Travelers need to determine in advance what is most important to them to have an experience that meets or exceeds their expectations. Here are some factors to consider when choosing an all-inclusive resort:
- Flights and Destination – Non-stop charter flights (when available) versus published airfare. From the Milwaukee/Chicago area, there are three main destinations that offer the most options for all-inclusive resorts: Mexico, the Caribbean (mostly in Jamaica) and Punta Cana (the Dominican Republic). Some destinations offer charter flights (non-stop flights) during peak travel periods. Charter flights can run daily or only on certain days of the week – depending on the destination.
- Transfers - A transfer is transportation from the airport to the resort. Round-trip transfers include transportation from the resort back to the airport. Transfers are generally priced per person at a flat rate (children and adults pay the same price). Some transfers are shared – meaning it is a large van or bus and can make multiple stops at multiple resorts along the way. Depending on how far your resort is from the airport, travel time could take longer to make these stops. If more than four people are traveling together, it may be advantageous to see if a private transfer is available. A private transfer could save time and money since the vehicle will go directly from the airport to the resort.
- Adult-only versus family resorts – Are you looking for a romantic getaway with that special someone in your life? Perhaps you are looking for time away from children. There are adult-only resorts where the minimum age is 18 or older. Adult-only properties tend to price higher than non-adult only resorts.
- Distance from airport – The length of a flight (or even travel time) may impact your resort choice. The drive time from the airport to the resort may also be important to travelers. Do you want the resort to be less than 20 minutes from the airport, or would you be willing to drive over an hour to get to your resort?
- Bedding preferences and number of travelers - Most resorts offer one king bed or two double beds in a room. Some resorts limit how many people can be in one room together. This is mainly due to fire codes and safety regulations. Age of children may play a factor as well.
- Room categories differ from resort to resort. The lowest priced category is typically a standard room or perhaps one with a garden view. The next category up would be an ocean view room. This could mean a room on a higher floor that provides a view of the water. An oceanfront room is located close to the water. Some resorts have suites that are larger in size or may even have a private Jacuzzi available. Room categories vary so be sure you know what types are available at the resorts you are choosing from. Some resorts are all-suite properties.
- Activities offered at the resort – Are you an avid golfer? Some resorts include green fees if they have a golf course on site or nearby. Do you enjoy scuba? Some resorts includes scuba while others charge fees. How about non-motorized water sports like kayaking or paddle boards? Resorts vary in what (if any) non-motorized sports they offer. If they have motorized water sports (like jet skis), most likely extra fees will be involved.
- Size of resort – Some people like smaller resorts for a more intimate experience. Other people are fine with resorts that have 600+ rooms! Some resorts are compact in size and others exist on acres of land requiring a great amount of walking.
- Dining Options – Resorts can offer limited dining choices or a large number of dining choices offering a variety of cuisines. What is more important to you? Most resorts will offer free meals at buffets. Others may have policies for how many nights you are allowed to dine at specialty restaurants within a one-week stay. Some resorts require reservations at specialty restaurants and have a dress code. Some resorts charge a fee for guests to dine at specialty restaurants.
- Smoking versus non-smoking – Some resorts offer non-smoking rooms while others may not. If you are sensitive to smoke or have difficulty sleeping in a room previously occupied by a smoker, this could become an issue and affect your vacation experience.
- Public beach versus private beach – For some vacationers, this is a safety concern. For other, it is a personal preference. A private beach is only available for guests staying at a specific resort. A public beach will allow guests from nearby resorts and local people access to the beach.
- Spa/fitness center – Is having a spa on site for some pampering high on your priority list? Perhaps you work out regularly and want to keep up with your routine while on vacation. Knowing in advance the importance of a spa or fitness center may help eliminate a few resort choices for you.
- Top shelf liquor versus other brands – Some people can be very particular about what brand of alcohol they prefer. If top shelf liquor is a priority, this can also eliminate a few resorts that don’t offer top shelf.
- Internet access/Wi-Fi – Some resorts offer Wi-Fi only in their lobby or public areas. Other resorts may offer Internet access in guest rooms for a fee. Fees will vary but can add up if staying for a week or longer! Some resorts may have an Internet café where you can pay for a set amount of time. If being connected is important, be sure to check out in advance what rates, if any, will apply.
- Children’s activities – Will you be traveling with children? What are their ages? Would age appropriate children activities be helpful while on vacation? Resorts vary in programs offered, age ranges and other criteria. Asking about these specific criteria in advance will ensure everyone in the family is engaged.
- Elevators – Some resorts have taller buildings with elevators. Some resorts have many different buildings that do not exceed four floors. Elevators may not be available. If this is cause for concern, be sure to have your travel agent request a lower floor.
- Age of resort – Some travelers like nicer, newer surroundings compared to staying at older resorts with outdated décor. If this is a personal preference, ask a travel agent how old the property is and when it was last renovated.
- Purpose of the trip – Is this a romantic getaway to celebrate a special milestone? Is this a family vacation that has multiple age ranges or generations to consider? Is the purpose of the trip to relax and unwind or to be active and see and do many activities? Is this trip a combination of the above reasons? If you are content with a book by the pool, you may not require extra frills like a spa, golf, a fitness center or a huge variety of water sports. If there are multiple age groups that need to be entertained, a resort offering more activities may be needed.
- Hotel ratings – Most all-inclusive resorts range from 3 stars to 6 stars. The rating may be based on many different variables but what amenities and activities offered will vary the most. I recommend staying at least at a 4 star resorts if the budget allows it. Depending on your level of wants and needs, 5 and 6 star resorts may be more appropriate for you.
- Traveler experience and expectation level – Some people are fortunate to travel annually; some less often. The more a person travels, the more experiences they are exposed to. If you plan to never leave the resort due to concerns for personal safety, you may prefer more dining and entertainment options. Cleanliness, atmosphere, staff friendliness and level of service are all important and mean different things to different travelers based on travel experience. Expectation levels should increase at higher ranked properties. Expectations should remain realistic at lower ranked resorts.
- Reviews – 20 different people can stay at the same resort during the same week and have 20 different experiences and opinions. I encourage my clients to take a look at resort reviews on Trip Advisor. Note the date of travel when the review was written. If multiple people complain about the same thing -- food or quality of service -- it may be a red flag. If only one or two people complain about multiple areas, perhaps they are more difficult to please. Take their comments in stride.
- Budget – Everyone wants value for their dollar and everyone wants to get a great deal when they travel. However, it is difficult to expect a “caviar and white-gloved service” atmosphere on a bologna budget. People get what they pay for. If price is the only determining factor for a vacation, many people will not be happy with the reality of their resort selection and vacation situation. If expectations are basic, then a lower priced option will fit your wants and needs. If your wants and needs are exceedingly high (or if you are a “high-maintenance person”), then look at more expensive, higher rated properties. The level of service should be higher and extra amenities should be available to make your experience even better and more memorable.
- Special Needs – Some families require special assistance whether someone has a bad knee or hip or perhaps walks with a walker or requires a wheelchair. Other people have special dietary needs. Knowing what is available in advance will make the trip go even more smoothly.
- Expertise of a Travel Professional – Many people ask me, “Why should I use a travel agent?” I respond that we can help narrow down your travel options based on your wants and needs. Travel professionals save clients time doing research and the frustration of being overwhelmed from all the choices. Travel professionals have relationships with reputable travel suppliers and can be an advocate on behalf on their client should something go wrong. We can also look for special deals and promotions available during your travel dates.
- Using a reputable travel supplier – Use good companies and try to book direct if possible. I book airfare direct with an airline or an airline consolidator for international flights. If something goes wrong, it is always easier to deal with an airline directly. I know many people who have struggled with Expedia or Orbitz when trying to resolve a situation. Some of the travel suppliers I use for my clients have been in business 35-75 years!
- Travel Insurance – Again, many clients ask me, “Why is travel insurance necessary?” Because they plan to take the trip! What if you have a death in the family or get hurt or sick just before you leave? What if a family member has a medical emergency while you are traveling? If you are paying a significant amount of money for a trip, don’t you think the extra protection is worth it? Why do you have car insurance or a home owner’s policy? Just in case something happens, you are covered. The same applies to travel insurance.
Travel creates memories that last a long time! Take the stress out of planning travel and use a travel agent. It will be worth it! Some travel agents charge service fees (depending on the type of travel). Others do not. Most travel agents are paid solely on commission by travel suppliers.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson says “Life is a journey, not a destination”. Enjoy the journey!