As winter really sets in, more and more people are longing from a break away from the shovels and frigid temperatures in exchange for some R&R by the beach. Generally topping the list of places to go are sunny, all-inclusive resorts where you can fly, stay, eat, and play for one bundled price. Like anything, all-inclusive resorts have their good and bad. If you’re not sure where to stay, check out how four all-inclusive resorts we’ve stayed at stack up against each other.
#4 – Occidental Grand Nuevo Vallarta – Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
The “OGNV” was our least favorite all-inclusive resort we’ve stayed at, but unfortunately it is also one of the more expensive places we’ve been. I was so un-impressed by this resort, I didn’t even take many pictures here. This place has a huge timeshare sales presence and you feel like the sales people are always watching you, waiting for their chance to pounce. We were not impressed by this place at all and although we believe people need to experience things on their own, we wouldn’t recommend this resort to others. We typically stay at adults-only all inclusive and this one was family friendly, which might have had some impact on it. And, finding a trash can here was like searching for lost treasure. I would describe this resort as, “Not new or grand”.
~ Pools and grounds – The property had two pools – one adults only, one for kids. When I compare these pools to the pools at other places we’ve stayed, it’s disappointing. These pools reminded me of run-of-the-mill pools you would see at your local economy motel. The adults’ pool had a “hot tub” which was less than luke-warm and seemed to have regular chlorine bleach in it as opposed to proper pool chemicals. The grounds were groomed, but they also lack the “wow” factor that makes you want to stroll throughout the property. The beach itself was beautiful and went on for miles; however the water was dark and murky. Interestingly enough, we noticed the water down the road in Puerto Vallarta was beautifully blue. We started looking into it and discovered that the culprit may be a river in Nuevo Vallarta that apparently dumps high amounts of bacteria and sewage into the ocean in that area…
~ Dining and Bars – Where to start?! They had limited choices of dining – two out of four restaurants only allowed you to eat there once, and one restaurant wasn’t available for “non-club level” guests. Our first night there, they offered a seafood-only buffet which would be great, but we don’t eat seafood. We tried loading up on other items instead, until we discovered they even put shrimp in mashed potatoes! Who does that, especially without putting it on the sign? Did they think of people with food allergies? One day, the buffet made my husband sick, and that was it for the rest of the trip…
~ Activities and Entertainment – The activities staff had some good things during the day – basketball/tennis courts, bicycle tours, free non-motorized water sports, including paddle boards. There wasn’t much to do at night, and most of the performances and parties they tried to host were total flops. They don’t offer pool tables or anything like that to kill a few hours at night, and there’s absolutely no place to just hang out other than the lobby bar – because that’s the only place that is open at night or that you can get Wi-Fi.
~ Rooms – Clean, small, noisy from nightly entertainment and lobby, but they have a relatively private bathroom aside from a sliding glass wall. The beds are hard as a rock and the minibar leaves room to be desired. To upgrade to a balcony, be prepared to shell out an additional $1000, and have stairwells exit right onto your balcony.
~ Customer Service – Although the staff was polite and hardworking, they are not overly friendly. Even website is vague and hard to navigate and find information on the property. Some of the staff act put out when you seek assistance, and the guest services desk wanted to charge me for placing a local phone call for me.
#3 – Secrets Wild Orchid – Montego Bay, Jamaica
Secrets Wild Orchid was another great property located on a secluded point in Montego Bay. It shared property with its sister resort, Secret St. James, which made for double everything – restaurants, pools, food, etc. This resort had beautiful beaches, clear water, lots of walking paths, and always something going on. They always had vendors with food carts serving jerk chicken or fresh coconut water, nightly parties and shows, and offered a lot of activities. They also have Euro-Bungee and, although we weren’t able to do it due to conflicts, it looks super fun and I’ve never seen it offered at other resorts. I was really surprised by the amount of large corporate functions that were held at this resort. Between that and the weddings, there were often parts of the resort that were off limits due to the reserved spaces. This resort also opened its doors to cruise ship passengers who paid to lounge by the pools/beaches for a few hours during the day. Although this did not bother us, many people seemed to be annoyed by their presence. Interestingly, we encountered more rude Americans and fighting couples here than any of the other places we’ve been to. Maybe it’s all of the weed everyone was (illegally) smoking on the island? I would describe this place as, “Sex, weed, and reggae”.
~ Pools and grounds – Two main pools with activities and busy, swim up bars. There were plenty of hammocks and artwork throughout the property. The beaches are beautiful with vibrant colors straight out of your best island dreams.
~Dining and Bars – There was a great coffee shop where baristas would serve any drink you asked for, a piano bar with live music, and variety of restaurants. One of the best meals we have ever eaten was at the Japanese restaurant, Himitsu.
~Activities and Entertainment – Along with the food carts, they had several activities and performances, great bands, free non-motorized water sports (charge for paddle boarding), jewelry making, cooking classes, beach party, and more going on throughout the resort. This place was full of energy and people were always milling around with all the things to do.
~Rooms – The rooms here are large with an open bathroom and separate semi-private water closet. Surprisingly, there were multiple channels of free porn, so if you’re in to that sort of thing you’ll hit the jackpot here. We had a walk-out balcony with great views of the pools and ocean, and peacocks that hung around all the time
~Customer Service – Here, we noticed the male staff members were friendlier than female staff members. Leo, who is the employee of the year, was the bomb! There’s no other way to describe him. I have never been in a place where I have seen someone go so far above and beyond to ensure a great guest experience – I’m talking Leo, at the pool bar, working the crowd by wading through the water, in a tuxedo, hooking everyone up with shots and cake, to celebrate a guest’s birthday! It was a great time!!
They also have an amazing app where you could connect with other guests, get messages, schedule massages, place phone calls, etc. Tips accepted.
#2 – Sandals Grande Antigua – St. John’s, Antigua
Sandals Grande Antigua is a beautiful property with a Caribbean side (think cottages, bungalows with private pools, etc.) and a Mediterranean side (think grand, water fountains, and opulent style) and is on a beautiful stretch of beach in Dickinson’s Bay. The night we arrived, the island unexpectedly was hit by their first hurricane in 15 years. We were so impressed by the action taken by the staff and general manager – they truly care about the guests and their experiences. This experience will always stand out with me. The resort had a good variety of restaurants and a quaint little shopping area with many stores where you could get anything from a late night snack to designer jewelry. The only thing that irks me a little about Sandals is their marketing tactic of advertising. They always mark up their prices and then reflect discounts (which are the actual prices), leading you to believe you’re getting a better deal than you really are. I would describe this place as, “See and be seen”.
~ Pools and grounds – Large main zero-entry pool with activities and great music playing all day long, and beach side loungers with fire pits perfect for evening relaxation. There were many other pools scattered throughout the resort, including some bungalows with private pools. The beaches are beautiful with some of the prettiest turquoise water we’ve seen.
~ Dining and Bars – Automated coffee kiosk machine located in the center of the property, variety of restaurants including the standard buffet, plus an amazing crepes factory and gastropub. There are bars throughout the property including a piano bar and popular swim up bar. They offered special events throughout our stay, such as an evening dessert buffet.
~ Activities and Entertainment- Large billiards room, great bands in two locations, free sunset photo session, and water sports.
~ Rooms – We stayed on the Caribbean side of the resort. Our room was secluded with a nice balcony and great view of the resort property, as well as a mini bar with full size bottles, tea and coffee.
~ Customer Service – Upon check in, you receive a welcome drink and cold aromatherapy towel. There are two different lobbies, depending on what side of the resort you stay in. When we were here a hurricane hit. They held a meeting for all guests where the general manager promised the resort would be back up and running in 72 hours, and they followed through on that promise. One night close to midnight, we saw the GM working as a bus boy and bar back in the Gastropub. They really went above and beyond when this hurricane happened – relocating meal services, repairing windows, chopping down trees, replacing damaged items, etc. I will always remember this experience and how they got that resort back on its feet. Tips not accepted.
#1 – Excellence Playa Mujeres – Playa Mujeres, Mexico
This may be one of the nicest resorts we’ve stayed at, but it has a price tag to match. We spent the same amount on a 4 night stay here that we’ve spend on 7 nights at other locations. This adults-only resort is north of Cancun and it is stunning. Driving there, you feel like you must be driving out of civilization, but the second you approach the gate, you are whisked into a world of luxury and excellence. The customer service is unmatched, the grounds are meticulously kept up and they have decorative sculptures throughout, and the amenities are out of this world! If you want to sway the day away in hammocks which are hanging above the pools, float carelessly down the property’s winding lazy river, and be pampered head-to-toe, this is the place for you! I would describe this place as, “The name says it all”.
~ Pools and grounds – Multiple pools, many with private, walk-in access off of rooms, lazy river, hammocks, swim up bars, and beautiful white sand beaches.
~ Dining and Bars – Amazing lobby bar at the base of one impressive staircase and fantastic service, swim up bars, plenty of dining choices including room service, buffets, and fancy al la carte restaurants. They also have a table in the main lobby where they would serve treats such as champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.
~ Activities and Entertainment – Pool table, ping pong table, nightly shows, themed restaurant performances, and beach loungers where you can listen to the waves or star gaze by night.
~ Rooms – Phenomenal, except for bathroom. Let me just say you better not expect privacy while using the toiler here. Separate whirlpool tub in corner of the room where glass panels can open directly on to balcony allowing for an open air Jacuzzi. Fantastic minibar with variety of drinks and snacks, plus bottles of liquor, tea and coffee in room. Great room service, beach bag and umbrella provided for use during stay, VIP bath products, daily fresh fruit and flower delivery and more!
~ Customer Service – Welcome drink and cold aromatherapy towel provided upon concierge check-in, private clubs, and free Wi-Fi. Tips accepted.
There are so many great all-inclusive resorts to choose from. Most of the places we’ve stayed at have exceeded our expectations and really I could say so much more about our experiences at each of them. Staying at an AI resort can offer ease and relaxation for some time away from the daily grind and wintery days. Hopefully, this comparison has inspired you to check some out for yourself!