The pros of an all-inclusive vacation are pretty straightforward: you don't have to lift a finger, carry a wallet, or make a single decision more difficult than "pancake or waffle?" And the trade-off for that luxury? Well, unfortunately, it often means you're drinking cheap booze, eating at stale buffets, and fighting a hundred other guests for the last two beach chairs.
Lucky for you, though, not every all-inclusive resort is created equal; in fact, some single-price spots rival the most luxurious five-star properties. And we found 17 of them.
Dominical, Costa Rica This is a surf school with a twist -- as in, you're not sleeping in a dirty hostel and getting pummeled by waves while a distracted instructor flirts with the hot girl in class. At Kalon, when you're not on the water or waxing your stick (it's a surfing term!), you’re enjoying an ocean-view room, a massage, and a locally sourced meal. That or studying the video analysis of your surfing skills.
Tucson, AZ It’s the rugged life of a cowboy, minus the rugged. This upscale, Western-style dude ranch and spa caters to those who want to spend their days horseback riding through the desert, and their evenings getting a deep-tissue massage. Dinners are communal and sometimes themed, as in Mexican Fiesta Night, or a weekly BBQ with live tunes. And not only are the rooms TV-less, you can even ask them to turn off the Wi-Fi if you really want to go off the grid.
Dolores, CO Formerly an abandoned 19th-century ghost town, Dunton was transformed into a luxurious all-inclusive resort by an intrepid German businessman. The property features 12 stylishly rustic cabins -- some which were originally miners’ digs -- as well as a restored saloon, a spa, and some of the best indoor and outdoor hot springs in the world. Typical activities include fly fishing, horseback riding, and hiking/biking in the summer, and snowshoeing, dog sledding, and skiing in the winter.
Avoriaz, France Gorging yourself on all-you-can-eat food and drinks is never a bad time, but it feels especially well deserved after you spend an entire day shredding the Alps. Here at Europe’s best-rated, all-inclusive ski resort you can ski or snowboard until your heart’s content, maybe get some lessons if you want to improve, and even fuel up for the next day, all for less money per day than it costs to ski stateside. Did we mention that they transport you around by horse-drawn sleigh? 'Cause they do.
Ivins, UT Flanked by an ochre desert and towering cliffs, this resort for sporty types features an army of health gurus, a holistic spa, and fitness classes ranging from tai chi to Booty Beat, which is of course where all the ladies will be shaking their tail feathers. Maybe? And, because RMR's all about living strong, breakfast/lunch buffets are designed to boost energy while dinner is mostly low-cal.
Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, and Bumthang, Bhutan These five resorts span Bhutan, the last Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom. Some are perched on 7,000ft peaks, others nestled in lush valleys, but getting an all-inclusive deal at any one allows you to hop between them all. Their minimalist digs are the height of luxury, and to prove it, stay for seven nights and they'll even throw in a private car and driver. Which you can ride around in when you're not hiking to temples and monasteries, playing golf, whitewater rafting, or practicing your archery.
Torres del Paine, Chile Hot tubs, gourmet meals, and adrenaline-pumping thrills, all in the heart of a biosphere reserve? Sign us up. In fact, stay at the Explora Lodge and you'll be signing up for one of 50 different hikes, horseback rides, or boat outings. The hotel features only 49 rooms, most with views of the Paine Massif and Salto Chico waterfall, but none with TV or Wi-Fi. This place is all about experiencing the "real joys of life," so consider yourself warned.
Chiang Mai, Thailand If you feel right at home here (you’re encouraged to grab whatever you want from the kitchen), it’s because American expat Howie and his wife built their dream home, and only later turned it into their dream resort. You and your group will have the private villa, which was featured in Architectural Digest mind you, and its four bedrooms entirely to yourself... except that Howie will be there as your caretaker/host/chef/guide. So, not at all to yourself.
Riviera Maya, Mexico Typically, dining at an all-inclusive resort involves stuffing yourself full of questionable-looking chicken nuggets alongside a lovely couple from the Midwest, but that's not the case at Grand Velas; here you'll eat at the world’s first Five Diamond-rated restaurant located in an all-inclusive, Cocina de Autor. The seven other dining options in this jungle oasis aren’t much of a step down either, and are highlighted by Frida and its "Margarita Trolley." The rooms are spacious and come complete with a custom-bottled Don Julio reposado tequila, a 24/7 personal concierge, and fully stocked mini-bars you can raid all night at no additional charge. Something you'll probably want to do before heading down to the all-night karaoke and dueling piano bars.
Kruger National Park, South Africa The term "glamping" is pretty awful but, unfortunately, it's probably the best way to describe this private game reserve. Swanky suites (only 26 people can stay here at any given time) come with Nespresso machines and Champagne-filled mini-bars, as well as private terraces and outdoor showers. Some even have pools. Expect gourmet meals, daily game drives, walks in the bush, and sunset cocktails at the Tree-House Pub. Just, whatever you do, don't use the word "glamping."
Siargao, Philippines Known as "Cloud 9" to the surfing elite for its amazing waves, Dedon Island has become just that for travelers in search of the luxe life. The nine-villa property -- owned by former Bayern Munich goalie Bobby Dekeyser -- features an outdoor cinema, yoga and surfing classes (among a ton of other outdoor activities), and a spa, as well as meals prepared by a private chef with ingredients from the resort’s own organic farm.
Walland, TN Set on 9,200 acres at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, this 69-room working farm has its own creamery, bakery, charcuterie... and brewery! Yep, it brews small-batch craft suds like the Classic Saison, Farm Ale Pale Ale, and Screaming Cock Dubbel. Wait, it gets better. Elaborate farm-to-table meals are all homegrown and served in a converted barn (seriously, this place is a hipster's paradise!) paired with an inordinate number of wines. There are also cooking and cheese-making courses and beer/whiskey/wine tastings. Plus skeet shooting!
Negril, Jamaica We could tell you how this resort sits on legendary Seven Mile Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and home to the famous Negril cliff jumpers. But that would be telling you, like, one-tenth of the story. It’s the kind of place you go, even with an open mind, and leave thinking “What on Earth did I just see?” Yes, Hedonism is a special place. It’s not only one of the best adults-only resorts in the world, but it’s also the world's pre-eminent swingers resort. Eat all the delicious food you want, and sponge up fruity drinks till you swell. Then partake in another kind of "entertainment" that will likely involve multiple "playrooms," clothing-optional discos, and tasteful ceiling mirrors you can use with that nice couple from the Midwest.
Saint Lucia Jade Mountain vies for the title of most structurally striking all-inclusive resort in the world, a stepped collection of beams and glass built into the side of a mountain overlooking Saint Lucia’s famous Pitons. Each room has only three walls, allowing guests to sit in their in-room infinity pools and have nothing stand between them and the glorious Caribbean backdrop beyond. Your own private butler brings whatever you want, meaning you don’t have to get out of said infinity pool to enjoy the Allen Susser-created food. If you do care to leave the room, sip rum on the top sky deck while enjoying a fine Cuban cigar, or venture down to the private beach at Jade’s sister resort Anse Chastanet. Will it cost you? Of course it will. But when your biggest problem is birds flying through the curtains of your four-post bed and waking you up, that’s the kind of thing you tend to forget.
Ketchikan, Alaska This lodge, set on a private island near Ketchikan, gives you the remote Alaskan fishing experience with absolutely nothing to worry about besides casting your line. You and your buddies will stay in one of two luxury lodges set on the water, where a private chef and private bartender await with custom meals and cocktails after a long day fighting king and silver salmon. The boats, professional-quality gear & guides, and even cleaning are included, and they even vacuum-seal your catch and check it in with your luggage. So all you have to do once you’re done is step off the boat and use the free Wi-Fi or long distance calls to tell everyone back home you caught three times as much as you did. Then try and explain why everybody’s Christmas present this year is lox.
Grenada Most of what people know, if anything, about visiting Grenada is that we invaded it for, like, five minutes and now they celebrate Thanksgiving. But that obscurity creates places like Grand Anse Beach, where this spectacular resort sits, a sparsely populated hidden gem of the Caribbean. The soft white sand here is literally at your doorstep, since each of the stark white cottages at this 64-room boutique sits right on the beach. Your room also includes premium spirits and wine, tennis, scuba diving, cycling, golf, or pretty much any other recreational activity on the island. One doesn’t earn a AAA Five Diamond Award without great food, and here you’ll dine on Caribbean and Creole favorites at one of two waterside restaurants.
Fiji Getting marooned on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific doesn’t have to involve smoke monsters or talking volleyballs. Sometimes it can involve private plunge pools in beachside villas and snorkeling through a tropical marine reserve. That’s what you’ll find at Royal Davui, an only-accessible-by-boat-or-helicopter private island with 16 villas set on 10 acres. The island is thick with palm trees, and there’s no fishing allowed within a mile of the island, making the nature here almost as impressive as the luxury. The meals you opt not to eat in the villa are served at the Banyan Tree restaurant, a wood-lined dining room that feels like eating in an exotic, tropical treehouse.
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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist. You may see pictures from some of these places (don't worry, not Hedonism) on Instagram: @meltrez1.
Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's former über-efficient German associate travel editor, and has had frequent-flyer status since she was born in a Lufthansa terminal. Follow her: @Sohostyle.