I’ve Worked at an All-Inclusive Resort for 10 Years—These Are 19 Mistakes Every Traveler Should Avoid
These all-inclusive resort tips just might be the difference between a vacation disaster and the trip of a lifetime
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All-inclusive resort tips for the best trip ever
Heading to an all-inclusive resort is the best of both worlds: You get to go on an amazing vacation while someone else takes care of all the little details. But how do all those little details work, exactly? And how can you, as the guest, have an epic experience? As an entertainment director for Club Med International Resorts for more than a decade, I’ve gotten an insider look into nearly every aspect of these types of hotels, which means I know a few things that you’ll definitely want to know.
My job may sound like a 24/7 party, but it’s a lot of work too. I joke that my “nightlife” fills my entire day. But my lack of work-life balance is your gain, since my experience translates into all-inclusive resort tips that will help you have a blast and give you the most bang for your buck. Because let’s be honest, if you’re going to an all-inclusive resort, you’re spending a lot of money—and you deserve to get what you’re paying for.
Over the years, I’ve seen thousands of guests, and there are some common mistakes people make—from the type of package they book to what they do (and don’t do) when staying at an all-inclusive. So whether you’re headed to one of the best all-inclusive resorts in the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico or a far-flung bucket-list destination, you’ll want to memorize this advice because it can help you have the best vacation of your life.
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Thinking that “all-inclusive” means everything is included
Despite the title of “all-inclusive,” most all-inclusive resorts don’t include everything. While the specifics will vary depending on the resort, your membership status and the package you booked, common exclusions include transportation to and from the airport, spa treatments, premium alcohol and Wi-Fi in your room (although it’s generally provided for free in common areas). Other amenities may be partially included. For instance, water sports may be included in your rate, but you might have to pay extra to rent motorized equipment like jet skis. While you’ll be told about extra charges when booking a service or activity, if you’re not really paying attention, you could end up with quite the surprise when you see the final bill at the end of your stay. This is also true of all-inclusive cruises.
Do this instead: Read the fine print of your package before you arrive (and ideally before you book), and be sure to ask staff if you’re unsure whether something’s included. You could easily add an extra 10% or more to your bill if you don’t. You should also always ask whether resort fees—which can range from $25 to $100 a day, depending on the company—are included.
Not researching the resort before you go
Even within the same chain, every all-inclusive resort is different—from the culture and dining to the amenities and excursions—and the time to discover those differences is not the day you get there. Knowing what to expect can help you have a better experience, since you’ll know what you want to do and can jump on reservations quickly, as well as know what to pack for the weather and available activities. It’s also an important part of managing your expectations. Sometimes we have guests show up expecting everything under the sun and then are disappointed when all their expectations aren’t met—things they would have realized if they’d researched the resort first.
Do this instead: Take an hour or so to check out the resources on the resort’s website, and go to online forums for that resort so you know what the can’t-miss things are. Come prepared with a list of activities, foods, cultural experiences and shows that you’re most excited about. Upon checking in, you can also talk to the concierge, entertainment director or other employees for their personal recommendations and for help making reservations.
Overtipping or undertipping
Tipping etiquette can be confusing no matter where you are, and the rules are different at all-inclusive resorts. One of the selling points of an all-inclusive resort is that gratuities are usually included in the package. But while this means guests aren’t expected to tip for regular services like housekeeping or dining, guests may still choose to tip for exceptional service or for special requests, such as having an item ordered online and delivered to them. Plus, certain “extra” services—like spa treatments, deluxe excursions or butler service—may not be included in the all-inclusive package, which means that a tip wouldn’t be included either.
In addition, tipping culture at resorts has changed since the pandemic, and even though tips for normal services aren’t required, in some countries and some resorts (for instance, in Mexico), they are now expected—even if it isn’t explicitly stated. That isn’t true everywhere, of course. In certain countries, tipping isn’t the norm. For example, in Japan, you shouldn’t tip at all at an all-inclusive resort.
Do this instead: Read the details of your package to understand which services are included and which require an additional tip. Bring $100 to $200 in cash for tipping, and ask the concierge upon arriving what is generally expected and appropriate. Some resort employees, especially those in poorer countries, depend on these tips to make a living wage, so while you may not have to tip them, it’s still the kind thing to do.
Overindulging in food and drinks
Just because you can eat three pounds of crab legs and a gallon of ice cream, it doesn’t mean you should. (And yes, I saw someone do that!) Since most, if not all, food and drinks are included, some guests feel that the way to get their money’s worth is to overeat or drink to the point of inebriation. Unfortunately, I’ve seen guests stuck in bed for an entire day or two after a binge, making them miss out on all the other fun things.
Do this instead: Feel free to indulge, but be moderate in how much you eat and drink at once. Remember, it’s about enjoying the overall experience, and that’s about having fun while doing things you couldn’t do at home, whether you’re traveling to an adults-only all-inclusive resort or one that’s geared toward families.
Staying at the resort the whole time
While you certainly can stay in your room and enjoy the peace and quiet, the draw of an all-inclusive resort is that it offers far more than just a place to relax. Yet you’d be surprised at how many guests don’t take advantage of all the resort and the surrounding area have to offer. Most resorts are in locations known for their beauty, culture, weather and opportunities for adventure, and it would be a mistake to not even check it all out.
Do this instead: This is the perfect opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and try something new, whether that’s eating a local delicacy or going on a guided tour through ancient ruins. You might even make some new friends along the way. It’s exactly these types of things that will make your vacation fun and memorable.
Sticking to the standard buffet
We work hard to provide delicious, one-of-a-kind dining experiences that reflect the culture and flavors of the locale. This isn’t just about offering local delicacies; it may also include a special cooking method, watching the chef prepare your food, seeing where the food comes from or allowing you to participate in the dining experience in a unique way. Filling up on hamburgers and fries is fine, but the food is a big part of what you are paying for.
Do this instead: Look up the resort’s dining options in advance, and pick out a few adventures to try. For instance, in France, the menu at Club Med Val Thorens Sensations was designed by Michelin-starred chef Edouard Loubet. At Punta Cana’s Royalton Bavaro, you can choose from a variety of food trucks boasting international cuisine of all types. And most resorts offer a chef’s tasting menu that encompasses the local cuisine—like in Bali, you can watch your fish caught fresh and then cooked on a traditional grill.
Ask the chef or entertainment director for their suggestions for what’s best at the moment. And book your reservations as early as possible. Here’s what you can get at an all-inclusive resort in Aruba, by the way.
Not making a connection with the staff
Many guests are repeat visitors at specific resorts, and staff develop relationships with their favorites and will go out of their way to make sure you have everything you want and need. They might even provide little extras for free, like treats, drinks or early-access passes to shows. The employees are also an incredible resource for what to try in the surrounding areas, what you need to know about local cultural norms, how to prepare for certain excursions and other site-specific tips. But they can only do that if you’ve already built a good relationship with them.
Even if you’ll only ever be at the resort once, a little kindness goes a long way with all the staff, ensuring that your stay is pleasant and that you feel taken care of. Honestly, a kind guest will find themselves being treated like a king or queen, so this is one of the all-inclusive resort tips that you really don’t want to skip!
Do this instead: Start by acknowledging staff with a smile, remembering their names and asking how they are. Do not be rude to staff, even if you’re upset; you’re much more likely to get help when you’re kind and calm. Ask questions about the area or the resort—they are a wealth of insider information—but steer clear of overly personal questions that could come off as creepy. For instance, do not hit on the staff, ask where they live or for their private phone numbers. If you want to keep in touch, they can give you their company email address. Also skip these polite habits hotel workers secretly dislike.
Being glued to your phone
I’ve seen too many people miss out on the joy of the moment because their eyes are constantly on their phone. You’re on vacation for a reason—to get a break from daily life—so let this be a magical experience. Take in the beauty of the surrounding nature, watch your children play, have a cocktail with your spouse (especially if you’re at one of the most romantic resorts), check out a performance, go dancing at the nightclub.
Do this instead: Use your phone to snap a few pictures or videos for memories, but otherwise try to keep your tech use to a minimum so you can be fully present. (Plus, you’ll avoid a lot of frustration, since internet service may be spotty and limited to certain areas.)
Not getting traveler’s insurance
When it comes to vacations, you have to plan for the unexpected, and that includes making sure you have adequate insurance coverage and knowing how to access it. Insurance coverage depends on where you are and what you’re doing, but expect the resort’s insurance to cover only things under their direct control, such as mechanical malfunctions, equipment failures, schedule changes and cancellations. It generally won’t cover weather-related disasters, personal medical emergencies, accidents, injuries, flight cancellations and other things that could seriously mess up your vacation (and your budget) if you’re not prepared.
Do this instead: Consider buying separate travel insurance for the trip, and read through it carefully so you know what’s covered. You will most likely be offered travel insurance as an extra when booking, either through a travel agent or directly through the resort. You can also purchase travel insurance as a rider to other insurance policies, like a homeowners policy, and many credit cards offer travel insurance as a perk when you pay for the trip with that card. Also make sure to check with your personal medical insurance about what they cover while you are away, especially if you are out of the country.
Dressing too casually
You’re on vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Hawaii, so it’s swimsuits and flip-flops 24/7, right? While that is true for some areas of the resort, many all-inclusive resorts have upscale dining and shows that require, at the very least, slacks or a sundress and real shoes. You will be turned away if you don’t meet that dress code.
Do this instead: Read up on the dress code before you start packing, and make sure to bring at least one outfit that goes beyond beachwear on your packing list. A pair of khakis or slacks and a collared shirt will likely suffice for men, while women should bring a dress (beyond the all-cotton beach cover-up) or nice slacks and a blouse. Some resorts have formal nights where suits and formal dresses are required. And don’t forget to pack a pair of dress shoes!
Ignoring safety guidelines
Some guests think weather advisories, public-health mandates (like masks), staying out of roped-off areas, only swimming in designated spots, wearing life jackets and other safety rules are for everyone else but not them. But our safety guidelines aren’t there to mess up your fun—they are to keep you safe so you can have more fun. Ignoring these guidelines can put you in danger and ruin your vacation.
Do this instead: Follow the rules, and avoid endangering yourself or others. This is true even if you “already know how” to do an activity (like snorkeling or skiing). Guests ignoring the rules have been caught in dangerous riptides, attacked by wildlife, taken jaw-dropping falls or been stranded on land that suddenly turns into an island when the tide comes in.
Too many tropical vacations have been ruined by heat stroke! You have delicious beverages (both alcoholic and regular treats) at your fingertips, so it’s understandable that you might forget to drink enough water—something that can be compounded by being outdoors more than usual, forgetting sun protection like hats or umbrellas, and loading up on salty snacks. But getting dehydrated can make you feel tired and irritable at best, or gravely ill at worst. This is especially important if you are traveling to a climate that is significantly hotter or drier than you’re used to.
Do this instead: Balance out each alcoholic or sugary drink with a glass of water. Take a reusable water bottle and a sun hat with you on excursions, and be on the lookout for signs of dehydration like exhaustion, being overly sweaty or unable to sweat, becoming very red in the face or very pale, disorientation, muscle cramps and weakness.
Not consulting the schedule
Not only does the resort’s daily tell you when things are happening—it’s also a great way to see what is happening. Even if you did some research ahead of time, it’s not uncommon for a resort to add even more shows, excursions or dining experiences. Some are first-come, first-serve, while others require an advance reservation. Certain activities, like a riverboat tour through the city, will always be popular and can be fully booked by the time breakfast is over. Be sure to note events that happen only once during your stay—like a special show performance—and prioritize booking those first.
Do this instead: Download the resort app, and check it daily, first thing in the morning. It’s a goldmine of information. It usually has schedules, tips, previews and menus, and many resorts offer special events or deals through it too. You can also check the flyer that lists the day’s schedules, posted in common areas, or the informational binder in your room. In general, travel apps can make your trip better in so many ways.
Forgetting medications or vaccinations
Resorts usually have doctors or medical staff onsite, but they’re there to handle normal vacation maladies or emergencies. You can’t expect them to have a supply of your prescription medication on hand, nor can they manage any chronic illnesses. Also be aware that some resorts have vaccine mandates, and for the vaccine to fully take effect, you need to get it some time before you arrive. For instance, a series of two typhoid vaccines are required for most countries in South Asia, and the vaccinations need to be completed at least one week before your arrival.
Do this instead: Check out the medical section of the resort’s website or app, and make sure to pack anything you need for your health—and pack it in your carry-on. As a precaution, in case you lose your medication, have your doctor email you an electronic copy of your prescription. If you have a chronic health condition, talk with your doctor before leaving about how to manage it on vacation. This is especially important if you are traveling outside the continental United States.
Booking the first resort package you find
All-inclusive resorts are more expensive than regular resorts because they take the headache out of planning every detail of your vacation. However, that means you need to be extra careful in how you select the resort, the package and your membership level (if applicable). If you’re on a budget and you don’t comparison shop, you might end up paying more than you’d like because what you want isn’t included.
Do this instead: Book through a travel agent, whether you’re heading to an all-inclusive resort in Florida, Europe or anywhere else. They often have access to exclusive deals and know the ins and outs of different resort packages. If you are a member of Costco, they offer travel-planning help and exclusively priced resort packages. Also try to book as early as possible. While there are good deals to be had at the last minute, you’re more likely to get what you want for a good price by booking early; many places offer discounts or promotions for early bookings.
You know what will really ruin a romantic vacation or a girls weekend getaway? A blistering sunburn. One common issue: women (or men in Speedos) who neglect to put waterproof sunscreen on their bottoms where their suit doesn’t cover when snorkeling. Sunburns gotten over a day of swimming in the ocean—the sun not only beats down from above but is also reflected up from the surface—can be incredibly painful and may make sitting and sleeping miserable.
Do this instead: Bring sunscreen, and check to make sure it’s reef-safe if you’re going to be swimming in an ocean. Also bring insect repellents (and use them regularly). If you forget yours, definitely ask the staff, as the resort will likely have some on hand, or you can make a quick trip to town to pick up what you need.
Not using your points or miles
Perks at all-inclusive resorts are a common benefit of many credit card, airline, hotel, corporate or other rewards programs. You can get free upgrades, extra nights, bonus excursions, transportation and other fun freebies. But they only work if you remember to use them. If you’re not prompted to enter the info when booking, be sure to ask customer service to make sure they’ve got your membership details on file.
Do this instead: Know what your perks are and how to use them, especially since many must be activated before arrival. If you’re using a credit card to book the trip, the perks should be activated automatically at the time of booking (but check your account to make sure). If you’re using a corporate reward or hotel loyalty program, look up the details before booking. You will likely need to book through their site or provide a membership number during the booking process.
If you arrive and notice that you didn’t receive the extras you signed up for, talk to the concierge to see if they are on file with your reservation. If not, you’ll need to contact customer service for the rewards company. Combining points is one of the top tips for how to travel for free.
Expecting the staff to babysit your kids
All-inclusive family resorts exist so that families with kids of all ages can vacation together … and also have some time apart. Many resorts offer childcare and/or classes for kids, but make sure you know the rules (like age restrictions) and the times they’re offered. Please know that just because something is labeled as a “family” and “all-inclusive” resort, it doesn’t mean that any staff member will watch your kids or that babysitting is available at all hours.
Do this instead: Read all the details about what services and activities are offered for babies, young children, older kids and teens. Do not leave kids unattended, even in children’s areas, unless it is specified that they are being supervised by staff there. Bring your own baby monitor, as they generally aren’t provided, but do not leave young children alone in hotel rooms.
Not taking advantage of room service
You might skip room service at a normal hotel because of the price, but room service is one of the areas where all-inclusive resorts really shine. At most resorts, you can order anything off the menu 24/7 and have it delivered to your room for no extra charge. (Some items or services may incur an extra fee, like special meals, off-hours delivery or alcohol.) This is a huge bonus for families with young kids or people who like to have breakfast in bed.
What to do instead: Check with the resort before arrival, since what’s included in room service varies. One etiquette-based resort tip, though: While tipping isn’t necessary, if you do order room service in the middle of the night, consider tipping the staff a few dollars when they bring it.
Now that you know these all-inclusive resort tips, check out these cruise tips that can make or break your vacation at sea.