When you buy a vacation package advertised as "all-inclusive," just what does "all" really mean?
Some brochures and promotional material do a good job of spelling out exactly what you get with all-inclusive packages, but others don't.
Since the term lacks a standard, industry-wide definition, it's important that consumers find out from their tour operators just what is and also what isn't included in their packages.
The areas where all-inclusive resorts are more apt to be found include Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Originally, more isolated resorts were the ones that tended to offer all-inclusive programs. But the trend lately has been for resort hotels, regardless of how close or far they are from cities, to offer these types of packages. Hotels, of course, are eager to keep guests on their premises.
Here are some important points to consider when contemplating an all-inclusive vacation package:
* Is transportation to and from the airport part of the package price?
* Is there a choice of rooms at the hotel? Be wary about the use of such words as "deluxe." What is regarded as a deluxe hotel or deluxe room in one part of the world may not be deluxe in another part.
* Although many packages include all meals, many don't. And beverages--both alcoholic and nonalcoholic--also may be covered most of the time, but bottles of wine while dining may not.
* Some hotels may offer unlimited use of all facilities and equipment, while others might impose a time limit on some activities. Also, find out if there is any charge for instruction with the activities.
* How far is the hotel from the nearest city? And does the hotel offer shuttle transportation to and from the city?
* Are tips, service charges and taxes included in the final bill? Some properties offer options in this area.
"Guests can choose at check-in whether to tip on their own or automatically have 15% of food and beverage charges added to their bills at check-out," said Angie Lussiaa, a spokeswoman for the Kona Village Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii.
As a rule, phone calls, mini-bars, laundry expenses and purchases made while shopping at resort stores are not part of all-inclusive packages.
"Some guests use the mini-bar in their rooms and pay for beverages that would be free otherwise," said Werner Dietl, general manager of the Sans Souci Hotel at Ocho Rios in Jamaica.
If you prefer to get out and explore the surrounding country or city and dine at off-property restaurants, you may wind up paying extra for services and meals that you've technically already paid for with your package. Then again, you may not mind.
Club Med was the forerunner in offering all-inclusive programs, and the country of Jamaica has been especially active in popularizing the concept with packages tailored to singles, couples and families.
For example, Sandals Resorts, which caters to couples, allows guests to use its properties in the Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios areas for the same price. All of the nights must be spent at one property, but guests are free to use the beaches and facilities available at any of the other properties. Transportation between the properties is extra.
However, when a chain has two properties in the same area, like Sandals in Montego Bay, free shuttle service is usually offered between the hotels.
Some resorts may be vague about the sightseeing activities included in a one-price package.
"River rafting" is often mentioned, but that may not necessarily mean white-water rafting. Usually the rafting is for couples who sit on a makeshift bench while a raftsman guides a rectangular bamboo craft down fairly mild waters.