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Are resorts a good value for your vacation?

For those planning an upcoming vacation, the choice of accommodations has never been more diverse. Resorts, regardless of location, are an increasingly popular option for travelers seeking additional amenities. But are they really worth their cost? And, more importantly, are they a good choice for your vacation?

What is a resort?

Before answering those questions, it’s important to determine what a resort is. Years ago, a resort was simply known as a lodging property (often near the beach) with extra amenities such as activities, meals, drinks, and more. Today, resorts are more complex, and there is no one perfect definition. Now they may cater specifically to singles, seniors, families, golfers, or couples; offer a la carte or all-inclusive options; and be located in the mountains, near tropical beaches, or any number of places. Many regular hotels are also offering similar extras, making it difficult to distinguish between the two lodging types.

The experts we spoke to noted that hotels are becoming increasingly competitive in offering additional services, but affirm that resorts still hold the market on all-inclusive lodging options, especially for convenience. Doug Stallings, an editor for Fodor’s, separated resorts from hotels by “the kind of entertainment and recreational activities offered, as well as extensive dining options.” Mark Wiser, vice president of marketing for Club Med, outlined four major features of resorts that distinguish them from hotels: meals, beverages, activities, and entertainment, all included in the price of your stay.

Above all else, resorts offer their guests convenience. “A resort will have a larger variety of options, increased activities and programming, over a hotel,” Amy Ziff, editor-at-large for Travelocity, noted. “Also, the facilities tend to be bigger, [having extras] such as fitness centers, spas, and pools.”

“Everything is there for you,” echoed Stallings. “It simplifies vacation planning.” Wiser advocated resorts because “you have the ability to do what you want, when you want, or do nothing at all. It’s a vacation with no sense of time or cost, and travelers can really live in the moment.”

Who do resorts serve best?

Resorts are a good option for travelers who like to participate in planned activities, as well as those who are less adventurous or do not want to expend a lot of effort in structuring their vacation. Naturally, there are specific traveler groups who fit within this definition, and resorts make an effort to appeal to them directly. “Families, couples, groups traveling together—these travelers may benefit from staying at a resort because of all the options available,” Ziff stated. For families, resorts will offer planned activities that appeal to all age groups, plus babysitting services for parents wishing to have some time to themselves. For example, Wiser noted that at Club Med, “you may have eight people in a family doing eight different activities, customized by age group, and everyone is happy.”

In addition, young adults—both couples and single travelers—may enjoy a resort stay. “Couples looking for a romantic escape, who want to do things together, plus receive instruction and equipment on some of the activities they want to do,” would be a good fit for a resort, Wiser stated. Resorts are also a popular choice with honeymooners seeking to relax after the stress of planning a wedding. Single travelers, on the other hand, will also find resorts catered just to them, with plenty of nightlife, entertainment, and similar-minded travelers at the same property.

Lastly, seniors may also be attracted to the convenient amenities of a resort, as there is less hassle in finding activities, booking tours, and choosing meal options.

Who would not benefit from staying at a resort?

Because resorts are designed so that you never have to leave the property, those who are more adventurous may not benefit from staying at a resort. “A resort may not appeal to those who like to get out and see a broader range of experiences, try the local dining scene, or explore on their own,” said Stallings. Also, because resorts are not typically centrally located near downtown areas or outside attractions, Ziff suggested that “young urbanites might not enjoy a resort.” Also, as Wiser stated, “those who just want to veg out, read a book and relax, and be by themselves could get a better value at a hotel,” as they are unlikely to take advantage of the included activities.

The price benefit

No one resort, or resort type, can truly claim to offer savings for all travelers across the board. The caveat lies with travelers’ personalities and vacation preferences. For example, if you’re not a drinker, an all-inclusive resort that has factored in alcoholic beverage expenses in its daily rate may not be a cost-effective option. However, if you don’t mind eating all your meals on-site, and will take advantage of the property’s bars, sports, nightlife, and entertainment, you may find the resort’s all-inclusive option to be valuable.

Ziff highlighted business travelers as a particular group that would not necessarily save money at a resort, as “they’ll be paying a resort fee or tax per day for amenities they won’t have time to take advantage of.”

Depending on location, “resort expenses can be a big problem,” added Stallings. “You can’t just look at the daily resort cost, as there will be resort fees above and beyond the regular daily rate.” Stallings cited Orlando and Arizona as areas where resorts are typically expensive, particularly in regard to fees. However, Stallings noted, if an area has an abundance of resorts, they may offer savings simply because that’s the dominant option in the area. He referenced the Dominican Republic as an area where resorts themselves are some of the island’s top tourist draws.

Wiser, on the other hand, advocates resorts in general as great vacation savers, particularly because of the quality of the equipment and amenities that are already included in the price. “Club Med offers high-end, professional-quality ski, tennis, and other equipment,” he noted. “Even if you’re not the greatest athlete, there’s a real thrill in being able to ski or play tennis with top-of-the-line equipment that you may not have back at home.” He cited the Club Med facility in Crested Butte, CO, as an example of a good value: With average per-night costs of $190 per person, guests receive accommodations, lift tickets, all food, all drinks, access to property facilities, and entertainment.

Is a resort right for you?

Before deciding whether to stay at a resort, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Will I take advantage of all the resort’s activities, entertainment, and facilities?
    If the answer is yes, still price other a la carte options in the area to make sure you’re not paying more than you should at the resort. Regarding cuisine, note that a resort may have several dining options to choose from, typically three to five on-site restaurants, whereas local restaurants may offer countless options that could be a better value.
  2. Will I want to spend most of my time at the resort, or will I want to explore the local area?
    If you are more interested in going local, check area hotel rates to see if you can save more by booking basic accommodations.
  3. Do I want to be by myself, or do I want to meet new people?
    If you’d rather be by yourself, a resort is likely not for you. Resorts, by their very nature, foster social situations. If you want solitude and still want to stay at a resort, check out spa/heath/wellness resorts, as well as those that don’t cater to families or feature wild nightlife.

In planning your next vacation, determine what type of experience you would like to have, your personal preferences, and money available to spend. Research resorts that appeal to you, then price other options in the area to find the best deals that fit your personality. By knowing what will best serve you and your traveling companions, you’ll be able to determine whether a resort will be the best fit.

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