The one stop, pre-planned ease of an all-inclusive vacation always sounds wonderful in the cold, wintery months we face here in Canada. There is nothing easier than clicking a few buttons to have your flight, hotel and food all figured out but, are all-inclusives all they are cracked up to be? With just a little research (and a few more clicks on the internet) I've got a selection of all inclusive alternatives which can take your vacation from "we spent a week in the Caribbean" to "we had the best vacation of our lives".
The busy factor
If you've ever been to an all-inclusive, you will understand what I mean. Waiting hours to check into your room, waiting in line ups to get a beach towel in the morning, waiting to be seated at the buffet restaurant or waiting in line to pre-book dinner at one of the resorts restaurants (by the way, this often has to happen days in advance). It doesn't end there, either. Do you loathe the idea of having to wake up early just to "claim" a beach chair by placing a towel on it? Well, there's that, too. These resorts get so busy that, often, all you do is wait around to enjoy yourself, which is a less than ideal way to spend your vacation.
The alternative: Choose a boutique hotel just outside of the city centre. The reality of being slightly outside of the most popular areas where you travel means that you can enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of your chosen vacation spot but always have a more serene place to lay your head at night or unwind in the evening. Renting a car, hopping into a cab, taking the local, public transit or walking to the beach, city centre, shopping district or national monuments are a better way to spend your time on vacation than fighting over resort lounge chairs and waiting in line for a la carte reservations only to be told in Mean Girls fashion "you can't sit with us!".
The accommodation and meal factor
No matter the type or length of a vacation, I always look forward to a good sleep-in session now and again so, for me, there is nothing worse than having housekeeping knock on your door in what may seem like the early hours of the morning while on your vacation. They might mean well, but I'm pretty sure I don't need a new towel every single day. Nor do I use up that much bathroom tissue to suffice it being replenished so frequently. Now as much as I appreciate sleeping in, there is something that may be missed if you're not on schedule, and that's breakfast. Oh yes, the ever so particular feeding times at all-inclusive resorts often mean you are on someone else's schedule for all your regular meal times and, really, unless you are staying at a 5 star resort, your meals and ingredients are often recycled from one meal to the next.
The alternative: Book yourself an apartment hotel and enjoy the comfort of a front desk with knowledgeable staff and the anonymity of a private room, without the turn down service and towel exchange. If you're ok with using the same bath towel for a week and can make your own bed, an apartment hotel can provide you with a space for sleeping, eating and, importantly, cooking! I'm a firm believer that nothing gets you closer to knowing a city/country than food shopping at a local grocery store or fresh market. Researching the regional foods means you can buy fresh local goods to experience the city at its best and enjoy your breakfast, lunch and dinner on your own time.
The luxury factor
If you're the luxury-type vacationer, you might be a touch let down when you get to your four or five star resort to realize what a star rating system for hotels and resorts means vs. one in North America. You book a four star and expect a four star only to realize that not every single aspect of your resort may fall into your expectations of a four star. Anything from accommodations, meals, service, amenities or location could all be relative to what you think they will be and you might be disappointed simply based on your expectations.
The alternative: A five-star hotel in the city centre might be the better way to go if it's luxury you're aiming for. Most of the capital cities or main attraction cities are likely to have a worldwide hotel chains as established places to stay for business and tourism and it's much more likely that the star rating associated with these hotels are going to match worldwide standards the chain has set in place. You might pay a few extra dollars but your trip will be much better when you're concentrating on the things you saw instead of the things you had to complain about.