Hate wasting money on untested experiences? Protect your budget with all-inclusive resorts

Swimming through a cave in Mexico was definitely not on my to-do list this year, but my mom and I were up for the challenge on our most recent adventurous vacation.

The water was clear, the cave was cold, and the nerves were present — especially for my mom, who doesn’t know how to swim. But I tightened her life jacket, boosted her confidence, and we ventured into the cave, looking and embracing all its natural beauty.

Cave swimming was just one of the many adventurous activities my mom and I did during our recent all-inclusive vacation, which we probably wouldn’t have done if it hadn’t already been included.

The landscape for all-inclusive vacations is changing. According to research from the hotel brand Marriott in 2021, 54% of the 1,515 adults surveyed said they are likely to consider an all-inclusive resort for their next vacation. Whether you're an adventurous soul or someone who prefers to unwind by the water, all-inclusive vacations offer something for everyone.

What does all-inclusive mean?

An all-inclusive resort stay covers everything essential in the booking cost. This usually includes accommodation, meals, drinks, activities, and entertainment, all without extra charges. Although there might be certain specialized dining options, excursions, or premium amenities that may be available for an additional charge, the majority of the essential features and services are initially included in the up-front price.

According to Dana Studebaker, Vice President of Marketing at BeachBound Vacations, there are different kinds of all-inclusive resorts. Studebaker said resorts can range from adults-only to family-friendly and from luxury to more affordable. Many all-inclusive can also be found in Mexico and Caribbean islands. Other smaller islands such as Antiga, commonly have European Plan-style hotels, Studebaker said, which are hotels that typically don’t include food and drinks.

My mom and I stayed at the Hotel Xcaret Mexico in Rivera Maya. The all-inclusive five-star hotel gave us access to various adventure parks and entertainment activities, making it easier for us to make the most of our vacation without worrying about additional expenses.

Top 10: Unwind and indulge at the 10 best all-inclusive resorts in the US

Hotel Xcaret Mexico in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Hotel Xcaret Mexico in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

What activities are included in the package?

According to Studebaker, an all-inclusive package typically includes a diverse range of activities and amenities designed to provide a fun and budget-friendly vacation experience. As part of such packages, she said guests can commonly enjoy access to swimming pools, sports activities, fitness classes and entertainment experiences.

During the evenings, Studebaker recommended enjoying the many Vegas-style shows and performances that showcase local culture and talent and the vibrant nightlife and after-parties to dance the night away.

If you’re looking for premium amenities such as spa treatments and off-property excursions, those are typically available at an extra cost, Studebaker said. These premium offerings are unique for those looking for a more upscale experience, but guests looking to stay within budget can still take advantage of many other included amenities.

Is food included?

All-inclusive resorts generally provide a range of quick-service and sit-in dining options. This is a delight for adventurous foodies like my mom and me. We savored delicious dishes we might not have tried if we were limited to specific menus or had to dine outside the resort and search for suitable restaurants.

Although many of the culinary options are included, Studebaker said many resorts may offer an upscale, al al-a-carte restaurant for an extra cost or offer premium dining and beverage selections. Always double-check the details of the all-inclusive package you're considering to make sure you understand exactly what is covered.

Hector Garcia and his mother on a kayak.
Hector Garcia and his mother on a kayak.

Are all-inclusive vacations worth it?

They can be, depending on what you’re looking for.

When it comes to considering an all-inclusive vacation, it’s important to note what your budget is and what your goals are, Studebaker said. She suggested booking an all-inclusive resort if you want to stay within a specific budget and explore an island or country for the first time.

One of the primary advantages of an all-inclusive vacation is its convenience, especially for those on a budget. Unlike regular resorts, where you need to constantly check your expenses and budget for meals, activities, and entertainment, all-inclusive packages bundle everything together. This not only simplifies the planning process but also allows you to clearly understand your total vacation cost upfront.

An aspect that sets all-inclusive vacations apart from traditional ones is the opportunity to experience new activities without hesitation.

More: Why every family should try an all-inclusive resort at least once

Should I book with a travel company or directly with the resort?

When deciding whether to book your vacation through a travel company or directly with the resort, Studebaker recommended considering your individual preferences and travel needs. If you desire a hassle-free booking process and appreciate the expertise of professionals to handle every aspect of your trip, from hotel accommodations to airfare and excursions, opting for a travel company is an excellent choice. They can provide a comprehensive package tailored to your preferences, making the entire experience smoother and more enjoyable.

On the other hand, if you relish taking control of every detail of your trip and enjoy the research and booking process, then booking directly with the resort might be the better option. This approach allows you to personalize your itinerary, choose specific accommodations, and have a hands-on role in crafting your ideal vacation. It's ideal for travelers who enjoy the planning aspect and want full autonomy over their choices.

Tips to make the most out of your all-inclusive vacation

Research and compare. Start by researching all-inclusive resorts and destinations that align with your preferences and budget using vacation travel websites. Look for resorts that offer the activities and amenities you desire, whether it's adventurous excursions, gourmet dining, or relaxing spa treatments. Compare packages and read reviews to gain insights from other travelers' experiences.

  • Set a realistic budget. Determine your budget for the entire trip, including flights, accommodations, and any extra activities you plan to do outside of the all-inclusive package.

  • Book in advance. All-inclusive resorts often offer early booking discounts or special promotions. Booking in advance not only secures your spot at the resort of your choice but could also lead to significant cost savings.

  • Consider travel dates. Be flexible with your travel dates if possible. Rates can vary depending on the time of year and demand. Traveling during shoulder seasons or off-peak times might lead to better deals and a more peaceful experience.

  • Consider package enhancements. Some resorts offer room upgrades or additional perks for an extra cost. These enhancements might be worth considering if you're celebrating a special occasion or seeking a more luxurious experience.

  • Secure travel insurance. Protect your investment by purchasing travel insurance. It can cover unexpected cancellations, medical emergencies, and other unforeseen events that might disrupt your vacation plans.

You can have everything from food and drinks to entertainment and experiences. All-inclusive resorts are located worldwide, so if you’re looking for a tropical getaway in the Caribbean or an adventurous trip in Europe, there will surely be something waiting for you.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why you’ll want an all-inclusive resort for your next vacation