Almost everyone has heard of all-inclusive vacations. They correctly associate them with destination resorts featuring in-house restaurants, bars, and entertainment where guests flow from breakfast to activities to dinner and late-night music without ever worrying about credit cards or wondering how much and where tipping is appropriate. And the worry-free ease of all-inclusives is why people seek them out in the first place. But what happens when your all-inclusive feels more like a re-run than a holiday? If you’re finding the same food on the buffets, identical fruity cocktails, and a too-familiar island song playing loudly at the pool, the only difference from one vacation to the next is a new airport written on your boarding pass.

When the same old beach party can’t get you up off your deck chair, maybe it’s time to find other options. There are plenty of all-inclusives that offer a different type of vacation, and you can still have the convenience of knowing in advance what the entire cost of your trip will be. Many all-inclusive-styled resorts offer uncommon settings, specialty activities, and exciting food and beverage options. The trick is to pick one that works best for your individual needs and tastes.

The Original All-Inclusives Revamp — Smaller Resorts Follow Suit  
Joe McInerney, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, spoke of the successes of well-known resorts like Sandals and Club Med in the Caribbean. “Twenty years ago, a Caribbean vacation was originally customized and packaged for Americans by the Sandals group,” he says. Yet today, SuperClubs, Club Med, Beaches, and other large all-inclusive resort chains are worried about projecting a tired image and have recently revamped many of their resorts, tailoring them to changing interests and demands of their guests. Lou Hammond & Associates, the public relations group for Sandals Resorts, wrote in a press release:

 

“Today, the company (Sandals) that redefined all-inclusive vacationing is claiming that the term ‘all-inclusive’ has lost its cache, becoming at best, little more than a catch-all category of resorts with meal plans and no standards and at worst, a phrase that has come to mean second-rate. In response, Sandals has mounted a multi-million dollar re-branding effort to define its place in a crowding market.”

The company that owns both Sandals (adults-only) and Beaches (families) now have a full line of resorts that feature new luxury amenities and offer higher service standards. Many of the other larger chains have also created new resorts lines, each designed with different groups in mind: singles, couples, couples with young children, 60-plus, and larger groups of friends and families.

Smaller resorts have also sprung up using the all-inclusive model and many feature alternatives to the “expected” version. Here, though, you may have to do your research. Several resorts claim to be all-inclusive, but you may not get the service and options you’ll find at larger resorts. However, there are some real gems out there that will deliver experiences meant to really excite your imagination yet still provide the assurance that all your needs will be easily met. You’ll be able to enjoy yourself and know upfront what everything costs, such as your drinks, food, lodging, gratuities, taxes, and activities.

Where Options are Plentiful and the Kids are Taken Care Of
A plethora of all-inclusive resorts are for adults only, a niche that you can find in Couples, Sandals, and the ultra-luxury AM Secrets Resorts and Spas. But a really rare option that AM Resorts developed was the concept of couples who wanted to have adult alone time for romance and rejuvenation, but still would be able to bring the young offspring along for quality family time after the superior spa treatment and before the candle-lit dinner. AM’s Dreams, with locations in Cancún, Los Cabos, Tulum, and Puerto Vallarta, have a 24-hour available childcare option called the “Explorer’s Club” for vacationers age three to 12. (These are 24 hours because adventure-minded young campers have the option of sleeping on the beach under the stars.) All supervised kid activities, like Spanish lessons, sand castle competition, and Mexican-style arts and crafts, give parents a much needed respite without complete separation. Child safety is of the utmost importance as all parents are given pagers to keep them within a moment’s reach if their child needs them, and every child supervisor is required to be trained in Red Cross CPR, first aid, and toddler and infant first aid and CPR. Parents can enjoy the lavish treatment and little ones are never bored.

 

Beyond kids’ clubs, Holiday Inn all-inclusive SunSpree resorts have an original program for young-at-hearts called “GoldenSpree,” available in two of its all-inclusive resorts in Aruba and Jamaica. The program includes all types of activities such as dance classes, trivia games, chef-taught cooking classes, arts and crafts, cocktail clubs, and much more --- all geared toward and attended by adults 60-plus years. They treat the program like a club, with membership benefits such as food, activity, and shopping discounts --- great for those basking in retirement, as well as those needing extra attention from a service staff trained to anticipate and attend to special needs. Guests who are enrolled in “GoldenSpree” enjoy all the other benefits of the resorts’ all-inclusive programs.


When you’re not familiar with the surroundings and culture of your destination, all-inclusives can provide that feeling of safety and comfort for travelers. For example, if the thought of driving a rental car in a new country — where driving habits and laws can be chaotically different from your own town — is a travel experience you could do without, the right all-inclusive can make you feel like you’ve experienced a bit of the culture and charm of your destination without the hassle of having to leave your resort every day. It can be both rewarding and relaxing to just stay put. At Couples All-Inclusive in Negril, Jamaica, known for their varied and truly gourmet food, you need only put on your flip-flops and walk a few yards to learn how to say more than “Ya’mon.” Here they offer patio classes and reggae dance classes taught by native Jamaicans who were born knowing how to have fun.


Being Environmentally Conscious is “In”
As North Americans’ ideas of vacations evolve, marketers are trying to keep up-to-date with guests’ expectations. One new trend is eco-friendly lodgings. McInerney, however, warns consumers that “the ‘eco-resort’ label is sometimes nothing more than a marketing tool.” A resort can claim to be eco-friendly, but when you dig deeper, it’s difficult to see exactly how.

One eco-resort that gets rave reviews on both the environmental and indulgence front is Tiamo Resort, located on a secluded beach of South Andros, the 30-mile-long Bahamian Island. There’s plenty of press that spells out exactly what Tiamo Resort’s been doing to deserve a green title. It’s been given awards including the 2004 Islands Magazine/Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Annual Sustainable Tourism Award and the 2004 International Hotel Restaurant Association’s Environmental Award (2nd place), with Honorable Mention (2nd Place) at the National Geographic Traveler 2002 Conservational International World Legacy Awards, to name a few. Only accessible by boat, Tiamo Resort has 11 private beachfront bungalows and a gourmet restaurant all powered by no more than the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Guest education on environmental sustainability, including the resort’s own successful solar power system, and nature appreciation are enhanced by the two professional biologists on staff. Hiking, kayaking, nature expeditions, and snorkeling activities are all standard fare at Tiamo and all part of the inclusive package. You don’t have to fly to the ends of the earth to experience this paradise; a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, can take you to South Andros’ Congo-Town Airport, and then it’s a spectacular boat ride to your secluded Tiamo bungalow.
And yes, this is an all-inclusive resort. Which brings us back to the point: All-inclusive doesn’t mean just cover the Caribbean, a room, food, drinks, and tips anymore. People are looking for something distinct and life-sustaining in their vacations. And more and more, the marketplace is responding.