Not Just Sandals: 7 All-Inclusive Resorts That Offer a True 5-Star Experience

Does the phrase “all-inclusive” have you envisioning mediocre meals, watered-down martinis and crowded pools overrun with spring breakers? With some extravagant exceptions—African safaris, a cruise to Antarctica, a journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express—all-inclusive getaways haven’t historically been synonymous with sophistication and luxury.

But the category is in the throes of its own pandemic pivot: the last two years have seen the emergence of a new crop of all-inclusive resorts promising travelers a far more elevated experience.

“Following the stress and chaos of the pandemic, many travelers were intrigued by the simplicity of the all-inclusive model,” says Mark Hoenig, co-founder of VIP Traveler, a travel membership platform.

These travelers aren’t motivated by consumption, according to Hoenig. Instead, they’re drawn to the relative safety that comes with staying in one place as opposed to hopping among multiple locales, and the ease and convenience of gathering with a multigenerational family. In some cases, would-be holidaymakers are simply grateful for the chance to avoid “decision fatigue” — a state of feeling overwhelmed by choices, which psychologists say has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“There’s a certain ease and freedom that comes from not having to make decisions and knowing everything is taken care of,” says Hoenig.

A year into the pandemic, Alila Ventana Big Sur shifted its model from à la carte to all-inclusive, in part to simplify the guest experience. “By adding food and beverage—excluding alcohol—and access to the resort’s signature activities, we remove the barriers and invite our guests to truly rest, relax and experience Big Sur the Alila way—with fewer decisions to make during their stay,” says Mark Ley, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.

Like Alila, resorts and hospitality brands are offering enticing amenities: a host of complimentary activities, in-room features like private plunge pools and, as Hoenig puts it, “truly standout family offerings” like personal nannies, educational programming and more. These indulgent inclusions are helping the category shed its unfavorable reputation.

Here are seven resorts—from a new lakeside retreat in the Catskills to far-flung tropical islands—that might have you rethinking your impression of an all-inclusive holiday.

Chatwal Lodge, White Lake, New York

The Top Ridge suite at Chawal Lodge.

When the long-awaited Chatwal Lodge opened its doors last spring, it brought a grown-up summer camp sensibility to the Catskills, albeit on a much smaller—and more sumptuous—scale. It’s also the perfect fall city escape, with 11 guest rooms kitted out in carved wood beds, fireplaces and decks dotting 100 acres of serene woodland surrounding the Toronto Reservoir. Chef Jesse Kloskey’s seasonally focused menu taps into local farms as well as the trout stream that runs through the property.

Whether you dine at the Rustic Grill, make the most of a sunny day with a lakeside gourmet cookout or tuck into daily afternoon tea served with local baked goods is your call—they’re all included, along with fine wines, top-shelf liquor, and Champagne, and even a mini-bar stocked with Negronis and hibiscus G&Ts from the local brand Pollinator. There’s a host of activities to choose from, too, from boating and kayaking to paddleboarding. Doubles start at $1,200 per night.

Kudadoo Maldives

The Retreat at Kudadoo Maldives.

While most “all-inclusive” resorts have at least a few exceptions to their inclusions, the Kudadoo Maldives motto is “Anything Anytime Anywhere.” A dedicated butler assists with plotting the perfect itinerary: a floating breakfast of mango-and-ginger smoothie bowls in your private pool, perhaps, followed by scuba diving among stingrays, a session in the Himalayan salt room before a Balinese massage, and an alfresco dinner on a starlit patch of sand.

Resident sommelier Ilyas can offer pairing tips on the 70 wine labels and impressive roster of Champagne—the Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé is a favorite. Rates start at $3,627 per night.

Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, Australia

The lounge of a one-bedroom villa at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in Australia.

Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley encompasses 40 freestanding villas in a private valley in Australia’s Blue Mountains, less than three hours from Sydney. Two nature activities per day are included in every stay—choose from options like horseback trail riding, tree-planting, mountain biking and star-gazing—along with wellness experiences like yoga and sound bathing.

Start your day by passing kangaroos during a sunrise bike ride, and end it with cocktails by a bonfire. Doubles start at about $3,100 per night.

Alila Ventana Big Sur, California

Alila Ventana Big Sur’s Glass House.

After temporarily shuttering during the earliest days of the pandemic, the adults-only Alila Ventana Big Sur reopened in July 2020 with a new all-inclusive model. Set amid California’s Redwood trees and dramatically overlooking the Pacific Coast, the resort’s 59 forest or ocean-view rooms and suites, spread out across 160 acres, now come with meals served in-room, poolside or in the Sur House restaurant. There, dishes like Santa Barbara prawns with smoked sea salt are paired with small-production Central Coast wines and panoramic forest, mountain and sea views.

Also gratis: daily hikes and yoga, access to an equipment library to borrow gear for picnics and adventures and a Volvo to get you to excursions up to three miles away. And don’t worry about sustenance on these adventures: the staff is happy to pack snacks for guests to take along. Rates start at $2,100 per night.

Nayara Alto Atacama, Chile

In the heart of the world’s driest desert, surrounded by sweeping mountains and flamingo-dotted salt flats, Nayara Alto Atacama’s airy rooms open onto private terraces overlooking cactus gardens and a llama corral. For the ultimate restorative getaway, book the full experience—complete with meals spotlighting northern Chilean cuisine and beverages, plus daily excursions led by local guides, bikes to pedal to the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama and an astronomy lesson in the resort’s private observatory.

Don’t miss the chance to watch the steam churning over the Tatio geysers at sunrise, followed by a picnic breakfast overlooking the nearby wetlands. Doubles start at $1,160 per night.

green o, Greenaugh, Montana

Western Montana’s Resort at Paws Up has long been the go-to escape for travelers looking to live out their rancher dreams amid the plushest of creature comforts. Then in 2021, the green o opened as a resort within a resort, tucked into the 37,000-acre property in the Blackfoot River Valley. Twelve sublime, stand-alone accommodations range from the Light Haus, with floor-to-ceiling windows, to the Tree Haus, perched 23 feet above ground, and are all clustered around the Social Haus restaurant, a luxe dining hall.

There, chef Brandon Cunningham serves a different show-stopping seven-course tasting menu nightly, with interactive touches like a sizzling river rock upon which diners cook tender slivers of Wagyu beef. Fall asleep stargazing from hanging loungers on your deck, then wake up to pre-breakfast thermoses of coffee and pastry chef Krystle Swenson’s warm treats delivered to the doorstep each morning. Days are filled with horseback riding, whitewater rafting and fly fishing in the iconic Blackfoot River, all of which are easy to access thanks to the Lexus that’s at your disposal for the duration of your stay. Afterwards, a restorative soak in your private hot tub awaits.  Rates start at $2,005 per night.

Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji

Chris McLennan Photography/Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji

One of the original all-inclusive resorts in Fiji, the Jean-Michel Cousteauresort is still a hit with families. Packages can come with an airport greeting, meals, non-alcoholic beverages, and a host of off-site excursions from exploring the nearby mangroves or botanical gardens to snorkeling with the resort’s resident marine biologist.

Also included: a dedicated nanny for each child under five, and a buddy for kids ages six to 12. Fully recharge with a beach-side massage while the kids are making their own memories, before reconnecting over dinner to recount the day’s adventures. Rates from $955 per night based on double occupancy.

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