Resort Vacation Planning Tips
In the guide below, we reveal some of the unexpected tips and tricks that will supercharge your resort vacation. Read about saving money, common hidden fees and other tourist traps.
- Be sure to know what you want: Pick the right resort for you. That’s the most important step and can make or break a vacation. Don’t just look at the pictures. A white-sand beach may look inviting on the photo, but if you are traveling with kids they will need more than just a secluded beach to make them happy. Pick a resort that will have all of the features that you want, plus new activities that you can try if the mood strikes. There are so many world-class resorts with spas, golf, sailboats, catamarans, kids’ clubs and other facilities that you should not settle for less than perfection. Even if you need to find something affordable last minute, you will have plenty of options in Florida, California, Arizona, Las Vegas, Vermont, Canada and in the Caribbean.
- What is a resort fee? Many resorts in the US and abroad add a daily resort fee to your final bill. What is that all about? The fee is typically charged per person per day and can range from $12 USD to over $30. The resort fee is supposed to cover access to common areas and facilities such as the pools, self parking, live entertainment in the lobby and beach toys, although that is not always the case. It’s always a good idea to check ahead of time what’s included. Can you avoid paying the resort fee? No! When you stay at a resort that charges a daily resort fee, consider this a mandatory cost. Local and federal taxes are added on top of that. It’s important to be informed about all these fees and charges ahead of time because they can add to to an additional 30% on top of the bill.
- Activities: When you are planning your once-in-a-year resort holiday, you get excited about all of the activities offered at the resort: snorkeling, whale watching, sailing, water skiing, fishing, golf, tennis and various tours. One of the most common complaints that we hear from travelers is that they arrive at a destination and most of the activities are not available. If you are planning a trip to Hawaii for example, humbpack whales can only we seen from December through April while snorkeling is the best in the summer months because in the winter the surf is too rough. While the resort listed both of those activities on its web site, you should make sure that it’s actually available. Check what’s in season. The second complaint is that once you get there, your favorite activity is all sold out, so you can’t get a spot on the boat for you and your kids. That’s why it’s important to book at least some of your activities before you get there: golf, spa treatments, tours, Pilates and yoga classes, especially during the holidays and peak travel times. Ask about the cancellation policy and book those activities that will let you cancel a day or two before if you are not sure that you want to do all of them. It’s better to have a reservation that you can cancel than not be able to experience something on vacation.
- Look for packages: Resort packages can be some of the best ways to save and get a change to try great new activities for less. Check out our vacation packages section which we sorted by interest (spa, golf, luxury) and type of traveler (honeymooners, couples, families). Look for packages that include amenities that you actually plan to use because you can’t get a refund on an unused portion of the package such as a spa credit or a round of golf. Make sure that you are actually saving money by adding up the cost of all the parts of the package: room rate, parking fee, taxes, cost of a massage, breakfast, etc.
What kind of a resort are you looking for?
- All inclusive: All inclusive resorts are for those who like knowing exactly how much they will pay for their vacation. That said, even when you book an all inclusive stay, be sure to read the fine print to be completely clear on what’s included: how many meals per day and which activities (are there additional charges for massages, scuba diving, etc). Are the resort fee and all taxes included? Will you be charged extra for wine with your meals and drinks at the bar? One single thing that vacationers often complain about is the meal schedule. Some places only serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times which means that if you miss them, which is easy to do if you fall asleep on the beach or go snorkeling, you may be hungry until your next meal. Be sure to find out when the meals are available to see if the resort is a good match for you.
- Island: Checking into an island resort is a fantastic way to unplug and get away from it all. Being surrounded by water and sand for a week is incredibly purifying for the mind and body. There are many exceptional places to choose from, from exotic private islands in the Maldives, Fiji, Seychelles and Thailand to more affordable getaways like Martha’s Vineyard, Sea Island, San Juan, and little island resorts in the Florida Keys.
- Family: To plan your dream family getaway, look for a resort that welcomes kids with open arms. That means kids’ menus at most restaurants, playgrounds, kids’ pools, clubs for teenagers to socialize, babysitting and programs for different age groups. There should also be an array of activities for the whole family to enjoy together, from volleyball and tennis to swimming and snorkeling. Grown-ups should have access to spa facilities, golf, fitness classes and other fun things to do while kids are engaged at the kids’ club. Keep in mind that many resorts offer seasonal programs for children during spring break, the summer holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Disney resorts are famous for offering families a diverse choice of activities, fun themed accommodations and dining.
- Spa Resorts: Spa resorts are designed for couples, girlfriends, guys and single travelers who want to check in for a few days of pampering and relaxation while also having access to many restaurants, watersports and land activities. These getaways often offer packages, nutrition counseling, as well as healthy and low calorie cuisine at the restaurants. Some of the spa resorts are located near the ocean, giving you the added benefit of amazing coastal views, while others were built around natural mineral springs. There are many amazing spa resorts in the US, Europe, Asia. Middle East, India, Africa, South Africa, South Pacific, Hawaii and other destinations.
- Golf: While golf resorts usually focus on providing you with the best courses, practice facilities and professional instruction, they also offer a selection of restaurants, spa services and pools. Some of the famous courses like Pebble Beach may be booked months in advance, while securing tee times at most places won’t be a problem just a few days before the trip.
- Ski: In the winter, get away to Colorado, Whistler, New England, Switzerland, Austria and Italy to ski, snowboard and cross country ski. Mountain resorts are usually built around a village center which offers shopping, restaurants and a place to enjoy a romantic walk. Ski school offers classes for beginners, intermediary and expert skiers, letting you improve on vacation.
- Luxury: If you are planning to spend $3,000 or $5,000 on your trip, you can check into a luxury resort where you will receive five star service from the moment you check in. Don’t forget to call the help desk if everything is not as expected, or if you need extra towels, a pillow menu, your mini bar refreshed, etc. Almost any famous destination has at least one or two luxury resorts, but most have quite a diverse choice of them. This will allow you to shop around to get just the right activities, packages, rooms and suites. Couples should mention if they are on their honeymoon – the staff will be even more accommodating to make your trip special.
Best Resort Destinations
There are many amazing resort destinations around the world, from exotic Phuket, affordable Cancun, diverse Australia and scenic Vermont. Here are some great destinations to visit on your vacation.
- Caribbean: Jamaica's Royal Plantation offers five star accommodations and attentive service, including beach butlers, beachfront massages and more. The island of Anguilla is famous for its powdery white beaches and unique resorts such as Covecastles which features ocean view suites and villas. At the Tortuga Bay Hotel, honeymooners can book a villa designed by the famous designer Oscar de la Renta and get pampered at Six Senses Spa. Other great luxury resorts in the Caribbean include The Landings in St. Lucia, Katitche Point Greathouse in the British Virgin Islands, The Sandpiper in the West Indies, and Paradisus Palma Real Resort in Dominican Republic.
- Scotland: Plan a trip to Scotland, enjoying the country's beautiful scenery and historic ambiance. St Andrews Bay offers 209 guest rooms and suites which overlook the water and the golf courses. Explore the cultural sights in St Andrews - there are many guided tours and walks to choose from. Visit St Andrews Castle and St Andrews Cathedral which has a museum featuring medieval sculptures and St Rule's Tower with views of the city and the surrounding countryside.
The Gleneagles offers an array of activities for couples, ranging from horseback riding and falconry to off-road driving and golf. Explore the Scottish rolling hills on a bike while staying at Stobo Castle which offers elegant accommodations, tennis and a spa.
Edinburgh Castle, dating to the 11th century, is one of the most famous attractions in Scotland. The castle houses Scotland's coronation stone and the Scottish Crown Jewels and the famous Stone of Destiny. Stay at the elegant Scotsman.
- Austria: Austria offers many charming spots, including mountain retreats and city hotels. Loisium Hotel features an Aveda spa that spans three floors and offers a diverse menu of treatments, including holistic therapies. Hotel Goldener Hirsch in Salzburg is located near famous sights like Festival Hall and Mozart's house. If you are looking for a castle getaway, Hotel Schloss Fuschl is located on a scenic lake and lets you choose what style of room you would like to stay in: Renaissance, Empire, Baroque or Biedermeier.
- Switzerland: Switzerland offers many fun getaways, including mountain resorts and lakeside hotels. Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, The Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel features beautiful parks and scenic views of the lake and the French Alps. Geneva is home to the world's tallest fountain, the Jet d'Eau. Romantic getaway ideas include museums, opera performances and restaurants serving international cuisine. Switzerland is famous for its watches and admission to the Horology Museum, where you can learn about the history of Swiss watchmaking, is free. Many rooms at Mandarin Oriental Geneva offers romantic river views and serves Creme de Gruyere chocolates in the rooms. The river Rhone bisects Geneva - take a romantic walk through the old part of the town in the South. If you are up for a challenge, climb the tower of the St. Pierre Cathedral and enjoy great city views. You can also plan a romantic picnic in one of the beautiful city gardens. There are three rose gardens: Park La Grange, Promenade Gustave-Ador or the Park des Franchises. If you are looking to get away to the mountains, visit Badrutt's Palace in St. Moritz and enjoy spectacular mountain scenery. St. Moritz is one of the world's most famous ski resorts which has been featured in many movies and has hosted countless celebrities. The town enjoys 322 sunny days per year and is fun to visit in the summer or in the winter. You can plan your romantic getaway around one of the gourmet or music festivals. In the summer, there is mountain biking, golf, tennis, opera and other activities.
Grand Resort Hof Ragaz offers unique spa suites with in-suite saunas.
- Spain: Visit Barcelona, a colorful city with acres of beautiful parks, beaches and historic sights. La Ramblas is one of the most famous pedestrian streets, lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. Stroll along the street and you will get to see Gaudi's Guell Palace on your romantic walk. Picasso Museum in Barcelona is famous for its collection of Picasso's early works. Stay at Hotel Arts Barcelona, a unique romantic getaway, featuring a spa by Six Senses on 42nd and 43rd floors of the hotel. Hotel Claris Barcelona exhibits 400 works of art in the guest rooms and common areas of the hotel. In Madrid, tour the renowned Prado museum and party the night away in the city's many bars and discos on your trip to Europe. Go on the "Art Walk" between the three famous museums: Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornomisza and visit the medieval part of Madrid, home to historic buildings and churches. Prado museum houses masterpieces by famous artists, including Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez. Villa Real Hotel is a hotel for art lovers, featuring a beautiful collection of art and proximity to the famous Prado museum in Madrid. Choose from beautiful architectural hotels such as Hotel Marques de Riscal surrounded by vineyards and scenic country views. The hotel has Caudalie Spa with an indoor swimming pool.