All-inclusive resorts are the ultimate easy getaway. Staying at one means you won’t have to plan (or budget for) meals or drinks, and there are no awkward moments with gratuities or resort fees. The name says it all: with the exception of spa treatments, excursions, and motorized water sports, the price really is all-inclusive.
The Caribbean is home to dozens of these properties, and they come in all flavors, whether you’re in search of a luxe and peaceful getaway with a loved one, or a high-energy weekend of pool parties and umbrella cocktails with a group of friends. We recently stayed at two resorts in Punta Cana and La Romana, courtesy of CheapCaribbean, to experience this vacation juggernaut firsthand. Here are some of the tips and tricks we learned on the ground.
1. Get Oriented:
Caribbean resorts can sprawl across acres. Some have multiple pools, gardens, standalone spas, sports courts, a dozen restaurant spaces, and rooms situated into towers that look nearly identical. When you first arrive, many resorts will offer you a tour. Take it: and, if the resort has one available, grab a map. Ask someone at the desk to circle the location of your room so you can always find your way back to it, and make a point to memorize not just your room number, but your building number, too. Steps like this can feel silly at first, but you’ll thank us when you’re looking for your room in the wrong tower.
2. Figure Out the Dining Schedules:
Just because an all-inclusive resort has multiple restaurants, that doesn’t mean they’re all open all of the time. Breathless Punta Cana — an all-inclusive resort that caters to younger couples and groups of friends, and is situated on a beautiful stretch of beach about 40 miles from the Punta Cana Airport — offers eight à la carte restaurants, plus a beach grill and buffet. Our favorite restaurant, Picante, which serves Mexican dishes under dramatic green glass light fixtures, was only open on one night of our stay, effectively deciding our schedule for that night. The schedule is usually posted at the restaurants themselves, or you can always ask at the front desk, but be sure to do some planning here so you don’t miss out on your preferred cuisine. Buffets and grills usually have more flexible schedules, but they aren’t open 24 hours. You’ll have to rely on room service (another included perk at most all-inclusive resorts) for that.
3. Learn What Costs Extra:
Dying to take a day trip to Saona Island, a mostly undeveloped island south of the Dominican Republic that’s surrounded by neon-blue water? How about a round of golf or a hot stone massage to make you completely forget your troubles? These are the kinds of things that will cost extra at an all-inclusive resort. In terms of activities, most all-inclusive resorts cover non-motorized water sports — i.e. snorkeling and paddle boarding — but anything that requires a motor will cost extra. That includes jet ski rentals, scuba diving, parasailing, and fishing. Some resorts also have a tier or restaurants or bars that are not included in their all-inclusive plans, but this is less common. For the most part, all food and drink (including alcohol), are included.
4. Know Your Pools:
Do you want to lie in perfect silence all day, with the only noise coming from the waiter as he brings you another drink? You can do that at an all-inclusive resort, but it’ll be a challenge if you’re at the kids pool. Ask staff, pay attention to signs, and remember that looks can be deceiving. Just because a pool is smooth-as-glass and empty at 11:00 a.m., that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a foam party scheduled to begin at noon. To avoid having to move, pick a place that suits your — and your family’s — personal style from the outset.
5. Know Your Territory:
Many resorts offer privileges at other, affiliated resorts in the area. At Breathless Punta Cana, for example, you can enjoy dining, drinking, and pool privileges next door at Now Onyx Resort & Spa, which caters more to families than its high-energy, youthfully oriented neighbor. That gives you 17 more restaurants and bars to choose from. Additionally, some all-inclusive resorts offer restaurants and bars exclusively for guests who have premium memberships or pay extra. Learn which ones are which before you finalize your dinner plans.
6. Don’t Forget to Get There:
If you’re not planning on renting a car — most visitors to places like Punta Cana opt not to — then you’ll have to find transportation to and from your resort on your arrival and departure days. The resort itself can always reserve this for you, as can your travel agent or packager, like CheapCaribbean. Note that waiting until you arrive (especially in busy holiday and school break seasons) is not recommended. Flights from the U.S. all tend to land at the same time, and Caribbean airports can be chaotic in these hours. You don’t want to get stuck, or find yourself trying to discern whether a service is reputable or not on the spot. Note that taxis and non-resort-affiliated transfers are available, but, in most destinations, you won’t save much money. The best bet is to work with your resort or travel agency.
Ask About Events:
Most all-inclusive resorts are perfectly happy to have their guests sleep on a poolside lounger under a palm tree, but that’s not all they offer by way of entertainment. Dreams Dominicus La Romana, an elegant (and recently refreshed) resort on the Dominican Republic’s tranquil south coast, offers theme nights, poolside games, giant chess sets, dance and Spanish lessons, and more. Now Onyx, while we visited, offered a full-on concert in its large bandstand, complete with singers covering rock songs from the '80s and '90s. Breathless Punta Cana, true to its promise of excellent nightlife, has a monthly calendar of seasonal events including fashion shows, DJ sets, holiday-themed cocktail nights, and more to keep its adventuresome guests busy.