If you’re like me, even though winter hasn’t even officially started – that doesn’t happen until December 21, 2013 – it already feels like it’ll never end. And nothing sounds like a better antidote to the winter blues than a beach vacation at an all-inclusive resort. (My family has already booked ours in the Dominican Republic.) But you need to be aware that not all all-inclusive vacations packages are created equal – and some discount options could cost you more in the long run if you aren’t careful.
You’ll Pay For Premium Service
Most resorts have a section and certain amenities that are reserved for guests who’ve paid a premium. The Paradisus chain of resorts, for example, has a family friendly section called The Reserve with, among other things, a restaurant, pool, and designated area of the beach reserved exclusively for guests staying in that part of the resort.
Upon arrival, you’ll be given a wristband with a distinctive colour or pattern that tells the resort staff which areas and activities you have access to. Those lovely looking canopy beds on the beach may be off-limits to you if you’ve only booked a low-budget room. If you’re booking with a travel agent make sure they clarify what’s included – and what isn’t – in the price you pay.
Also, don’t be fooled by the level of service you can expect from your “concierge service.” At most resorts, that simply means there’s one waiter taking care of a section of beach. If you’re feeling particularly parched, you might be better off going ot the bar yourself.
Stick To Star Power
You get what you pay for. With resorts rated on a five-star system, the higher the number of stars, the more expensive the resort will be. But at higher-rated resorts you can expect better quality food, fancier rooms, and nicer lounge chairs. At some budget resorts, things like towels and beach chairs can be in short supply. Three-star or lower resorts will typically only stock local brand alcohol, where you’ll likely find all the internationally recognized brands stocking the bars of four- and five-star resorts.
Note that the rating of resorts in Cuba is notoriously inflated. If a hotel claims to be four-star, anticipate that it’ll be more like a three-star resort in other Caribbean destinations.
Pay To Play
At most resorts, basic beach toys like kayaks or snorkels and flippers will be available on the beach for all guests. Some even include golf green fees as part of certain packages. But you have to pay extra for many activities, such as scuba diving lessons, catamaran rides, horseback riding on the beach, or day trips to nearby towns.
Also keep in mind that as, noted earlier, some pools and hot tubs may be reserved for premium-paying guests.
Tipping isn’t required, but you will generally find that you tend to catch bartenders’ eyes more quickly when they know you’ll boost their sustenance wage with a buck or two.
A Rewarding Experience
You can get to your destination faster by using a travel rewards card to pay for it.
Many of the cards have sign-up bonuses that earn you enough points for a short-haul flight right away and, significantly, they also include travel insurance. The RBC Visa Infinite Avion card, for example, includes travel medical and accident insurance, plus trip cancellation, flight delay, and rental car insurance coverage.
Just keep in mind that most travel rewards plans do not cover the various taxes, so you’ll still be out of pocket a few hundreds dollars for your “free” holiday.