By Traveling Mom Cindy Richards for GalTime.com
Travel snobs like to scoff at the idea of an all-inclusive resort. But once you have a family, an all-inclusive resort can be a gift. Why? Let us count the ways.
PARENTS CAN HAVE FUN, TOO
The dirty little secret of family vacations is: They aren't always fun for the parents. At all-inclusives, parents can relax because there's no major trip planning involved. Just get up in the morning, check the activity sheet and decide what you want to do that day.
And, since there are a limited number of additional fees, there's less need to monitor spending along the way.
ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFETS
My first all-inclusive experience was a visit to the beautiful Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort with my son, who was 11 and an incredibly picky eater. Our vacations were stressful affairs during which we tried to find a restaurant with something he would eat, only to find he didn't like the food once it arrived. Then we had to decide: Should we blow the family vacation budget on another meal for him, or let him go hungry?
At the Beaches resort, that was never an issue. With a buffet line stretching across the room, I encouraged him to take a spoonful of anything that looked good and try it. If he liked it, he could return to the buffet line for more. In the worst case scenario, he could always get a plate full of fruit.
He's now 17 and no longer a picky eater. Instead, he's a teenage eater, which can wreak even worse havoc on a family travel budget. Once again, those all-you-can-eat buffets are a family travel budget saver.
LOTS OF ACTIVITY CHOICES
Because all-inclusive family resorts are aimed at including all ages, there are a plethora of activities, from kids' clubs that entertain the little ones so Mom and Dad can have a little free time to teen-friendly activities designed to keep older kids smiling.
I was shocked by the sheer number and variety of activities offered by the Club Med Ixtapa Pacific during my family's stay there. The resort has kids clubs broken down by ages from 4 months to 18 years. My biggest shock was seeing more than a dozen normally surly teens laughing and having a great time. They had taken over the big pool (and kicked out the adults, which may be what led to the smiles) in an activity organized by one of the cool Club Med G.O.s (Gentils Organisateur, or Gracious/Nice Organizers).
MORE PREDICTABLE COST
This, of course, is the No. 1 reason to choose an all-inclusive resort. You know, for the most part, how much this family vacation will cost. No more need to keep a running total of every bagel you buy or Diet Coke you drink in the hope of bringing the family vacation in or under budget.
HOW TO CHOOSE AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
There are many variations on the all-inclusive theme. But the types of destinations most likely to have all-inclusive vacation rates are large resorts, dude ranches and cruises.
How do you know which venue is right for your family?
- What do you like to do? If you like to stay in one place and be pampered, opt for a resort. If you're a cowboy or cowgirl at heart, try a dude ranch with its horseback riding, fishing, hiking and other outdoorsy adventures. If you like vacations that show you more than one spot in the world, consider a cruise that stops in several ports of call.
- Read the fine print Does the price include the activities your family will most want to do? If you're a water-loving family, be sure the sailboats, pedal boats and swim toys are included in the price. If you like fine dining, check to see whether the upscale sit-down restaurants are included along with the buffet line. If you don't consider it a vacation until you've had a spa treatment, check the treatments and rates at the spa before booking your trip.
- Will you use what you pay for? An all-inclusive that includes booze isn't a deal if you don't drink.
- Consider consulting a travel agent A good travel agent will ask about your family's needs and recommend a resort or cruise ship that is most likely to meet those needs. It is possible to book everything online these days, but when you're spending big bucks for a seven-day all-inclusive vacation, it's nice to get the advice of someone who's been there-- and might have enough influence to score an upgrade to a better room.
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