All-inclusive resorts summon images of warm, white sand, salty air, and the clear Caribbean Sea at a stunning tropical destination with all the food and beverages you can eat and drink. A dream vacation, right?
A few years back, my urge to travel abroad spread to my family and instead of us taking our usual trip to Florida I somehow convinced them that we needed to go international. How I did this I’ll never know; for most of my family it was the first time they had ever left the States. We ended up in Montego Bay, Jamaica at an affordable all-inclusive resort nestled between rows and rows of other fancy lodgings. We spent the week lounging on the beach, taking part in water aerobics, eating a myriad of decadent foods, drinking Red Stripes, and taking mini trips out and about in Montego Bay and beyond. All in all, it was a super-fun family vacation.
But do all-inclusives live up to the hype? Are they worth it? Here’s what you need to know.
1. It is an easy and relatively stress-free way to travel.
During our time planning our trip to Jamaica, our one basic task was to let our travel agent know that we wanted to go out of the United States to somewhere with a beach under an established per-person budget. The agent then found a resort and flights to a Caribbean destination for said budget. All we had to do was board the plane and go to our resort. Pretty simple, especially for a large group who had little international experience.
2. You get little cultural interaction.
This was the main downfall for me in terms of all-inclusive resorts. I’m the type of traveler that wants to fully immerse myself into the culture of the place in which I am traveling. I want to eat what they eat, get around via their own mode of transportation, visit local shops, and speak to local people. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of this during our trip, and most people that were at our resort literally never set foot off of the resort’s property.
My family did, however, plan several off-resort excursions and for that I am grateful. We spent one full day driving to and hiking Dunns River Falls, one of the most gorgeous and unique places I have ever been. We got to ride down the coast of the island and see what the country looked like outside of tourism. It was a huge eye-opener for members of my family who had never left the country to see how other people lived. We also got to interact with locals when we got to the falls. There were tiny shops set up by individuals who made hand-crafted items and they were eager to converse. Although it wasn’t a “real life” experience with Jamaican locals, it was an opportunity to learn about the culture that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Our visit to Dunns River Falls was hands-down the highlight of our trip and had we not planned it ourselves it would not have happened.
3. The food is awesome and convenient.
The food at all-inclusive resorts can be the highlight of your trip. At our particular resort, there were several options for dinner that were included in the price of our stay, including an Italian restaurant, a Jamaican restaurant, a burger bar on the beach, an all-you-can-eat buffet with fresh fruit, cooked-to-order meals, and more, and a jerk chicken hut. You can eat as much or as little as you want. The drinks are all free too, at all times of day. My mom and I drank our weight in amaretto sours and still have zero regrets.
4. Reading reviews can make all the difference.
Be sure to look into where you’re staying. We were told we would be able to sea kayak, snorkel, ride sailboats, and more, but it turned out to be a slight misunderstanding. Yes, we could do all of these things, but the sea kayaking was in a small, roped-off area close to shore, the snorkeling was right off of the beach where no wildlife was visible, and the sailboat ride took us on a small loop 100 yards into the sea and back. For someone who loves adventure, these just weren’t up to par.
In short, all-inclusive resorts definitely have both pros and cons. Some people who travel to all-inclusives simply want to relax and stay at the resort. Other people use the resorts as a springboard to visit other areas for an affordable price and convenient perks. You don’t have to do anything, and that is the beauty of going all-inclusive. You build your own itinerary and create your own trip. If I were to travel to Jamaica again, or anywhere in the Caribbean for that matter, I would consider a stay in an all-inclusive resort simply for the convenience, but I would definitely build in excursions outside of the resort for the majority of the stay. As in any trip, it’s what you make it!
Hi, I'm Madeline
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