Everything You Need to Know About All-Inclusive Resorts

All-inclusive resorts have just as many super fans as major haters. 

While we've had not-so-great experiences at huge megaresorts with mediocre food and watered-down drinks, we've also stayed in luxurious properties with phenomenal food, and even spa treatments included in the rate. 

So if you're wondering whether an all-inclusive hotel should be in your future, you've come to the right place. We asked all-inclusive and travel experts the what, when, where, and whys of all-inclusives. 

What's Included:

At the Punta Cana Princess All Suites Resort and Spa, all drinks are included.

At the Punta Cana Princess All Suites Resort and Spa, all drinks are included.

Though it varies from hotel to hotel, typically all-inclusive rates include the room, meals, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and non-motorized water sports (if it's along the beach). However, Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationCritic.com, Lissa Poirot warns, "Although the term is 'all-inclusive,' not everything is included -- such as golf and the spa -- which can sometimes catch guests off-guard." 

The most surprising is when hotels don't include premium liquor, Wi-Fi, or a la carte restaurants in the rates. For instance, though we love the all-inclusive Villa Buena Onda in Costa Rica, you'll be forking over your credit card if you want to have a beer or glass of wine at dinner. So basically, do your homework beforehand.

You Might Like: Nine All-Inclusive Resorts Truly Worthy of the Name

When It Makes Sense to Go the All-Inclusive Route:

Non-motorized Water Sports at the Beaches Negril Resort & Spa in Jamaica

Non-motorized Water Sports at the Beaches Negril Resort & Spa in Jamaica

So when are all-inclusives worth it? Jessica L. Plautz, Travel Editor at Mashable, says, "This really drills down to vacation style: Are you the kind of traveler who would risk a disaster for the chance at something spectacular and unexpected? Or do you want to know what you're getting ahead of time? All-inclusive resorts can be great -- if that's the experience the traveler is looking for."

If planning which restaurants to go to or how much money to budget for food and drinks is causing stress, you may want to go with an all-inclusive package. Families budgeting for more than two people may particularly enjoy the ease of all-inclusives. "It makes it easy to stay on a budget -- especially when traveling with kids because so much is included, you don’t have to worry about saying ‘no’ to their requests," said Poirot. And since a kids' club, non-motorized water sports, and poolside activities are typically included, the kids will be plenty occupied. 

Where the Best All-Inclusives Are Located:

Aerial View of the Riu Palace Punta Cana

Aerial View of the Riu Palace Punta Cana

Sure, you'll find a few all-inclusive hotels in the United States, as well as Phuket and Bali, but most are located in Mexico and the Caribbean. Generally, the best all-inclusive resorts are in places where you're perfectly content getting some R&R by the pools and beach, or perhaps the surrounding area is a little sketchy and you'd rather stay at a guarded property. 

"In my opinion, the best all-inclusive resorts are located in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. The labor costs in these countries allow the guest to get the most bang for their buck. Plus, the beaches can’t be beat," said Kristina D'Amico, Senior Analyst at HVS, a global hospitality and hotel development consulting firm.

Check out our picks for the best all-inclusives in Punta Cana, Cancun, and Jamaica.

The Takeaway:

Pool at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall

Pool at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall

Obvious downsides of booking an all-inclusive hotel are that there may be hidden fees and an impersonal atmosphere at the resort (a pro for some), and you might miss out on sampling the local cuisine if you're stuck eating every meal on-site. But, Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family vacations expert at About.com, sums it up, "All-inclusives are great if you don't mind staying put at the resort for the vast majority of your time."

Particularly for vacationing families, the stress of planning and budgeting virtually disappears with a resort that includes everything from the meals to daytime activities. As Leora Halpern Lanz, a full-time lecturer at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration, said, "Not having to take out your wallet is such a relief; you won’t have to worry every single time you eat a meal, which adds up." For her, the added sense of comfort that she's already paid for her trip is well worth any possible drawbacks. 

The takeaway? Do your research beforehand to check out the atmosphere (party-centric, family-friendly, or relaxed luxury) and features/amenities included in the rates in order find the best hotel for your style.

What do you think of all-inclusive resorts? Let us know in the comments!

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