Disappointing photos show what all-inclusive resorts look like in real life

Steve Bennett / flickrThe views aren’t always going to look like this.
  • All-inclusive resorts started opening in the 1950s and promise accommodations and meals for a flat rate.
  • While some resorts do provide complimentary luxury services, others can include crowded buffets, long wait lines, and frustrating hidden fees.
  • Oftentimes, it is cheaper to pay as you go, though many vacationers find that the convenience of paying once is appealing enough to offset the higher costs.

The “all” in “all-inclusive” might have more exceptions than you expect.

Drinks, WiFi, and beach activities are just a few examples of the ways hidden fees can sneak into vacation packages.

Originating with the Club Med chain in 1950s, the all-inclusive model now applies to both mountain ski resorts and island destinations. In addition, cruise ships often drop passengers at these tropical locations, while offering all-inclusive packages themselves.

Read more: I use 2 rewards cards to get free vacations at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean with my family

While some luxury locations offer packages that cater to their guests’ individual interests, it is usually cheaper to book the lowest room rate and pay for your own dinners. An undercover test by NBC News TODAY proved that a pay-as-you-go practice actually saved guests close to $US400.

Keep reading for a deeper look at all-inclusive resorts, which include long wait lines everywhere from Caribbean buffets to ski lifts in Colorado.


All-inclusive resorts are popular vacation packages — and for good reason.

TripAdvisor


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CNN Travel


They usually include room fare and three meals per day, though details vary from place to place. They also tend to be flush with activities designed to keep the whole family entertained, whether you’re seeking leisure …


… some simple fun to keep the kids entertained …

Source: Getty Images


… or a nice dose of adrenaline.


The first all-inclusive resort opened in 1950 with the hotel chain Club Med in the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain.


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Club Med + Skift Report, Travel Weekly


All-inclusive resorts are popular across a variety of tourist destinations, including tropical spots like the Caribbean islands and Mexico …

Shutterstock/SVongpraA strip of resorts in Cancun, Mexico.


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CNN Travel,

TODAY


… ski resorts and winter destinations …

Facebook/Telluride Ski Resort


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Club Med + Skift Report,

Family Skier


… as well as popular American tourist cities like Las Vegas.

f11photo/ShutterstockA view of the iconic Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Source: TripAdvisor


For some vacationers, the convenience of a package that’s paid for up front makes the entire experience worth the money …


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U.S. News & World Report


… but money-conscious travellers should do their research: In many cases, creating your own DIY package can be cheaper …


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TODAY,

MarketWatch


… especially because there’s always the potential of encountering hidden fees or other limitations to packages.


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MarketWatch,

CNN Travel


The breakfast included with the package is often served buffet-style.


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CNN Travel


That’s good news for guests looking to sample a variety of dishes …


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CNN Travel


… but depending on how late you arrive, food supplies can get cold or run low.


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CNN Travel


You may also have to wait in long lines before you can sit down and enjoy a meal with your family.


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CNN Travel


The same can be said for bars.


Guests who are able to book drink packages may find themselves facing wait times and low stock at the resort bars …

Horacio Villalobos – Corbis/Corbis via Getty ImagesA guest orders a tropical drink from a resort in Portugal.


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MarketWatch


… or find they have to choose from a limited menu. Beyond that, drinks aren’t always made with top-shelf liquor.


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MarketWatch


Others may be surprised to learn their all-inclusive drink package doesn’t feature alcoholic options at all, and only includes soft drinks and coffee. Additional drink packages can then cost upwards of $US50 per day.

Shutterstock/Sorbis


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MarketWatch


When it comes to dinner, resorts will often feature an assortment of restaurants spread across the property …

Source: CNN Travel, TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor


… which is perfect for guests looking for some variety over the course of their stay.

Source: CNN Travel, TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor


However, while empty during the day, the nicest restaurants are oftentimes filled by early evening …

Flickr/Studio Sarah LouA restaurant at a hotel in the Canary Islands.

Source: CNN Travel, TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor


… which can spell trouble for guests who didn’t reserve a table with the concierge early in the morning.

Source: CNN Travel, TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor


Some menus will also be subject to restrictions, which could come as an unpleasant surprise to diners. Menu items considered “premium entrees” — such as steak and lobster — can cost extra.

Shutterstock


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MarketWatch


Then, of course, there’s the question of what exactly you’re looking for. If it’s rest and relaxation, you’ll want to do some research before you book …


… since all-inclusive resorts can get crowded …

Thomas Hawk/flickrA crowded pool at a Las Vegas resort hotel.

… especially when high schools and colleges are on spring break.

Source: Reuters


If they don’t do their research beforehand, families may be disappointed to find hotels packed with rowdy college students.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for MTVSpring breakers at a resort in Cancun, Mexico.

Source: Getty Images, TripAdvisor


Instead of a pristine, empty beach like this …

EyesWideOpen/Getty ImagesA guest on a resort beach in Maldives.

… guests may be disappointed to find a shoreline littered with garbage.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty ImagesGuests on a beach in Crete Island in Greece.

Regardless of where, exactly, the resort is, the region’s natural beauty is sure to be a draw …


… but visitors may find their ocean views blocked by massive cruise ships …

Source: Cruises


… as many cruise lines dock at islands for overnight or weekend stays.


Cruise ships are a prime example of the all-inclusive model.

Source: Cruises


However, “all-inclusive” does not include special treatment to skip wait lines to board the ship …

Source: Business Insider


… or at security checkpoints for the return flight home.


Additionally, all-inclusive ski resorts are subject to the same issues, just in colder weather.

PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty ImagesA crowd of skiers in the French Alps.


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Family Skier


While these packages may save you some money on lift tickets, the crowds at these popular resorts can be unbearable, especially during holiday weekends.


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Family Skier


Similarly, packages for resorts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City may promise all-inclusive amenities, but do not include additional casino costs …

Source: Business Insider


… or cover charges for in-house clubs.

Source: Business Insider


And then there’s the matter of WiFi. Visitors who plan on getting some work done while on vacation may find themselves stuck without complimentary internet and having to pay a daily fee.

Rido/Shutterstock

Source: TripAdvisor


Depending on the resort, other common charges include beach chair or cabana rentals …

Source: TripAdvisor


… along with any offshore or adventure-based activity or excursion.


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CNN Travel


This can include jet ski rentals …

David Rogers/Getty Images


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CNN Travel


… and scuba diving, which can come at a considerable fee.


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CNN Travel


Even if you are prepared to pay, you may be disappointed to find that some activities aren’t quite what you expected. Dolphin “rides,” for example, are frequently housed in on-site pools.


Other resorts charge for spa services, which can run upwards of $US100 per treatment or session.

Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty ImagesA spa room at an island resort.


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MarketWatch


The quality of amenities ranges depending on the hotel, but all-inclusive packages sometimes advertise presidential suites.

PortoBay Hotels & Resorts/flickrA large suite in an island resort.

Source:NBC News, MarketWatch


Unless you are willing to pay extra to upgrade, you may be disappointed to find you are sleeping in standard hotel room.

Source:NBC News, MarketWatch


While rare, weather emergencies can ruin a vacation at any of these tropical locations. All-inclusive packages tend not to offer full refunds, even under these extreme circumstances.

Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty ImagesVacationers wait in line to leave Acapulco, Mexico after flooding from tropical storms.


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MarketWatch


Travellers should also be wary of vacation scams when booking stays at all-inclusive resorts. In 2016, NBC News reported a total of 15 million scams costing a total of $US1.3 billion, all of which promised unbeatable prices for packages on getaway islands.

TripAdvisor


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NBC News


Ultimately, though, if you feel better paying for the bulk of the trip upfront and know you’re not looking to pay for any add-ons, a trip to an all-inclusive resort may be for you.


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U.S. News & World Report


The key is simply to be an informed traveller so that no detail of your vacation comes as an unpleasant surprise.


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NBC News,

CNN Travel

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