By Kara Williams
The Vacation Gals
An all-inclusive resort is hands-down the most convenient way to vacation with children. These properties, typically found on the coast of Mexico and the Caribbean, include food, drink, activities, and entertainment in the room rate-- but specifics can vary widely.
Gated all-inclusive resorts which often have kids' clubs (including babysitting!), sprawling pools, buffet restaurants and plenty of beachfront, are certainly not "off the beaten path." So if you're seeking an "authentic" vacation, you'll need to look elsewhere. But if you want an easy way to keep kids entertained in a tropical destination at a resort that offers you decent value for the money, you should absolutely consider all-inclusives.
Here are some tips for planning your all-inclusive family vacation and things to do once you're there:
1. Do your research. Spots like Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica literally have dozens of all-inclusives to choose from. How do you know which is just right for your family? Seek out online reviews and ask questions on travel forums (like Fodor's Mexico Forum). You need to take strangers' reviews with a grain of salt (every Mexico all-inclusive property has at least one person complaining about the hard beds), but if you keep reading reviews that say the hotel's teen program is totally lame, perhaps better to seek out a different resort for your teenagers.
2. Confirm kids' club information. Most all-inclusive resorts offer some sort of complimentary kids' "club" or "camp," where staff oversees activities like sand-castle building, arts and crafts, relay races, and more. Some are just for ages 5 and up, others are for babies and toddlers. Some have day-long care with meals included, other offer drop-in care just a few hours a day. Don't rely on website information for the most updated program information. I suggest you email the property directly to confirm hours and policies (ie, do kids need to be potty trained?) so youâ€™re not disappointed once you arrive.
3. Confirm your requested accommodations. I had an interesting thing happen on my most recent all-inclusive vacation in Mexico. When my large group of 14 family members arrived at the resort, we found we were all upgraded to the newest hotel rooms at no cost. Sounds great? Not really. We wanted the older, smaller rooms that were much closer to the beach and the activity pool. We didn't care about the big Jacuzzi tubs and flat-screen TVs in the new section. It took a lot of heated discussion at the front desk, but we ultimately received the rooms we wanted after spending one night in the swanky ones. If you paid for a certain level of accommodations at the property, and you really, really want those rooms, make sure that request (or the words "no upgrades") is included in your reservation notes.
4. Pack an insulated coffee cup or drink container. Sounds silly, but the last few all-inclusive resorts I visited did not have coffee makers in the rooms and they had icky Styrofoam take-away cups at the dining rooms. If you're like me, and like to sip from a large mug leisurely throughout the morning, bring your own. Same goes for alcoholic drinks later in the day; instead of using multiple plastic cups for your daiquiris, bring your own eco-friendly cup.
5. Make a la carte dinner reservations when you arrive. Most all-inclusive resorts allow you to book a certain number of a la carte dinners depending on how long your stay is (for example, 3 for a 7-day reservation). Themed a la carte restaurants (i.e. Mexican, Japanese or Italian) are a nice change of pace from buffets, but reservations can fill up quickly. To get your ideal time slot, book them as soon as you arrive. Some are adults-only, so be sure to confirm if kids can tag along before you book.
6. Beware of timeshare sales presentations. Also on arrival, you may be accosted by the resort's timeshare folks. You might be asked to join them for breakfast and a tour of the property which will take "90 minutes of your time." Ask up front if this is a sales presentation. You can always decline. After all, you're on vacation in the tropics to play with your kids on the beach, enjoy the ocean breezes, and relax by the pool!
About the Writer
Kara Williams writes about all things travel related at TheVacationGals.com. She lives in the landlocked Colorado Rockies, and visits Mexico annually to get her "beach fix."
Photo courtesy istockphoto/Susan H. Smith