A Beginner’s Guide to the All-Inclusive Resort

So you’re considering an all-inclusive resort but you have no idea what to expect, right? Trust me, you’re not alone! Before you book an all-inclusive, it’s imperative you understand exactly what to expect and what not to expect. Otherwise, you could walk away utterly disappointed.

While every resort differs in terms of quality, service, offerings, etc., there are a few standard features common to all. So to help you get a feel for what you’re getting into, here’s a breakdown of these standard features. For help on choosing a specific resort, check out my post, How to Choose an All-Inclusive Resort.

Food and Dining

Limitless Options: From the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep, you can stuff your face with as much food as you can possibly imagine. Between the all-day buffets, the several a la carte restaurants, and the snack shacks, you’ll never go hungry at an all-inclusive.

CAUTION: If you plan to take full advantage, be prepared to go home weighing much more than you did before you left for vacation!

The Cuisine: In general, expect American cuisine. Yes, many resorts will offer international themed restaurants, such as Italian or Mediterranean, but very few will serve true authentic dishes. The best way to experience a truly authentic meal and atmosphere is to leave the resort and visit a local restaurant that caters to the local population.

Standards and Quality: In terms of the quality of the food, it really depends on the resort you’ve booked. Some resorts offer a truly gourmet experience, while others serve meals you consider sub-par, at best.

Dining Options; Some resorts offer a buffet-only option at mealtime, while others offer several themed a la carte restaurants.


Limitless Drinks: Just like with the food, the drinks are limitless all day long. The bars typically open at 9 a.m. and stay open until about 2 a.m. You can spend your entire day and night sipping on anything from sugar-packed fruity cocktails to high-proof hard liquor.

CAUTION: Yes, you’re on vacation and what better way to relax than to plop yourself down on the beach and sip on cocktails the entire week (plus, you’ve paid for it in your all-inclusive package and you probably want to get your money’s worth), but be careful not to overdo it. The last thing you want is to spend your days and nights passed out in bed or hung over. It could really dampen the vacation.

Top-Shelf vs. Bottom-Shelf: The quality of the alcohol will vary by resort. Top-rated resorts often serve top-shelf liquor while lower-end resorts tend to serve bottom-shelf.

TIP: It never hurts to ask the bartender for the top-shelf liquor. Even top-rated resorts will serve the bottom-shelf liquor by default, but they might keep the higher premium brands on hand in the event a guest requests top-shelf. So go ahead and ask for the top-shelf if you really want it!

Cultural Experiences, or Lack Of

When many of us think about travel, we automatically think about discovery. We go, we explore, we discover – the culture, the history, the vibe, the food, the nightlife. We leave there having seen everything there is to see and having experienced everything there is to experience (or we’re planning a trip back to finish the mission).

If your plan is to stay at an all-inclusive resort, put your feet up, and laze on the beach for a week, you can expect none of the aforementioned discovery. Aside from the resort staff, a few shuttle bus drivers, and airport personnel, expect virtually no exposure to the local people or the cultural traditions and customs that define them.

It might even be hard to escape American pop music when you’re sitting around the pool. You may go to Jamaica expecting to be listening to the top Bob Marley hits all week long, but in fact many resorts tend to play the Top 10 pop hits of the day, all day long!

All in all, you will get a vacation out of the ordeal, but you won’t leave with the feeling that you truly experienced and discovered everything the country or island has to offer.

Activities and Entertainment

Daily Activities: To keep you active and entertained, most resorts will offer a plethora of on-resort activities and entertainment every day. Expect beach-side and pool-side activities, such as volleyball, trivia games, and competitions for small-prize giveaways. It’s a great way to have fun while meeting new people.

Nightly Entertainment: In the evening, expect talent shows, music and dance numbers, live bands, game shows, etc. The nightly entertainment varies by resort, but generally the shows will be lower-budget at small resorts (think staff talent show or a small local band), and more grandeur at larger resorts. Many resorts will hold a beach party one night a week, consisting of a buffet, entertainment, and games right on the beach.


On-Resort: Your resort will likely offer at least one gift shop with souvenirs, arts and crafts, clothing, snacks, etc. Larger resorts often come equipped with shopping plazas where merchants compete for your business.

Off-Resort: In addition, you can likely find beach vendors offering the same items, usually for a fraction of what the on-resort gift shop charges. You can usually find the vendors stationed at a stall somewhere along the beach or you’ll find them walking up and down the beach with their items in hand. Be sure to check out my post on Beach Vendors: Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em. You can also sign up for shopping excursions to check out all the shopping malls in the region or you can simply hire a taxi to take you.


Depending on how social and outgoing you are, chances are you’ll make some friends during your vacation, some may even turn out to be life-long friends. This is more likely to happen if you’re staying at a smaller resort where you’ll run into the same people over and over again throughout your stay.

You may even fraternize with the staff and vow to keep in contact post-vacation.


How Much?: On resorts that allow tipping, it’s really up to you to decide how and when you want to tip a staff member. Some people prefer to tip for each drink, while others prefer to hand over a lump sum at the beginning or end of each day. Some even wait until the end of the vacation.

TIP: Bring lots of one-dollar bills for tipping.

No Tipping Allowed?

Follow the Rules: On resorts that don’t allow tipping, my best advice is to not tip. I say this because those resorts usually have strict policies in place and will fire an employee who accepts tips.The no-tipping policy is in place because the resort doesn’t want staff members favoring one customer over another based on tipping patterns.

To remedy this, many resorts include tipping in the cost of the resort and pass that portion on to the staff members. So in the end, you are tipping the staff members but in an indirect way.

Alternatives to Tipping: If you feel a staff member has went above and beyond and you really want to reward him/her with a tip, you can go directly to the front desk or track down that staff member’s manager to find out how you can ethically reward the staff member. It could be in the form of a gift or a written letter that goes on the staff member’s record.

What’s Not Included

Yes, they call themselves all-inclusive resorts but there are always the ‘extras’ – the not included. Here are a few things you can expect to pay a premium for at many resorts:

  • Airport transfers
  • Spa services
  • Premium wine and liquor
  • WiFi and phone usage
  • Private dinners on the beach
  • Scuba diving and lessons
  • Off-resort excursions


Hopefully after reading this post you know what to expect, and what not to expect, at an all-inclusive resort.

If you still have questions, feel free to contact me or comment below.

Your Friend,
Jody, The Tropical Tourist


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