Best All-Inclusive Resorts

by AOL Travel Staff Subscribe to AOL Travel Staff's posts Posted Mar 19th 2010 03:08 PM

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Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Think all-inclusives are the home of bad buffets and who-cares-my-tip-is-already-paid service?

Think again. These resorts are not only raising the bar on service and amenities, they're also lowering their prices. Restaurants are now helmed by award-winning chefs, activities offerings are expanding to include everything from kayaking to trapeze instruction, and accommodations have gone from cinderblock dorm-style to architectural masterpieces with lavish gardens and thoughtful interior flourishes.

There's no lolling around for resort staffs, either: all-inclusives must now provide notable service to battle stiff competition from à la carte hotels and cruise ships (that other fixed-price vacation option). To stay in the game, they've created innovative spas; hired butlers, concierges, and sommeliers; begun providing professionally trained nannies and kids' club counselors; and started offering services like 24-hour room service, in-room candlelit dinners, and breakfast in bed.

Here are the best -- and most affordable -- options out there.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Puerto Morelos, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Who Should Go: Couples and families

Why: Azul Beach Resort knows just how to appeal to first-time all-inclusive guests. The resort has just 97 guest rooms, each featuring a patio or balcony, in low-rise adobe buildings clustered along the water's edge. No activities director will rouse you from a beach bed to join a conga line (though a beach butler may ask if you'd like a cool towel or cold drink). The hotel has plenty of adult features -- a bar dedicated to tequila, live music in the bars, and menus with adventurous eaters in mind -- but also welcomes families with a daily kids' club and children's selections at its four restaurants.

The Dollars: From $207 per night, per person based on double occupancy during high season.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Mexico

Who Should Go: Families

Why: The Club Med brand has slipped out of its '70s ooh-la-la orgiastic garb into something a little more family-friendly. Guests can practice yoga in a beachside palapa, lounge on a daybed next to the pool, sail, snorkel, or sea-kayak in the Pacific. The swinging hasn't ceased altogether, either: Intrepid guests can learn trapeze at the on-site circus school. Young visitors are kept giddily happy at Mini-Club Med (with its own pool, restaurant, sports programs, excursions, and an arts-and-crafts program designed by Crayola). A vacation here is a like visit to a swank, action-packed summer camp, with the added bonus of mojitos and comfy beds.

The Dollars: The resort is currently offering "Short Stay Specials", with rates as low as $111 per person, per night through the end of March. Kids stay free much of the year.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Who Should Go: Surfers, active couples, and families with older kids

Why: This glorious arc of Pacific beach has attracted surfers since the '60s, and when you see the ocean from this vantage point, you'll understand why. Getting in touch with nature here isn't a challenge: without any more effort than a stroll along the beach, or even across the grounds to the hotel pool, you can see howler monkeys, iguanas, raccoons, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parrots. A wild nightlife is another thing, though -- travelers in search of a lively scene should take the $5 cab ride to the nightspots of Tamarindo.

The Dollars: From $211 per room, per night.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Los Cabos, Mexico

Who Should Go: Honeymooners and couples

Why: While girls gone wild and their bachelor-party admirers whoop it up down in Cabo San Lucas, blissful romance prevails here. Popular for destination weddings (ceremonies are scheduled almost every day) and honeymoons, Dreams offers large suites with private terraces, three large pools, five restaurants, and lots of activities, as well as opportunities for leisurely inactivity. Special packages are available (for additional fees) if you want to play some of the big-name golf courses in the area or try deep-sea fishing.

The Dollars: From $225 per person, per night.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Antigua

Who Should Go: Couples looking for peace and quiet

Why: Guests at CocoBay know they're in the West Indies. The individual bungalows, painted in soft pastels, have tin roofs, gingerbread trim, and spectacular, unobstructed sunset views. The hotel has furnished the cottages (and the larger "plantation houses") with hard-carved beds and antiques, and decorated them with colorful local art. The mood at the resort is tranquil, informal, and unplugged: no phones or televisions -- and no kids under 12.

The Dollars: Doubles from $203 per room, per night.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Who Should Go: Couples looking for quiet and romance.

Why: Live like colonial gentry at Casa Velas, a small adults-only, all-suite boutique hotel in Puerto Vallarta. The attractive grounds -- manicured tropical gardens, koi ponds, a curvaceous swimming pool, inviting patios -- and attentive and discreet staff will have you convinced that you're staying at a five-star hotel. The oversized suites feature private plunge pools or outdoor jacuzzis. While Casa Velas is not on the beach, it maintains a private beach club with its own restaurant, lounge, infinity pool, and cabanas.

The Dollars: From $240 per couple, per night.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Location: Oranjestad, Aruba

Who Should Go: Beach lovers of all types.

Why: The water's the thing in Aruba -- turquoise-tinted and so ridiculously clear you can inspect your pedicure when you're in it up to your chin. At Divi Aruba and its next-door sibling, Tamarijn, you'll spend most your time in that water. The two resorts share amenities: pools, a 30-foot climbing wall, bikes, tennis courts, a gym, children's camp, and access to a neighboring casino. Though families and honeymooners outnumber other guests, the vibe remains mellow and beach-focused, not frantic with kiddie activities or bass-thumping nightlife.

The Dollars: Doubles from $488 at Divi, and from $438 at Tamarijn. Up to two kids under 18 can stay and eat for free year-round at Tamarijn and for much of the year at Divi.

Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Filed Under: Beach, Hotel