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All-inclusive resorts and vacation packages can be a great way to enjoy a world-class family vacation, some romantic couple time, or simply some R&R on the beach — all without feeling like you’re being nickelled and dimed to death every time you buy a drink or go out to eat. If you’ve never taken an all-inclusive trip before, you need to know how to make the most of it. All-inclusive vacations can have their downsides, after all — but as long as you know what pitfalls to look out for, and how to navigate the resort system, you’ll enjoy a world-class vacation on a budget.

Consider the Cost

Booking an all-inclusive trip can help you stay within your vacation budget, but you should still have a budget. Fortunately, you don’t need to book a luxury resort to have a great trip. Budget resorts often have give guests access to the same beaches, many of the same activities, and the same quality of food as luxury resorts. If you’re taking a trip to Central America or the Caribbean, chances are you’re going for the sun and surf, not the pampering. Check out guest reviews to see if that affordable resort you’ve got your eye on is really worth it.

Travel at the Right Time of Year

One of the biggest disadvantages of all-inclusive resorts is the crowds. Many resorts are sprawling properties designed to house, feed and entertain huge numbers of travelers at once. That can mean crowded beaches and pools, long waits for activities and fully-booked dinner restaurants — unless you travel at off-peak times.

The best time to visit an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica, Mexico or the Caribbean is during the few months between Spring Break in March and peak summer travel times, which begin in July. So, book your trip in mid-April, June or May to avoid the crowds and get the best rates. It’s worth it to look for a package that includes airfare. You’ll usually save the most money this way.

Choose the Right Resort

Are you traveling with kids? Choose a family-friendly resort with pools and lots of kid- and parent-friendly activities. Are you single and looking to perhaps meet other singles? Choose a singles-friendly resort that doesn’t allow kids. Are you hoping for more “romantic getaway” and less “loud kids splashing around in the pool all day”? Choose an adults-only resort that caters to couples.

Figure Out the Restaurant Situation in Advance

All-inclusive resorts typically include breakfast, lunch and dinner; often, they’ll also include room service and snacks throughout the day, as well as alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. Even if you choose a budget resort, that doesn’t mean the food will be terrible — but there will be limited seats available in restaurants, especially for dinner, so don’t expect to stroll in off the beach without a reservation. Make dinner reservations in advance, and make sure you know what the dress code is — women may be required to wear skirts or dresses, and men may be asked to wear button-down shirts and closed-toe shoes. Be advised that you may be allowed to eat in some restaurants only once, and others may cost extra.

Make dinner reservations in advance, and make sure you know what the dress code is — women may be required to wear skirts or dresses, and men may be asked to wear button-down shirts and closed-toe shoes.

Beware of Add-Ons

Speaking of things that cost extra, it’s good to be aware of the potential for add-ons at any all-inclusive resort you might choose. Sometimes, everything isn’t included in the price you pay. Make sure to read the fine print before you book a stay at an all-inclusive resort. You may have to pay extra for off-property excursions, certain alcoholic drinks, room service, telephone calls, some activities, WIFI and laundry.

Know Whether to Tip

At some all-inclusive resorts, gratuities are included in the price of your accommodations; at others, you’re expected to tip waiters, bartenders and other service workers. Guest reviews might give you a clue as to whether or not to tip; it might also be written down in the hotel’s policy. If you can’t figure it out beforehand, ask about tipping when you book your stay or when you check in. Plan to spend an extra $100 to $200 in tips for a week at a resort where tipping is expected. Tips should be given in USD.

All-inclusive resorts are a great way to relax and enjoy your vacation without worrying about the bills that will be waiting back home. Know what to expect, and soon you’ll be a seasoned all-inclusive-travel veteran.

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