Ten Tips for All-Inclusive Vacations - Page 2

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Puerto Vallarta Palace Resort, Mexico, all inclusive
The blue pools and blue water at the all-inclusive Puerto Vallarta Palace Resort, Mexico.  (Palace Resorts)

6. Go Niche
An all-inclusive vacation doesn't have to mean cookie-cutter buffets, endless margaritas, and beach volleyball. Activity-specific all-inclusives like dive resorts or fishing lodges are more likely to be independently owned, boutique-style properties offering local character and personalized service, along with many of the same on-site perks as the corporate resorts. Or, if you prefer the larger properties, consider joining like-minded travelers and dedicating time to something that interests you on a theme trip, like Club Med's fitness-focused GObeachfest events, culinary vacations, or even yoga retreats.

7. Read the Fine Print
As with any deal, it pays to read the fine print before forking over the funds for an all-inclusive vacation. At some resorts, "all-inclusive meals" refers just to the buffets, and maybe includes one or two à la carte meals at the on-site restaurants. Others may only offer all-inclusive drinks until a certain time at night. And check whether the resort nickel-and-dimes guests over the small extras, like fees for lounge chairs or to rent beach or sporting equipment.

Also find out the resort's tipping policy. "Some resorts have a no-tipping policy," Driscoll says. "But others are very tip-driven, and you need to make sure you're prepared for that." If tips are accepted at the resort, a good amount to budget is $100 for a weeklong stay, spread out among bartenders, cleaning staff, bellhops, and the concierge. "Even though we didn't have to, we tipped," says Rob Webster, a traveler and filmmaker from Kansas City, about his honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. "The result? We were warmly greeted when we came in the restaurants, and our concierge became our friend. He gave us cigars from a small stash he kept, and we've exchanged e-mails and stayed in touch on Facebook."

8. Activities
Taking a minute to find out ahead of time exactly which activities are included in the all-inclusive price makes sense for two reasons: First, while loads of on-site activities like volleyball, water aerobics, and renting on-site beach gear may be included in the price, others will not—especially spa services or activities that require off-site travel. For example, many resorts with scuba-diving centers will advertise free diving lessons. This almost always means a short—10- to 15-minute—lesson in the pool with the option to pay anywhere from $30 to $100 for full-length dives in the ocean. So whether it's getting pampered in the spa or hitting the flats to go fishing, check if the resort offers special packages geared toward your particular activity.

And second, since you've already paid for them, you'll want to take advantage of as many included activities as possible. "Read the program—a lot of people miss out on less obvious activities around the resort," DiScala says. "A lot of resorts offer live shows, cooking classes, kids' programs—at a resort in Tahiti, they gave lessons on how to open a coconut, which was a small thing but still really cool."

9. Food and Drink
Many all-inclusive resorts offer two types of dining, the all-you-can-eat buffets and snack bars that are open all or most of the time, and à la carte meals, usually at a variety of themed sit-down restaurants; e.g., French, Italian, Brazilian, etc. Generally, guests get a limited number of à la carte meals, and these restaurants fill up fast. So decide in advance which restaurants you want to try, and make the reservations when you check in.

Like the buffets, drinks are usually a bulk affair—local beers, well cocktails, and premixed frozen drinks. But even if you don't drink alcohol, you don't have to feel like you're missing out or paying for something you won't use. "Normally, drinkers get beer, rum and Coke, whiskey and Coke, vodka and a mixer—items bought in bulk by the resort," Driscoll says. "But non-drinkers can ask for fresh fruit smoothies and juices, which actually use better ingredients, and in the end, it really balances out."

10. Consider an Upgrade
Many all-inclusive resorts offer tiered packages or "club levels," which can work out to a good bargain if the perks match your needs. "For our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, we upgraded to a club-level suite for a little more money," Webster says. "We got a fully stocked refrigerator, access to the club room with food 24/7, our own club-level concierge, and free Internet access."

At the Barcelo Maya Palace Resort on Mexico's Riviera Maya, for example, the daily surcharge for upgrading to "Club Premium" status costs $25/person, and the benefits include—among others—access to the VIP lounge, premium drinks, free Internet access, discounts on spa treatments, as well as unlimited, priority reservations for dinners at the à la carte restaurants (rather than the buffets).

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