"All-inclusive" is a travel phrase that can have very different meanings. Though most people equate "all-inclusive" with "inexpensive," resorts that call themselves "all inclusive" can span the spectrum from budget-conscious "mass market" to "spare no expense" up-market luxury. It can mean the Caribbean resort where the pina coladas flow freely and platters of bbq ribs seem bottomless, or the dude ranch where you become part of an extended cow-poke family; it can also mean the elegant grand hotel where it would be unthinkable for a guest to have to go into his pocket because money is no object and everything is prepaid, a cruise, with round-the-clock dining, activities and entertainment, or a packaged tour where every aspect of your trip, including meals and sightseeing, is pre-arranged.
There is also a gamut of what is "included" at an "all-inclusive." The phrase can refer to meals alone (generally three a day, known also as "American Plan" dining but sometimes only breakfast and dinner are actually included); some include liquor (beer or wine with dinner at some, any liquor any time of day at others). "All-inclusive" can also refer to activities (and here, there may well be a list of which are included and which are "extra") such as tennis, snorkeling, skiing, horse-back riding, but some "all-inclusives" may charge extra for special activities such as scuba diving, golf, and spa-treatments. Children's activities programs, where available, are usually included in an "all-inclusive" but not always. Some all-inclusives do a better job than others at providing evening entertainment. And for some "all-inclusive" is inclusive of tax and gratuities, but for most, these are extras.
Cruises, for example, present themselves as "all-inclusive" vacations and are superb for family vacations and reunions (particularly Premier, Carnival and Princess cruiselines), but in fact, you can expect to pay perhaps $100 a day for extras, including liquor, shore excursions, and gratuities, and even ships which offer children's programs during the day typically charge a fee for evening babysitting (ie. $8/hour).
In some cases "all-inclusive" is "air inclusive," meaning that the land package (that is the lodgings and whatever comes with that) also includes air fare. You really need to know what you are buying, especially when you are cost-comparing. Particularly for families, you need to tally up what is charged for children, especially if they are sharing parents' room.
All-inclusive can offer a real savings over paying out of pocket for meals and activities, especially in destinations where restaurants are expensive, or fees are high for activities such as golf, spa treatments, children's activity programs, tennis. However, even if the resort is not technically "all-inclusive" you can bundle these costs into a program, and save money, by pre-purchasing a package, such as a "golf," "ski," "spa," "honeymoon" or "family" package or even a pre-paid meal plan (in some cases, this may also be a dine-around, where you have a selection of restaurants to choose from)-in essence, you are only paying for what you want to use.
Still, you need to keep in mind that "all-inclusive" does not mean that the elements are provided "free"-you are still paying for the inclusive features, but in advance and at a discount because the purchase price is spread among all the guests.
All-inclusives tended to arise in places which were remote, with few dining alternatives, or where urban dwellers used to spend the entire "season"-the Catskills in New York State (which modeled themselves on the cruise concept) and the Poconos, for example, became known for all-inclusives. But with greater access to a selection of dining experiences and changes in the way resort-goers travel, the "all-inclusive" resorts have had to adapt. Indeed, because an "all-inclusive" resort can appear more expensive than one which publishes a room-only price, many resorts, to be price competitive, offer this as an option-that is, you can purchase an American Plan meal option (breakfast, lunch and dinner), or a Modified American Plan (breakfast and dinner). The Eagle Mountain House, in Jackson, NH, the Copamarina, in Puerto Rico, and the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas (which has supervised activity program for 5-12 year olds) offer optional meal plans so you can create your own all-inclusive.
Other resorts which afford you this flexibility include La Cabana, in Aruba, offers guests the option of purchasing a meal-plan which also affords a "dine-around" feature with a selection of off-property restaurants. DisneyWorld introduced an all-inclusive concept, where you can pre-purchase a dine-around meal program as well as pre-purchase attractions tickets which are pretty much all-inclusive. Smugglers' Notch, in Vermont, considered a model family-oriented four-seasons resort, offers condominium-style accommodations (you prepare your own meals), but can arrange a meal-plan at on-site restaurants, particularly for family reunions and groups.
The all-inclusive concept is particularly attractive to honeymooners because it is worry-free, hassle-free, and convenient to budget in advance, and many resorts which cater to honeymooners have been designed as all-inclusives (like Sandals, SuperClubs, Allegro). However, for much the same reason, families are also drawn to the all-inclusive concept, particularly where activities and access to facilities are concerned (believe me, it is a lot more appealing to check out a pedal boat with a five-year old who might get bored after 15 minutes, when you are not paying by the hour), and even chains which originally were designed for adults now offer special resorts for families (such as Sandals' Beaches resorts and Club Med's Family Villages). For much the same reason, all-inclusives are ideal venues for family reunions.
Some independent resorts (mostly the grand hotels dating back to the days when urban dwellers would summer in the country) such as The Balsams in New Hampshire, and the Mohonk Mountain House in New York State.
The legendary resorts of New York's Catskills Mountains region claim to be the first to employ the cruise-concept of all-inclusive on land; among the true all-inclusives (meaning meals, activities, entertainment included) that remain are: Kutsher's Resort & Country Club (800-431-1273); Raleigh (800-446-4003); Villa Roma Resort & Country Club (800-727-8455); and Nevele Grand (800-647-6000). In addition, there is an excellent family-oriented dude-ranch resort, Rocking Horse Ranch (800-647-2624).
Pennsylvania's Poconos, as a region, can probably make a claim to the title now, with probably a dozen all-inclusives. Indeed, the Poconos is known as the "honeymoon capital of the world" because of its nine luxurious couples-oriented resorts (Caesars Cove Haven in Lakeville, Caesars Paradise Stream in Mount Pocono, Caesars Pocono Palace in Marshalls Creek; Mount Airy Lodge in Mount Pocono, Penn Hills Resort in Analomink, Pocono Gardens Lodge in Mount Pocono, Strickland's Mountain Inn in Mount Pocono and The Summit and Birchwood in Tannersville).
More than just a honeymoon haven, the Poconos offers a wonderful selection of family-oriented all-inclusive resorts which are also fantastic for family reunions: Woodloch (800-572-6658), Caesars Brookdale (800-233-4141), Fernwood (888-337-6966), Skytop Lodge (800-345-7759), Tamiment (800-233-8105), Pocmont (800-762-6668) and Pocono Manor (a 1902 registered National Historic District, 800-233-8150); and The Resort at Split Rock, Harmony Lake (800-255-7625). (For further info, contact Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau, 800-poconos.com).
Similarly, in the Caribbean, there are a score of couples-oriented all-inclusives resorts as well as family-oriented ones.
Club Med, which pioneered the concept of all-inclusive resorts geared to active adults (the braceledts as wampam were legendary), has become the largest single provider of all-inclusive resorts (120 villages and 13 villas in 36 countries worldwide, with the greatest selection of family resorts-56 worldwide which offer Baby, Petit and Mini Clubs, while Villages for Everyone welcome children but do not have supervised programs for them. Indeed, as much as 65 percent of its business now consists of families. Of the 17 Club Med resorts in the North America zone (U.S., Caribbean and Mexico), only three are truly adult-oriented (Playa Blanca, Turks & Caicos and Cancun); even those without Mini Clubs (Villages for Everyone) still host families and offer plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy. The Club Med Family Villages include seven beach locations (Eleuthera, Bahamas; Caravelle, Guadeloupe; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; St. Lucia; Huatulco and Ixtapa, Mexico, and Sandpiper in Port St. Lucie, Fla.) and one Colorado ski village (Club Med Copper Mountain); these offer special Mini Clubs (supervised activity programs) for children 4-11. At Club Med, the all-inclusive package include accommodations, three meals, unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, most sports with lessons for all levels, Mini Clubs for children 4-11 years old, and evening entertainment (a Baby Club which accommodate children from 4 to 23 months is available at Sandpiper available at additional cost; Ixtapa, Punta Cana, Eleuthera and Sandpiper have a Petit Club for 2-3 year olds, at additional charge). Club Med offers a Family Escape Special, where a family decides when they want to travel, and Club Med tells them a week before the departure which Family Village they are going to-this can save up to $900. (This past summer, Club Med offered "Summer Kid's Specials" in Eleuthera, Bahamas, Ixtapa, Mexico, and at Sandpiper, Fla., when kids 2-11 stayed for $49 per week. Also, Summer Teen Specials were available at Club Med in Huatulco, Mexico, when kids 4-17 years old stayed for $99/week; call 800-CLUB MED, www.clubmed.com.
Probably the most uniquely famous family-oriented all-inclusive is the Franklyn D. Resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. FDR (as it is known) is fairly unique for its Vacation Nanny concept, whereby each family is appointed a member of staff who attends to their needs for the duration of their stay. Also, there are no "rooms" per se at the FDR, but rather 76 bedrooms in one, two or three-bedroom suites with their own full kitchen, patio or terrace and in-house satellite television. The all-inclusive holiday at FDR features all meals, open bar, wine with lunch and dinner, entertainment, sport facilities, adult activities (including tours to scenic Dunn's River Falls and shopping in Ocho Rios at no extra charge), teen activities (teen excursions are available at nominal charge) and a Mini Club for children. Children under 16 stay free while a third adult sharing a one-bedroom suite receives a 30% discount. Other special features include a Free Wedding package (where you get married at the property), with a 7-night stay (gets stay a minimum three-nights, and a "Summer Flyfree" promotion, where children under 16 fly free, and adults get a $200 air credit for a 3 or 4 night stay, and a $300 credit for a 5-7 night stay. (800-654-1FDR, www.fdrholidays.com).
Considering how successful the Franklyn D. Resort is, FDR Holidays' newest inclusive family concept, FDR Pebbles, is very exciting. This new resort features a soft-adventure holiday concept. The Resort's Small World kids club features state-of-the-art educational and computer games along with supervised activities; children will also learn first hand about the history of Jamaica and the ecology of its coral reefs and surroundings. Teens will have their own supervised tropical "campsite" where they can camp beneath the stars. Coordinators will take teens to beach parties, hiking, cycling and on field trips to the Martha Brae River; they will also learn about the sea through windsurfing and sailing lessons, and may join other children ona tour to nearby heritage sites. Parents, meanwhile, can relax on the 600 ft. beach, play tennis, basketball, beach volleyball, sail or windsurf; they can visit a working sugar plantation or take historical and ecological trips in the parish of Trelawny. As at the FDR, nannies will care for the children throughout the day, accompany them on excursions and be a friend to the family while they are on holiday. Accommodations are in 96 cedarwood junior oceanview suites (www.fdrholidays.com).
Viva Resorts, which offers four all-inclusive properties (Club Viva Fortuna on Grand Bahama Island, Club Viva Dominicus in La Romana, Dominican Republic, Club Viva Maya and Club Viva Azteca in Playacar in the Riviera Maya, Mexico), offers special rates in summer (ie. from $90 to $140 pp/night), 25 percent savings over winter rates. Children under seven stay, eat and play free when sharing a room with paying adult(s); a 50 percent discount is offered to children 7-16 when sharing a room with two paying adults (max. of two children per room). The all-inclusive vacation includes all meals and all drinks, daily activities program, use of sports, non-motorized watersports, live nightly entertainment, the Kids' Fun Club (for ages 4-12), taxes, surcharges and gratuities. New all-inclusive resorts are opening in the Dominican Republic and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2000 which also will be family-friendly (800-898-9968).
Elegant Hotel Group has three all-inclusives in Barbados in its collection: Turtle Beach Resort, situated on Barbados' breezy south coast on 1,500 feet of smooth sand (turtles nest their eggs on the resort's beach). It offers 167 ocean-view rooms, extensive watersports, tennis, a Kid's Club for children 3-12 is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Also, Crystal Cove Resort on the west coast, well suited to families and couples of all ages; and Coconut Creek Hotel, a beachfront retreat set atop a bluff overlooking two secluded coves, ideal for couples and honeymooners, (800-326-6898).
The Radisson Cable Beach Resort in Nassau provides all meals (a choice of six restaurants), all drinks, all activities and watersports, golf on an 18-hole, par 72 course (including greens fees and shuttle service), and supervised activity program, Camp Junkanoo, for children 4-11; taxes, tolls and gratuities, and even free weddings. All-inclusive Supersaver rates start at around $155 pp/night (800-333-3333).
Meanwhile, chains that have been prominent as adult/couples resorts, offer at least one family-oriented all-inclusive. For example, the Sandals chain (Sandals Montego Bay, Royal Jamaican, Negril Beach Resort & Spa, Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club, Dunn's River Golf Resort & Spa, Sandals Inn, Sandals Antigua Resort & Spa, St. Lucia Golf Resort & Spa, Halcyon St. Lucia, and Royal Bahamaian Resort & Spa, 800-SANDALS) caters to couples and honeymooners. The Beaches properties (a part of the Sandals group), in Negril, Jamaica and Providenciales in Turks & Caicos, are designed as "ultra-all-inclusive resorts" for everybody: singles, couples, families (accommodating children as young as infants). 800-BEACHES.
Similarly, SuperClubs is best known for its adult resorts catering to couples, singles and families with children 16 or over (Grand Lido, Negril, Grand Lido, Braco, Grand Lido Sans Souci, Breezes Golf and Beach Resort, Breezes Bahamas and Breezes, Montego Bay) and its adult couples/singles (18 and over) resort Hedonism II. However it also has Boscobel Beach geared to families. Here, children under 14 stay, play and eat free. The SuperKids program provides supervised activities, and the facilities include a world-class beach, petting zoo and playground. 800-GO-SUPER.
The Mango Bay Resorts in Antigua and Barbados, though not specifically family-oriented resorts, offer superb value in summer for totally all-inclusive programs including all meals, all drinks, afternoon tea, use of watersports equipment, a catamaran cruise, and a sightseeing trip, starting at around $295 per room per night, based on double occupancy (children three and under stay for free in parents room). These do not offer supervised activities programs for children, however. 877-MANGO-4-U.
The Basin Harbor Club, on Lake Champlain, Vt., operated for four generations by the Beach family, offers supervised activity programs for children in four age groups: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 and 13-15, with "camp" in the morning, afternoon activities, and an evening program with dinner (available mid-June-Labor Day weekend, and weekends in fall). Dating to 1886, the resort, which spans 700 acres, offers golf on a course redesigned by Geoffrey Cornish; tennis on five courts, swimming in the lake and a beach pool, bicycling, boating and fishing on Lake Champlain, hiking and nature trails, jogging and fitness center, scheduled activities. Rates are offered as bed-and-breakfast, modified American plan (breakfast and dinner), or full-American Plan. This place is steeped in tradition: "gentlemen" over the age of 12 are required to wear coat and tie after 6 p.m. throughout the resort during July and August (except the Red Mill Restaurant, where there is also evening entertainment ranging from folk music to rock to deejays); in spring and fall, a jacket and collared shirt are required. Open mid-May-mid-October. The resort features the largest display of unusual annuals in New England-each year, 25,000 are planted. 800-622-4000, www.basinharbor.com.
The BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH, on 15,000 acres, is actually bigger than Manhattan. Dating back to 1866, the Balsams is open year-round, and offers supervised activity programs for children appropriate to the season. A true American Plan resort, just about everything is included: meals (choice of menu dining and buffets), free and unlimited use of golf courses, putting greens, tennis courts, swimming in the pool and Lake Gloriette, fishing, boats, hiking and mountain biking trails, shuffleboard, badminton, croquet, horseshoes, ping pong, billiards. During the "social season," there is a comprehensive program of movies in the theater, live nightly entertainment, professional nightclub shows five nights a week, staff shows, concerts, lectures, chamber music, and supervised children's programs daily (Camp Wind Whistle for ages 5-13; Camp Wee Whistle, for 3-4s is available in July only). There also is a golf school and a fly fishing school. In winter, the resort offers its own alpine ski area with 14 trails on two slopes; snowboarding half pipe; 95 km cross-country trail system; snowshoe trails; ice skating; a natural history program with guided tours; three rooms of live entertainment; plus lectures, movies, nightclub shows; children's activity programs, ski school. (800-255-0600, www.thebalsams.com).
Mohonk Mountain House, a National Historic Landmark in New York State's Hudson Valley region, is a 261-room Victorian castle dating from 1869 with a setting of spectacular cliffs, skywater lake and enchanting gardens. Its Full American Plan rates include three meals daily, plus Afternoon Tea and Cookies, along with theme program activities. Complimentary recreation includes 90 miles of hiking with guided hikes daily, tennis, boating, lake swimming, mid-week golf and fitness classes; in winter there is cross-country skiing on 35 miles of groomed trails, snowshoeing and ice skating (weather permitting). Daily during summer and holiday vacation periods and most weekends year-round, a Mohonk Kids' Club offers supervised activities for Tykes (2-3 years old) and children (4-12 years old), with a choice of morning, afternoon and evening sessions. Special activities include Junior tennis clinic, nature treks, Outdoor Odysseys and Earth 101. (800-772-6646, www.mohonk.com).