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I don’t know how many meals I purchased that went uneaten when my kids were younger. So many chicken nuggets, pizza slices and bowls of mac and cheese paid for and then wasted because, suddenly, the kids weren’t hungry. But when we traveled to an all-inclusive resort, my wife and I stopped stressing over mealtimes. Nibble here, nibble there, leave for a while and come back later — it all became so much easier.
Ease is one of the main benefits of an all-inclusive family vacation. Having so many dining choices at one’s fingertips — with no large room service bills or long meals sitting in a stuffy hotel restaurant — is simply easier for families. Plus, there are choices for everyone in the group. If grandma and grandpa want to have a fancy steak dinner one night, they can do that. In fact, at most resorts, the whole family can join them while the little ones are at the kids’ club or being watched by a babysitter.
“For me, what makes an all-inclusive stand out is the true coverage of all age stages,” said Amie O’Shaughnessy, CEO of travel agency Ciao Bambino. “It’s really great to have not-so-far-from-home facilities that can cater to babies.”
Indeed, the ease of the experience for many different types of clients is a major benefit of an all-inclusive.
“The biggest advantage for families planning an all-inclusive vacation is that every last detail is taken care of, so the family can truly enjoy their vacation,” said Adam Stewart, deputy chairman of Sandals Resorts International.“A Beaches Luxury Included vacation includes unlimited watersports; roundtrip airport transfers; our 5-Star Global Gourmet dining at up to 21 specialty restaurants; activities and amenities for all ages; and luxurious family-friendly suites,” he added. “Every last detail is included, so that from the moment your clients step off the plane to the moment they depart, they can truly indulge in paradise.”
Of course, not everyone appreciates the benefits of the all-inclusive. In fact, many agents say they no longer plan these types of vacations for families.
“I haven’t booked an all-inclusive family vacation for a couple years now,” said Daniela Harrison, a consultant with Avenues of the World Travel. “The one-size-fits-all model is not what my family travelers have been looking for — these families are looking for exotic, active adventure itineraries, and for most of them I custom plan it.”
“Exotic” and “custom” are generally not terms associated with all-inclusives — although many resorts are better at customizing experiences than some might think. But, at its core, all-inclusive resorts are designed to appeal to a wide range of travelers, offering all sorts of things to all kinds of people.
It’s all about the “all.” Either you have clients that get that concept, or you don’t.
We asked four advisors for their favorite all-inclusive resorts for families — and to share a few insider tips for planning this type of family vacation. Here’s what they said.
Donna Alkarmi, Lone Star TravelFavorites for Families: Hyatt Ziva Cancun and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana
What I Like: Hyatt Ziva Cancun is located at the tip of Cancun, Mexico, surrounded by water on three sides — it feels like the resort is floating. In addition to its other dining options, it has a one-of-a-kind pastry/gelato shop that looks like it was created by Willy Wonka. I love to watch the staff spin cotton candy and see the guests dip cakes or marshmallows in the chocolate fountains. For the parents, this resort is the only one with an on-site micro-brewery in a swanky sports bar that plays sporting events from around the world on at least 14 televisions. It’s also got a great menu with 10 different kinds of wings, fish and chips and other bar favorites. Plus, even though it’s a sports bar, it’s actually family-friendly.
The Dominican Republic’s Hard Rock Punta Cana is a massive property, and kids and adults can keep busy the entire day, rain or shine. If it rains, clients can grab an electric guitar from the front desk and learn to play with a tutorial that runs on the television in their room. Or, they can drop the kids at Roxity Kids Club, which is open from 10 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. With kids’ yoga classes, mini-Olympics, pool parties, percussion parties and treasure hunts, little ones will never want to leave. Parents can enjoy the largest casino on the island, while the children are having a blast. They have recently added an “escape room” and a chocolate-making class (for an additional fee). Plus, with the new unlimited resort credits program, guests only pay a minimal fee for any spa treatment or for one of the many area tours they offer.
Tips for Families: I spend a lot of time interviewing the clients to match the resort to the age of the children and their interests. A perfect example is the new Hotel Xcaret Mexico. After staying there, I think it would be best suited for families with kids ages 8 and older, so they can partake in all the eco-parks and tours that are included.
I make sure each client is completely familiar with the resort prior to their arrival. I give them info such as the best time to go to dinner without long waits; if reservations are required for the a la carte restaurants; dress codes; whether to bring beach toys or if they are included; and more. Well-prepared clients have less anxiety once they arrive.
Natalie Ethridge, Ciao BambinoFavorite for Families: Club Med Punta Cana
What I Like: Club Med Punta Cana is set on a beautiful white-sand beach, and has a relaxed, welcoming vibe about it. The staff is gracious and committed to sharing their island hospitality with every guest. There is no shortage of options here that will help ensure a wonderful stay for families of all ranges. The kids’ club — which invites little ones as young as 4 months old in the Baby Club and extends through to teens up to 18 years old in the Passport Club — will keep everyone well cared for and engaged. The watersports and athletic options are amazing, and there’s a Cirque du Soleil experience called Creactive that’s truly unique. With so much going on, parents can slip away to the Zen Oasis for a little adult time, or just relax together as a family and enjoy the resort.
Tips for Families: With such variety in resorts and locations, it’s best if families have an idea of what their priorities are. Do they love great dining? Is a kids’ club a must? Is having a variety of activities and sports something that will make or break a trip? There are many options out there, so if families know what they want, it’s likely there’s a perfect resort for them.
Kim Milnes, Family Travel BoutiqueFavorites for Families: Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa, Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana and The Grand at Moon Palace Cancun
What I Like: Beaches Turks & Caicos truly has one of the best beaches of any resort — the white sand is soft, and the water is so beautiful. The kids’ club is great there, too. I like how they break up the ages, and it is one of the few resorts that offers services for kids under 3. Even if the parents just want to have an adult dinner, that’s possible there. (Plus, there are so many restaurants to choose from.) The family rooms in the Italian Village are great for larger families, as well. In particular, I love the kids’ rooms that feature bunk beds.
I am a big fan of Karisma resorts, which includes the Nickelodeon resort in Punta Cana. The regular accommodations are spacious, and it has nicely sized rooms for larger families, as well. I think this is an especially good choice for kids ages 12 and under. The waterpark and kids’ club are great, and there is a very nice beach.
In my opinion, the kids’ club at The Grand at Moon Palace Cancun tops them all. The resort offers indoor minigolf, bumper cars and a waterpark. Also, I think Moon Palace resorts have really excellent food choices. The family connecting rooms there are great, too. I have a lot of clients who want to have separate rooms, and this is an ideal option.
Tips for Families: Figure out what’s most important for the family when they vacation — a beach, a kids’ club, food or something else. There are a lot of family resorts, but they are not all ideal for every family.
If the family needs to travel only on school breaks, make sure they book in advance — especially a family of five or more. To get the best pricing, they really need to book early. Plus, rooms that fit large families are limited. For example, for travel during spring break, it’s best to start planning at least six to eight months in advance. I suggest starting no later than November to get the best rates.
Sally Black, VacationKidsFavorites for Families: Sandos family resorts (especially Caracol, Playacar and Palm Bay), Dreams resorts (especially Dreams Puerto Aventuras), Hotel Xcaret Mexico and Paradisus Palma Real
What I Like: The Sandos resorts in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico — including Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Sandos Playacar Beach Resort and Sandos Palm Bay Playacar Beach Resort — offer many family-friendly amenities, including waterparks. Plus, Sandos Caracol has a whole nature adventure program, with on-site cenotes for swimming and interactions with local Riviera Maya animals rescued from dangerous situations.
Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa, in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, is especially good for clients who need accessible options for family members with mobility issues. Plus, 70 percent of the guestrooms connect to accommodate a family of six.
Also in the Riviera Maya, Hotel Xcaret Mexico is a great choice for active families with tweens and teens. There’s just so much to do on property, not to mention the adventure activities in the five nature parks that surround the resort.
Paradisus Palma Real, in Punta Cana, is also a great property, especially for families with really young ones. The resort has a family concierge infant program that can’t be beat, and a special kids’ club called the Baby Zone that will watch over kids as young as 1 year old. The kids’ club for older children has a range of cool activities, including magic shows, movie nights, pinata parties and tennis classes. Teens have plenty of options too, including a climbing wall.
Tips for Families: It’s important for travel agents to properly qualify families before booking a vacation. All-inclusives are not a one-size-fits-all proposition — an advisor has to know what the family needs and wants before they start any of the planning.
Also, I highly recommend that agents consider all-inclusive vacation experiences beyond Mexico and the Caribbean. Club Med, for instance, has some great ski resorts and international destinations that families would love. Portugal’s Martinhal Resorts are incredibly family-friendly and provide clients with a more cosmopolitan, urban option.