Photo: Courtesy of Azul Beach Resort
As a Manhattan assistant district attorney and mother of three, Kerry Chicon can make a persuasive case for needing a break from stress and planning.So finding a low-maintenance vacation is her high priority: “When we travel with kids, we always go all-inclusive,” she says.
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Savvy travellers like Chicon aren’t just taking the easy way out—they’ve discovered that an influx of service-oriented hoteliers have raised the bar on the all-inclusive resort model, introducing more amenities and more of a sense of place.
Better still, the perks and convenience of an all-inclusive vacation can be had at a great price (from $149 per night at the Ocean Coral & Turquesa on Mexico’s Riviera Maya). Keep your eye out for air/resort packages offered by big travel providers, and you may find even lower rates.
One of the biggest improvements at all-inclusives like the Ocean Coral & Turquesa is the food. In years past, the cuisine at many all-inclusive resorts had all the flair of a Holiday Inn buffet, with a few slices of pineapple to signify location. Buffet lines haven’t disappeared entirely, but resorts are recognising that showcasing fresh ingredients and local cuisine will lure guests with more refined palates.
Taking the focus on cuisine even further, Azul Beach Resort on the Riviera Maya calls itself “gourmet-inclusive”: The 97-room resort operates four full-service restaurants, several snack bars, and a lounge dedicated to tequila, just to keep foodies coming back.
Gone, too, is the desperately perky social director organising a poolside conga line. Resorts are one-upping each other with an ever-expanding roster of diversions: golf, tennis, ziplines, kids’ clubs, snorkelling trips, Spanish lessons, beachfront climbing walls, kayaking, and trapeze instruction. Even lazing on the beach has received an upgrade: you’ll find hand-carved Balinese beach beds under palapas at Melia Caribe Tropical.
Lolling on the sand used to be enough; exploring outside a resort’s gates was discouraged. But some all-inclusives now embrace local pride. CoCo Bay urges guests to check out the nearby national park and local museums to get a taste of Antigua that can’t be experienced from a hammock. In Barbados, Mango Bay invites local bands to play and runs casually guided excursions to area shops.
Sure, you may be able to find great food, thoughtful service, and a wealth of activities elsewhere on the beach, but at what cost and after how much research?
These all-inclusive resorts guarantee vacations where, for a few nights, you can count on economic stability and ease of planning. Treat yourself to one of these trips as a kind of stimulus package for your budget—and your peace of mind.
Who Should Go: Couples and families
Why: Azul Beach Resort knows just how to appeal to first-time all-inclusive guests. The resort has just 98 guest rooms, each featuring a patio or balcony, in low-rise adobe buildings clustered along the water's edge. No activities director will rouse you from a beach bed to join a conga line (though a beach butler may ask if you'd like a cool towel or cold drink). The hotel has plenty of adult features--a bar dedicated to tequila, live music in the bars, menus with adventurous eaters in mind, those breezy beds on the sand--but also welcomes families with a daily kids' club and children's selections at its four restaurants.
The Dollars: Doubles from $278 during high season. Kids under 3 stay free; older kids are charged $90 a night.
Who Should Go: Surfers, active couples, and families with older kids
Why: This glorious arc of Pacific beach has attracted surfers since the '60s, and when you see the ocean from the ideal vantage point of Barcelo Playa Langosta, you'll understand why. Getting in touch with nature here isn't a challenge: without any more effort than a stroll along the beach or even across the grounds to the hotel pool, you can see howler monkeys, iguanas, raccoons, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parrots. A wild nightlife is another thing, though--travellers in search of a lively scene should take the $5 cab ride to the nightspots of Tamarindo.
The Dollars: Doubles from $165/night.
Who Should Go: Couples looking for quiet and romance
Why: Live like colonial gentry at Casa Velas, an adults-only, all-suite boutique hotel and ocean club in Puerto Vallarta. The quiet grounds--manicured tropical gardens, koi ponds, a curvaceous swimming pool, inviting patios--and attentive and discreet staff will have you convinced that you're staying at a five-star hotel. The oversized suites feature private plunge pools or outdoor Jacuzzis. While Casa Velas is not on the beach, it maintains a private beach club with its own restaurant, lounge, infinity pool, and cabanas. The recently renovated spa offers five treatment rooms if you can remember anything that ails you in these dreamy surroundings.
The Dollars: Suites from $340 per person.
Who Should Go: Families
Why: The brand has slipped out of its swinging '70s threads into something a little more family-friendly. Guests drop their offspring for the day at one of the buzzing Mini-Club Meds and then choose to take a yoga class, lounge on a daybed next to the pool, sail, snorkel, or sea-kayak in the Pacific. The swinging hasn't ceased altogether, either: intrepid visitors can learn trapeze at the on-site circus school. A vacation here is a like visit to a swank, action-packed summer camp, with the added bonus of mojitos, spacious rooms, and comfy beds.
The Dollars: Adults stay from $1,440 per person for a seven-night all-inclusive vacation. Kids stay free much of the year and special discounts are announced frequently.
Who Should Go: Couples looking for peace and quiet
Why: Guests at CocoBay know they're in the West Indies. The individual bungalows, painted in soft pastels, have tin roofs, gingerbread trim, and spectacular, unobstructed sunset views. The hotel has furnished the cottages (and the larger 'plantation houses') with hard-carved beds and antiques and decorated them with colourful local art. The mood at the resort is tranquil, informal, and unplugged: no phones or televisions--and no kids under 14.
The Dollars: Doubles from $320.
Who Should Go: Beach lovers of all types.
Why: The water's the thing in Aruba--aqua-tinted and so ridiculously clear you can inspect your pedicure when you're in it up to your chin. At Divi Aruba and its next-door sibling, Tamarijn, you'll spend most your time in that water. The two resorts share amenities: pools, a 30-foot climbing wall, bikes, tennis courts, a gym, children's camp, and access to a neighbouring casino. Though families and honeymooners outnumber other guests, the vibe remains mellow and beach-focused, not frantic with kiddie activities or bass-thumping nightlife.
The Dollars: Doubles from $525 at Divi, and from $475 at Tamarijn.
Who Should Go: Honeymooners and couples with small children
Why: While girls gone wild and their bachelor-party admirers whoop it up down in Cabo San Lucas, blissful romance prevails at this generously proportioned beachfront palace. Popular for destination weddings (ceremonies are scheduled almost every day) and honeymoons, Dreams offers large ocean-view suites with private terraces, three large pools, five restaurants, and lots of activities, as well as opportunities for leisurely inactivity. Special packages are available (for additional fees) if you want to play one of the eight championship golf courses in the area or try deep-sea fishing. While romance is the focus, Dreams hasn't neglected families: a children's Explorers Club (with evening hours) and a kids' pool give parents a break.
The Dollars: Doubles from $395/night.
Who Should Go: Couples and families
Why: Many resorts keep you to themselves, but Mango Bay Resort wants to share you with Barbados. A friendly, small resort on the island's west coast, Mango Bay is a stroll away from boutique shopping in Holetown and adjacent to a lively stretch of bars and clubs that cater to island visitors and residents. Guests are welcomed at the weekly street parties in town and local bands provide the nightly entertainment in the hotel bar. The all-inclusive rate includes a few off-site excursions, as well as resort activities like kayaking, pedal boats, and waterskiing. Lounge chairs stretch the length of the modest beach and around the curvy free-form pool.
The Dollars: Doubles from $425/night. (Mango Bay enjoys an active off-season for the Caribbean, so you may want to consider a hot summer holiday.)
Who Should Go: Couples, families, groups
Why: While it's so sprawling that a mini-train shuttles guests around its vast grounds, the Melia Caribe Tropical offers a Royal Service upgrade which tames the beast. Royal Treatment guests can take advantage of the extensive amenities of a mega-resort while staying in their own wing, complete with dedicated butler service, as well as a private restaurant, pool, and exclusive stretch of Punta Cana's spectacular blue water and bone-white sand beach. A beach concierge and runners fetch drinks and cool towels to your shady palapa. The distractions are many: golf, a climbing wall, windsurfing, a zip line, 10 pools, tennis, and a casino. The Flintstones-themed kids' club operates until the late evening so parents can enjoy some uninterrupted yabba-dabba-you time.
The Dollars: Junior Suites in the Royal Service wing (sleeps 2 adults and 2 children) are available from $410/night.
Who Should Go: Families and couples
Why: Former travel agent Natalie Nevares likes the little touches at Ocean Coral & Turquesa: 'Chaise longues studded with air jets are built right into the children's pool, so parents can sit in the water with a pina colada, enjoying the bubbles and watching the kids play all day,' she says. Opened in late 2007, these side-by-side oceanfront resorts still enjoy that sparkling new sheen. Guests share six restaurants, a spa, four pools (plus a children's pool), and a lovely stretch of palapa-shaded beach that boasts the world's second-largest barrier reef right offshore. And because the resorts are just 15 minutes from the Cancun airport, you can catch an early flight from the U.S. and be swimming in the Caribbean before lunch.
The Dollars: Doubles from $149; up to two kids stay free during the summer low season.
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