I’m a big fan of Reader’s Digest, and a long-time subscriber……but recently they ran an article purporting to reveal ‘secrets’ about all-inclusive vacations, which I found to be…uh…well, “less than accurate” is the nicest thing I can say. It reads as if written by someone who has never been to an all-inclusive, or at least not within the past decade. I suspect a cruise industry rep (or agent) is trying to scare folks away from all-inclusives.
So here is our counter-point to their so-called secrets, which are the REAL TRUTHS about all-inclusive vacations, and none are what anyone would call a ‘secret’.
Myth 1: Don’t assume beach photos mean beach swims
This is the ONLY ‘secret’ revealed in their article that is actually true – while the majority of beaches ARE swimmable — even those that have good-sized waves — a few are not (where you may find rip-tides) so it’s best to ask before booking your vacation if ocean swimming is your thing.
For some folks (like me!), having a nice beach to walk on and a great pool (with a swimup bar!) is enough – I don’t need to battle sea creatures, seaweed, and waves to have a lovely time on vacation.
Myth 2: Beach chairs cost extra, too
The RD take is that “many all-inclusive vacations and resorts rake in extra dollars by charging for things like lounge chairs on the beach” and lists other fees they claim ‘many‘ resorts charge for – towels, beachside service, etc. While a few (the lowest rated in the typical one-to-five star rating system) do charge, it’s primarily because they also open their beach chairs and service to locals who otherwise would not be able to enjoy what are, essentially, public beaches. It is a stretch that borders on fibbing to use the word ‘many‘ to describe the actions of a ‘very few‘.
The vast majority of all-inclusives do NOT charge for any of these things, and only a very few do charge a daily fee for the use of Bali Beds only (to combat the practice of guests plopping their belongings onto the beds in the early morning and leaving, thus ‘reserving’ them for their exclusive use whenever they feel like returning), but NOT for chairs or loungers nor for beachside service. Over the past 16 years I’ve stayed at literally hundreds of all-inclusive resorts, and never, not even once, have I been charged for beach loungers or towels or to have someone bring me a drink.
Myth 3: Food is included, but it’s often pretty basic
That may have been true decades ago, but no longer. Food at all-inclusive resorts has become a highly competitive arena these days, and most all-inclusives go all out on providing gourmet cuisine at every dining venue, including the buffet. Many employ top-ranked chefs who are, in their own right, celebrities of the world of food.
On the subject of reservations, while some resorts do require reservations for their a la carte restaurants, many do not, and of those that do, they certainly don’t get booked up ‘months in advance’ as RD claims, as often the resorts won’t even take those reservations until you check-in, and most often not even until the day-of or day before you want to dine there. Out of the many hundreds of all-inclusive resorts only a small handful have any additional charges to dine at a ‘specialty’ restaurant.
Myth 4: All-inclusive resorts are diet killers
Again, not true. The vast majority of all-inclusives have not only greatly improved the quality of the cuisine, they’re focused on health and wellness, feature fresh local ingredients, and are capable of accommodating pretty much any dietary need. Many ask about your dietary preferences in advance of your stay, nearly all will ask when you arrive at a dining venue and again when you order. All offer special menus for folks on gluten-free, dairy-free, keto or paleo diets, and most have a ‘lighter fare’ menu as well for those who don’t necessarily have dietary restrictions but who just prefer to eat a lighter meal. ALL offer smaller portions (much smaller!) than what we’re used to being served at any restaurant in the US (although you can still order however much you want, the smaller portions help avoid food waste), so even if you’re having a carb-heavy meal, you’ll still be able to eat less and walk away feeling great. As for desserts, most often they’re served in tiny, bite-size portions, and while you can eat as many as you like, any ‘diet-killing’ due to over-eating is on you, not the resort.
Myth 5: Your favorite drink will probably cost extra
RD implies that all you’ll get is cheap alcohol, and if you want something ‘top shelf’ you’ll pay extra, and they imply that it applies everywhere. Again this is not true – while some very low-star resorts might charge for ‘name’ brands, many all-inclusive resorts actually feature top-shelf name brands of beers and liquors (yes, included). They maintain well-stocked wine cellars and their wine lists are both extensive and impressive, and yes, they do offer some wines by the bottle that you can buy if you choose to, but the wines included in your package are often high-quality wines, some that I’ve taken photos of the labels to locate and buy when I returned home.
Myth 6: “Free” airport transfers could ruin your first and last days
I can only blame the RD author’s travel agent if that’s what he experienced. Most all-inclusive resorts these days outsource the airport transfers to companies that are better equipped, and those companies have improved their services by orders of magnitude over what it used to be a decade or so ago….most ensure that their drivers speak English, offer a comfortable, clean, and well-maintained vehicle, stock complimentary cold water to offer during your ride, and only group together vacationers who are arriving at or close to the same time and traveling to the same resort. They keep track of incoming flights so they know in advance about delays, and work hard to ensure you get to your destination quickly and comfortably.
Myth 7: Bringing kids?
Quote from RD:
“A lot of all-inclusive resorts brag about child-friendly programming, babysitting, and drop-off programs, but what they don’t always advertise is that they’re extremely limited or cost lots of extra dough.”
This is just Flat. Out. WRONG. While you might pay extra for an evening baby-sitter, the daytime programs and activities never cost extra, and are far from ‘limited’. Some resorts, such as Nickelodeon, feature beloved characters, and nearly all offer a wealth of chaperoned indoor and outdoor activities (some of which are educational as well as fun), fun and creative playtime, special menus for kids, and a welcome respite for parents, all as part of the all-inclusive package. And many have wonderful programs for tweens and teens as well.
And please don’t confuse cruises with all-inclusives – they are not the same at all and there are a lot more ‘a la carte’ expenses with a cruise.
Myth 8: All-inclusives offer travel agents the biggest commissions
All-inclusive travel does not pay commissions any differently than other types of travel, and going ‘a la carte’ (as RD advises) can often wind up costing a traveler much more – I know, I’ve traveled both ways. You really DO get what you pay for, and if you enjoy luxuriously comfortable accommodations, upscale gourmet cuisine, fine wines and top-shelf liquors, along with a plethora of included activities, then an all-inclusive will actually save you money.
And if you really resent that a hard-working travel agent is getting paid (by the resort) to help you, well then you really should just book your own travel and not involve anyone else.
Myth 9: Tips could add thousands to your bottom line
Thousands? Hardly. And no, you’re not expected to tip. Most all-inclusive resorts have already included the tips in your package and yes, they really do give them to the employees. Some even have ‘no tipping’ policies because of this. That said, some vacationers do like to tip anyway, but even so a few dollar bills here and there – even with the housekeeping tip (which again is not expected) it might — if you’re very generous — tally a hundred or so, far from the ‘thousands’ the RD article is trying to scare you with.
Myth 10: Water sports and adventures cost a pretty penny, too
Sure, motorized water sports do cost extra. But the non-motorized ones – including the stand-up paddle boards – do not. The author implies that there’s nothing beyond paid-for water skiing or free laying about on the beach, but pretty much every all-inclusive you’ll find offers a broad array of both water and land sports and activities – kayaking, paddle-boarding, kite-surfing, snorkeling, tennis, water or beach volleyball, cycling, yoga…..the list goes on and on, all included….a number of resorts even offer ‘credits’ that cover the cost of those activities that do incur fees, such as spa treatments, rounds of golf, zip-lining, parasailing, horseback riding or swimming with dolphins. Take a nap on the beach if that’s your thing, but if you can’t find something fun to do that does not cost extra, then you’re just not trying, because there’s a lot to choose from!
Myth 11: Don’t expect too much local culture
Again, perhaps that was true a decade ago, but these days most all-inclusive resorts offer some really great cultural and ecological tours and activities that get you out into the local community (and no, not just for shopping, although I admit that’s my favorite activity!). Historical tours, eco-park adventures, local festivals, and rock concerts are just some of what you can participate in, and some resorts (such as Hotel Xcaret) include them in the cost, others (such as Palace Resorts and Hard Rock Resorts) offer ‘resort credits’ you can use to reduce the cost of off-site tours (or golf, spa treatments, or other activities) by 75% or more, and some (such as UNICO Resorts) will also pair you with a local ‘guide’ who can help plan excursions and more immersive cultural experiences.
For the record, dissing Readers Digest is not something I ever thought I’d be doing – I have too much respect for them…..but this was something I just couldn’t let stand.
While we would never discourage anyone from planning whatever style of travel suits them – and we know that all-inclusive travel isn’t for everyone – we believe that those who haven’t yet tried an all-inclusive resort deserve to know the truth before they make a decision.