- Globetrotters share their all-inclusive experiences
- Why it's best to get personal recommendations
- Could now be the best time to travel all-inclusive?
Why go all-inclusive?
An all-inclusive holiday is one that includes travel, accommodation, food and drink, as well as activities and childcare, in a one-off fee. So, if you want to holiday on a fixed budget without having to deny yourself simple pleasures along the way, all-inclusive could be for you.
According to research by ABTA, all-inclusive holidays are soaring in popularity, especially among young families, with 35% in this demographic planning to go all-inclusive in 2017.
It's no surprise, then, that the market is competitive. You can go all-inclusive with major tour operators such as Thomson, First Choice and Crystal, with smaller, more niche companies such as Mark Warner, and even with individual hotels.
Is it always worth the easy ride?
While all-inclusive can mean everything you'd ever want is 'free' – from waterskiing to childcare and, in some cases, endlessly flowing champagne – there is a flipside. Not every all-inclusive holiday will have table service – often they'll be buffet-style affairs at specific times, which can be brilliant for fussier eaters, but quality varies from one hotel to the next.
Your drinks might also be limited to a restricted menu – perhaps some beers, wines and soft drinks – so check before you book if you're after more choice.
Look carefully at hotels offering all-inclusive rates that can often be situated away from a town in their own 'campus', with excursions at extra cost – not a good choice if you're a culture vulture. One of the benefits of coastal 'campus' resorts, however, is that they often have their own stretches of beach and sun loungers for guests.
If you are going to a 'campus' resort, make sure that transfers from the airport, if not included in the price, are easy and affordable.
Are all-inclusive holidays good value for families?
If your family is the kind to make use of all the 'freebies', then an all-inclusive holiday is well worth your while, says Jane Anderson (@FamTravEditor), editor of Family Traveller.
'But it is worth asking people who have actually visited the resort for their feedback before making your decision,' she recommends.
More attractive activities, such as sailing and scuba diving, often sit behind an extra pay wall, but, says Jane, this is starting to change.
'Increasingly, the term 'all-inclusive' is becoming more impressive, as companies vie with one another to attract holidaymakers,' she explains. 'For example, Beaches, the family arm of Sandals in the Caribbean, includes a vast array of watersports and up to two scuba dives a day for qualified divers. And if your children want to learn to dive, there are three different scuba programmes for kids aged 8+.'
All-inclusive activity holidays
If you're a keen sportsperson, an all-inclusive activity holiday can represent fantastic value. Just check what coaching and equipment is included, and if you're going skiing, beware – a lift pass can add an extra £100-200 per person per week in France, for example, so make sure it's included in the pricier options.
'With poor pound exchange rates, knowing in advance the overall cost of a ski break makes the concept of all-inclusive holidays all the more attractive,' says ski journalist Peter Hardy (@peterhardyblog), co-founder of welove2ski.com. 'Club Med was the original pioneer of all-inclusive ski holidays and I find them still to be particularly good – but there are plenty of other operators now available.
'With Club Med, the cost may initially appear to be high, but when you consider that full board and drinks are included along with lift pass, lessons, kids' clubs, other snow activities and evening entertainment, it's remarkable value. However, equipment rental is not always part of the deal and can add a significant amount to the overall cost.'
If you are going on holiday to do any activity such as skiing, make sure you're adequately covered by holiday insurance.
What to do if my all-inclusive holiday isn't as described?
If you have booked an all-inclusive holiday and the reality is different to what was described (and pictured) in the brochure, you may be covered under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. Which? offers advice on your rights and how to complain.
But this is a worst-case scenario. If you want to let someone else take the strain of organising and have a choice of activities at your fingertips, all-inclusive holidays are a brilliant choice – especially in the current financial climate with poor exchange rates.
But one final word of warning from me: if you like peace and quiet, check what entertainment the hotel offers and at what time – I once found myself on an all-inclusive health retreat at a (quite upmarket) hotel in Turkey that had booming music from discos and karaoke until 2am every morning. Not relaxing at all!
For more travel tips, whether you're going all-inclusive or self-catering, follow @abi_butcher on Twitter.