A first resort

October 24, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

All-inclusive resort vacations can offer the ultimate in relaxation - no budgeting woes. Family-oriented, couples- and adults-only resorts generally include airfare, airport-hotel transfers, room costs, nonmotorized watersports and other recreational activities, nightly entertainment, meals, drinks, taxes and tips in one price that's paid up front.

"You're not surprised by the cost of things. It's more relaxing instead of budgeting your money day to day," said Tina Withrow, travel consultant with Preferred Travel Inc. in Martinsburg, W.Va. "You don't have to save up, for example, for that big meal out at the end of your trip."

Withrow and Kim Bushey, travel consultant at Richards World Travel in Hagerstown, gave the following advice for preparing for an all-inclusive vacation:


· Pick your destination. The vast majority of all-inclusive resorts are in tropical locations, Bushey said. Such Caribbean destinations as Aruba, St. Thomas, Barbados, Antigua and St. Lucia boast excellent all-inclusive resorts, she said, but the most popular resorts for Tri-State area travelers are those that can be accessed via nonstop flights from nearby metropolitan airports - primarily resorts in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic's Punta Cana and Cancun, Mexico.

"The prices tend to be less when you have a charter flight that goes from this area, such as a nonstop flight out of BWI," Withrow said.

· Choose your length of stay. Nonstop flights generally are recommended for vacations shorter than one week.

· Decide what type of amenities you want. Lots of recreational activities? Top-notch restaurants? An adults-only resort? Supervision for children? Amenities vary from resort to resort, Withrow and Bushey said. For example, meals often are served buffet-style in three- and four-star resorts and a la carte in five- and six-star resorts, Withrow said. Packages that are "inclusive" rather than "all-inclusive" might limit the number of on-site restaurants included in guest packages. Some all-inclusive resorts offer golf and sightseeing tours for guests who stay at least one week. Others throw in free scuba diving sessions. Ask plenty of questions to find the resort that best meets your needs.

· Secure passports or proof of citizenship for any travel outside the United States.

The price tag of all-inclusive vacations is comparable to that of vacations at resorts where guests pay for services a la carte, Withrow said. Prices vary based upon destination, resort amenities and time of year, but a seven-night stay typically costs between $1,200 to $1,500 per adult, she said.

"I think they are about the same cost when it's all said and done," she said. "The only difference is you're paying it all up front."

Factors that affect the price include the type of hotel - standard, moderate, superior, deluxe or luxury - and the amenities that are offered at each property, Bushey said. Extra money is needed for souvenirs and tours, she said.

All-inclusive options

Resorts such as Swept Away and SuperClubs cater to an adults-only clientele. Sandals is the No. 1 name in couples-only all-inclusive vacations - even offering free weddings less the license cost, but a new couples-only chain called Secrets is competing for the romantic crowd in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, Withrow said. Palace Resorts and a few other chains offer free sightseeing tours and have an exchange program that allows guests to use the facilities at other Palace Resorts in the area, Bushey said.

Though there are multiple resorts throughout the Caribbean that are great for families, Beaches Family Resorts - with destinations in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos - are the most child-friendly, she said.

"Beaches is the cream of the crop in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos. They've thought of everything for children," Withrow added.

Beaches offers nannies for infants and supervised age-appropriate activities for toddlers, young children and preteens, according to the resort's Web site at Toddlers might enjoy their own pool or shell collecting along the beach. Older children might like ice cream parties, treasure hunts and talent shows. Those who are not quite adolescents can participate in dance parties, boat cruises and group watersports. Beaches also boasts state-of-the-art video gaming centers for kids of all ages.

Beaches Family Resorts are "very, very popular," Withrow said.

That's why it's important to book all-inclusive vacations at any resort well in advance, travel agents said.

Good travel times are late December through April, with many families traveling during the summer months during children's break from school. Withrow recommended making reservations three to six months in advance. Bushey also suggested booking vacations early because "you never know when the price will change or the dates sell out."

The American Society of Travel Agents - a travel trade association that includes more than 20,000 members in 140 countries - has lauded all-inclusive resorts giants Sandals and Beaches for a price guarantee program that ensures that customers receive the best available room rate when booking through any reservations channel, including travel agents. The resort company will match even deeply discounted rates - a huge benefit for travel agents competing against Internet-based travel service providers.

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