Fascinating Secrets You Never Knew About All-Inclusive Resorts

When you need some rest and relaxation (or just some poolside cocktails), hopping on a plane and jetting off to a resort sounds like just what the doctor ordered. All-inclusive resorts sound particularly tempting if you want to spend a week in paradise without worrying about anything.

Who doesn’t love the sound of bottomless margaritas, free massages, and endless hours on the beach? But do all-inclusive resorts really live up to those sky-high expectations? You might be surprised by the answer.

Below, check out some juicy details you’ve never heard about all-inclusive resorts. You may never look at them the same way again.

1. There’s more to all-inclusive resorts than the stereotypes

welcome drink in the hotel and spa Outdoor background Copy space

Do you believe all those stereotypes about resorts? The reality may surprise you. | iStock.com/AnnaPustynnikova

CNN notes that many people are afraid to book vacations at all-inclusive resorts, expecting these properties to live up to the stereotypes of “bad buffets, cheap booze and partying within the resort walls.” However, there’s more to resorts than those cliches. As CNN explains, “There’s as much variety among all-inclusive resorts as there is among hotels, and it’s up to you to find the right one for you.” Whatever you want in a resort, you can probably find. (Just don’t settle for the first resort you see on a commercial or in a travel magazine.)

2. Not all packages are the same

smiling man using a laptop

Compare your options carefully. They really do vary. | iStock.com/Cyano66

“All-inclusive” sounds pretty straightforward. In fact, “all-inclusive resorts” sound like they should provide everything you need and want for the cost of your stay. However, it’s rarely that simple. As Smarter Travel reports, some packages include airfare and accommodations. Some add meals. Others include activities, but not meals. Want to get the most bang for your buck? Don’t pull out your wallet the moment a travel agent tells you, “all-inclusive.” Find out what’s really included — and what might cost extra.

3. The rooms aren’t all the same, either

Picture of guests getting key card in hotel

Each resort offers a wide variety of different rooms. | iStock.com/Macniak

Some travelers assume that one room at a resort will look just like all the others. But at many properties, that couldn’t get further from the truth. Rooms vary by their location on the property, which greatly affects the view you’ll get from your bed or your bathtub. Some rooms come with nicer amenities (and bathrooms) than others, while some rooms are just larger than others. Think of choosing your room at a resort the same way you’d consider which room to book at your hotel. You probably won’t spend all day in your room, but you do want to enjoy it while you’re there.

4. All-inclusive doesn’t always include everything

Chef in restaurant kitchen cooking

Even all-inclusive resorts don’t always include everything. | iStock.com/Logoff

As we mentioned in No. 2, an all-inclusive resort doesn’t always include everything all for one price. Packages vary depending on the size and location of the room you choose. Of course, packages also typically include food and drinks. However, that’s where things start to get complicated. Your package may include only specific brands of alcohol. (You may need to pay extra for top-shelf liquor, for instance.) You may not get access to motorized water sports, spa treatments, or off-site excursions unless you pay extra. “All-inclusive” doesn’t always include everything, so it’s your job to find out what’s included in each package before you pull out your credit card.

5. But you really won’t have to think about money

family checking in to an all-inclusive resort

Once you arrive, you won’t have to think about money anymore. | iStock.com/Monkeybusinessimages

Once you’ve done your research, chosen your package, and booked your vacation at an all-inclusive resort, you already know what the resort will include in the package. So when you arrive, you won’t typically have to think much about money. You shouldn’t encounter hidden fees or added costs unless you opt for something that wasn’t included in your package.

As SmarterTravel notes, you can usually leave your wallet in your room “and still live like a king.” After you’ve paid for the package, you typically won’t have to worry about added fees or even tipping resort personnel.

6. Tipping is accepted at some all-inclusive resorts, but not others

some all-inclusive resorts don't allow staff to accept tips

Some resorts allow you to tip. Others don’t. | iStock.com/6okean

What happens if you encounter a member of the resort staff who goes the extra mile to make sure that you enjoy your vacation? Can you express your gratitude with a tip? That depends on the property. USA Today reports that tips are “ostensibly included at most all-inclusive resorts.” Some resorts don’t allow their employees to accept tips. At other resorts, tips aren’t expected, but staff members appreciate them. One staff member who the publication advises tipping? A “good bartender who makes a stiff drink. You’ll never receive a watered-down rum punch the rest of your trip.”

7. If you want to get the most for your money, you need to participate in activities at the resort

some all-inclusive resorts offer surf lessons

Try a new activity. | iStock.com

Some travelers love taking group tours, learning how to surf with a bunch of strangers, or making new friends over margaritas. Others would prefer to keep to themselves. However, only one of those groups will really take full advantage of all-inclusive resorts. If you want to get the most for your money, you need to participate in the activities on the resort’s roster. Maybe scuba diving is more your style than surfing. Perhaps singles events are more your speed than couples-oriented socials. Take advantage of the activities included in your package. You’ll probably have a blast — and if not, you can always duck out early to head to the pool.

8. The resort may be under construction

engineer, construction worker

Some resorts are undertaking construction when travelers arrive. | iStock.com

You can find drawbacks to any kind of vacation or accommodations. But one that annoys travelers most when they stay at all-inclusive resorts is finding out that the resort is under construction. Escape Here reports that if you book your vacation far enough in advance, the resort staff may not have known about the construction yet. Alternatively, booking online makes it easy to miss fine print — especially fine print noting that the resort is under construction. Either way, construction can interfere with your plans to use some of the resort’s amenities, and it can even make it more difficult to get around the property.

9. You’re paying too much for food and drinks to not enjoy them

waiter, server

You should take advantage of the included dining options. | iStock.com

Smarter Travel reports that another important amenity of all-inclusive resorts is the food and drinks included in your package. “Don’t book an all-inclusive if you’re not planning on eating or drinking your way through the week,” the publication advises. You may not want to eat heavy meals three times a day, or walk around the resort with a drink always in hand. But make sure that the resort offers food that you can enjoy — and ensure that the package you choose includes top-shelf liquors, buffets, or whatever it is that you prioritize on vacation. Remember that there’s more to resort food than just the buffet, so check out all the restaurants and dining options on the property.

10. At some properties, there’s a resort within a resort

Some properties offer an exclusive tier of rooms. | iStock.com/Monkeybusinessimages

USA today reports that while many rooms at all-inclusive resorts are nice enough, the highest tier often includes “club level rooms that come with private check-in and private lounge, as well as the services of a concierge, who can book spa treatments and make restaurant reservations.” Some categories of rooms are so exclusive that they feel like “a resort within a resort.” Opting for that tier of rooms can get you a better view, a faster check-in, and excellent service throughout your day — so long as you’re willing to pay for it.

11. Not everybody always has a margarita in hand

Homemade classic margarita

You don’t have to drink constantly. | iStock.com/Wiktory

All-inclusive resorts sound like a free-for-all with unlimited alcohol. Not all of them live up to that reputation, though. Some resorts cater to the spring break crowd and serve alcohol all night. Others are more family-oriented, so they shut down their bars at 8:00 or 9:00 at night. There’s usually a party going on somewhere, but if you’d prefer a less alcohol-fueled vacation, it’ll be easier to avoid than you think.

12. All-inclusive resorts can be great for parents and grandparents

Happy family lying on sand beach and look at sea surf

Resorts can help parents relax. | iStock.com/Bicho_raro

CNN notes that many young travelers turn their noses up at the idea of vacationing at all-inclusive resorts. However, they may change their tune once kids enter the picture. While they might be focused on destinations that are cool now, CNN notes that for parents and grandparents, “Cool is less important than a full night’s sleep, teaching your daughter to swim, or holding your spouse’s hand as you watch the sunset.” There’s nothing wrong with choosing a vacation destination that will make it easiest for you to relax — kids or no kids. 

13. To find the best deal, consider a package that includes airfare

Young mother holding hes toddler son with airplane on background

Packages that include airfare offer the best deal. | iStock.com/SbytovaMN

When looking for the best deal on any vacation, comparison shopping is the name of the game. But Smarter Travel offers some useful advice to get you started. While you can book a package through a chain of all-inclusive resorts, you may want to turn to an online travel booking site — think Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity — instead. That’s because the packages offered by resorts don’t typically include airfare, while those offered by Expedia and its ilk often do. Booking a package that includes airfare often doesn’t cost much more than booking through the resort chain. That can save you a bundle of money compared to booking the resort package and the airfare separately.

14. Many all-inclusive resorts don’t have a lot of options for activities off the resort property

white shoe in hotel room

The resort may not make it easy to leave the property. | iStock.com/PhanuwatNandee

Many people who vacation at all-inclusive resorts just want to chill out at the resort all week. If you’d prefer to venture off and explore on your own, you might want to reconsider this kind of vacation. Smarter Travel notes that most all-inclusive resorts “don’t allow you to experience much outside the confines of the resort.” In fact, many are close to airports instead of within close proximity of interesting sights and attractions. Only some resorts offer off-site excursions at all, and most charge extra to participate. Evaluate your options carefully before booking if you want to explore outside the resort.

15. Your resort may be surrounded by other resorts

Man opens curtains

You might find yourself looking at other resorts. | iStock.com/Monkeybusinessimages

If you wanted to get a taste of the country’s culture, make sure that you check out a map before you book your trip. Your resort may give you easy access to exciting towns and fun destinations. Alternately, it could be in a dangerous region that will make you think twice about leaving the property. Or it could even be surrounded by other resorts. If you want to learn about the culture and support the local economy, make sure that you choose a resort that will enable you to do that.

16. All-inclusive resorts don’t always save you money

Guest making contactless card payment

Going all-inclusive doesn’t always result in savings. | iStock.com/Monkeybusinessimages

USA Today reports that all-inclusive resorts aren’t always a good value. At some destinations — like islands that are easy to navigate and have lots of dining options — you might save money by skipping the all-inclusive resort. Especially in areas where there are tons of resorts, you should do your research and ensure that it makes sense to go the all-inclusive route. You have to consider what you want out of your vacation to determine whether all-inclusive resorts can save you money or not.

17. You can find some pretty cool accommodations at all-inclusive resorts

couple drinking on vacation

Whatever you want in a resort, you can probably find it. | iStock.com

Again, some travelers think that resorts aren’t a cool or modern way to travel. Luckily, you don’t have to look very hard to prove that stereotype wrong. Travel + Leisure notes that some of the coolest all-inclusive resorts offer high-design accommodations, impressive activities, and unique excursions in the towns and cities surrounding the resort. You can also look forward to some pretty luxe amenities at some resorts. In fact, some boast such over-the-top amenities as rides in a private submarine, a fitness program created by Cirque du Soleil performers, and luxury surf camps.

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