October 23, 2018

Lively or Leisurely?

These all-inclusive resorts offer amenities
catering to both active and laid-back travelers

By Jennifer Davoren

Vacations Magazine: Lively or Leisurely?
Sandals Resorts

(Scroll down to see a slide show.)

All-inclusive resorts are built on a common foundation: meals and drinks, activities and live entertainment, poolside and beachfront lounge chairs, deluxe accommodations and assorted taxes and gratuities wrapped up in a single, worry-free vacation package.

But, on that shared foundation, there's room for personalization. A resort on Jamaica's balmy northern coast, for instance, offers plenty of opportunities to hear local reggae acts. A Bahamian escape that once played host to British royalty marks every afternoon with high tea service. Properties found on the shores of St. Maarten, meanwhile, showcase a bounty of Caribbean seafood in their on-site restaurants.

Though all-inclusive resorts offer an all-in-one bundle of vacation necessities, they don't force a one-size-fits-all experience. Instead, guests can customize their tropical stay with a balance of active and relaxed activities -- or, depending on whether the call of a beach bed wins out over pleas to join a beach volleyball game, perhaps an emphasis on a particular travel style.

Read on for ideas on building your own tropical itineraries, then contact the all-inclusive specialists at Vacations To Go for rates, with or without airfare.

Iberostar Grand Paraiso
Playa del Carmen, Mexico


The Iberostar brand celebrated 20 years of all-inclusive service in Mexico in 2018. Of its 10 properties found along the country's golden coasts, five have joined together to create the sprawling, amenity-stuffed Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf and Spa complex, a spot made for exploration just north of Playa del Carmen. Iberostar Grand Paraiso is the complex's lone adults-only resort, offering guests the option of keeping to themselves in their own separate hideaway -- one that includes a reserved stretch of beach, kid-free pools, quiet restaurants and a theater -- or sampling perks shared by the other hotels, including an 18-hole championship golf course.

Branching out: The Playa Paraiso complex suffers no shortage of outlets for activity. Venues for live performances, a disco, tennis courts, aerobics facilities, a diving center, even the complex's own shopping mall are open to Iberostar guests. After getting the lay of the land, reward your long walk with a stop at an on-site ice cream parlor or a dip in the wave pool.

Staying in: The complex as a whole can be a bit overwhelming for those with a more leisurely vacation style. Iberostar Grand Paraiso's grounds offer plenty of private escapes, including its own spa with a no-volleyball-allowed "quiet pool" reserved for secluded reflection. If an evening calls for a more intimate dining experience than the nearest buffet, try smaller venues like Haiku, the Grand Paraiso's sushi and teppanyaki spot.

And, as no place could be more private than your room, consider your choices before booking. While the property's standard oceanfront rooms afford Caribbean vistas, many are found at ground level and might be subjected to a bit of beach traffic (and, depending on lounge chair placement, obstructed views) during the day. Instead, look into the resort's superior oceanfront suites, located on higher floors for unfettered views and distance from the sunbathing crowd.

Sandals Royal Bahamian
Nassau, Bahamas


The former Duke and Duchess of Windsor are responsible for this property's regal name. The couple -- Edward VIII, former King of England, who abdicated his throne to marry the doubly scandalous Wallis Simpson, a commoner and divorcee -- was a fixture of the Balmoral Club, predecessor of the Sandals Royal Bahamian on this span of white-sand beach. Edward took up the post of governor of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945, avoiding the turmoil of WWII's European theater, and he used the Balmoral as his luxurious base of operations.

Though Sandals acquired the resort in 1995 and made a branding switch, little touches still pay tribute to its royal roots, including afternoon high tea and, in select rooms, personal attendants trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers.

Meet and mingle: Drinks, from your morning coffee to an afternoon mojito by the pool to a glass of wine with your beachfront dinner, are included in the prepaid price of your all-inclusive vacation at this couples-only resort. Eight bars (including three of the swim-up variety) are strategically stationed around Sandals Royal Bahamian to shorten the wait between orders. Guests in search of nightlife aim for spots like the Cricketer's Pub, with fish and chips, shepherd's pie and beer on tap available until 2 a.m., or the piano lounge, known for its rowdy audience singalongs and Windsor memorabilia. Fire pits overlooking the beach are another popular gathering spot in the evenings, and Sandals' entertainment staff often is on hand for musical accompaniment.

Get a little distance: One of the Royal Bahamian's exclusive amenities is a private island just a few minutes offshore. Reached by kayak or a Sandals-operated ferry, it offers two additional beaches for uncrowded lounging, a branch of the Red Lane Spa and a swimming pool complete with swim-up bar. By night, diners hit up Schooners for casual seafood fare. For a truly peaceful escape, seek out the isle's Zen garden.

Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica
Montego Bay, Jamaica


The lure of the "One Love" isle -- aside from its sugary sands, gemlike waters, jerk-seasoned delicacies and the quintessential tropical soundtrack that reggae provides -- might be the ease of getting there. Even from as far off as Philadelphia, beach-seekers spend barely 3.5 hours on a plane, shifting from northern chill to Montego Bay trade winds in the space of a morning.

Spend that time in the air organizing your to-do list for your stay at the adults-only Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica. You'll start with a welcome glass of bubbly as you breeze through the check-in process, followed by a fortifying post-travel snack at the beachfront Aqua bar. Once you've settled the pool vs. ocean debate for the first dip of your vacation, ask your nearest server for the property's signature drink, the Bob Marley, a frozen daiquiri swirled in the vibrant red, yellow and green of the flag adopted by Rastafarian culture. Wind down Day 1 with the international cuisine of your choice, including Japanese, Italian, Caribbean fusion or a buffet experience that offers a bit of everything.

Get in the game: An on-site entertainment staff works from morning to well after nightfall to engage guests in poolside trivia games, relay races along the beach, karaoke and late night theme parties. Keep an eye on the activities calendar in the lobby for announcements of guest musicians and DJs, seaside barbecues, exercise classes and more. Like Iberostar's Playa del Carmen complex, the Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica shares beachfront with two sister resorts: Hotel Riu Montego Bay, where a nightclub open to all Riu guests also hosts dance lessons, and Hotel Riu Reggae, anchored by an open-air auditorium for stage shows.

Choose your pool: If you'd rather not be recruited for a "battle of the sexes"-style push-up contest in the middle of your afternoon swim, this trio of Rius has you covered. Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica guests are free to use facilities at all three resorts during the day, so you're never more than a short walk away from a more peaceful pool experience.

Dreams Punta Cana Resort and Spa
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic


Flamingos strut the grounds of this family-friendly spot, boasting beachfront on the quieter northeastern side of Punta Cana and one of the largest free-form swimming pools in the Caribbean. Guests never have to stray too far from the water, with cocktail bars like the swim-up Manatees and poolside Barracuda and eateries such as the wave-facing, seafood-serving Oceana and the Barefoot Grill, where diners dig their toes in the sand as they dive into burgers and other barbecue fare.

Sunny recreation: Water sports are a common perk of all-inclusive resorts, and Dreams Punta Cana has stocked up on catamarans, kayaks, windsurfing and snorkeling gear and other heart-pumping, nonmotorized means of exploring the Dominican coast, including a nearby coral reef. A free introductory scuba lesson also is included in the price of your stay and hosted in the resort pool. Meanwhile, supervised clubs cater to kids and teens with a pirate ship-themed waterslide and pool, sandcastle-building contests and both big-screen movies and bonfire parties on the beach.

Shady relaxation: For a more private connection to the water, guests often opt for a swim-up suite. Dreams Punta Cana's version offers a furnished outdoor terrace connected to a lazy river-style pool. Kick back on your own personal patio -- perhaps during an afternoon break catered by your room's fully stocked minibar and supplemented by visits from room service, available 24 hours a day -- between float trips around the property.

Sonesta Ocean Point Resort
Maho Beach, St. Maarten


Battered but not beaten by Hurricane Irma, this 129-suite, adults-only property marks the end of renovations in November with a grand reopening. Guests will be welcomed by an airy, redesigned lobby and a new rooftop tapas spot, Casa Blue, overlooking the crystalline waters of the Eastern Caribbean. A sister resort, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino and Spa, completes its own repairs in February and will add a host of shared amenities, including an expanded selection of dining options. In the meantime, Sonesta Ocean Point's perks include three swimming pools and the cliffside Azul Restaurant, a favorite of past guests, dishing up breakfast, lunch and Mediterranean-inspired dinners.

Nightlife: Maho Village is an after-dark hub for St. Maarten, the Dutch side of an island shared with St. Martin, a territory of France. While not included in the price of your all-inclusive package, dozens of off-site boutiques, eclectic cuisine and the 21,000-square-foot Casino Royale are among village temptations. Another favorite way to wind down a day on Maho Beach is to grab a drink at the Sunset Beach Bar, a safe place to keep watch for St. Maarten's famed low-flying airplanes.

Quiet cocktails: If the thrill of a jet buzzing your nightspot isn't your style, Sonesta Ocean Point's rooftops offer more calming havens. In addition to the sky-high Spanish fusion available at Casa Blue, a separate lounge space boasts exclusive, 360-degree views of St. Maarten's charms that pair well with a nightcap.


The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2018. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.


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