The Reefs in Bermuda: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityIS AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT OR A BOUTIQUE VACATION EXPERIENCE RIGHT FOR ME?

You are sitting at your desk dreaming about watching a sunset aboard a romantic sailboat with your significant other. You can almost taste the fresh lobster and you can feel the luxurious sand slipping between your toes at the beach. You can smell the salt air of the crystal blue waters. Unfortunately you blink, and the cursor blinks right back at you and brings you back home.

You are looking forward to your next vacation but you cannot decide whether to stay at a well-known all-inclusive resort or an intimate boutique property. Travel Simplicity is here to help. Much of the decision is personal and based upon your unique interests and passions. In fact, the answer may even change year-to-year and from vacation to vacation. What is right for you? We will offer some benefits of the all-inclusive and boutique experience and let you choose for yourself.

The Bar at The Veranda in Turks & Caicos: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityAll-inclusive resorts can provide peace of mind since most things are included (no kidding) and you do not have to concern yourself with many extra costs during your vacation. Your room, food, most drinks, entertainment and non-motorized sports are often part of the up-front cost. Thirsty for a beer or hungry for a hamburger? Go ahead and grab one from the beachfront palapa, it is included already. HOWEVER, not all properties are created equal. Some resorts may include premium liquors, some may include certain motorized sports, and some may even include the tips to service and wait staff.

All-inclusive experiences are designed to provide many different amenities. At night you may be treated to a theater performance or fire juggling. Browse through the shops on site or talk to the concierge to arrange an off-site excursion to go zip-lining or play in a waterfall. Take part in a special BBQ dinner themed around the local culture. You may find elaborate kids programs where they make smores on the beach while you escape to an adults-only restaurant for a little relaxation. Make the experience truly special by arranging for a private candlelight dinner on the beach and have one of the professional photographers capture your memories to help you remember when you return home (not included in the initial cost).

Grace Bay Club in Turks & Caicos: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityAll-inclusive resorts are convenient. Because so much of the experience is localized around the resort property itself, you have activities, entertainment, restaurants and shopping all at your fingertips. If you choose to sit around the swim-up bar and enjoy a drink bedazzled with a tiny, brightly-colored umbrella you can certainly do that. In fact you do not even need to leave.

All-inclusive resorts are tailored primarily to tourists (and often from the USA) which means that you can typically trust the "star" value system. If a property says it is 5 stars, you can expect excellent service, beautiful rooms, delicious food and quality entertainment. Keep in mind that like anything, quality varies greatly from one company to the next and from one property to another. Want to know some brands you can check out? Secrets, Zoetry, Couples, Sandals, Karisma and Riu and Barcelo will get you started.

Open air theater in Dominican Republic: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityALL-INCLUSIVE: THE BAD
One possible downside (if you consider it to be so) is that one of the joys of traveling is experiencing local culture and meeting new friends around the world. You certainly can meet people at the resort and make friends with them. However, with everything instantly accessible and pre-paid you may be less likely to leave the resort and have a drink at a local pub, eat at a fancy restaurant in town or visit the concert at an open-air theater. Many times your interactions will be with other tourists, some from other countries around the world, but also from the US.

Boutique properties allow you the flexibility to choose what you want to do, where you want to eat, and what entertainment you want to take part in. Because you do not pay for most things up front, you have the tendency to want to visit the surrounding area and meet local people. If a meal is included in the cost, normally that is breakfast. Sometimes you can get half-board which would include breakfast and dinner. Depending upon the current specials, some boutique properties may also include amenities like a welcome bottle of wine, a complimentary spa treatment or fresh flowers in your room.

Smiles from a man playing a shamisen in Tongli, China: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityBoutique properties tend to be smaller places with fewer rooms. Smaller may mean 100 rooms or 14. It just depends upon the property. This means that the resort, the beaches and the area surrounding the property are often much less crowded. It is generally easier to have your own privacy and spend an intimate time with your family or friends. In many cases you may get to know the owner, manager and employees of a boutique resort who may become friends and can assist in giving wonderful advice on what to do in the surrounding area. Who knows, they may even introduce you to friends of theirs and give you the opportunity to go on a tour of the area in their own vehicle.

Boutique resorts are mainly about the local flavor of life and culture. Walk around the town and visit the art galleries or go mingle at a salsa club and dance the night away. Take in a movie in Japan. Taste the local brew at a pub down the street while you watch futbol (soccer) on the screens with your new friends or peruse the open-air market to choose some freshly baked bread to take back to the room. People love to show off their country so be curious, patient and kind and you never know what local life you will have the opportunity to explore.

Japanese Ryokan in Hakone, Japan: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityBoutique properties can be very unique. They cover a very wide range of properties such as a small luxurious resort or modern apartment in California to a tree house in Costa Rica, a gypsy wagon in southern France, high-end tents in Africa, a castle in Scotland, a Bed-and-Breakfast in New England, or a luxury over water bungalow in French Polynesia. The experiences are varied and almost endless.

Because there are so many different options for boutique properties the quality of service, food and the property itself varies widely. Be sure to do your homework or work with a travel professional to make sure that where you are going to stay is somewhere that you will love. This holds true with any property but it is a bit more obvious with a boutique property. Boutique properties do not have as much to do right on the premises in most cases and will require more initiative on your part if you want access to entertainment and special activities. As for money, be sure to budget ahead of time for food and activity costs as they are not paid for in advance. You can walk away with a big bill at the end of your vacation, but if you plan properly this does not need to be an area of stress.

Secrets Punta Cana in Dominican Republic: Photo by Jason Holland of Travel SimplicityFor those who want the best of both worlds, there are some alternatives as some properties have blended the all-inclusive and boutique mentalities. The Veranda resort in Turks & Caicos is a smaller more boutique all-inclusive resort property. You have entertainment, activities and food included with a smaller more intimate atmosphere. If you are at a typical all-inclusive, feel free to still escape the grounds and experience a fantastic dinner at a local restaurant or visit a dance club for some great nightlife.

At boutique properties, some are offering food, certain drinks and even excursions as part of a package price, offering an experience similar to an all-inclusive resort. Check out one of the top resorts in the world, Jade Mountain to see an example of this kind of experience.

So is an all-inclusive resort or a boutique experience right for you? One is not necessarily better than the other. They are just different. Try them both and decide for yourselves. After all, you are still on vacation and relaxing in paradise. Cue the tropical bird sounds. Tweet, tweet*