One of our favorite vacations is the "all-inclusive resort" vacation. While we love those European excursions with an itinerary that keeps us on the go, sometimes it's nice to take it easy on the beach in a tropical location without any obligations. We tend to favor all-inclusive resorts for these types of trips since we can pay for meals and drinks in advance and avoid a large credit card bill when we return home. 

How do you pick the perfect all-inclusive resort? It really depends on your expectations and interests. For example, we are pool people who enjoy good food, so it doesn't matter to us if a resort's beach is small as long as the restaurant reviews are favorable. We have friends, though, who like to spend their vacations walking the beach, so that's an important factor to them when choosing a resort location. Take yourself into consideration.

Regardless of personal interests, there are 10 important questions to consider when choosing an all-inclusive resort:

1) Is it an "all-inclusive resort" or a resort that offers an "all-inclusive package"?
This impacts the dynamic of the resort. We like the mega all-inclusive resorts, which are mostly located in Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. 

2) How does the resort define "all-inclusive"?
What exactly is included in the rate? All accommodations, food and beverages, activities, and entertainment? Top shelf/premium liquor? Room service? WiFi? Does the resort offer any additional amenities (e.g., airport shuttle service)? The less restrictions, the better.

3) Is the resort the correct number of stars to meet your expectations?
You likely won't be happy if you're expecting or comparing the resort to something better. Basic resorts have buffets and local brand alcohol while the premium all-inclusives have more amenities, a la carte restaurants, higher-end food, and top shelf liquor.

4) Does the resort fit within your budget?
If on a budget, consider a moderate all-inclusive instead of a premium resort. Also consider traveling in the off season to save money.

5) How does the resort rate on travel sites?
What are people saying about the quality of the resort grounds, rooms, food, and service? We recommend at least a four star rating with the majority of reviews rating Excellent to Very Good. Remember there are always people in the mix who provide negative reviews.

6) How far is the resort from the airport?
It's good to know if you have another 1+ hour drive after landing at the destination airport. Consider arranging transportation to the resort in advance of your travels.

7) Safety: Is the resort gated? How private is the beach?
We favor gated resorts with a private beach. It cuts down on unsanctioned vendors.

8) What is the pool/beach situation?
Again, if you're a beach person, look for a resort that offers a nice beach. We like a large pool with a swim-up bar and/or poolside drink service.

9) Are there any logistics to keep in mind?
Are wristbands required? Are towel cards required? These aren't necessarily deal breakers for us, but they do impact the stay.

10) Food Options: How many restaurants are available to guests? Are reservations required at the restaurants? Are snack options available?
The food situation makes or breaks our stay. We favor resorts that offer higher end food, a la carte restaurants, and food options by the pool (read: pizza and nachos) during the day.

Other Recommendations:
1) Consider upgrading your room. You will likely be spending some time in it, and a good view usually adds to the experience if the cost is reasonable.
2) If you want to do an excursion, book it before you arrive. It's easy to get sucked into the all-inclusive atmosphere and stay at the hotel the entire time. If you book the excursion in advance, you're committed to follow through.
3) You can usually specify (premium) liquor type at the moderate and higher end resorts. Just ask.
4) Although tips are usually included in the all-inclusive rate, tip for good service.
5) If required, make any restaurant reservations upon arrival. Spots fill up fast around dinnertime, especially for larger parties.
6) Eat smart at buffets. The made-to-order food stations tend to have the best options.


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