How to Pick the Perfect Caribbean All-Inclusive Resort: What to Ask Yourself and the Hotel

If you’re considering an all-inclusive vacation in the Caribbean, you’re on the right track. The concept of a pre-paid all-inclusive resort is wildly popular, fun, and convenient — and much of the Caribbean is loaded with a wide range of all-inclusives, from budget to luxe options. But before you put down your credit card and book a flight to paradise, there are a few questions you should ask yourself and the hotel to make sure you’re choosing the perfect Caribbean all-inclusive resort for your dream vacation.

What to Ask Yourself Before Booking an All-Inclusive Resort

Which Caribbean island should I visit?

The Caribbean has countless all-inclusive resorts spread across multiple islands. Every island has a distinct flavor, so you should figure out which one you want to visit before focusing on a resort. The destinations below are most well-known for their all-inclusive hotels, though you may still find options on smaller Caribbean islands, like St. Barts and Bonaire, which are not listed below.

Antigua has a laid-back and grown-up vibe, with a few luxurious family-friendly options like the Starfish Jolly Beach Resort.

Aruba (located off the coast of Venezuela) offers a stellar mix of white-sand beaches, desert landscapes, Dutch culture, and casinos. Bonus: It’s below the hurricane belt, so you won’t have to plan around storms.

The Bahamas is easy to reach from Florida, and families love the resort-style properties with water parks. Though Atlantis isn’t all-inclusive, you can buy passes for the day.

Cuba isn’t entirely accessible for Americans, but Varadero is a celebrated vacation spot for Canadians and Europeans.

The Dominican Republic is ground zero for all-inclusive resorts and beautiful beaches, with some of the best bargains to be had in the Caribbean.

Jamaica does a nice job of showcasing its culture and showing off the island’s waterfalls and beaches. This is another island with a wide range of price points.

St. Lucia is one of the higher-end islands, and the party scene isn’t as wild.

Turks and Caicos does a nice job of catering to both adults and kids, plus it has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. This is an ideal island for water sports and relaxing.

Who is traveling with me and what’s important to me?

Once you pick your island, it’s time to choose the right resort. There are hundreds of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Though some follow a one-size-fits-all approach, you’re likely to have a better trip if you book a resort that caters to your specific needs. So, ask yourself: Is this a family vacation? A romantic trip intended to bring the spark back to a relationship? A party-heavy trip with a group of single friends? Focus on what you need to relax and have fun — whether that’s an excellent kids’ club, an adults-only policy, a late-night disco, spa services, or multiple pools — and start your search. Every single all-inclusive resort offers something different, and it’s important to first figure out what you want before you start combing through all the options.

How often do I want to leave the all-inclusive resort?

Some vacationers choose to book an all-inclusive resort specifically when they want to park themselves on a pool lounger, leaving their spot in the sun only to have lunch and another piña colada. Of course, you can achieve this level of relaxation at almost any resort. But if you’re someone who wants more culture and adventure on vacation, look for resorts within walking distance of fun. Hotels on Aruba’s Eagle and Palm beaches are within a short stroll of shopping, casinos, boat piers, and restaurants, for instance.

What type of all-inclusive resort can I afford?

Apart from location, budget should be the next biggest consideration when choosing an all-inclusive resort. If money is no issue, check out this list. If you’re on a budget, don’t despair. There are lots of excellent and affordable all-inclusive options across the Caribbean. Traveling in the off-season is a great way to land a deal. Expect to pay extra around Christmas and in January through March.

Do I want to upgrade my room at an all-inclusive resort?

Most all-inclusive resorts offer a VIP upgrade-style option. These rooms are usually on higher floors (read: better views and less noise) and have a dedicated reception area (read: shorter lines and more personalized service). Many of them offer exclusive pool access, better restaurants (or restaurant access), and perks like later check-outs and upgraded minibars. If this sounds appealing, then look at resorts like Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana.

Are my expectations under control?

We get it. You only have so much precious vacation time and money to spend each year, and you want your all-inclusive vacation to be a dream come true. For the most part, it probably will be. However, all-inclusive resorts are usually large and full, which can bring minor frustrations like lines, crowds, and occasional noise. Try to roll with it, and you’ll have a much better vacation.

What to Ask the All-Inclusive Resort

Is everything covered at the all-inclusive resort?

Trying to track down hidden costs at all-inclusive resorts can feel like attempting to solve a cold case mystery. Even though the resort’s website might claim everything is covered, there’s always fine print. It’s worth calling the resort or a travel agent (or checking out Oyster reviews) for a breakdown of the nitty-gritty details. Some common hidden extras include Wi-Fi in the rooms, specialty restaurants, premium liquor, day trips or excursions, room service, and minibars. None of this is a dealbreaker, but it’s good to plan accordingly and know what to expect for budgeting.

How far is the beach from the all-inclusive resort?

It’s not that unusual for an all-inclusive resort to bill itself as a beach property, even though it’s not technically on the sand. Sure, it might have a beach shuttle, a sister property that’s beachfront, or even access to a small patch of sand with rough water — across the street. When you’re picturing walking out of your hotel room and being in the water in a few minutes, it’s a sad reality to have to wait for an hourly shuttle. Check Google maps to see where the beach is situated, and do some research. Remember: If a “beach” hotel is half the cost of its competitors, it might not be directly on the sand.

What is the tipping policy at the all-inclusive resort?

In the United States, it’s customary to tip hotel staff. But what should you do about tips at an all-inclusive? Some all-inclusives automatically add a 10 percent (or more) service charge to the rate. If service isn’t included, plan on bringing a stack of one-dollar bills to pass out to housekeeping, bartenders, servers, porters, and valet staff. Some resorts, such as Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, don’t allow staffers to take tips. Again, know what’s expected before booking a room.

What about safety at the all-inclusive resort?

It’s no secret that the Dominican Republic has made headlines for a string of unusual deaths. However, the vast majority of Caribbean visitors return home completely safe, and all-inclusives are thought to be the safest option, thanks to 24-hour security and a ban on visitors who aren’t overnight guests. Still, it’s smart to ask the resort which safety protocols they follow, and to practice common sense. Don’t stay anywhere without overnight security.

Does the all-inclusive resort have reservation requirements for a la carte restaurants? Is there a dress code?

At most all-inclusive resorts, there are one or two all-day buffets that run around the clock. The buffets are often supplemented with a snack bar or grill by the pool or beach (these are usually open mid-morning until late afternoon). The real dining all-stars are the specialty, or a la carte, restaurants — usually open for dinner service. Expect everything from sushi to Italian to seafood, with waitstaff service and unlimited wine pours. But you might need to make a reservation a few days in advance, or there could be a limit on the number of times you can visit a restaurant during your stay. Another roadblock to ask about? Dress codes. If eating well and often is a priority for your all-inclusive vacation, check the restaurant policies.

How do I reach the all-inclusive resort from the airport?

Some of the best all-inclusive resorts are an hour or two (or longer) from the nearest international airport. Sure, this usually means better beaches and more quiet, but it always brings pricey transportation options and precious time spent in the car instead of at the beach.

Does the all-inclusive resort have a loyalty program?

If you’ve found the Caribbean all-inclusive resort of your dreams, you’re going to want to stay there again and again. So, be sure to sign up for their loyalty program (if they have one) and get rewarded for going on vacation. As if you needed even more incentive to book an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation year after year.

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