VACATION IDEAS

Best Budget Friendly All-Inclusive Resorts

Your kids want to swim in the ocean, your spouse wants to perfect his tennis serve, and all you want is a nice glass of wine with dinner…oh, and to wake up to the sound of the waves lapping the shore. All for one price that won't break the bank. Mission impossible? Not anymore.

By Chanize Thorpe, Friday, Jul 19, 2013, 6:00 PM

Krystal Cancun
(Courtesy Krystal Cancun)

It's a fact that all-inclusive resorts can be expensive, with the average nightly rate at some of the bigger chains running $450—per person. And when you find one in your price range there's usually a caveat—the beach is a 15-minute drive away, or the "all" only includes non-alcoholic beverages (those margaritas by the pool really add up). We here at Budget Travel love a challenge and—though it wasn't easy—we found eight beachfront all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America starting at around $100 per person, per night. And they really are all-inclusive: a double room, three meals a day, drinks (from soda to cocktails), and lots of activities. And each one has an added bonus, too, from tennis lessons to scuba instructions. The only thing not included? Caveats.

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ClubHotel Riu Negril, Jamaica
Head out to the far western tip of Jamaica and you'll find this lively beachfront resort in Negril. It is right on the beach, but the place to be is by one of the umbrella-shaded loungers around the two gigantic pools (both are well over 3,000 square feet). There is a party atmosphere here—the complimentary mini bars and liquor dispensers in the 420 guest rooms are regularly restocked. If you want to go all out, head to the Pacha nightclub, where reggae is sure to be spinning. If you are looking for quiet, try the solarium terrace. Bonus You'll score extra perks like complimentary entry and drinks at the posh Pacha nightclub and a free introductory scuba diving lesson in the resort pool. Norman Manley Blvd., Negril, Jamaica, 888/748-4990, riu.com. From $98 per person, per night.

Iberostar Costa Dorada, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Iberostar operates six hotels in the Dominican Republic, but this resort 10 minutes from Puerto Plata gives you the most for your money. The 516 rooms (which all have either a terrace or balcony) are located in thatch-roof buildings painted cheerful shades of yellow and purple. The entire property underwent a full renovation in 2011 resulting in completely remodeled rooms, a new lobby, and a renovated kids' club. There are three a la carte restaurants featuring Brazilian, Mexican, and international cuisine, plus a buffet restaurant. If you aren't content to just sit on the beach or the massive pool, there are activities all around the resort, from archery and tennis to kayaking and diving. Bonus While some all-inclusive resorts only serve house-brand liquor, bartenders at Costa Dorada pour from imported names as well (Tanqueray, Stoli, etc.). Carretera de Luperon Km 4, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, 888/923-2722, iberostar.com. From $69 per person, per night thru July 26th with the Hot Getaway Sale; $100 per person, per night (three-night minimum).

Royal Decameron Golf Beach Resort & Villas, Farallón, Panama
This 1,170-room mega resort 90 minutes from Panama City does things big from its spot on a mile of secluded beach. There are eight pools, 10 restaurants, and 11 bars (including one swim-up), which means you'll rarely do or see the same thing twice. Play in the Pacific with free paddleboards, kayaks, or windsurfers, or check out the local underwater residents with the provided snorkel gear. The nightlife is also big here and the party goes long after the sun sets (which probably has something to do with the open bar). Bonus Though the base-rate is for a garden-view room, each one has a terrace or balcony overlooking the tropical foliage. Avenida Principal Farallón, Km 115, 011-507/993-2255, decameron.com. From $111 per person, per night.

Sunscape Dorado Pacifico Ixtapa, Mexico
The Sunscape's budget-friendly price makes it a deal, but most people travel here for the location on a sandy beach on quiet Playa del Palmar. The resort re-opened in November of 2011 after a $10 million upgrade to all the rooms (including new furniture, flat-screen TVs, and fully renovated bathrooms) and restaurants as well as the addition of a new spa (alas, massages aren't covered in the all-inclusive rate and start at $68). There are only 285 rooms, but you'll find the choices typical of a much larger resort. There are four bars and eight restaurants ranging from seafood to Italian to Mexican (and the small size means no reservations are required). Bonus Embrace your inner Serena Williams or Roger Federer and perfect your serve at the free tennis clinics. Paseo de Ixtapa S/N Lote 3-A, Ixtapa, 800/087-4890, sunscaperesorts.com. From $150 per person, per night.

Krystal Cancun, Mexico
This Riviera Maya resort makes the most of its location: the pool runs lengthwise along the sand, and there's even a beachfront infinity whirlpool. The Krystal, located in the heart of the Hotel Zone on Punta Cancun, has 453 rooms, and each one has a view of either the Caribbean Sea or Cancun Lagoon. The rooms were renovated in December of 2011 and now feature luxury updates like marble floors, flat-screen TVs, and rain showers—perfect for washing off all that sand. Bonus One of the downsides of an all-inclusive resort is that you have to eat every meal on-site. Krystal includes a Discover Cancun pass that covers one dinner at a local restaurant. Paseo Kukulcan Km 9.5, Cancun, 800/437-9605, krystal-hotels.com. From $176 per person, per night.

Barceló Langosta Beach, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Staying here affords travelers the best of both worlds: The resort is on a secluded beach surrounded by rainforests and a national park, but is less than a mile from the popular town of Tamarindo. This is a low-key resort, with just one buffet restaurant and one a la carte restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine (there is an additional $36-$42 fee for the a la carte restaurant) and one bar, plus a small casino and an amphitheater with daily entertainment. But the 134 rooms have views of the Pacific Ocean or the estuary of Las Baulas, part of the national park. Bonus Tipping for the staff is included in the rate, so no need to reach for your wallet every time you order another round. El Robledal, Tamarindo, 800/227-2356, barcelo.com. From $188 per person, per night.

Paradise Island Harbour Resort, Bahamas
At just 246 rooms, this family-friendly resort is a fraction of the size of the 4,000-room Atlantis next door. But it's also a fraction of the price for the all-inclusive option. Paradise Island is on a private beach and has a large pool and three places to dine—a pool-side grill, a buffet, and a steak and seafood a la carte restaurant. Unwinding is the first order of business here, so you won't find the same 24/7 whirl of activity here as at the mega resorts. But that doesn't mean anyone in your family will be bored. The kids' camp keeps them busy with sand castle building and craft making, and offers fun, active sports like pool volleyball and beach bowling. Bonus If you've ever wanted to learn how to dive, this is the place: the resort offers a complimentary scuba lesson in the pool. Harbor Dr., Paradise Island, Nassau, 888/582-0192, paradiseislandbahama.com. From $210 per person, per night. Check the website for specials thru 2013.

Jolly Beach Resort & Spa, Antigua
Set on 40 acres (including a mile of white sand), the Jolly Beach Resort & Spa is great for those who want to get out on the turquoise water. Kayaks, windsurfers, and paddleboats are all at the ready and there are also two pools. Would you rather just take in the view of the waves? The 464 rooms all have at least partial ocean views. The resort also has five restaurants ranging from a casual beach take-out place to the Italian Bocciolo. Bonus A proper afternoon tea with scones and cucumber sandwiches is also offered every day in the courtyard—a nod to the island's British roots. Bolans Village, Antigua, 866/905-6559, jollybeachresort.com. From $221 per person, per night.

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