By Rebecca Strauss
UPDATE: We’ve got new lists! Check out our top picks for Caribbean all-inclusive resorts for 2013, as well as the Caribbean resorts that won a Fodor’s 100 Hotel Award in 2013!
When you go on vacation—especially on a Caribbean beach vacation—the last thing you want to do is worry about logistics. That’s the beauty and simplicity of the all-inclusive resort: Enjoy food, drinks, and activities (or lack thereof) for one fixed price, and concentrate on your good time! Today’s best all-inclusives are far from interchangeable. Some cater to solo travelers while others provide a remote and luxurious retreat for couples. Still others are best for vacations with the kids. Whatever your idea of a perfect Caribbean escape, read on to find the perfect all-inclusive for you.
Best Beach: Palm Island
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
There are five luminous beaches ringing all-inclusive Palm Island, and only 43 rooms, so you should have no problem claiming a bit of sand for your very own. Half the rooms are beachfront, and the other half are only steps away. All feature low-key, Old Caribbean décor, with custom bamboo furnishings, woven rattan ceilings, and for the comfort-accustomed, a/c. The resort’s two restaurants, daily tea, weekly manager’s cocktail parties and beach barbecues satisfy the appetite for variety. Guests enjoy amenities like tennis, croquet, cycling, shuffleboard, and a salon—but the beach is really the star here. For the lounge lizards in your party, there are plenty of hammocks to go around.
Pros: isolation makes it feel exclusive, few rooms make it feel intimate
Cons: difficult and expensive to get to, only two restaurants
Explore Nearby: Day sails and outings are available to the Tobago Cays and Mopion Island.
Learn More: Palm Island Review
Best Food: Excellence Playa Mujeres
Riviera Maya, Mexico
All-inclusives are rarely known for their cuisine, often a case of quantity over quality; this beachfront Riviera Maya resort aims to reverse that reputation. Sitting on a two-mile stretch of beach, the adults-only resort exudes refinement. Nine gourmet restaurants and 11 premium-stocked bars traverse the culinary globe. For a taste of native cuisine, start at the Mexican restaurant Agave then make your way across the world to Chez Isabelle (French), Basmati (Indian), Barcelona (Mediterranean)—the list goes on. If that’s not enough, be sure to hit up the 24-hour room service. We promise you won’t miss eating off-property. Work up an appetite at the Greg Norman golf course, seven swimming pools, jogging trail, spa, or fitness center. Nightly entertainment guarantees you won’t have a dull moment, unless you want one.
Pros: pristine property, gorgeous pools and beachfront locale
Cons: pricey, isolated
Explore Nearby: Cancun’s legendary nightlife is 30 minutes away
Learn More: Excellence Playa Mujeres Review
Best Value: Iberostar Punta Cana and Dominicana
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Iberostar resorts are known for their good value, and the Punta Cana outposts are no exception. Guests at the twin resorts Iberostar Punta Cana and Iberostar Dominicana also have access to the facilities and restaurants at the adjoining Bavaro resort. Looking for even more variety? Amenities at a fourth Iberostar resort, the luxury Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro down the beach, are also available for an extra fee. The property’s huge, there are plenty of beach chairs, the Presidente beer is on tap, and there’s a full slate of bocce ball and pool aerobics if you’re so inclined. But at less that $200 per night, you don’t have to feel obligated to do anything but lounge on the beautiful beach.
Pros: tons to do for a low price, friendly service, well-priced, fantastic spa
Cons: large property can be a pain to navigate, food is not great, isolated
Explore Nearby: Since the city of Punta Cana was built as a home for mega all-inclusives, there’s little opportunity for exploring the surrounding area.
Best Spa: Grand Velas Resort
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Among the many all-inclusives lining the Yucatan shores, this one stands as a paragon of luxury and indulgence. The spa is sublime—the biggest in the Caribbean at almost 80,000 square feet—with 40 individual treatment suites decorated with native artwork. There’s a hydrotherapy circuit including a clay room, ice room, and various pools. Choose a simple Swedish massage or indulge in a spa "collection," with themes like "Journey through Ancient Mexico," wherein you’ll get a stone massage, a coffee ritual, a cocoa ritual, and a purifying vanilla facial. Explore the Mediterranean series (think olive oil) or the Indian treatment, including Ayurvedic principles. When you emerge, there’s a 1,000 foot stretch of beach and infinity pool, with plenty of post-massage nap chairs.
Pros: elegant rooms, good food, indulgence
Cons: pricey, can seem a bit snobbish
Explore Nearby: Check out nature park Xel-Ha, with lagoons, cenotes, and inlets for kayaking and snorkeling.
Learn More: Grand Velas Resort Review
Best Romantic Getaway: The Caves
It’s hard to imagine a setting more romantic than The Caves, where 13 whimsical, colorful rooms perch on sheer limestone cliffs overlooking the crystal clear waters of Negril’s West End. The property is cloaked in lush foliage, and guests cocoon in rooms with names like Two Birds, Butterfly, and Blue Dolphin. When it’s time to emerge, they wander down stone paths to the main dining room, where three meals a day are prepared by a local chef and feature local produce, fish, and meat. After dinner, book a session in the private hot tub for two, hidden in a tiny furnished cave with a view of the ocean. Still not romantic enough for you? Reserve a private cave a deux for dinner, lit by candlelight, and filled with flowers. Enjoy your meal as the ocean waves outside provide dinner music.
Pros: intimate, natural setting, quiet, unique rooms
Cons: might be too small for some, not all rooms have a/c
Explore Nearby: Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach is a cab ride away.
Learn More: The Caves Review
Best for Singles: Maya Tulum
At first glance, this beachfront eco-retreat may not scream "singles’ getaway," but the program of yoga, healthful meals, and an amazing natural spa do much to make up for the lack of singles’ mingles. Solo travelers are welcomed and arrive often, intent on a vacation dedicated to personal wellness. There are two large yoga halls, seven massage rooms, a labyrinth, and a Mayan sweat lodge, called a temezcal. A massage (or two) is a must—the holistic massage aims to soothe your mind and spirit, and the Mayan "yoot kene" massage focuses on the abdominal area. The 45 simple beach cabañas feature thatched roofs and beds draped in gossamer mosquito netting—none, however, have TVs, phones, or alarm clocks. Meals are taken in a beachfront cabaña dining room, and the restaurant serves a wide variety of healthful vegetarian and seafood dishes. You’ll come away feeling 10 years younger.
Pros: healthy retreat, opportunity to meet like-minded people
Cons: no traditional entertainment, lack of phones and Internet means you really must unplug, no meat on the menu
Explore Nearby: The Mayan ruins of Tulum are just up the road.
Best for Girlfriend Getaway: Divi Aruba
Aruba’s a great destination for a girl’s getaway, with plenty of shopping, casinos, great spas, and a hopping nightlife. The Divi Aruba sits on wide, white Manchebo Beach and sometimes offers great seasonal packages aimed at attracting vacationing gal pals. On the property, girls will find all the bells and whistles—nine restaurants, seven bars, three pools, free bikes, a 30-foot rock climbing wall, and a fitness center. The onsite spa offers a full menu of services, including one mean facial. Guests can also use all the amenities at the Divi Tamarijn, right next door.
Pros: good restaurants and lively bars, plenty to do on property
Cons: will need a rental car to get to beautiful Palm Beach or Eagle Beach
Explore Nearby: Take a break from all that relaxation and check out the sites from the top of Mt. Hooiberg.
Learn More: Divi Aruba Review.
Best for Adventure Seekers: Hacienda Tres Rios
Riviera Maya, Mexico
This medium-sized all-inclusive near Playa del Carmen, which opened in 2008, bills itself as an eco-friendly retreat, with a 326-acre property that’s home to three natural rivers (hence the name) and a mangrove forest. Guests can explore the property by means of bicycle tours, guided nature walks, snorkeling tours, plant nursery tours, and kayak tours among the trees. The 273 rooms are pristine and thoughtfully decorated with local mahogany and Mexican marble floors and bathrooms. If you’re looking to unwind after a day of kayaking, there’s also an excellent on-site spa with the usual menu of massages and wraps. Nine restaurants offer everything from Mayan to French cuisine.
Pros: plenty to do on the property, rooms are sparkling, good food
Cons: expensive taxi rides to Playa del Carmen or other Riviera Maya attractions, property can feel a bit sterile
Explore Nearby: The Riviera Maya region of Mexico is a playground for explorers, with eco-parks, zip-lines, cenotes, and ruins at every turn.
Best Multigenerational Resort: Coconut Bay Resort and Spa
The Coconut Bay Resort & Spa, an 85-acre spread on the south coast of lush St. Lucia, is really two resorts in one—an adults-only oasis called Harmony and a family-friendly resort, Splash, with plenty of kid-pleasers. Suit up the family and lob neon paint bombs at one another (extra fee). For the more sedate among the group, there’s snorkeling, yoga, three pools, and the biggest water park on the island. Both Harmony and Splash sit on a pretty stretch of white sand beach, rare on this volcanic island. All guests have access to the four on-site restaurants, ranging in style from the casual buffet which serves plenty of chicken fingers and hot dogs for finicky kids, to Calabash, the new Caribbean specialty restaurant.
Pros: friendly staff, great beach, lots of activities
Cons: rooms are a little worn, location makes exploring the north half of the island difficult, paintball costs extra
Explore Nearby: Drink in the iconic scenery of the Piton Mountains. Organized climbs and boat tours are readily available.
Learn More: Coconut Bay Resort and Spa Review
Best for Families: Beaches Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos
This all-inclusive enclave on the sugary sands of Grace Bay Beach is like the summer camp of your kids’ dreams, and adults won’t find much to complain about either. Suites in the Italian Village, added to the resort in 2009, feature a sliding door that seals off the kids’ room to give parents more privacy. The kids won’t lack for entertainment, though, as rooms feature bunk beds and Xboxes to keep them busy. Not that you’ll be in the room much—the property features 16 restaurants, a 45,000 square foot water park, six pools, a huge Xbox game room, a teen disco, and a surfeit of included beach-based activities like ocean kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, hydrobikes, and stand-up paddleboarding. The icing on the cake is Grace Bay beach, one of the Caribbean’s best.
Pros: You’ll never hear the words "I’m bored;" great service, beautiful rooms
Cons: sprawling property, far from other Grace Bay attractions
Explore Nearby: Take the kids exploring for artifacts in the Conch Bar Caves, but hire a guide as the site is rather undeveloped.
Learn More: Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Review
Thinking of taking a trip to the Caribbean?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our online Caribbean Travel Guide.
Photo Credits: Courtesy Grand Velas Resort