Check into a spacious Presidential Suite at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico and find a chilled bottle of Moët & Chandon and a spread that includes Malossol Royal Caspian Russian Beluga Caviar. You’re served by your own staff, treated to a massage each day, and in the morning your British-trained butler brings you a newspaper, ironed flat and folded precisely.
At the Namale in Fiji, which has hosted Donna Karan, Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, each guest has three staffers on hand to pamper and delight, with duties that include arranging dinner inside a candlelit cave.
Tycoon William Avery Rockefeller built a retreat in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, whose current incarnation is called The Point. Here guests can indulge in premium wines and liquors at any time of day or night while ensconced in the comfort of luxury-cabinstyle accommodation.
In all these cases, guests don’t pay for a single glass of Merlot, or that platter of lobster, nor the endless activities and services. It’s what’s known as the new all-inclusive.
The model was pioneered by Club Med and has generally since been adopted by resorts in beach destinations – Mexico, Phuket, the Dominican Republic, Bali. However, it didn’t always have positive connotations, calling to mind crowded vacations featuring basic rooms, mediocre food, and cheap house wine served in carafes, and being pitched towards budget travellers, college students on spring break, honeymoon couples and families with small children – vacationers who don’t want to worry about additional charges at checkout.
But all-inclusives have recently done an about-face. Now, they can also cater to demanding travellers who expect high-thread-count bed sheets, white-glove turndown service and proper champagne in the at-no-extra-charge minibar. At the upscale Sandos Cancun, for example, guests who choose to stay on site for the bulk of their vacation can choose from five gourmet restaurants – a large number for a boutique hotel. They can lounge poolside and order snacks from the pool bar, indulge in the contents of the minibar, revel in the 24-hour room service, and enjoy the night-time treats of cupcakes and chocolate strawberries – all without seeing another bill.
“People want the A-to-Z experience and they want it stress-free,” says Heidi Verschaeve, director of business development for Sandos Hotels & Resorts. “They want everything to be taken care of so they can just sit back and relax.”
Although all-inclusive properties tend to be beachside, they can also be found in the adventure travel sector, such as mountaintop chalets, and wilderness and wildlife retreats. At Fiji’s Namale, where the 19 bures and villas are priced at up to US$1,750 a night, guests don’t pay extra for experiences like a hike to a hidden virgin rainforest waterfall, or scuba-diving in the Sea of Koro.
Nimmo Bay, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, charges a flat rate of US$1,675 per person, per day.This not only covers the room, meals and house wines and beers, but also all the land- and water based activities. So if you want to go kayaking one day and bear watching or paddle boarding the next, or take a fly-fishing lesson, it’s all included. The only activity that has an extra charge is one that requires a trip on a helicopter.
“Guests decide what they want to do when they get here. It happens very organically,” says Jenny Jewczyck, in charge of social-media marketing and travel agent relations at Nimmo Bay. And the fact that they pay a flat fee means they’re often inclined to try more activities.
“There’s a shift in the mindset now. People are coming to a remote part of the world, so if they’re here and it’s all included anyway, they’re not going to miss out.”
Here are a few of our favourites (rates shown here are seasonal)
Finolhu Villas, The Maldives
This high-end Club Med resort caters to those who want all-inclusive convenience with a bespoke holiday experience. For around US$4,600 per adult, per week, guests staying in a luxurious villa on stilts with private pool, garden and personal butler can take any number of yoga, snorkelling and aqua-fitness classes, and enjoy unlimited food and drink.
Adler Mountain Lodge, Italy
Journey to the Dolomites to stay in one of 12 chalets inspired by traditional Tyrolean mountain huts. Ski in winter, hike in the summer, enjoy an Alpine spa, sunrise yoga classes, guided night-time star-gazing sessions, gourmet meals and Italian wines, all included. Rates up to about US$400 per couple, per night.
The Point, New York
This Relais & Chateaux five-star resort in the Adirondacks offers “carte blanche” access to facilities, bars and dining. Once the private retreat of William Avery Rockefeller, it comprises stately lakeside timber and stone mansions, and has a decidedly old-money feel. Prices start at US$1,600 per couple, per night.
Angama Mara, Kenya
For up to US$1,400 per person, per night, guests enjoy guided safaris in open vehicles, food, drinks (including single-malt whisky), cigars, laundry, babysitting and, given the nature of the excursion, emergency medical evacuation insurance.