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The Truth About All-Inclusive Resorts

By Stirling Kelso

My family traveled frequently when I was growing up, but we never stayed at all-inclusive resorts. We’d hunker down with relatives, opt for no-frills hotels or occasionally book an inn or B&B with character. Not to sound ungrateful, but I always envied friends who vacationed at Club Meds and Iberostars in sunny destinations. They’d send me postcards about playing beach volleyball or meeting new kids in air-conditioned lounges filled with Ping-Pong tables and video games. Meanwhile, I was a child among intrepid adults. On one particularly memorable road trip through Guatemala, I sat sandwiched between my mother and an 80-year-old neighbor who, as we drove over the less than adequate byways, at one point leaned over to inform me, “I should have worn a sports bra.”

As I grew up, my interest in the all-inclusive model waned. They were all alike, I assumed, loaded with crowded pools and endless buffets. So when I began my research for a story on Punta Cana spas, and realized that this eastern corner of the D.R. was made up largely of resorts, my feelings about going were mixed. Of course, I didn’t share this with my office-bound friends, many of whom wouldn’t tolerate a pro/con conversation about a gig that required getting two massages a day.

While staying at or touring eight Punta Cana properties, I came to understand that no two all-inclusives are created equal and that travelers should do research before they book. For example: The 1,786-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana lets your hedonistic side roar, while the Puntacana Resort & Club is a quiet, high-end option for golfers and families and is impressively green-minded. Even among adults-only properties, there’s plenty of variation. Breathless Punta Cana Resort & Spa is ideal for couples who want to end the night on the dance floor, whereas the 96-room Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana is suited to those looking for daily yoga and meditation.

My mother joined me in the Dominican Republic—like it or not, she has an eye for detail—and brought another key advantage for families to my attention: While the kids I was once so envious of stay entertained, their worry-free parents can relax at the beach, get massages or sip what are likely much-needed cocktails.

Still, no matter where in Punta Cana travelers stay, I encourage them to get a taste of the D.R.’s cultural offerings. The excellent tour company Amstar organizes guided trips from resorts to nearby coffee plantations and to the capital city, Santo Domingo. There’s so much to learn about the Dominican Republic beyond your hotel grounds, and exploring the country will only enrich your experience.

The Details

Amstar: 1.877.329.4461; amstardmc.com

Breathless Punta Cana Resort & Spa: Playas Uvero Alto, km 275, Provincia La Altagracia; 1.855.652.7328

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana—All Inclusive Blvd.: 1.888.442.2262; Turístico del Este km 28; 1.809.687.0000

Puntacana Resort & Club: 1.888.442.2262; puntacana.com

Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana by UVC: Playa de Uvero Alto; 1.809.468.0000

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.