An all-inclusive resort often seems like the obvious choice when planning a budget-friendly vacation. Everything is (supposedly) included, so (supposedly) what you pay upfront is the only fee you'll incur, and you can (supposedly) drink, dine, and play till your heart's content. But unfortunately, some hotels that bill themselves as "all-inclusive" have plenty of caveats: VIP-only pools, limited dining hours, and hefty fees for just about anything extra -- to name just a few. So you won't be met with any pricey surprises on your next getaway, we did the research and found a dozen all-inclusive properties that truly offer a great bang for your buck. These 12 hotels, in the Caribbean and Mexico, are the best of the best for those on a budget.
St. James's Club Morgan Bay, St. Lucia
The St. James's Club Morgan Bay is a family-friendly, 22-acre property in St Lucia. With four pools, five restaurants, six bars, an excellent kids' club, and an extensive water sports pavilion, this is one of the most amenity-rich resorts on the island. While some guests might appreciate the minimalist rooms, others might find them dull, and bathroomsare small. Beyond the generic furnishings, all 345 units feature private balconies with full or partial ocean views. Most appealing of all are the resort's all-inclusive rates, which are virtually unbeatable across the entire island.
Solmar Resort All-Inclusive, Los Cabos
This mid-range all-inclusive property is on the smaller side, so guests get all of the perks of an all-inclusive in a more intimate environment. It also means guests don't get multiple food choices -- there is just one restaurant at the hotel (though guests are entitled to eat free at a few nearby restaurants as well). The real highlight is the hotel's beachfront location, within walking distance of the marina and downtown. All rooms are suites with kitchenettes. Although the pool has a swim-up bar, the Solmarmainly attracts families to its (crowded) beach and nightly entertainment offerings.
El Cozumeleno Beach Resort, Cozumel
El Cozumeleño is a mid-range all-inclusive resort located directly on a long, narrow beach in northern Cozumel. Its 252 rooms are no-frills and some have dated technology, but all units are spacious (especially those in the original building) and have furnished balconies with ocean views. The pools are the highlight here (one has a popular swim-up bar), but golf is also a draw due to the resort's location across the street from the island's only golf course (guests get discounted rates). Breakfast and lunch are pretty average, but dinner is tasty and the menu changes every few days. Overall, the hotel is a solid pick for families and value travelers.
Aruba Marriot Resort & Stellaris Casino
A comfortable, modern getaway for families with a great pool, gym, spa, and casino, this Marriott is fancier than its only neighbors, the Marriott Surf Club and the Marriott Ocean Club. This Marriott is a bit farther from the airport than most Aruban resorts, but it's only a three-minute walk to the High Rise complex and all-inclusive features include a 24-hour cafe, swim-up bar, and some water sports.
Gran Caribe Real Cancun
The massive Gran Caribe is an affordable four-pearl all-inclusive resort in Cancun's Hotel Zone with 487 suites. This beachfront option features a great location with bright white sands and clear waters just steps from the room. All rooms here are suites with living areas, balconies or terraces, and updated marble bathrooms. This family-friendly choice -- with a kids' club, teen club, waterpark, and squash courts -- is good value, but Wi-Fi is not included in some room rates.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The massive, all-inclusive Hard Rock is a sleek option in Punta Cana, located on a gorgeous stretch of white-sand beach. Getting from one place to the other on the sprawling property can take some time, but the hotel provides a shuttle. In addition, the size allows the resort to have broad appeal -- it attracts families, couples, and partiers. The signature Hard Rock rocker vibe can be seen throughout the hotel, whether it be in the music-themed decor or the free guitar rentals. On-site amenities such as tennis, golf, and horseback riding help keep guests busy. There are plenty of dining options as well.
With competitive pricing, lovely rooms, and great on-site amenities, this 70-room boutique hotel will attract people who never thought they’d choose an all-inclusive package. With three restaurants, cabanas on the terrace, and a late-night lounge, Waves has a contemporary appeal, especially for couples (though families aren't overlooked). Spacious rooms are modern and bright, and most have glass balconies (oceanfront rooms are worth the cost for the sunsets alone). Room amenities include flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and minibars nicely stocked with free goodies; while modern bathrooms spawn envy with door-less showers and eco-friendly toiletries. The quiet beach along Prospect Bay feels private, and the calm waves are perfect for swimming and kayaking. A spa and adults-only pool, located across the street, are extra perks.
Samba Vallarta - All Inclusive, Puerto Vallarta
Compared to the many massive hotels at the north end of Nuevo Vallarta, the Samba Vallarta’s 183-room, four-story Spanish colonial-style building feels pleasantly small-scale -- and the pools and beach tend to be less crowded than elsewhere. The clean rooms have basic, contemporary beach decor (light woods, turquoise bed skirts and runners), and the general ambience of the property is family-friendly and relaxed. For those who want to go the all-inclusive route but don’t want a megaresort experience, this affordable mid-range property is a fine choice.
Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort And Spa
A mega-resort, the Grand Palladium feels like a shopping mall but is expansive enough for privacy, romance, and fun. It has five pools, large rooms, name-brand liquor, tasty breakfasts, mini-golf, and more--all for lower rates than lesser-equipped all-inclusives.
Riu Palace Pacifico All-Inclusive, Riviera Nayarit
The Spanish hotel company Riu offers three classes of all-inclusive in Nuevo Vallarta, and the 445-room Palace Pacifico is the top dog -- but nonetheless offers a solid bang for your buck. The grounds are immaculate, sprawling with lush, towering palms and perfectly manicured garden walkways dotted with high-end lounge seating -- and the expansive pool, with a swim-up bar, and in-pool lounges and bistro tables, isn't too shabby either. Room decor, however, while nice, is nothing special and in-room amenities are no different than those at the more budget-friendly sister Riu properties nearby. Dining options are plentiful (always a plus at an all-inclusive).