What to know when booking an all-inclusive beach vacation

The Zabuco Villa at Secret Bay, Dominica, St John Parish, Portsmouth.
Image: Nick Ledger / AWL / Getty Images

An ocean surrounds you on all sides, creating one giant emerald reflection. Your toes are nestled in the sand and your hand is occupied with a Pia colada not a cellphone. Work, school, appointments, obligations … they’re all miles away.

While the image is relaxing, the process of getting there with hotel booking, dinner arrangements, transportation and more can be anything but. Which is, of course, the appeal of an all-inclusive resort. One place that gives you everything you need for a flat rate for all you can eat, drink and paddle board. Its all included, so you can rest easy … or can you?

So many of the all-inclusive options seem like a good idea until you get into the details. But don’t give up on your emerald vision yet. You can find the right experience that fits your needs without spending your entire piggy bank. Heres what you should know.

All-inclusive vs. la carte

Vacation planning 101 is understanding your options right out of the gate. An all-inclusive seems appealing to you, but is it the right choice? Start by deciding what type of experience you want to have.

Overwater bungalow and jetty at sunset, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Image: Getty Images

Do you want to travel “like a local” and discover a new place, talk to natives, enjoy the freedom of never knowing what will come next? Do you want to make sure that you can leave the resort and explore local culture?

Then all-inclusive is not for you. Instead, you’ll want to pay for each part of your vacation la carte.

Resorts outside of the Caribbean

While there are an abundance of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, sometimes the best options are in unexpected places.

If youre looking for a beach experience in the U.S., try Hawaii or Florida. If you’re looking to go abroad, check out Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize. Many of these locales are less expensive and less crowded.

Time of year matters

Just like the average hotel, all-inclusive resorts follow seasonal pricing trends. There are peak and off-peak times to buy. Even just avoiding peak weeks like spring break can save some money.

Going off-peak will mean cheaper pricing. That means considering hurricane season (though, if you do, you should also consider travel insurance), or picking a time when most children are in school (and families are unlikely to travel).

For destinations that get most tourists during the northern hemisphere’s winter, late spring, summer or fall can be the best times to go: Fewer travelers head to warm destinations when its already toasty in their hometowns.

Narrow in on your preferences

Once you know where and when you want a vacation, its time to focus on whats really important to you.

Image: Getty Images

Do you want a place thats adults only or will you need a family-friendly resort? Will you need to be entertained or do you want to be left alone? Is this going to be a weeklong party or are you planning to find a serene yoga retreat?

There are all-inclusive options for every preference. Pick the one that makes sense for you.

Read the fine print

When a package looks appealing, it’s time to find out what’s actually included.

If youre looking to party, is top-shelf liquor included or will you be paying extra for that? Is gratuity expected or is this a resort where employees are not allowed to accept tips? Check to see if there are premiums on specific facilities if you’ll want to use them. Is there a “resort fee” not included in the advertised price?

And don’t forget about food. Youre paying in advance for food and drinks, but is it worth the cost if you dont want to eat or drink any of it? No.

Image: Getty Images/RooM RF

And if you plan to book through a third-party website that has no affiliation to the resort youve chosen, make sure you know who to contact if something goes wrong. Same for flights: Many times a flight booked through a third-party retailer means the airline cannot make changes to your ticket.

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/06/08/booking-all-inclusive-vacations/