From Pools To Coconuts

What you need to know about an all-inclusive holiday

takeoff_tileWinter isn’t even here yet, and Canadians are already dreading the chill. In a few months, some will be so desperate for a little sun that they won’t care where they go–as long as it’s hot and the rum flows freely. In such cases, an all-inclusive resort is often the best bet. If you don’t want to be disappointed by sold-out bookings, now’s the time to do your research. To get you started, we’ve gathered some helpful insider tips. But first, a little background.

Thomas Cook dreamed up package tours over 150 years ago when he organized a day rail trip to Paris. Club Med refined the idea in the ’70s to include meals, wine and beer, sports and entertainment. Now, 30 years later, an all-inclusive package can include a butler to pack and unpack your bags, a nanny to watch your kids, a multitude of restaurants, unlimited scuba diving, a private plunge pool, and as many top brand drinks as you care to consume.

Travel agents stock racks of winter sun brochures displaying beautiful beaches, large pools and happy, tanned tourists enjoying the sea, sun and sand. But each resort has its own unique flavour and its own price tag. How do you know what’s right for you, when prices range from $699 to more than $5,000 per person?

You and whoever is going with you have some decisions to make, so grab some guide books, gather up your sense of humour, patience, a realistic budget, and get to it.

Think about what’s most important to you and make a list. Some of the things to consider are the types of vacation activities you’d like to participate in, or not. The dining options, lodging styles – high rise versus low rise — and the clientele that you’d most like to surround yourself with. A travel agent will know which properties best meet your wish list.

If golf is very important, pick a package where green fees are included, and make sure the course is close. A friend of mine who is addicted to golf discovered after he’d booked a trip to Cuba that the closest golf course was a long bumpy 3 hour drive each way from his resort in Cayo Coco.

When you’re taking the kids and want to leave them in a kid’s club from time to time, look at the small print; most resorts only take kids 4 and over. If you’re the designated sitter, remember to ask whether the kiddie pool is within eye and earshot of the adult pool. Sometimes the facilities are on opposite ends of the resort and you’ll spend more time walking from pool to pool than swimming. Never a good thing when you’re on vacation.

If you want to lump out on a good beach but don’t care about gourmet food or the fact that you’re packing your own pillow, look at more modest resorts such as a 2*. You’ll still be able to luxuriate in the sand and enjoy a cold coke spiked with local rum.

As you read the brochures you’ll notice that prices vary depending on the destination. Small islands where all food must be brought in are usually more expensive than larger islands, Mexico and Central America. There could be better bragging rights though, when you’re showing holiday pictures to the neighbours.

The folks who will enjoy their vacation the most (no matter what their budget or their destination is) are the ones who really think about what they want before they book.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.