Having It All: All-Inclusive Travel for Families

What’s really included in an all-inclusive resort? Find out what you need to know before booking your family vacation.

We started traveling as a family when I was a teenager, just after we moved overseas. My dad’s job took us to London, and he and my mom decided it was time to broaden our horizons.

Prior to our move, trips were limited to the occasional jaunt to Ohio to visit my paternal grandmother and our annual two weeks on Cape Cod.

Looking back, I’m awed by my folks’ ability to look at three sullen kids, ages 15, 11 and 9, and decide: “Yeah! Let’s take them on a two-week tour of the French Alps in the cramped backseat of a BMW! Sounds great! What? We don’t speak French? Aw, who cares!”

But they were determined to provide us with the Greatest Experience of Our Lives. And you know, they really did.

My parents’ planning skills, however, left a lot to be desired.

To be fair, they weren’t schooled in the ins and outs of booking hotels, flights and rental cars. Until then, our life had been so solidly suburban that all of our travel took place in a light blue Dodge Caravan.

I’ll never forget the trip to Lanzarote, taken just four months after our relocation. Spring break, it was, and my dad booked us in the cheapest hotel on the least popular of the Canary Islands.

He mapped out our route to Gatwick Airport, and announced that it would take four hours to get there from our home in suburban north London. Since the flight left in the wee hours of the morning, we made a party of it, staying up all night and leaving the house around 2 a.m.

The drive took 45 minutes.

That eventful beginning was followed by a resort experience that included salads served with entire fish heads as a garnish, four days of rain on an island that gets four days of rain all year and three cases of severe sun poisoning. It goes without saying that the trip was less than successful. But it certainly was memorable!

When it comes to all-inclusive travel, I learned a long time ago what not to do. So how exactly does a family go about planning a successful resort experience?

All-Inclusive vs. a la Carte

Mary Anne DeMatteo is the director of marketing for the Jumby Bay Resort on the Caribbean island of Antigua, and an experienced resort traveler.

Knowing what your costs will be (accommodation, food and drinks) in advance makes planning a trip much easier, she says. Also, having access to meals and snacks on-site at any time of day makes traveling with wee ones a breeze.

“Being a mom myself, one of the things that makes (all-inclusive travel) so appealing is that our kids don’t eat very much,” she says. “To order from a menu when they barely eat is silly. So if my daughter doesn’t want to sit and have a meal with me at lunch time, I can let her go and then order a burger for her at 3 p.m.”

Paying for food and beverages upfront can also be less expensive than ordering a la carte, especially in a remote environment. Simple items like juice can carry luxury price tags on an island where everything has to be imported.

“I know my kids need juice twenty times a day,” DeMatteo says.

Don’t I know it. My daughter carries two sippy cups with her at all times. Imagine if each refill was $5 a pop. And in some cases, it might be. DeMatteo warns that each resort has a different definition of “all-inclusive.”

“Everything might not include everything you think,” she says.

At Jumby Bay, for example, she says, room service is billed separately. Another cost that can surprise you when you check out is taxes. Some governments—such as Antigua—require that line item to be listed and charged separately.

Asking the Right Questions

Determining exactly what you are paying for is just one step in the planning process, DeMatteo says. She also advises all traveling families to make sure they know the following before they hand over that credit card:

That last point is key, DeMatteo says. Imagine arriving at a resort and running out of diapers.

“I always ask what the shop carries,” she says. “Even right down to asking if there is a place to get the kids a shovel and pail. Who goes to the beach and doesn’t play with a shovel and pail?”

Knowing in advance that you need to pack sand toys and a suitcase of diapers makes for happy kids—and a happy mom.

A well-run resort will offer this information, as well as ask you a series of questions about your family’s preferences, from beverages to the firmness of your pillow, DeMatteo says. But if they don’t, she warns, be sure to make that phone call armed with a list of what you need to know before you get on the plane.

Bring the Whole Gang

More and more families are turning to all-inclusive travel because it is easy, convenient and fun, according to DeMatteo. She sees kids of all ages arriving at Jumby Bay, even the littlest ones.

“I see a huge trend of people traveling with younger and younger kids,” she says. “Our guests love to see the babies, and it makes for a nice mix. I think we all work hard, and we don’t want to be separated from our kids, so we travel together.”

Hmmm. I work hard, and I’m due with our second little bundle of joy in August. The Caribbean in June, anyone?

A girl can dream, people, a girl can dream. 

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Sleep

User Comments

All Inclusive Converts My wife and I always prided ourselves on being the kind of traveler who would never "do the all-inclusive" thing. Well, boy, did having kids change all that! We just got back from our second all-inclusive vacation to a Sol Melia property. In 2006 we visited the Sol Melia Puerto Vallarta and in May of this year we went to the Melia Cabo Real in Cabo San Lucas. Totally outstanding! I highly recommend it to any family that's seeking the perfect balance of parent and kid-friendly experiences. You can read more about it here: _musings/2008/06/11/keeping-it-real-in-cabo

2nd generation traveller Way to learn from your parent's mistakes!