When you close your eyes and envision an all-inclusive resort, what do you see?
For some, images of sparkly beaches and flowing drinks probably come to mind. The waves crashing in the background, the kids making sandcastles and your cares and troubles left behind.
But for others, the visual is not quite as appealing. When an all-inclusive comes to mind, they envision beaches crammed with screaming kids and buffets full of tasteless food. And instead of careless wonder, they imagine hours of queueing, slow Wi-Fi and poor service.
Depending on who you ask, both versions of the all-inclusive resort exist. But if you haven't been in the last decade, you may want to give an all-inclusive resort another try. Today's all-inclusive properties have reinvented themselves with better food, more perks and unique offerings that you can't always get with other vacation choices. Think of it as a cruise on land, but with free booze and bigger rooms. You may not get to wake up to a new island every day, but the new all-inclusive offers many of the same perks as cruises -- minus some of the hassles.
So what can you expect from the all-inclusive of 2015? Let's take a look.
New perks for families
You might think of an all-inclusive resort as a place where families can vacation on the cheap, and that may be true, but the new all-inclusive offers plenty of perks to keep travelers of all ages busy. Most all-inclusive resorts now include nonmotorized water sports equipment as part of the package, with kayaks, Hobie Cats, paddle boats and snorkeling gear up for grabs.
Some all-inclusives, such as Beaches Resorts, take things a step further by including normally pricey motorized sports in the nightly room rate. At Beaches resorts, you can partake in wakeboarding, Jet Skiing, boating and even scuba diving for free. Unlimited complimentary lessons are also available.
Beyond activities, today's all-inclusives also offer impressive kids clubs with Xbox rooms and youth discos, Disney character meet-ups and craft parties, and everything in between. For parents who need a break, kids clubs and babysitting may also be included in the overall rate. For example, IBEROSTAR's kids clubs will watch your children for hours while you take in a private dinner, snorkel or simply relax.
If you've ever come back from a trip needing a "vacation from your vacation," then you know just how valuable a break from the kids can be. The best part is, all-inclusive resorts often include that perk for free.
Better food and unlimited alcohol
A lot of people look to cruises for the "unlimited experience" without realizing how much further all-inclusive resorts take it. Unlike cruises, these resorts include all alcohol in the nightly room rate. If you only drink a little, then that might not be a big deal. But if you know you'll have more than a few drinks? You could save a bundle.
Food at all-inclusive resorts is improving, too. Endless buffets have been replaced with the opportunity to dine at upscale specialty restaurants. And as competition increases, newer and better food options are being introduced. Gone are the days of spending your all-inclusive vacation in line for a buffet. Today's resorts offer more varied and improved choices.
More peace of mind than ever
All-inclusive resorts may be improving, but one of the biggest benefits they offer is one that's been around since their inception -- the peace of mind that comes with knowing the total price of your vacation upfront. Imagine paying for a weeklong trip for four and knowing exactly how much it will cost to eat and keep everyone busy all day, with no surprises.
The fact that all-inclusive resorts are now bundling more in your package has only solidified them as one of the best values in family travel. And when you book, you'll know that you're getting more value for your money than ever.
Let's face it: Booking an all-inclusive resort is much different than booking a hotel. You don't just get a room when you choose this option, you get an experience. And in most cases, that may have been exactly what you were after in the first place.
So give all-inclusive resorts another try, but do your due diligence. All-inclusives and the brands behind them are slowly evolving to stay competitive, though some are definitely moving and improving faster than others.
Those beaches packed with screaming kids and buffets of inedible food still exist, so it's up to you to avoid them.
About the author: Holly Johnson is the founder of travel website, Travel Blue Book, which covers travel experiences ranging from cruising to fine dining. Holly also writes about frugal living, travel and budgeting on her other website, Club Thrifty, and at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, Personal Capital and many other online publications.