The idea of an “all-inclusive vacation” didn’t exactly appeal to me five or 10 years ago. But when I asked 25 people what the most important thing they look for in a vacation is, overwhelmingly the answer was “RELAXATION!” Then, they often told me how important it was to pick activities that please the entire family, and to find a vacation with a lot of bang for a little buck. So there it was: An exotic trip to paradise, paid for up front, with virtually no costs, no hassles, and no worries later.

 These days, this carefree — and often budget-friendly! — concept is the most popular ticket for us thrifty travelers to tropical destinations including Jamaica, Mexico, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic, just to name a few. All-inclusive resorts can be found all over the globe including the U.S. and Europe, but are mainly concentrated in the Caribbean.

 What is All-Inclusive?

 "All-inclusive” is a somewhat loose term. Each resort has its own definition of what all is included. But here, finally, is what an all-inclusive vacation should include:

  •  All meals (on-site and/or through partner restaurants)
  • 24-hour food service — anytime snacks included
  • At least 50 percent off on-site drinks
  • Airport transfers, tips, gratuities, and hotel taxes
  • Unlimited use of all on-site amenities
  • At least three main attractions (i.e. golf, scuba, beach)
  • Main attractions featured on-property or immediately adjoining — if NOT on-site, all transportation and basic participation costs are included
  • Entertainment on-site — nightclubs, beach parties, etc.

 Additional charges may apply for non-contract airport transfers, fees for special requests on contracted activities, or special guest service. However, no more than 5 percent of the overall price can be charged extra.

 Travel consultant RaeAnn Kane warns travelers to read the fine print to find out exactly what they’re getting. “The all-inclusive resort isn’t always all-inclusive. If you’re not sure what’s included — ask. Call the resort or talk to a travel consultant and read reviews.”

 Most of the trip is spent at the resort, so there are no costly surprises or unexpected high prices that often sneak up on unsuspecting travelers.

 But Kane also says the two words that best describe all-inclusive resorts are value and convenience. “They are a great option and can save you money. I think they are wonderful if you have the right destination to fit the right client, and you know what you’re getting.”

 So why are all-inclusive vacations so great? For starters, there are resorts tailored to fit the needs and desires of any traveler. If you are looking for adults-only, couples-only, gay and lesbian, or family-oriented resorts, you’re in luck. Resorts cater to these groups, and many more. Depending on the type of resort, different recreation, activities, entertainment, and amenities are offered to fit a broad and creative palette of vacation types.

 The real beauty is that travelers can do as much, or as little, as they choose. While most people enjoy “beach bumming,” even that can get tiresome. Not to worry.

 For example, this was my list of things to do on one of my trips:

  •  Wake up and have a mouth-watering, ocean-view buffet breakfast
  • Lounge on the white, sandy beach and soak up the sun
  • Take a salsa dancing class
  • Swim in the turquoise ocean to cool off
  • Eat a delicious lunch buffet
  • Stroll through gift shops for souvenirs
  • Sip mai tais and strawberry daiquiris at the swim-up bar in the pool
  • Play sand volleyball
  • Go snorkeling
  • Eat dinner at a buffet-style restaurant offering a variety of cuisine including Italian, Chinese, Caribbean, and more
  • See a live musical production
  • Finish with a night of meringue dancing at the disco
  • Take a breezy walk on the beach under the stars
  • Sleep soundly in a private room filled with fresh tropical flowers

 This was just the first day of one of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken. Sounds like several vacations all rolled into one, right? Actually, this list, and more, was my reality on one vacation at only one resort.

 I stayed at one all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, which had at least five activities throughout the day, including aqua aerobics (which helped burn off guilty buffet pleasures), salsa dance lessons, and sand volleyball. There was also a disco on the resort property for some festive nightlife fun and a pool for those who needed a break from the midday sun. Often these extra excursions will include off-site snorkeling/scuba trips, island sightseeing, or golfing. Many resorts also have on-site spa and salon treatments at an additional cost. For family vacationers, resorts have daycare or babysitting services that provide some kid-friendly fun while the parents have a little time to themselves (also at an additional charge.)

 Another bonus of the all-inclusive vacation is its security — both in personal safety and in hanging onto your money. Since the vacation is paid up front at a flat rate, there is no need to carry a lot of cash or credit cards along that could easily disappear. Some extra funds should be brought for excursions not included in the trip, or for an emergency. Most resorts will exchange currency on-site. Though the exchange rates may not be the best, it is a convenient way to get the local currency. Because most of the trip is spent at the resort, there are no costly “surprises” or unexpected high prices that often sneak up on unsuspecting travelers.

 All-inclusive resorts usually have gated security to ensure the safety of guests. People who are not staying at the resort are not allowed to enter; therefore, no one, particularly children, should wander off into uncharted territory.

 All-inclusive packages may not be for everyone. Kane warns that people who prefer more adventurous travel outside of a resort may not get their money’s worth, missing prepaid activities or meals. Also, all-inclusive resorts may not be for the person who likes to stay different places and experience culture deeply. However, especially for those looking to escape the grind of everyday planning and itineraries, an all-inclusive resort offers everything one could need or want right at your fingertips. It captures the true essence of relaxation. And it could mean the difference between going on a vacation and actually experiencing one.