The prospect of an upcoming holiday means eagerly counting down the sleeps, daydreaming about your destination and preparing for some awesome times together as a family. Unfortunately, it often also means the anxiety of budgeting, packing, and planning meals and activities and transfers. For this reason, loads of families champion a getaway at an all-inclusive resort. If you’re a family of all-inclusive first-timers, check out our tips and tricks so you know what to expect:
Does all-inclusive mean everything?
Despite the name, there is variation between all-inclusive hotels when it comes to exactly what you get as part of the package deal. It is a safe bet to assume that your room, all meals, all drinks and some activities will be covered. The best way to avoid unwelcome surprises is to research extensively about your chosen destination before you go. Some all-inclusive resorts, for example, don’t include Wi-Fi access, spa services, excursions, a la carte dining or top-shelf liquors for the grown-ups. In most circumstances, sporting equipment and facilities like pools are included, but motorised activities like jet-skiing are not.
Activities and Kids Clubs
When it comes to kids and all-inclusive resorts, the Kids Clubs and children’s programming are a huge plus. Check beforehand which ages are catered for and what you’ll need to bring along. At Club Med, qualified, professional care is provided for kids as young as four months, and teens as old as 17. Club Med are, in fact, in the middle of celebrating the 50th anniversary of their Kids Clubs, which are famous for their wide range of activities and highly qualified, experienced and friendly ‘G.Os.’ (Gentil Organisateurs).
A Baby Club Med program for 4-23 month-olds includes indoor and outdoor play and nap times, a Petit Club Med for 2-3 years means face painting, puppet shows or arts and craft, and Mini Club Med for 4-10 year olds has a jam-packed program of cooking, sailing, snorkelling or skiing, depending on where you are. The crowd-pleaser is the Circus School program which will give you a shot at reaching sky-high on the trapeze! Resorts catering to teens will generally have a Teen Common Room, as well as planned activities like learning new sports, film editing, design and jewellery making. An all-inclusive package will let you make the most of these perks without a care in the world!
Most all-inclusives pride themselves on their sense of family fun. Generally, included activities for the whole crew range from yoga or dance classes to kayaking and snorkeling. At extra cost, you may be able to go horse-riding, jet-skiing and on boat tours. You should look out for night-time entertainment, as you’ll frequently find live music, karaoke and comedy acts scheduled.
The calling card of all-inclusive service is the constant access to buffets and drinks, a huge relief to hungry kids and their Mums and Dads. Buffet standards are generally fairly high, although you might want to mix it up and dine a la carte some nights. If so, be sure to reserve a spot in advance, and make sure you bring decent clothes with you so that you look the part. Inform staff in advance about dietary requirements and check about entry with kids as restaurants may be adults-only. In some cases, a set number of a la carte meals will be included in the cost, with the expectation that you will enjoy the buffet the rest of the time.
Where to go
All-inclusives are most popular in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean, with Jamaica, Phuket, Bali and the Dominican Republic as top-rating destinations for this type of accommodation. Brands like Club Med, RIU, Iberostar and Dreams are great for families. Five of Club Med’s resorts, for example, have been voted best family resorts by readers of Holidays with Kids – so check out what they offer in Bali, Malaysia and Thailand! Don’t stop there – Club Med’s reach extends to 70 luxury sun and snow resorts worldwide.
Jean-Michel Cousteau have a fantastic Fijian resort that is equal parts luxurious and kid-conscious. For starters, kids are under 6 years old can be looked after by a complimentary and personal nanny dedicated to them all day for the duration of your stay. Nannies will take toddlers and small children on long stroller walks, glass bottom boat rides, crab hunts, sand sculpturing and other activities. Peek online for more info about the excellent nanny and baby services, including the Fiji Buddy system with a 1:5 ratio for primary-schoolers. For any kids between 2 months and 12 years, there is also the Bula Kids Club which covers all meals and activities, including exposure to local culture, environmental encounters, cooking, plantation projects and coral reef walks. JMC and their experienced staff and Babies, Kids and Teens programs are well known for fostering environmental consciousness.
Hidden fees and unexpected expenses can be a dampener on an otherwise great getaway. Some experts warn families that the all-inclusive experience can feel a little impersonal, as you may be isolated from local communities and are less likely to explore your destination. Generally, all-inclusives are ideal for families seeking a tropical holiday, not a cultural immersion along the road less travelled. Of course, you have the option of leaving the hotel, exploring the surrounds and getting a taste of local flavour! The number 1 tip is to research before you go. This way you can know what to expect and can arrive prepared.
1. Check for bundle deals with airfares, hotels and transfers.
2. Pack all your own toiletries and convenience items, especially sunscreen, as these are usually expensive to buy from onsite stores.
3. Request an early check-in, or even drop your bags off and start using some of the facilities – many hotels allow this.
4. Lots of travel experts and websites urge you to bring your own cups, for refills and for use in your rooms, as several all-inclusives only provide Styrofoam or plastic.
5. If you are going as a large group, book altogether as it will make it easier to negotiate factors like proximity of rooms.
6. Travel outside peak seasons to avoid large crowds.
7. Read reviews as well as provided hotel information to get a sense of the resort vibe – some hotels, for example, market themselves based on a great party atmosphere which may not be ideal for families. Similarly, compare different options based on what is available for babies, teens, grandparents and the needs of your family group.
8. Inquire in advance about allowances for young babies. Some all-inclusives cover baby gear like nappies, baby food, formula, cribs, baby baths, strollers, change tables and high chairs, so make the most of it!
9. Depending on local customs, bring extra cash so you can tip service staff if needed.