Guest blog

The Perks of All-Inclusive by Chris Gray Faust

The Perks of All-Inclusive 

By Chris Gray Faust, Chris Around the World

Chris Around the World Guest Blogs for Cheapcaribbean.com

My husband and I have different ideas of a perfect vacation. While I have no problem being on the go, he prefers to stay in one place, where he can relax and have everything that he needs at his fingertips.

Blame it on today’s job requirements: Many professionals and executives work 24/7, it seems. While smartphones have made it easy to stay in touch, no matter where you are, they have also increased our working hours. The result? When Don pries himself away from his inbox, he needs to truly unplug.

That’s where luxury all-inclusives come in. USA TODAY has noted that resorts where all of the extras are included are on the rise, particularly in the Caribbean and Mexico. It’s been a popular choice during the recession, when travelers preferred to know the price of their holiday up front, paying one bill instead of many. And while these resorts were once favored by budget travelers, maybe used luxury instead of high end properties have gotten into the act, adding spas, private plunge pools and butler service.

On her trip to Jamaica’s IBEROSTAR Grand, for example, USAT’s reporter, Kitty Bean Yancey, found that her gratis butler would unpack her suitcase, bring her a special pillow, make dinner reservations and uncork her wine. Even within her room category, which she described as the least expensive (at around $300 a day in January), 24-hour room service and a stocked minibar were also included, as well as all meals at the resort’s four restaurants.

Travel + Leisure says that the biggest improvements at all-inclusives is the food (important to foodies like my husband and I). Says writer Ann Shields: “Buffet lines haven’t disappeared entirely, but resorts are recognizing that showcasing fresh ingredients and local cuisine will lure guests with more refined palates.”

Shields’ article also notes that cheesy group events have fallen by the wayside – again, important to someone like Don who just wants to chillax without having to take part in a “meet and greet.”  “Resorts are one-upping each other with an ever-expanding roster of diversions: golf, tennis, ziplines, kids’ clubs, snorkeling trips, Spanish lessons, beachfront climbing walls, kayaking, and trapeze instruction,” Shields writes. “Even lazing on the beach has received an upgrade.”

And how. I noticed on CheapCaribbean.com that the Sivory Hotel in Punta Cana, within the Dominican Republic, has submerged padded loungers in their infinity pool, so you can stay cool and still order a rum drink.  A pina colada poured poolside? Perfection!

The AAA Four-Diamond resort, part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, also has all-inclusive dining at its three restaurants. Considered one of the best restaurants on the island, Gourmond has an 8,000-bottle wine cellar, and Tau has fresh sushi. While spa services are extra, the rate includes weekly cooking classes, kayaking, snorkeling and access to the steam room and sauna.  Plus, Wi-Fi is complimentary (although I might not tell Don that if I want him to stop working).

I think I feel a sun break coming on.

Beach on a Budget by Suddenly Frugal’s Leah Ingram

Beach on a Budget

By: Leah Ingram, Suddenly Frugal

You may not think that spending time on the beach in the Caribbean and saving money are two things that you can do at the same time. But there are a few things you can do to keep the beach in your budget. A key component to this can simply be knowing where to look for savings or how to stretch your buck.

 First and foremost, you're more likely to save money by booking a package deal through a service like Cheapcaribbean.com.

Even though an all-inclusive might seem more expensive upfront, in the end I believe they end up being cheaper because you don't have to lay out any cash for your food. I have stayed at all-inclusive resorts on St. Croix, St. Lucia and Jamaica, and I loved the ease of knowing where my next meal was coming from--and that I didn't have to pay extra to get it.

Another great benefit to booking all-inclusive travel is the options you have. Nearly all destinations in the Caribbean & Mexico offer all-inclusive resorts, which means there’s definitely something for everyone. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway you can search for all-inclusive hotels that cater to couples and honeymooners, or if a family vacation is in the works, there’s plenty of resorts that offer full family all-inclusive options. You may even want to check the price for younger children, as some of the resorts charge less or even offer free stays for young children.

When it comes time for souvenirs, I would recommend going off property. While you may save on meals at an all-inclusive, the same is not always true for items in the gift shop. If you are in a location with a chain supermarket or drugstore, stop in to look at your souvenir options. You are likely to see many of the same products from your hotel gift shop, but for a lot less money.

Another affordable souvenir option: local art works. I remember during a trip to Nassau, Bahamas, we visited an artists' collective on Paradise Island. There, painters, sculptors and other visual artists had booths set up as workstations and from which they sold their goods. We ended up purchasing two original watercolors for less than $40. My husband and I also brought artwork home as souvenirs from our trips to St. Lucia and St. Croix.

Years later, many of those prints are still hanging in our home. Every time I see them I remember our amazing trips to the Caribbean. The fact that we didn't spend a ton of cash while there helps to make those memories even better for this frugalista!

Leah Ingram is the founder of the Suddenly Frugal blog at www.suddenlyfrugal.com, and the author of 14 books, including Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less and Tie the Knot on a Shoestring.

Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals Guest Post on Living the Island Life

Live the Island Life in the Caribbean

By: Kara Williams, The Vacation Gals

Kara Williams, The Vacation Gals Blog for Cheapcaribbean.com

Sure, on any Caribbean vacation, there are likely tourist attractions you don’t want to miss – key landmarks that you must snap your photos of or must-do activities that are truly unique to that vacation spot. But there are some simple ways to see a more off-the-beaten-path side of your Caribbean destination – just like the residents who live there do. Plus, “living the island life” like a local means you’ll save money, too! Here are my tips:

Get friendly with your resort concierge
Instead of asking your concierge to book you a dinner reservation at the most upscale restaurant in town, ask him where he likes to eat when he's off duty. Better yet, ask the resort bartender, your waitress, your bellman or the kids’ camp counselor. You’ll get the insider scoop on the hot places to eat, dance or shop from the locals themselves – plus, whatever they recommend will be much less expensive than any restaurant, nightclub or shopping center marketed to tourists.

Visit the farmer's market
Again, find out where the locals shop for their everyday food and visit the local market to purchase picnic fixings for your mid-day meal. You’ll find that a grocery-store lunch will be much cheaper than eating at a restaurant. Also seek the local outdoor farmer’s markets, fruit stands or food trucks, and you’ll likely be standing in line with area residents also looking for cheap eats.

Literally go off the beaten path
Every city in the Caribbean has a main shopping and dining area, usually in the center of town. In Playa del Carmen, for example, it’s the pedestrian area of Fifth Avenue (La Quinta), while on St. Thomas it’s Dronningens Gade, better known as Main Street, in Charlotte Amalie. Wander a few blocks off the main drag and you’ll find smaller, quainter, cheaper shops and restaurants that cater to the locals.

Take public transportation
Not only are public buses and trains more colorful and entertaining than private taxis, they are so much cheaper, too. City transportation can be a nice alternative to trying to navigate in an unfamiliar resort town in a rental car you may not be fully comfortable driving. It’s also a great way to see how residents get to school and work every day. I loved getting around the island of Bermuda recently, because we had to take the local bus line since foreigners can’t rent cars on the small island with very narrow and curvy roads!

Remember safety first
While I absolutely advocate getting away from main touristy areas to get a more authentic feel for any Caribbean destination, you do want to keep your safety top of mind at all times. Bring an area map to your resort’s concierge desk and ask him or her to mark any regions of town that may be particularly unsavory. Trust me, you’ll still find plenty of places to explore off the beaten path!

For more ideas on how to “live the island life,” check out CheapCaribbean.com with its informative customer reviews about not only popular resorts, but fabulous out of the way places.