All exclusive, all-inclusive holidays

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You pay your money, you get the trip of a lifetime ... with no nasty hidden extras. Chris Leadbeater gives his guide to the packages that offer more than buffets and beaches

What's the attraction?

The appeal of an all-inclusive break is well defined – particularly in times of financial uncertainty such as these: a clear, all-encompassing price for your holiday that covers everything from transport to food and drink – leaving you to relax in the knowledge that, once you reach your sun-kissed destination, you will not need to pay for anything further.

That, at least, is the theory. In reality, the term "all-inclusive" can often be dogged by negative connotations – grizzly images of downbeat hotels, unpalatable all-you-can-eat buffets and under-motivated staff who know their guests have already spent their budget.

But equally, several operators are now offering escapes that might be described as "ultimate all-inclusive": exciting tours where everything is taken care of by the quoted cost, but which also journey to – and offer insight into – fascinating locations. Most packages stop short of paying for visa costs, but with every other fee ticked off the list, you should be free to concentrate on sightseeing.

The lion's share

Saga, the travel specialist for the over-50s market (0800 096 0074; travel.saga.co.uk), is one company that offers all-inclusive breaks that venture beyond the beach (the standard focal point of all-inclusive holidays) and into intriguing areas such as the game reserve. One such package is a nine-night safari trip to Leeuwenbosch, a four-star lodge set in a 1908 colonial house on the Amakhala Game Reserve in South Africa's Eastern Cape. This group jaunt costs from £1,799 per person, including four game drives, three excursions, travel insurance and chauffeur service to and from the airport – as well as all meals, transfers and flights from Heathrow with South African Airways.

A tale of two holidays

Further all-inclusive animal-spotting can be enjoyed through Turquoise Holidays (01494 678 400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk), which ups the stakes with an 11-night honeymoon that combines the big beasts of Kenya with the beaches of Tanzania. "From Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar" starts with four nights at Ol Donyo Lodge, near Amboseli National Park, where all meals and excursions – as well as splendid views of Mount Kilimanjaro – are included. The second half – seven nights at the Fundu Lagoon resort, on Pemba Island in Zanzibar – is also all-inclusive, with options such as island-hopping excursions and canoe jaunts. From £4,079pp, including BA or Kenyan Airways flights from Heathrow.

Sri Lanka in style

Wendy Wu Tours (0844 875 2433; wendywutours.co.uk) is another operator that focuses on the all-inclusive escape, with itineraries that explore China, Japan, Indochina and India. Holidays generally include international and internal transport, accommodation, meals, entry fees, guides and – unusually – visa costs. Its 15-day "Highlights Of Sri Lanka" group tour dissects this increasingly accessible island at close quarters, visiting – among other places – the capital Colombo, the 12th-century royal citadel Polonnaruwa, the rock fortress of Sigiriya and the Buddhist pilgrimage city of Kandy. A departure on 5 April costs £2,890 per person, with flights from Heathrow on Sri Lankan Airlines.

Sent away to Siberia

Those who not only want to set out their budget in advance – but wish to blow the entire thing on the trip of a lifetime – may be drawn to the timeless prospect of the Trans-Siberian Express. The most revered of all rail journeys is hardly cheap, but it does come at an all-inclusive price – from £10,490 per person – through Cox & Kings (0845 154 8941; coxandkings.co.uk). This figure covers full-board travel in a Silver Class cabin, which lets guests roll the 5,600 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok (via the Siberian city of Irkutsk and the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar) with such comforts as an en-suite shower and underfloor heating. Flights are with British Airways from Heathrow.

Dancing on the sand

A beach-based all-inclusive holiday does not have to be an uninspired experience. For those seeking a cocktail of luxury and sunshine, the Le Blanc Spa and Resort (00 52 998 8814740; leblancsparesort.com), in Cancun, is an all-inclusive wonder that puts its neighbours to shame. Facilities include three swimming pools, 10 restaurants and bars – serving up Italian, Japanese and Thai cuisine. A seven-night break, departing on 23 February, costs £1,940 per person through Virgin Holidays (0844 557 4321; virginholidays.co.uk), including butler service and return flights from Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic.

Betting on Botswana

The safari holiday fits neatly with the all-inclusive ethos – conjuring up, as it does, a situation where guests need to be to catered to at all times. For those seeking a short dose of African wildlife, Expert Africa (020 8232 9777; expertafrica.co.uk) does a six-day "Ground Squirrel Safari", which splits its time between a pair of camps in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Two nights are spent at each of the Xakanaxa Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve and the nearby Pom Pom Camp – which overlooks Pom Pom Lagoon and its large hippo population. The price – from £2,805 a head based on two sharing – covers all meals, transfers, game drives, park fees and flights from Heathrow with South African Airways.

A great whirl through China

New for this year, Journeys Of Distinction (0161 491 7616; jod.uk.com) has launched a six-day China all-inclusive group tour that delivers Beijing in detail for an upfront fee. Sites ticked off include Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Stadium. A foray out to the Great Wall is also covered by the competitive price – from £1,095 per person. Meals, excursions and transfers are built in too – as are return flights from Heathrow with Air France or KLM.

Insider information

"In destinations like China, one of the main advantages of booking onto an all-inclusive tour is that all your arrangements are taken care of, even down to your visa. Travelling in China can be logistically and linguistically challenging – and knowing that all flights, accommodation, transport and meals are taken care of before you go can be extremely reassuring. You can concentrate on enjoying the holiday and not worry about the details."Ben Briggs, Wendy Wu Tours (wendywutours.co.uk)

Who said that?

"Everything, everything, everything, everything... in its right place" – Radiohead, 'Everything In Its Right Place'

"A most delicious banquet by his bed, and brave attendants near him when he wakes – would not the beggar then forget himself?" – William Shakespeare, The Taming Of The Shrew

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