Luxury breaks: You get what you pay for – quality

Poor service and bland buffets are things of the past in the new breed of all-inclusives, says Paul Gogarty

As I lay on the sunlounger munching on the free mid-morning watermelon brought to me by a smiling member of staff, I mulled over which of the hotel's four restaurants I should book that evening. With no work to distract me, I eventually plumped for the Asian, before moving on to the far more momentous decision to dump my anachronistic view that all-inclusives are simply a smorgasbord of nasty food and resentful staff.

At the time I was catching a little late sun at the Oceania in Halkidiki, which, unlike virtually every other resort hotel in Greece, stays open year round. Alongside those four restaurants (Greek, Asian, Italian and international buffet), there are six bars, free watersports, tennis, squash and bikes for exploring the countryside as well as three children's clubs, a fitness studio and an indoor pool. As is usual with all-inclusives, treatments in the hotel spa are charged on top, but at around £27 for a 50-minute massage, it's about half the usual going rate.

The Oceania is a good example of how far all-inclusives have come. The Caribbean – which signed up enthusiastically to the 1980s value-for-money, quality-bypass all-inclusive blueprint – has perhaps needed to be busiest of all in reinventing itself.

In Cuba, I recently checked into the five-star Paradisus Rio de Oro in Guardalavaca, where two cocktails had me wobbling over the pool table. In the bad old days, a fragrance of hooch is all you got when a resort boasted "alcohol included". When they offered activities, they also tended to be a tad bullish. But at the Paradisus the choice is there – and broader than ever before – and you just sign up for whatever you fancy.

The resort, which sits on a sensational powder-sand beach, serves up an equally wide culinary selection in eight different ethnic restaurants, including Japanese, French, Mediterranean and Cuban. The friendliness of staff also comes as a real shock to old Caribbean hands used to surly service.

The Paradisus Rio de Oro is just one of a number of Caribbean all-inclusives offering far greater choice and better quality of service than was the case a decade ago. Even Sandals – the symbol of brash value for money – has introduced butler-serviced suites with private pools for a top-end programme being launched by specialist operator Complete Caribbean. It will include gourmet cuisine, scuba diving, golf green fees, unlimited premium drinks, watersports and even tips.

The all-inclusive makeover was first signalled at the turn of the millennium when the influential Leading Hotels of the World deigned to include the Royal Hideaway Playacar in its five-star portfolio. The hotel, which sits on a peach of a beach on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, continues to lead the way with six à la carte restaurants. If you can't make up your mind, your butler can help or you can always have your meal served by candlelight on the beach at no extra charge. In fact, the only extras are for spa treatments.

The Royal Hideaway Playacar remains the Mexican flagship, but Cancun's Elan Resort & Spa is now running it close following two-years of major surgery. It also includes a choice of seven restaurants as well as better accommodation in its new luxury villa-suite complex. The Mayan spa treatments are not included, but yoga, t'ai chi, aikido and pilates classes are, as well as a half-hour massage.

In Mauritius, the Shandrani Resort & Spa – already the best hotel in the Indian Ocean for watersports – has gone all-inclusive for the first time. Located in the south-east corner of the island, it has a golf course, spa and organised outings into a nature reserve. But the real magnet is the huge range of watersports included: waterskiing, windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing, kayaking, snorkelling and diving. The resort's Padi/National Geographic centre makes use of seven wrecks offshore.

Further afield, in Australia, several posh hotels recently changed their pricing structure to go all inclusive too. Among the Barrier Reef luxury islands are Lizard and Bedarra (both five-star Voyages properties, the luxury chain in Australia), while Longitude 131 at Ayers Rock and Wrotham Park Lodge in Queensland have also followed suit.

Oceania Club, Greece

From £381 with BA Holidays (0870 2433406; in November.

Elan Resort & Spa, Mexico

From £893 with Expedia (

Paradisus Rio de Oro,


From £1,039 with Thomas Cook (0845 0702530;

Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort, St Lucia

From £2,478 with Complete Caribbean (01423 531031; completecaribbean. com).

Shandrani Resort & Spa, Mauritius

From £1,448 with Beachcomber Tours (01483 445685;

Royal Hideway Playacar, Mexico

From £1,883 with Kuoni (01306 742222;

Australian Resorts Contact Bridge and Wickers (020-7483 6555; bridgeand

Prices are per person, based on two sharing, for seven-nights' all-inclusive packages

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home