Travel

All-Inclusive Resorts Are Having a Moment

And these 10 all-inclusives are offering way more than poolside cocktails.

Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao
Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao
Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao

It began in 1950, in a small fishing village on the Balearic island of Mallorca. World War II was in the recent past, the sun was shining, and entrepreneur Gérard Blitz decided to set up a village of tents for vacationers. The idea was for people to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with each other. Guests came in droves, the village’s population swelling to nearly 2,000, with everyone pitching in to work and enjoy a bounty of outdoor activities, food, and drink. This was the first modern all-inclusive resort, a harbinger of piña coladas to come: The original Club Med.

While the initial collection of tents is long gone, the idea of all-inclusives has stood the test of time. Over the years, many of them have gained a reputation for cringey breakfast buffets and nonstop booze, but this really sells some of today’s properties short. Over time, the all-inclusive has continued to evolve to include off-grid adventure lodges, personalized wellness retreats, treehouse getaways, and more.

Photo courtesy of Club Med
Photo courtesy of Club Med
Photo courtesy of Club Med

According to the hotel news website Hospitality Net, all-inclusive resorts are not only regaining popularity in our decision-fatigued New Normal, but the demand is so high it’s given birth to a fresh generation of all-inclusive offerings. Today’s resort-goers have been attracted by the idea of a lower-stress vacation, particularly when vacationing with family, as well as the potential to get better bang for their buck in an iffy economy. And resorts in turn have made an effort to offer innovative experiences that appeal to travellers’ changing preferences.

“We have seen the need for a mental and emotional reset steadily rise for many years,” explains Alex Timmons, co-owner of Canada-based all-inclusive hiking and wellness retreat Mountain Trek. “We exist because there is a problem, and we feel it is our obligation to help and it’s an honour to offer our guests the much-needed-and deserved-mental, emotional, and physical reset they seek.”

Photo courtesy of Mountain Trek
Photo courtesy of Mountain Trek
Photo courtesy of Mountain Trek

Even Club Med has branched out beyond what most people think of when they consider all-inclusives. “As more people are looking to get away, disconnect, and travel abroad, we strive to provide our guests an abundance of options at our resorts,” says Carolyne Doyon, president and CEO of Club Med North America and the Caribbean. “From food and entertainment to sports and wellness activities, like with the launch of the new Wellness Fusion concept we developed to cater to wellness seekers looking for a holistic experience.” The Club is also taking to the sea in December, with a renovated French sailing yacht known as the Club Med 2.

Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao
Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao
Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao

While Club Med is credited as being the first all-inclusive, it was the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart, a fifth-generation Jamaican and air conditioner salesman who carried on the torch in the ’80s. After buying properties in a then-struggling economy in Montego Bay and coining the term “luxury included,” Sandals Resorts was born. Today, Butch’s son Adam Stewart serves as executive chairman of Sandals and says all-inclusives are not only the fastest growing segment of the hotel industry, but there’s no limit to what these resorts are doing.

“For years, there has been this notion that all-inclusive guests never venture ‘beyond the gate,’ but I’ve always wanted visitors to experience my Caribbean,” Stewart says. “When we launched our latest resort, Sandals Royal Curaçao, we knew we had an opportunity to elevate our guests’ ability to authentically connect to the destination-one that is colourful, full of life and waiting to be explored with our immersive Island Inclusive offering.”

We could all use a little more time to connect these days, whether with a place, a loved one, or even with ourselves. These 10 all-inclusive hotels, resorts, and retreats provide ample opportunity to do so. If you want a cool or transformative vacation without the headache of planning every detail, these are the ones to book.

Photo courtesy of Mountain Trek
Photo courtesy of Mountain Trek
Photo courtesy of Mountain Trek

Mountain Trek

British Columbia, Canada
Ideal for: Hiking and healing in the Canadian wilderness
Located in the mountains of British Columbia, Mountain Trek offers weeklong all-inclusive experiences focused on revitalizing your mind and body. The program, which was designed by doctors and other wellness experts, is capped at 16 guests and definitely isn’t intended for those who want to chill by a swim-up bar. Instead, you’ll be heading out into the wilderness on guided hikes, eating nutritionist-designed organic meals, and relaxing during therapeutic massages. Other activities include a forest bathing experience in which a certified guide takes guests on calming walks, helping you feel fully present while savoring the sights, sounds, and smells of the woods. Don’t worry-if it all gets a little too woo-woo, you can always take a break in the sauna.

Photo courtesy of La Casa de la Playa
Photo courtesy of La Casa de la Playa
Photo courtesy of La Casa de la Playa

La Casa de la Playa

Cancún, Mexico
Ideal for: Learning about Mayan culture and exploring the Riviera Maya
La Casa de la Playa opened on Mexico’s Riviera Maya last year, and the adults-only boutique resort has been upping the all-inclusive ante ever since. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of its tailor-made experiences, such as visiting local cenotes, touring the mangroves of the Río Maya, and taking in a show about Mexico’s history and traditions at the Gran Tlacho Theater. For those who want to do some solo exploring, La Casa also provides complimentary transportation in the form of a fleet of Teslas.

Back at the resort, you’ll find the heart and soul of the place in its food and beverage offerings. Featuring a culinary collective of standout and celebrity Mexican chefs like Martha Ortiz, restaurants explore the various cuisines of the country’s different regions. One of the hotel’s bars is focused primarily on mezcal and tequila, and there’s even a 24-hour chocolatería for those interested in the region’s cacao.

Photo courtesy of Salmon Falls Resort
Photo courtesy of Salmon Falls Resort
Photo courtesy of Salmon Falls Resort

Salmon Falls Resort

Ketchikan, Alaska
Ideal for: Angling and other Alaskan adventures
Travel 90 minutes by plane from Seattle to reach this seasonal fishing and adventure lodge, which sits on the rocky coastline of Ketchikan, Alaska. The area is known for being a great place for salmon fishing, which you can do on guided boat trips. But that’s really the least of it when it comes to activities. View bears from the safety of a floatplane, go shrimping, enjoy a kayak tour, hop on a boat for a wildlife-viewing excursion, hike the rugged landscape, and even zip-line through a nearby forest. While Salmon Falls has been operating since the mid-’80s, they’ll be offering an all-inclusive package starting in 2023 that includes meals at the on-site restaurant Timbers and daily excursions.

Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao
Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao
Photo courtesy of Sandals Royal Curaçao

Sandals Royal Curaçao

Santa Barbara, Curaçao
Ideal for: Classic resort amenities with off-property excursions
While most all-inclusives are designed to keep you on property, the relatively new Sandals Royal Curaçao offers an innovative Island Inclusive program that actually pays for guests to dine off-property at some of the best local restaurants. The resort also keeps a fleet of Mini Coopers around for when guests want to explore the area.

That said, there’s plenty to keep you busy on the grounds of the sprawling 351-room resort, especially for foodies. Check out its eight five-star gourmet restaurants for meals of everything from escargot and modern European fare at a Vincent van Gogh-inspired restaurant to tapas and Asian fusion at the on-site food trucks. Whatever you do, don’t miss the specialty Curaçao-infused piña colada for a quick hit of local flavour.

Photo courtesy of Castle Hot Springs
Photo courtesy of Castle Hot Springs
Photo courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

Castle Hot Springs

Morristown, Arizona
Ideal for: Choosing your own adventure in the Sonoran Desert
Springside bungalows and cozy cabins, farm-to-table meals, natural hot springs, and an entire via ferrata adventure course built into crevasses of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert are just a few of the things that make Castle Hot Springs a unique all-inclusive stay. The ability to choose between a bunch of different activities makes it feel like you’re bunking up at the luxury sleepaway camp of your dreams-and, speaking of dreams, the resort will be offering a new series of sleep retreats in 2023, led by certified sleep expert Rebecca Robbins with the intention of helping guests improve their nightly rest.

Photo by Whitney Lauritsen, courtesy of Sand & Salt Escapes
Photo by Whitney Lauritsen, courtesy of Sand & Salt Escapes
Photo by Whitney Lauritsen, courtesy of Sand & Salt Escapes

Sand & Salt Escapes

Nosara, Costa Rica
Ideal for: Relaxing and recharging in paradise
Costa Rica is no stranger to all-inclusive hotels, but Sand & Salt Escapes, which launched in April of this year, offers a chance for travellers looking to unplug from their busy day-to-day lives. Each six-night retreat takes place at Jade Nosara, a luxury boutique villa with seven standalone bungalows. Its setting in the jungle of the Nicoya Peninsula, one of five designated Blue Zones (areas known for the longevity of their residents), is undeniably lush and beautiful.

Each day starts with a movement class in the morning, followed by a chef-prepared brunch, then plenty of free time to spend at the beach, explore the town, hike in the jungle, or go on an excursion. In the afternoon, mindfulness classes including sound journeys, yoga, meditation, and art classes are followed by an evening sunset walk and a chef-prepared dinner. Everything is taken care for you; all you have to do is show up.

Photo courtesy of Club Med
Photo courtesy of Club Med
Photo courtesy of Club Med

Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda

Miches, Dominican Republic
Ideal for: A more personalized resort experience
Forget what you think you know about Club Med. The brand’s Playa Esmeralda location is separated into four villages, each of which has been designed to appeal to different types of travellers, whether you’re seeking wellness, adventure, kid-friendly accommodation, or an adults-only getaway. The resort is spread across 93 acres connected by a private white sand beach, and over the summer it even rolled out new plant-based and gluten-free menu options for those who need them.

Particularly of note for any health enthusiasts out there, the resort has a Wellness Fusion experience that includes daily activities like yoga and meditation, jungle to table dining experiences, and hydrotherapy sessions.

Photo courtesy of Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort
Photo courtesy of Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort
Photo courtesy of Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort

Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort

Stann Creek, Belize
Ideal for: Exploring reefs and rainforests
Belize has long been considered a paradise for diving, but if you don’t want to navigate planning your own diving adventure, hoof it to eco-beach resort Hamanasi. Located on the country’s southern coast, it offers a mix of treehouse rooms, beachfront suites and an all-inclusive reef and rainforest package that you won’t want to miss.

There’s plenty to keep you busy here, including incredible diving and snorkelling at the Southern Barrier Reef, but one of the most unique experiences has to be a guided night hike at jaguar sanctuary Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, home to nearly 300 species of birds and howler monkeys in addition to the jaguars. You can also participate in cave adventures, tour Mayan ruins, or canoe in the jungle.

Photo by Photo by Stuart Thurlkill, courtesy of the Green O
Photo by Photo by Stuart Thurlkill, courtesy of the Green O
Photo by Photo by Stuart Thurlkill, courtesy of the Green O

The Green O

Greenough, Montana
Ideal for: Couples who enjoy outdoor adventure and indoor luxury
Just a short drive from Missoula, Montana, the Green O has 12 two-person “hauses” (some in the trees, and some on the ground) for rent on more than 37,000 acres of pristine wilderness. The luxury all-inclusive is ideal for couples who want to connect with nature and each other on a forested hillside surrounded by mountains. Situated on the grounds of the family-friendly (and also all-inclusive) Resort at Paws Up, each haus comes equipped with a Lexus SUV with which to explore the property. New this winter is the chance to whip around the woods on your own MoonBike as well. Other activities include archery, ATV rides, cattle drives, and clay shooting, though the offerings will vary depending on the season. When you’ve worked up an appetite, your stay includes three gourmet meals a day made from locally-sourced ingredients. And just wait until you see the nightly tasting menu.

Photo courtesy of Casa Alternavida
Photo courtesy of Casa Alternavida
Photo courtesy of Casa Alternavida

Casa Alternavida

Río Grande, Puerto Rico
Ideal for: Solo travellers and couples who want to focus on wellbeing
Rolling solo to an all-inclusive hotel might seem a bit intimidating, but not at Casa Alternavida. Set on the eastern side of Puerto Rico, far from the hustle and bustle of San Juan, this all-inclusive retreat starts with a pre-arrival assessment to go over your individual goals. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll sleep in a nature-themed room, eat three organic meals a day, and participate in regular morning movement classes as well as guided nature hikes in El Yunque National Forest. What truly sets this experience apart is the abundance of themed retreats, whether you wish to join a women-only group or reconnect with your inner child at a playfulness retreat.

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Michelle Gross is a contributor for Thrillist who loves an all-inclusive resort. Always noshing, when she’s not lounging poolside or sipping sugary drinks she can be found on a paddle board or at home in Beaufort, South Carolina. Follow her on Instagram @pinktravelproject.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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