More than half a century ago, a former Belgian water-polo champion named Gerard Blitz constructed a small village of canvas army tents on a quiet beach in Mallorca, Spain. Dubbing it “Club Méditerranée,” he invited like-minded vacationers to share in his egalitarian vision while they washed dishes together under a thatched roof. Fast-forward several decades and witness a new era for the all-inclusive resort. The latest breed has shrugged off the party-hardy image and stepped up with luxury amenities, top-notch service, and fine dining, all while still emphasizing value. Gone are the days of plastic beads and pool parties. In with the yoga classes, private butlers, and WiFi cabanas—often all for the price of a room at a comparable resort. Now even certain traditional hotels and resorts are offering all-inclusive packages to meet the demand. How come? The all-inclusives are able to sell an invaluable amenity all their own: ease of experience. It means less planning, more choices, and no sticker shock at check-out time. It also means not carrying a wallet for a week, because we think nothing says luxury like not waiting around for a check. To help streamline your choices, we've reviewed seven independent resorts across two price points—under $2,100 (value) and over $4,500 (smart splurge) based on a five-night stay— and highlighted what’s new at the major all-inclusive players that pioneered the genre.
Resorts Under $2100
Three intimate resorts—in Mexico, Thailand, and Peru—that offer luxurious amenities at value prices.
Stylish Small Hotel in Mexico
Big-resort amenities with a boutique sensibility at Azul Beach Hotel.
The Property The self-proclaimed “first all-inclusive boutique resort,” Azul, with just 97 rooms, offers sweet respite from the rowdier neighbors in nearby Playa del Carmen and Cancún. What’s Included Food and drinks from the four restaurants and three lounges; champagne at check-in; and activities for kids and adults (think yoga classes, not limbo contests). Highlights After a morning Spanish class, snag a seaside cabana, and let a “Beach Butler” (he’ll be the one carrying the mineral-water vaporizer) take care of the rest. Details In Puerto Morelos; starts at $180/person a night. Book It 866/KARISMA; karismahotels.com/azul Alternate Breezes Costa do Sauipe in Bahia, Brazil, is on one of the best surfing beaches in the world; starts at $132/person a night; 877/GO-SUPER.
Peruvian Eco-Lodge with no Carbon Footprint
Luxuriate at Reserva Amazonica deep in the Amazon rainforest.
The Property 35 thatched cabanas and a main building comprise the thrust of Reserva Amazonica, a singular rainforest resort promising a “Carbon Neutral” hotel stay and specializing in wildlife excursions. What's Included Greeting at Puerto Maldonado airport, transfer to lodge, all meals, and expeditions (spa treatment and alcohol cost extra). Highlights Personalized excursions led by trained professional interpreters include a visit to Butterfly House in Puerto Maldonado. Details In Tambopata National Reserve, in the southern Peruvian Amazon Basin, a 20-minute flight from Cusco; starts at $227/per person ($1,135/per week). Book It 800/442-5042; inkaterra.com.
Health Resort in Thailand
Get on the road to holistic health at Chiva Som Health Resort.
The Property The luxury Chiva Som Health Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, boasts 57 rooms, 7 acres of tropical gardens, outdoor “salas”, a bathing pavilion, beachfront pool, multi-level steam rooms, and a Watsu pool. What's Included Three meals per day, choice of daily massage, health and wellness consultation upon arrival, daily fitness and leisure activity program, use of spa facilities (suites include private butler). Highlights Each guest is assigned a “Health & Wellness advisor” upon arrival who helps plan personal programs that combine classes, lectures, treatments, and food to achieve holistic health; guests can opt for specialized “retreats” such as Detox Retreat, Weight Management, and Anti-Aging. Details Hua Hin, a city on the Gulf of Thailand, is 185 kilometres south of Bangkok; starts at $2,050/per person for five days. Book It 66/32-536-536; chivasom.com.
Resorts over $4500
Four premier resorts—in Jamaica, the Seychelle Islands, the Maldives, and Upstate New York—whose exclusivity comes at a higher cost that's nonetheless worth the splurge.
Low-Key Luxury in Jamaica
Relax at Round Hill, a former pineapple plantation with a recent Ralph Lauren makeover.
The Property In 1953 Round Hill opened for the likes of Grace Kelly and John F. Kennedy. Today guests choose between standard rates or an all-inclusive package. What’s Included Meals and beverages; a horseback ride; a river raft trip; and one 30-minute massage. Highlights Meals at three designated Montego Bay restaurants; a new double infinity-edge pool. Details Set on a peninsula 7.4 miles from Montego Bay; rates for two people under the All-Inclusive Platinum Plan start at $930/night for standard rooms, $960/night for villa suites, and $1,590/night for two-bedroom villas. Book It 800/972-2159; roundhilljamaica.com Alternate Mexico’s Royal Hideaway Playacar is the first adult-only all-inclusive to earn the AAA Five Diamond award. Rooms start at $492/night for two people; 800/999-9182; royalhideaway.com.
Birds, Turtles, and Villas in the Seychelles
Escape to Cousine Island, a luxury resort in the midst of a private nature reserve.
The Property Ringed by white sand and bursting with lush vegetation, this 62-acre private island with just four French Colonial villas is a haven for sea turtles and eco-chic vacationers alike. What’s Included Premium alcohol and customized meals; guided hikes, fishing, and diving trips. Highlights All profits go back into conservation projects; alfresco Asian-Creole dining; nesting sea turtles and rare endemic bird species; and a welcoming foot massage. Details Cousine is only accessible via a 15-minute helicopter ride from the main island of Mahé; two-person villas for $1,400/night. Book It 248/321107; cousineisland.com Alternate Set on a private island in the Bahamas, the new Royal Plantation at Fowl Cay features six luxury villas and activities such as kayaking and deep-sea fishing; starts at $6,915/person a week; fowlcay.com.
Former Rockefeller Summer Home in Upstate New York
Beat the heat at The Point on Saranac Lake.
The Property The intimate The Point has just 11 lakeview guestrooms spread among four buildings on Saranac Lake, each equipped with custom-made beds; the main lodge boasts its own pub. What's Included Three meals per day, afternoon tea, unlimited wine, liquor, and liqueurs, plus use of all sports equipment and facilities, including golf, ice skating, and cross-country skiing in the winter. Highlights Meals are prepared by a chef and staff trained by Albert Roux, a three-star Michelin chef based in London. Details Six hours north of Manhattan; rates from $1,350/per night for two people ($6,750/for five days). Book It 800/255-3530; thepointresort.com.
Maldives Boutique on Private Island
Book the ultimate getaway at Dhoni Mighili.
The Property Six air-conditioned dhonis (65-foot-long traditionally handcrafted sailboats) are paired with deluxe private beach bungalows outfitted with Frette linens, in-cabin entertainment systems, and outdoor bathrooms complete with waterfall shower and Philippe Starck fittings. What's Included All meals and beverages, snorkeling equipment, fishing gear, 24-hour open bar, transfer to and from island to Male International Airport. Highlights Private thakura (butler) on-call 24 hours a day offering “wherever and whenever” service; private plunge pools. Details Fly into Male International Airport and connect to the Maldives' Ari Atoll by hotel transfer; rates from $1,300/per person, per night ($6,500 per week). Exclusive island use is also available for $17,600/per night. Book It 960/6660-751; dhonimighili.com.
Major All-Inclusive Players
Eschewing the one-size-fits-all mentality, the major groups that pioneered the all-inclusive vacation are going after the most discerning traveler while still offering unbeatable deals.
The Properties Eighty “villages” in over 25 countries
Rates Start at $165/person a night
What's New Over the last two years, the group has poured $530 million into revamping their existing properties and adding new outposts from Guadeloupe to the French Alps. Post-revamp improvements include bigger rooms, flat-screen TVs, and complimentary half-day excursions. At the revitalized Club Med Cancún Yucatan, guests can stay in an oceanview suite in the new Jade Villa, which boasts amenities such as private airport car service and foie gras on the room-service menu. In 2008 this trend will expand at Club Med Albion, Mauritius, which will offer multiple fully serviced luxury villas adjacent to the main resort.
The Properties Four adult-only resorts, all in Jamaica
Rates Start at $507/couple a night
What's New The group is keeping up with the competition with additions such as Lychee, a gourmet Asian-fusion restaurant at Couples Negril; private villas with outdoor Jacuzzis at Couples Ocho Rios; and private beach dinners at some locations for an additional cost.
The Properties Twelve Sandals Resorts in the Caribbean for couples only; two high-end Royal Plantation properties in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Fowl Cay, Bahamas; Negril Gardens Beach Resort in Jamaica; four Beaches Resorts in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos.
Rates Start at $536/couple a night
What's New In October 2007 Sandals launched their “Luxury Included Vacation” campaign, ushering in a wave of new amenities, including plasma TVs, Rolls Royce airport transfers, and 24-hour butlers—to the tune of over $200 million. Two properties feature new “Swim-Up River Suites,” rooms that open directly onto a flowing pool. The Royal Plantation at Ocho Rios boasts the island’s only caviar-and-champagne bar, as well as Le Papillion, one of the most upscale restaurants in town.
The Properties Thirteen resorts in the Caribbean and Brazil
Rates Start at $129/person a night
What's New A 10-minute drive from the Grand Lido Negril Resort and situated on a private stretch of beach, the Negril Beach Villa is a three-bedroom property with a pool, private chef, and housekeeper. New oceanfront suites at the Breezes Runaway Bay in Jamaica feature private plunge pools.
Moments in All-Inclusive History
Club Med opens the first all-inclusive resort in Mallorca, Spain.
Africa’s first luxury safari lodge, Governors’ Camp, opens.
Sandals Resort in Jamaica debuts the first swim-up bar.
Linda Hamilton stars in the made-for-TV movie Club Med.
Sandals marries its 1,000th couple.
Bill and Melinda Gates honeymoon at the luxe all-inclusive Wakaya Club in Fiji.
Sandals Montego Bay earns the Green Hotel of the Year Award.