How to Plan an All-inclusive Family Vacation

Do you select all-inclusive hotels/resorts for your family vacations, especially to places in the Caribbean and Mexico? We do!

If we’re visiting a resort with onsite activities and restaurants, all-inclusive is a perfect fit because it gives us more control of our vacation budget. Also, our son is a creature of habit when it comes to eating and his overall schedule. All-inclusive resorts allow us to reasonably schedule onsite meals and activities and not worry about transportation time to and from local attractions and restaurants.

Here's what we consider when selecting an all-inclusive resort for a vacation:

  • Onsite activities for the kids and parents - seek resorts offering a mix of kids activities and activities that parents and kids can do together.
  • Kids Club - call to check the ages of kids permitted, club hours, staff-to-kids ratio, and request a schedule of a typical day's activities. Do a quick search on to see what's being said about the club.
  • Restaurants - ensure that onsite restaurants have kid menus, with healthy food options. Try to pick a resort with multiple á la carte restaurants (not just the big buffet dining establishment) that are family-friendly.
  • Pools - look for resorts with multiple pool areas/separate pools for kids as well as zero entry pools and/or wading pools. Separate children's pool areas are best, because swim-up bars and adult poolside activities can translate into a pool party atmosphere too risque for kids. (Trust me, you don't want to have to shield your kids' eyes from the bikini contest.)
And, here are five articles to help you plan an all-inclusive family vacation and suggestions for all-inclusive hotels and resorts...
1. All-inclusives: What you should know
"Traveling with kids is hard, which is why many families choose an all-inclusive resort for vacation. Use these tips to help you ask the right questions when picking a resort." San Antonio Express-News

2. All-Inclusives Made Easy: 10 Steps for Planning Your Trip
"Booking an all-inclusive in the Caribbean can be all-consuming. To simplify the process, follow these 10 steps to finding and reserving an all-inclusive." The Washington Post

3. Great Family Vacation Spots (Video Clip)
'Parents' Magazine details some of the best all-inclusive family vacation spots." WNBC TV

4. Beaches vs. Baby Club Med
"If you want to enjoy a food-, booze- and babysitting-rich getaway that lets you lock your wallet in the safe, you may want to look into all-inclusive resorts. We compared the leading contenders: Beaches Resorts (an offshoot of Sandals) and Club Med."

5. Kids and the Caribbean
A reader gets suggestions on all-inclusive resorts for toddlers in the Caribbean. The Washington Post


Bahia Principe Jamaica: My Family Will NOT Return

HOTEL GUESTS - In Jamaica for a family wedding, Mom, Dad, grandparents, and three year old, in two rooms (one with king bed, rollaway bed, desk; second room with king beds and desk) for seven nights.

HOTEL DESCRIPTION - Huge hotel opened in January 2007 with 518 king, 418 double and 64 suites. It's a relatively new hotel and it shows (in a bad way).

DOWNSIDES – Just so you know…We're starting with the downsides because there are so many:

  • The hotel bills itself as a five-star property. It is NOT.
  • Some rooms and common spaces are showing signs of wear and tear and/or poor construction (mold, rust, holes, flaking/bubbling paint)
  • Rocky beach (fake sand covers what appears to be concrete)
  • Lame kids club (peeling paint, worn toys and games, the staff members were nice though)
  • No connecting rooms for us
  • Faded bedspreads (no duvet covers)
  • Mediocre and occasionally terrible food at the onsite à la carte restaurants
  • Very little Jamaican food (only Wednesday dinner at the buffet offers local food) at the onsite restaurants
  • Long waits, limited menu and/or no room service depending on day and time we called room service
  • NO Red Stripe beer in the complimentary in-room mini-bar
  • Only cheap Spanish beers, and terrible red and white house wines offered during dinner (my husband wants me to mention this)
  • NO food available poolside, only a bar, which turned out to be a downside when adult guests drank too much and engaged in heavy petting and other adult activities
  • Bikini contests and other adult-oriented poolside activities
  • People smoking everywhere, especially at the entrances to the restaurants
  • Six dollars a day for the safe (that really got my goat)
  • NO late check-out appears to be available (no matter how empty the hotel is; I had to beg to get them to let me check out 30 minutes late)
UPSIDES – We liked these property features and amenities…
  • Magnificent grounds, beautiful landscaping with native shrubs, flowers, palm trees, etc., and a lone rooster which the kids loved
  • “Junior suites” room size (really just large rooms with sitting area)
  • Large balconies with table/chairs for two (kids can play board games on balcony)
  • Large pool area (actually four “contiguous” pools (separated by walls)
  • Two separate kiddie pools
  • Lifeguards and plenty of hotel staff poolside
  • All-inclusive (sort of)
INSIDER TIPS – For you to use, if you're brave enough to stay at this hotel
  • Don’t bother with Golden Club unless it’s free upgrade. It was only helpful in booking the awful meals at the a la carte restaurants, use of the computers with Internet access in the Gloden Club room, unlimited towels poolside.
  • Insist on a rollaway bed, if you need an extra bed (the sitting area has built-in seating with a hard two-inch cushion that the hotel claims you can use as a bed…not!)


FREE Family Activities in New York City

Our top five sources for information on free (or almost free) activities during a family vacation in New York City:

  • Free (and Almost Free) in New York with Kids (Fodor's) "Instead, when your child invokes the inevitable "Now what are we doing?" question, try one of these last-minute ideas that, not incidentally, won't break the bank."
  • Free Boat Rides and Free Museums in New York City (
  • Free New York City! (National Geographic Traveler) "Finding free activities to fill your easier than you might think. With countless cultural attractions and a large city parks system, there is plenty to do that won't cost you a cent."
  • NYC for Free (NYC & Company, the official marketing and tourism organization for New York City)
  • Big Apple Greeter "See New York through the eyes of a New Yorker." Greeters help travelers feel welcome and get more from their stay in the Big Apple." The best thing about this service is that it's free (and tipping isn't permitted).
Bonus Resource: Download's Summer in the City Saving's Pass and Guide. Get discounts to places like American Girl Place, The Skyscraper Museum, Top of the Rock's Observation Deck, hotels, restaurants and more.


Norma's: Breakfast with the Family in Manhattan

The Big Picture
Norma's is a beloved New York restaurant that serves breakfast all day and lunch in the afternoons. With a sleek décor, the restaurant matches the hotel it's housed in - the Le Parker Meridien. Our family felt welcome there with babies and kids lounging in the waiting area, although the closely packed tables were mostly full of adult tourists and those having business meetings.

The Food (Breakfast – but of course!)
The food was the star here and the portions are large (matching the prices). My husband, son and I shared the Blueberry Pancakes with thick buttery Devonshire cream (TIP: request the blueberry compote and cream on the side to avoid soggy pancakes), Eggs Benedict with ham charmingly positioned on top of two tiny pancakes, and a rather large side of Bacon lightly dusted with fresh black pepper (we counted nine pieces). The beverages are also outstanding - free shots of fruit smoothies, the freshly squeezed Orange Juice in "nice tall glasses" with free refills! The coffee was equally good, dispensed by a French press.
The service was frustrating, with long waits to order our food, receive the food, and get the check. (The bill for the two entrees, bacon, juices, and coffee was about $85. Our beverages were comped because of the long wait.)2 Quick Tips:
1. Make reservations weeks in advance for weekends, it's very crowded. (Le Parker Meridien guests receive reservations' preference.) The best time to go seems to be during the week, we got a table for three on a Thursday morning without reservations.
2. Plan to share entrees - don't order one entree for each adult, the portions are too large for almost any adult to eat by themselves.

More Reviews

New York Magazine
City Search