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Playacar, a short taxi ride from Playa Del Carmen, offers a wide selection of all-inclusive resorts (AIs), but that's not the only choice for those traveling to the area. There are also many smaller NON-AI hotels, boutique, budget and beach hotels and Condos, that serve vacationers in and around Playa del Carmen. Luxury hotels like Bayan Tree, Fairmont Mayakoba, Tides Riveria Maya, Esencia, Al Cielo and Maroma Resort and Spa are all outside of town and in a league of their own. There are several things to consider when trying to decide on whether to pick an all-inclusive resort or a hotel.
The white sandy beaches offer relaxation, food and drink service for guests of AI hotels as well as beach front NON-AI hotels and guests of beach clubs that charge for rental chairs and/or drinks and food.
Food: Obviously, meals are pre-paid at AIs while for those staying in hotels payment at the time of dining is required. The downside to food at AIs is that there can be limited choices. Most AIs have a main dining room where meals are served buffet style and a small choice of "ala carte" restaurants on-site available for little or no extra charge. Reservations are usually required for the ala carte restaurants and can be difficult to get. It is not unusual for those who stay at AIs to report that they get tired of the food choices by the end of their stay. Going out in town is an option, above the already paid meals at a resort. Higher end AI's, including those that cater to adults only offer gourmet, sit down, menu dining for dinner.
For those who stay at hotels, there is a wide assortment of restaurants available in the downtown area in all different price ranges and cuisines. Mayan, Mexican, French, Thai, tacos, seafood, beach lunches to high end dining, downtown Playa del Carmen offers something for everyone.
Drinks: Most AIs also include alcohol, although their choices may be limited. Some AIs may include top-shelf liquors and a wide choice of beer, but not necessarily. Higher end Adults Only resorts stock up on top shelf alcohol.
Activities: Most AIs have a variety of activities tailored to their clientele: sports, exercise classes, dance classes, arts and crafts, and games are common offerings. It is less common for hotels to have these available, but many companies along the beach offer activities such as snorkel trips, kiteboarding and jet skis.
Family-friendly: Although parents should always know where their children are, the set-up of an AI may allow parents to give children more freedom than they would get in a hotel that has a lot of casual traffic. This can be a big plus for AIs when parents and children have different ideas of what activities they are interested in. Again, parents should never get too lax with their children's safety while on vacation.
Convenience: Many people like the convenience of not having to carry money to pay for meals and activities, only for tipping if one chooses to do so.
Rooms: There is a wide range of room quality at both AIs and hotels. If having a very nice room is important, you should make sure you do your research carefully.
Cost: Although many believe that AIs are cheaper than hotels, this may vary depending on the vacationer and what kinds of activities they do while on vacation. Travelers who spend most of your time at the resort and partake in the free activities will probably find that an all-inclusive is the more economical choice. Vacationers who plan to take several tours and spend a lot of time outside the resort, will probably find that the hotel is the lower-cost alternative.
Overall, the decision on whether to choose and AI or a hotel is up to the traveller. There are positives and negatives to both choices.
Foot note about 5 star + All Inclusive properties: There are some hotels out there that are providing very high level service. The Royal Hideaway for example is rated as 5 Diamond by AAA, and 5 Stars by Expedia. They have a Michelin rated chef in their All Inclusive restaurant. Shop around and you will see a segment of luxury all inclusives popping up. Other examples in the area: The Secrets Capri, The Azul Blue, and The Excellence Resort.
Look for the following in the highest level AI hotels:
Food: A good AI should provide unlimited access to "a la carte" dining, no reservation necessary. Lobster, quality meats and wines should be available. Some quality AI have sommeliers inhouse. Actual number of restaurants inside the property is a function of size, not quality. Look for 24 hr room service.
Drinks: Top quality brand names must be available.
Activities: Look for non-noise, non-spring break type of activities in a luxury AI.
Family-friendly: Grand Velas, Zoetry Paraiso Beach and the Iberostar chain are on the higher end of the luxury scale.
Convenience: Luxury AI do not make wear wrist bands that mass-market AI force guest to wear.
Rooms: Look for quality rooms, with jacuzzi, and other amenities.
Cost: Expect to pay at least $500 per room, per night based on double occupancy.