Lifestyle Photography Travel

how to get the most out of your all inclusive beach vacation

getting the most of your all inclusive beach vacation
jenmckenunscripted
Written by jenmckenunscripted


 

 

This isn’t my first rodeo with all-inclusive resorts….this post as been a long time coming. Some of my recent brides inspired me to write this one because they are in the process of booking a Caribbean resort for their honeymoon! Some of my past/ future brides tell me that planning the honeymoon was just as stressful as planning the wedding!  You want to make sure you pick the perfect place, but it’s sight unseen besides images online and you don’t know what to ask, what to bring, what would make your life/planning just a LEEEETLE bit easier.

All inclusive resorts tend to be popular among newly weds due to their relaxed atmosphere, beach, sun, unlimited mixed drinks and it can be romantic!! If you’ve ever stayed at one of these “all inclusive” resorts, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about but for those of you who’ve never booked a vacation like that, it can be a little daunting and you’ll have NO IDEA what to look out for so that you can get the most out of your stay. Greg and I have stayed in a bunch of different ones throughout Mexico, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (which isn’t an all inclusive but can fall into a lot of similarities) along with many others. This blog is to help those of you who may be trying to book a honeymoon, a baby-moon or just a get away. Because I like to babble, I know I may be leaving out a few things and if there’s anything you’d like to add, feel free to leave a little note in the comment section below.

This post isn’t going to tell you WHERE to stay, but rather some tips to keep in mind when you’re choosing the perfect resort for YOU…and a few other random tips I’ve learned along the way! Here are a few things I’ve noted during out trip to Punta Cana, that I thought would be great for those of you who may be traveling to a resort soon-particularly all you honeymooners. In complete and utter randomness (remember, it’s how my brain works)! LOL

I thought what better way to talk about resorts than to post a few images of weddings I shot at resorts…you know, for your viewing pleasure!

If you’re interested in seeing some of my travel photos from places we have gone (which are too many to list), I’ve provided a few links below:

Key West

Mexico
Tulum
Playa Del Carma
swimming with dolphins
walks on the beach
iphone photos 

Puerto Rico

Punta Cana
total randomness
life style

 

Reviews:
In today’s digital world, so much information is available right at your finger tips…take advantage of it! Get on some of the popular travel sites and search for the resort you had in mind-see what others are saying. You can even check out reviews on their Facebook pages, see the photos others have been uploading and get golden nuggets of information from others who have traveled there before you. This is one of my favorite things to do-we once found out about a lagoon that was a 10 minute walk down the beach from our resort. It was GORGEOUS but if I hadn’t read about it, I wouldn’t have even know it existed! With all of that said, remember this: most people like to hop on line and complain about when things go wrong  MORE THAN they like to hop on line and brag about what went right.

Cost:
How to figure out what it’s going to cost. If you’re trying to plan TOO far in advance, keep in mind that airfare rates sometimes are not available until about 300 days prior. If you are planning ahead more than  11months, you can still find resort rates, but not rates with air. If you want a ballpark rate, just put in dates within 11 months. Then you’ll have, at least, an estimate of the air cost.

Timeshares:
 When getting off of the plane, don’t fall victim to the time share scams. They will try to rush you over to a desk by making it appear that you MUST go there to fill out paperwork or they act like it’s something you are SUPPOSED to do when you get off the plane……beware. Unless you want to give up an afternoon or even a whole day, don’t get suckered into the time shares. I’m hip to their game now and it doesn’t phase me, but if you’ve ever been suckered into doing a time share, you can thank me later!

 

Size of the resort:
For the love of god, find out how many rooms are in your resort. I’ll tell you why. We arrived at our beautiful resort during this past vacation and found that the resort had actually stacked their resorts one behind the other. SO what that meant was there was no “short walk” to the beach. You had to trolley through 4 other resorts to get to the water. THEN when we finally made it to the beach, people were elbow to elbow, chairs pulled right up to the water and there was literally no open sand for Mallory to play. I’m not exaggerating. We decided at that moment-we were switching resorts. We had been terribly mislead. I later found out that the resort had a total of 3,000 rooms which meant that at any given time the resort was holding 6,000-10,000 people all fighting for their little spot on the designated area they had on the beach-not cool. So we switched the very next day to a resort that had only 800 rooms with the same size beach……this mean LOTS of sand, no elbow to elbow- which meant more private space and it felt more like a vacation. So trust me….ask how many rooms are available on the resort….we learned that the hard way!

 



Pools:
Speaking of water…..also ask how many pools are available for the resort. Sometimes it can suck trying to find chairs if there is only one pool…..a resort that has several is often less crowded unless you end up in the kitty pool area….

Excursions: 
I love excursions…but they can get a little pricey. We’ve learned over the years to ask certain questions before booking. It’s important to note that you should never purchase excursions from anyone ON the beach. Always book thru someone located in the lobby. The folks on the beach may not be there the next day and we have heard too many horror stories…so stick with the people at the resort. Things you need to ask is:
1.how long is the excursion meaning how many hours will you be gone. You may not have wanted an all day excursion OR you might think it’s all day and it’s only for a few hours.
2. how far away is it? We made this mistake once in Mexico. We went to Chechen Itza but they didn’t tell us it would be a 3 hour drive. We spent 6 hours on the bus that day driving too and from. We had an amazing time but it would have been nice to have had a heads up. We missed a dinner reservation because of it.
3. Is food included? Sometimes they provide lunch…sometimes they don’t.
4. Can you have a receipt? This is just a precaution so that if you show up for your shuttle and they don’t have you on the list, you can skip past all the confusion
5. Is it child friendly? If you are on your honeymoon and you don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of kids, some of the excursions may not be for you.
6. What should you bring? Tennis shoes for walking, swim suit for ceynotes, snacks/food and in some cases you must have biodegradable sunscreen.
7. How many people will be going along? Once the guy said “oh not many” and that it would be a small caravan of people. The next morning a HUGE bus shows up with close to 50 people. Always ask.
8. Ask for a better price. Everything in the Caribbean is negotiable…especially if you will be purchasing more than 1 or 2. 9/10 times we’ve asked, they have given us something off of the price.
9. Are tips included? Tips go a long way in the Caribbean and even thought they say all tips are included in your stay, once you get off of your resort you are very much EXPECTED to tip your driver AND tour guide.
10. What if the weather isn’t ideal? Ask what the backup plan is, if you get refunded, if they schedule another day, etc.

Kid friendly?:
Which brings me to my next point. Is it a family friendly resort? I don’t know about you but if I was on my honeymoon, the last thing I’d want is to hear little Sally and Johnny fighting over their pool toys. If you want a romantic get away, maybe choose a resort that’s not so “family friendly”.

Restaurant Reservations:
How many restaurant reservations can you make. Typically (and I say typically) per one week stay (with a minimum of a 4 night stay) you are allowed to make 2 restaurant reservations per room. Sometimes when upgrading your room, they will give you more….but finding out could mean less buffet and more sit down romantic dinners. Also, if you booked a honeymoon deal, you often get dinner on the beach…..how romantic. Just as a side note, it’s best to make your reservations the day you arrive…..they tend to get booked up very quickly.



Dress Codes:
Men…bring long pants. I know you’re thinking…long pants? It’s the beach! Well, almost all of the restaurants will require you to wear long pants to dinner. Ladies there’s really not a huge dress code other than no swimsuits, but wearing a nice dress is encouraged. But for the men….no long pants can mean no service!

WIFI:
This will probably NOT be an issue for you if you are going on your honeymoon–but check ahead of time to see if internet is included or is available AT ALL. Like I said, if you are on your honeymoon, this may not be an issue, but for me being self employed it’s very important that I have access to internet at least once a day or once every other day. Some resorts will include the internet into your fee, some will have you pay an additional fee and some just don’t have it available at all.  Luckily, we were able to find mifi available for $40 for up to 7 days. We could take it will us to the beach or use it in our room. We were told that there were only 15 mifi’s available on the whole resort…..the others were for in-room only. We got lucky I guess.

Upgradings:
 So you’ve booked your package and maybe you didn’t get all the bells and whistles when you booked because it was a great deal THEN you get to the resort and they present you an awesome offer to upgrade your room-you may be skeptical….I know I was the first time BUT sometimes it can be WAY worth it considering all the perks. For example, this past vacation, for $300 extra we upgraded to what they called your “platinum membership”. For us, this included a room suite closer to the beach, free HUGE bottles of alcohol in the room daily (everyone else had to get it at the bar), a special platinum center where we could go for drinks/snacks/concierge services/internet center/etc., a special spot on the beach designated with soft beds, special seating in all of the restaurants, unlimited dinner reservations (most others only got 2 reservations), 2 free 30 minute massages, a special pool for platinum members only….so as you can see-$300 was well worth it. So consider what you will be getting if you upgrade. Ask to see a room before committing….but it can give you VIP access to the resort!

Travel Agent:
Let an expert help you! We always book through a travel agency when going on an all-inclusive resort. It costs nothing extra and we have the comfort of knowing we have sometime to check in with. The internet has made finding and booking that luxury honeymoon  easier and you might want to do it all yourself. But it’s always worth remembering that there are experts out there who can help. It’s a once in a lifetime holiday you’re planning, so using a travel agent or a consultant from a luxury resort might be worthwhile. AND, if you’re struggling with co-ordinating flight and hotel bookings with excursions and honeymoon activities, get professional advice to take some of the pressure off.

Language:
Learn some basic Spanish..or in my case “Spanglish”. Our country is always griping about people not learning the English language, so let’s give other countries the same respect. Although some members of the staff are bi-lingual, some of them speak no English at all. Knowing simple words can get you what you want faster.

Sunscreen:
Don’t forget EXTRA sunscreen. If you think you have packed enough sun screen….pack one more bottle. We thought we packed enough for the entire week for all three of us…..but we were wrong and had to purchase some at the resort. We paid a whooping $44. No, I’m not kidding! All extra toiletries are VERY expensive. A travel size bottle of shaving cream was $15…luckily Greg packed enough of that!

Beach Merchants:
Beware of the men/women selling items on the beach. They will often walk up and down the beach with their merchandise for you to buy-and they can make really awesome souvenirs…..but a few things to keep in mind. The wooden carvings they are selling are sometimes rubbed in gasoline (or a chemical similar) to help shine them up and the US customs will not let you bring them back. The same holds true with the woven hats made from palm leaves. US customs will not take the chance that you are bringing back tropical bugs. Also the silver is not silver and do not pay cash for excursions from the folks at the beach. One of the men staying at our resort, paid $900 plus for a charter boat to take him and his family out deep sea fishing. No one ever showed up at the resort the next day to take him…he was scammed! So just beware what you buy…….and don’t forget to barter. One of our travel representatives once told me, whatever the price is……you can buy it for at least 1/3 of the price if you barter. It worked like a charm when we paid $9 for a $45 necklace! 🙂

Security:
Is the safe included with the room. I know this sounds silly, but the first resort we stayed at (before we switched) wanted to charge us an additional $8.00 per day to have access to the safe in our room. At the second resort during our last day…it was free and included with the room. They wanted to charge an additional fee but had signs up everywhere that said they weren’t responsible for lost or stolen merchandise……how clever!

Transportation:
This is almost a given at all of the resorts now…but make sure they have some sort of transportation (trolley, golf carts, etc.) that will take you from one end of the resort to the other. The resorts can be VERY large and if you have to walk from one end to the other 3 times a day in order to eat, you’ll appreciate having some form of transportation. They often run every 3 minutes and will have a specific route. Find out what the route is when you first get there…it will save you a lot of time aimlessly walking around! haa!

Insulated Cup:
Take an insulated cup. All of the mixed drinks and alcohol are typically included during your stay. But they will give them to you in a regular cup so if you are wanting to just float in the pool or take it to the beach it will get warm fast. One thing we have learned is to take an insulated cup with you and it will stay cold for much longer! 🙂

CASH:
Make sure you have enough cash for your stay…..and lots of $1 bills. Although your tipping is generally included in with your package, things like the bell boys, maid services or the waiters/waitresses at the “fancy” restaurants, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you want to tip but don’t have $1 bills. Bring them with you because it’s hard to get them when you get there. The ATM machines will dispense pesos’s only. Most of the foreign countries don’t have American Banks within their countries, so the only money they have coming in is the money WE bring-so it’s difficult to get change for a 10 at the drop of a dime. With that said, sometimes the bell boys around mid afternoon will be able to make change for you…….sometimes!

Exchange Rate:
Also know your exchange rate when traveling. When you use your credit card, they will most likely charge you in foreign currency. Make sure the exchange is correct before you sign. Some of the small businesses-particularly, the ones selling souvenirs are known to charge you more for your purchase. You don’t realize it until you get home and figure out the conversion……The resort does not own the (in most cases) the little stores that are set up within….so just be smart and know the exchange rate before going.



Accepted Credit Cards:
Make sure your credit card is actually accepted in the country you are traveling to! With that said, make sure that you let your credit card and your bank know that you will be going out of the country. Nothing sucks more when the fraud department shuts off your card because of suspicious activity from out of the country when you really NEED it. I speak from experience!

Up to date passport:
If you’ve had your passport for some time, make sure your passport will not expire within 6 months of your travel date. Your passport will not be valid if it will expire in 6 months….so plan accordingly if you need to get a passport renewal. Mine is up for renewal so I had to beware of this myself!

Returning Home:
Give yourself at LEAST a day or two when you return to unwind before going back to work. Going back to work the day after you return sucks……..ask Greg, he’ll tell you!!

Memories:
The MOST IMPORTANT……TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES!!! You’ve paid a fortune for a honeymoon of a lifetime – don’t forget to document it..even if it is just with your iphone! Take lots and lots of photographs. Don’t be afraid to ask other people to take photographs of you together (or hire me to follow you around –i keed i keed-kinda!) – you’ll cherish these when you look back on your honeymoon together. Gal’s don’t be like me and not have a lot of images of yourself because you’re always BEHIND the camera! Most resorts have photographers that roam around and take photos for you. It does cost extra but you can get some fun photos AND you can book a photo session with just the two of you while you are there. I’ve seen some of the images my couples have brought back and they are cute. Plus, if you don’t think you’ll go back again, it’s a great way to remember this time in your lives.

Get your butt out of bed:
Ohhh and I forgot to mention, wake up early enough to see the sunrise! It’s soooo worth it!!!

 

If you have found this useful and know an engaged couple who could use this information, feel free to share it with them.

If you have any advice to add, I’d love to hear it in the comment section below!

 


About the author

jenmckenunscripted

jenmckenunscripted

Leave a Comment