Courtesy of Sandals Resorts Overwater villas at Sandals Royal Caribbean, in Jamaica, come with personal butler service.
"You still haven't come to visit us," Adam Stewart, executive chairman of Sandals Resorts International, reminds me over Zoom. I've been casually planning to take my family to an all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean for more than a year — a "set-it-and-forget-it" escape to alleviate the stress of pandemic life with young kids.
As it turns out, now is an ideal time for this type of vacation. The everything-included model — where the booking price covers not only accommodation but on-property food, drinks, and activities — has always had its devotees, but now all-inclusives are responding to demand for personalization, more space, better food, and more creature comforts.
A series of Sandals and Beaches renovations and new projects, including a $55 million revamp of the 404-room Sandals Royal Bahamian (doubles from $429 per person) and the 351-room Sandals Royal Curaçao (doubles from $393 per person) offer guests a bespoke experience, with swim-up suites, private pools, and what Stewart describes as "a more luxurious take on casual Caribbean."
"People want to have diversity of choice and diversity of experience," says Josh Alexander, a luxury travel advisor at Protravel International. His clients are booking more and more all-inclusive properties, responding to broader restaurant offerings and amenities like butler service and plunge pools — newly relevant in the age of COVID.
Based on my own experience, the area most in need of improvement in the all-inclusive sector has been dining. Luckily, hotel brands are taking note of just how much guests appreciate upscale, reservation-only venues with more focused menus, such as teppanyaki or tapas. All-inclusives are responding by continuously refining and broadening their options.
The new 715-key all-inclusive Hilton Cancun (doubles from $538) highlights this culinary ambition with a sushi bar, a steak house, a taqueria, and a trattoria that serves "phenomenal homemade-dough pizzas," says Juan Corvinos, a senior vice president at Hilton.
Courtesy of Hilton Cancun, an All-Inclusive Resort Hilton Cancun’s lobby bar, Azulinda, serves beer from Pescadores, a local brewery.
The brand has heeded increased demand for all-inclusive accommodations, especially in Mexico, adding properties to its portfolio — including the 444-room Hilton Vallarta Riviera (doubles from $353) and the recently opened 735-room Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya.
The luxury extends beyond the food, of course. I can't help picturing my kids lounging poolside at Marriott's 117-room Delta Hotels Riviera Nayarit (doubles from $259), which opened in August 2021 and is geared toward families. In addition to a new beach club, the resort is building a waterpark that will have a lazy river and cascading pools.
For weary parents like me, all-inclusives are also leaning in to wellness trends, says Diana Plazas-Trowbridge, Marriott International's chief sales and marketing officer for the Caribbean and Latin America. The 164-room Westin Porto de Galinhas (doubles from $483), opening in Porto de Galinhas, Brazil, this month, will offer spa treatments as add-ons to daily rates.
While many large hotel brands instituted rate-matching policies years ago to encourage direct bookings, smaller chains have also increasingly adopted the policy. Palace Resorts' 731-room Moon Palace Jamaica (doubles from $436), for instance, guarantees it will meet any published rate from any U.S.-based booking company.
Courtesy of Moon Palace Jamaica Guests at Moon Palace Jamaica can surf or bodyboard on the resort’s FlowRider.
And when it comes to finding the best room at the best price, insiders say that brand loyalty goes a long way. Marriott's Bonvoy points can be used to unlock a more customized all-inclusive experience, Plazas-Trowbridge says. Other loyalty programs — World of Hyatt, for instance — have similar opportunities for category upgrades and other perks.
One important thing, according to Stewart, is to speak to a person whenever possible — be it someone at your preferred hotel or a travel advisor. These pros have access to special packages and last-minute deals that won't show up online. As the field expands and appeals to a broader swath of travelers, it's also worth planning early to score the best prices and get your choice of dates.
I know I'm not going to wait any longer.
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline A Better All-Inclusive.