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All-inclusive first-timers: what resort and what do we need to know?

All-inclusive first-timers: what resort and what do we need to know?

Old Jul 16th, 2012, 12:20 PM
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All-inclusive first-timers: what resort and what do we need to know?

My husband and I are planning a trip this spring and looking for ultimate relaxation and pampering. Well, "ultimate" within our budget: $5,000 for a week, maybe $6,000 if it is perfect (not including air-fare, we are hoping to use miles, so flights shouldn't impact that budget).

We've narrowed it down to two islands:

1) St. Lucia. We are debating between the three Sandals resorts. The Grande appears to be the highest rated, however it's also the most expensive. Any experience if the extra money is worth it, especially considering you can visit all three anyway? Are the beaches nice? I know they are going to be darker, but can we still swim off shore?

2) Anguilla. We really love gorgeous beaches (7-mile on Grand Cayman and Grace Bay on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos), but are having a hard time finding an all-inclusive and within our budget.

A few things I should mention:
- this would be our first time at an all-inclusive. We usually like to explore on our own, but we are really set on sitting back and letting someone else do all the work this time.
- we are open to other island suggestions, but after a lot of research St. Lucia and Anguilla are by far at the top of our list. Not interested in Jamiaca, Mexico, or the Dominican Republic.
- directly on the beach is a must!
- island activities or island-hopping would be a plus. For St. Lucia I'd like to do a day trip, maybe to Martinique, but at least around the island, and for Anguilla we'd want to go to St. Barts. Ideally our resort would just coordinate all this for us.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
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Old Jul 16th, 2012, 12:49 PM
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No AIs on Anguilla, that's why you can't find them!

You should consider gnu back to Turks and Caicos, Veranda AI sounds like what your looking for.
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Old Jul 16th, 2012, 03:32 PM
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i've heard some discouraging things about the clubs on st. lucia. less than stellar food, soso service, beach red flagged for an entire week, etc.
friends recently went to & thoroughly enjoyed the sandals grande on antigua so you might look at that.
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Old Jul 16th, 2012, 03:43 PM
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When you exclude Mexico, Jamaica and the DR, you have excluded the most and the best AI's out there.

AI's on other Islands just can not compare in price and amenities. Sorry, it's not going to happen.

Have stayed at the Sandals Grande in St. Lucia. We have been to 14 AI resorts and I rate the Grande the 2nd worst AI resort we have ever been to. The food and service was horrible. The way over charge for what they provided. The 1st was the RUI Tropical Bay in Negril, Jamaica. We have also stayed at the Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassua.

When considering an AI you also need to consider price. You will pay 2 to 3 times more for an AI in other destinations than Mexico, Jamaica and the DR and not get as much offered. If that is what you want to do, then fine, just be aware.

I agree with Blamona. The Veranda in Turks and Caicos, would be my choice if you can afford it, with your budget I think you will be able to do so.

St. Lucia and Anguilla are so totatlly different in topography. It's fuuny that you chose those two. I would also look at Antigua. They have some pretty good AI's there. I am not a Sandals fan though and have a hard time recommending them, but also look at the Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, Bahamas.

Just as a word of caution, when it's comes to AI's you really do need to have your expectations in check otherwise you will be disappointed. The food is not that great and the service can be iffy. Most resorts offer buffets with a few ala cart restaurants for dinner and maybe for lunch. The more they charge they better you will get except for Sandals. IMHO. That chain is the exception. They over charge for nothing and they cater to return guests while ignoring everyone else.

The ala cart restuarants usually require reservations. That means getting up at 7 am and standing in line for an hour to make a reservation. Just depends on the hotel. I would definatly recommend reading the resorts web-site and reviews on TA before making a choice and of course, coming back here and asking questions. We choose AI for breakfast and drinks. We put in our budget to eat off property depending on the destination. We like the best of both worlds. I can probably tell you anything you ever wanted to know about an AI resort.
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Old Jul 16th, 2012, 05:17 PM
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Anguilla and St Lucia are completely and totally different islands. One is flat, scrubby with long white sand beaches. The other is a tropical island with mountains, rain forests and dark sand beaches. I would highly recommend that you consider your needs and wishes.
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Old Jul 16th, 2012, 05:45 PM
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I've been to all 3 Sandals on St. Lucia - only stayed at the Grande...it is totally worth it. Everything is nicer. The Halcyon is small and low budget...La Toc is built into a cliff...didn't like the beach at all. As for Anguilla - it's night and day to St. Lucia...St Lucia is mountainous, lush, huge - has hot springs, zip lines, pitons, etc...Anguilla is flat with gorgeous beaches....absolutely gorgeous.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 04:16 AM
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Thanks everyone for the input!

We understand both islands are completely different. We are interested in both: lush island vs. amazing beaches. I know either way we go we'll be happy, just for different reasons. Also, the reason we threw out Mexico is because we've been numerous times (never AI, but different places) and want to try a different spot. Just not interested in Jamiaca or DR based on not being able to leave the resort. Also, our last trip was to the Turks and Caicos, not sure we want to go back so quickly.

As for what we want in a resort: maybe AI isn't the way to go ?? Do people usually pick AI because of the AI or because it is just a place to stay at the destination of their choice? Like I said, we are really interested in both islands and figured we'd just pick an AI to try that route (the idea of everything being taken care of for us sounds appealing). I'm wondering now though if people who enjoy AI pick the AI first based on what they are looking for (great food, nice rooms, certain service) and then just end up at whatever location because the vacation is the resort, not the island ??

KVR: Thanks for replying (I was hoping you would since I know you are the AI Expert!). What AI is #1 in your book? I see you mentioned you still usually eat off-site for dinner, do you also explore your destination on your own or do you lounge at your resort most of the day? Do you think AI is for us based on what we are looking for - interested in the destination more than the resort itself? We have friends who always do AI (Mexico or DR) and love it, but they usually just hang out and drink all day. That's not really our thing.

Again, thanks for the replies. I really appreciate it. I'm researching on my own A LOT, however this feedback is so much more beneficial
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 04:53 AM
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If you want to explore your surroundings and are not big drinkers, then AI may not be the best choice for you. I have traveled AI and non AI. It depends on what I want for that particular vacation. AI appeals to us when we don't want to deal with the "where do you want to eat"...."what do you want to do tonight", issues. If we just want to relax then it's AI. If we want to be more active then it's not.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 06:42 AM
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When discussing AI's you keep using phrases like "everything being taken care of for us" - I'm not sure that's as big of an issue as you've made it out to be.

Going AI generally means you pay a fixed price for room, food, drinks and certain activities offered by the resort but you'll still have to order the meals and drinks, make arrangements to take part in activities, etc.

If you go non-AI your biggest decision will be where to dine and that's not as daunting as it sounds. Everything else is essentially the same. If you want a drink (at the resort) you simply go up to the bar and place your order and give them your room number (you may be asked to sign a "chit" but that takes only a second or two. At the end of your stay, what you drink will be added to your bill. Same with any meals you take at the resort. Your meals will be prepared for you the same as when you go AI (but the quality will likely be better). Every resort has an Activities Director or Concierge who can make arrangements for any activities you'd like to do, be it water sports, sightseeing, day-sails, hiking - you name - just ask and they will "do it all for you" - the same as at an AI except the costs will be added to your bill.

Now, many "first timers" and those on tight budgets pick AI's because they perceive them as being less expensive but that's not necessarily so. True there are some "bargain" AI's out there but often they are not in the same league as better non-AI resorts- food is often mediocre, rooms are just OK, etc.

Non-AI's give you more flexibility - better rooms, access to more activities (anywhere around the island), an any restaurant of your choice - from simple local foods to high end - whatever you want and budget allows.

Price out both and you'll probably find there's not that much difference.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 07:06 AM
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People do AI's for lots of different reasons. I do agree that many do just for the sheer convenience. Pay one price, get whatever food and drink they offer and the plop down for a week and relax. We do not do that. We are very active on vacation and love tours, So we are out and about and why we include in our budget for additional food/drinks. Also, many tours and excursions offer meals and/or drinks.

To us, and maybe not anone else, AI's are less expensive. We do eat and drink a lot on vacation, so having it right there is what we are looking for. We also have some mobility issues, so walking around hunting for places to eat we are not going to do.

Depending on the destination also determines AI or not. Some Islands are spread out and it's not easy to get to restaruants and bars without a cab or a rental car.

If you want to do AI in St. Lucia go with Rendezvous, Jade Mountain or the Jalousie Plantation. St. Lucia is ber wide and spread out. Getting around can be difficult and you will definatly need some type of transportation unless you are staying in the Rodney Bay area.

You can take day trips to Martinque and to St. Vincent and the as the Grenadines have the white sugar beaches and the crystal clear water.

We had planned to go to Barbados this year. Pricing it out the AI hotels were charging $1,500 to $2,000 more than the condo hotels. Pricing out a condo hotel with eating out. It was about $1,000 to $1,500. So basically a $500 to $1,000 difference. Then it just comes down to preference. Do we want food and drinks provided or do we want to make the effort to leave the hotel and go to a restuarant. We had some home repairs come up this years, so we didn't go and going back to Mexico instead. Our plan was to stay on Barbados and then Island hop to Grenada and the Grenadines.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 09:08 AM
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$5000-6ooo, not including airfare, should allow 2 people to manage very well on Anguilla. When in the spring do you plan to travel? The low season starts April 15-May 1. Anguilla has no AI because there are so many great restaurants and beach bars. You can easily do a day trip to St Martin, Saba or St Barts. Look at Cuisinart, Frangipani, Viceroy, or my favorite, Cap Juluca. The hotel concierge can arrange excursions for you
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 10:27 AM
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An alternative to AI is to get breakfast and dinner included. We did that at the Nisbet Plantation (Nevis) for our honeymoon, and it was very convenient. Food was fantastic. We paid for lunch and alcohol and didn't feel stressed about it.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 01:16 PM
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We do a combination of AI and non-AI. Mostly we decide based on the island itself. We would never do an AI anywhere that the island is known for their food. The nice thing about AI'S is all the R&R. Typically, people do indulge in eating and drinking more than they do at home. They also spend a fair amount of time soaking up sun, playing in the water and laying on the sand or around the pool. You do know ahead of time how much you will spend on accomodations, meals, drinks, activities (the ones included), tips, etc. It really is personal choice.

We have done Sandals 6 times (St Lucia was our least favorite, Whitehouse in Jamaica was the best). BTW, in Jamaica the words "can't leave the resort" are just not true. We have also stayed at Palm Island in the Grenadines 3 times. No comparison. PI is exceptional.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 03:44 PM
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IMHO (and I am ready for the bullets!) AI is for people who do not want to experience whatever the island has to offer. It tends to be big in third world places where the only way people would feel safe is if they never left the compound.

To go back to the original choices: Anguilla is very easy to navigate by car or taxi. Pick a place on a beach and go out every night. Tons of great restaurants. St Lucia is a huge island. The best parts of St Lucia are not beaches. It would be difficult to go out to dinner every night unless you are in the northern, populated area. That is why you see AIs in St Lucia. For comparison, google a place like Fond Doux in the Soufriere area to see what other joys await.
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Old Jul 17th, 2012, 04:46 PM
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"AI is for people who do not want to experience whatever the island has to offer."

Here's your bullets because that sterotype is not true. You make your vacation what you want it to be.

I agree that people shouldn't stay on their resort and get out to see the Island, but many just don't want to and that's OK. It's not solely because they chose an AI resort.

Others, don't like guided tours, which some Islands really require it if you want to see it and that's an issue also. Not every destination is set up to just walk off your resort or rent a car and go explore it. You need a driver or a tour guide.

Plus you contridicated yourself when you stated "It would be difficult to go out to dinner every night unless you are in the northern, populated area. That is why you see AIs in St Lucia." That's why there are AI's in many destinations.

Believe it or not, AI is really a less expensive option if you eat and drink a lot on vacation. They are also much more convenient and becoming more popular. That is another reason why there are so many of them even in places where there are numerous restaurants and bars.

As I have said before, some destinations are better than others when it comes to AI and it's always a person's personal choice. But, I do get a little irritated and defensive when people make blank, incorrect, inaccuarte, sterotypical remarks about something they really have no real knowledge about especially when they have never even been to AI resort. I'm not pointing fingers, just making an all over all general statement.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2012, 08:42 AM
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You have a nice budget, so you can be as relaxed as you want to be. Here is a list of AI resorts to consider. I would also spend a little time outside of the resorts doing relaxing activities to really enhance your experience on St. Lucia. Have a good time.

AI Resorts
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