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; ba.com) in November.

Elan Resort & Spa, Mexico

From £893 with Expedia (expedia.co.uk).

Paradisus Rio de Oro,

Cuba

From £1,039 with Thomas Cook (0845 0702530; thomascook.com).

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; beachcombertours.co.uk).

Royal Hideway Playacar, Mexico

From £1,883 with Kuoni (01306 742222; kuoni.co.uk).

Australian Resorts Contact Bridge and Wickers (020-7483 6555; bridgeand wickers.co.uk).



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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed