of Nuevo Vallarta, the Samba Vallarta’s 183-room, four-story Spanish colonial-style building feels pleasantly small-scale -- and the pools and beach tend to be less crowded than elsewhere. The clean rooms have basic, contemporary beach decor (light woods, turquoise bed skirts and runners), and the general ambiance of the property is family-friendly and relaxed. For those who want to go the all-inclusive route but don’t want a mega-resort experience, this affordable mid-range property is a fine choice.
10. Riu Palace Pacifico All-Inclusive, Riviera Nayarit
The Spanish hotel company Riu offers three classes of all-inclusive in Nuevo Vallarta, and the 445-room Palace Pacifico is the top dog -- but nonetheless offers a solid bang for your buck. The grounds are immaculate, sprawling with lush, towering palms and perfectly manicured garden walkways dotted with high-end lounge seating -- and the expansive pool, with a swim-up bar and in-pool lounges and bistro tables, isn't too shabby either. Room decor, however, while nice, is nothing special. Dining options are plentiful (always a plus at an all-inclusive).
11. Riu Palace Riviera Maya All Inclusive
The 400-room, all-inclusive Riu Palace Riviera Maya sits right on the soft, sugar-white beach of Playa del Carmen’s Playacar. Surrounded by towering palm trees and expertly groomed greenery, the property is like luxurious tropical eye candy. Architecturally speaking, the hotel puts a stylish spin on the charming, traditional Mexican estate, resulting in an opulent-meets-old-world ambiance. The lobby -- decked out in marble floors and huge chandeliers -- also has an impressive rotunda and radiant glass-stained ceiling panes. There is a good variety of food options, plus a small spa and fitness center. But the pool is probably the highlight here -- it's expansive.
12. Riu Palace Paradise Island All-Inclusive, Bahamas
The Riu Palace Paradise Island, located next door to mega-resort Atlantis, is one of the few all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas. The 379 rooms and suites have been renovated with contemporary decor, and include Riu trademarks such as stocked minibars with liquor dispensers and 24-hour room service (both free). The buffet spreads change often, and four a la carte options help stave off all-inclusive monotony. After dinner, there's typical all-inclusive nightly entertainment. The Riu brand spa, Renova, offers couples massages and treatments.
Riu Palace Paradise Island will be closed for renovations from July 24, 2017 through October 29, 2017.
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Update, Nov. 2016: The original version of this story featured Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach. Due to the number of recent negative user reviews for this resort on the site of our parent company, TripAdvisor, since our visit to the resort, we have removed it from the list. It was replaced with Majestic Colonial Punta Cana, which we believe is a stronger recommendation. At the time of this revision, we also made some updates to the ranking.
Now, watch our video on the best bang-for-your-buck all-inclusives ever >>