Prix fixe in the Caribbean

October 07, 1990|By Stanley H. Murray

If you're planning a Caribbean holiday in this tightening economy, you might want to think about opting for a resort that offers an all-inclusive rate, similar to those found on cruise ships. The benefits are many.

Certainly, one of the prime reasons cited for the growing popularity of taking a cruise in the Caribbean is that they afford vacationers the opportunity to estimate expenses almost to the dollar. In fact, on some cruises, such as Cunard's Sea Goddess, everything is prix fixe, including drinks and tips.

But many resorts in the Caribbean, too, are offering guests all-encompassing, all-inclusive rates, including in some cases not only drinks and gratuities but cigarettes and daily laundry service as well.

All-inclusives have been around for a while in one form or another. Some of the better known are Couples, Sandals and Hedonism, all on Jamaica, which have had all-inclusive rates for years. While no one will admit it openly, many are the opinion that these all-inclusives were created as a way to keep visitors safe within the confines of the resorts on that sometimes troubled island.

Of course, there also is the best-known of all the all-inclusives, Club Med. It in reality isn't prix fixe, since the famous beads they sell to do away with the handling of money are used by guests -- commonly referred to as "GM's," or gentille membres -- to purchase alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and, except for breakfast, coffee and tea as well.

Then why all the fuss about all-inclusives? Certainly the competition of the rapidly expanding cruise-ship industry has played a major part in their proliferation. More important is that a holiday at an all-inclusive resort can be just that -- a stress-free period in which one can unwind and refuel without having to worry about handling or carrying money, or even signing one's name for goods or services. Still another factor is the popularity of all-inclusives among the increasing number of Europeans who are visiting the region.

Travelers often plan a vacation and prepay the air fare and hotel room. If they've opted for a modified American plan, breakfasts and dinners are prepaid as well. They believe that about all they'll really have to worry about will be the cost of lunches and drinks.

But on returning from the vacation, they'll discover that they failed to include such other hidden charges as tennis-court time, water-sports equipment rentals, airport transfers in the Caribbean, gratuities and, in many instances, government taxes on room occupancy.

Until fairly recently, except for those few Jamaican pioneers antheir sister resorts elsewhere, nobody paid much attention to the all-inclusives. That was until the mid-1980s, when Richard Branson, a British entrepreneur and owner of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, startled the industry with his Necker Island resort in the British Virgin Islands, which he opened with a $4,500 per day, all-inclusive rate for one to 20 guests. Testimony to the success of this ultra-posh resort is its present daily tariff of $9,100, all-inclusive. But then, guests love it, including Diana, Princess of Wales, and her children, who are regulars.

At about the same time, Jumby Bay, another top-of-the-market resort on its own private island two miles off the coast of Antigua, opened as an all-inclusive. As was the case with Necker, Jumby was an immediate success and its daily rate has almost doubled, now being just under $1,000.

Clearly, something was happening. Then in 1989, Curtin Bluff, which for years had been Antigua's destination of choice, went all-inclusive. On Barbados, Cunard's Paradise Beach Club and Cottages Midway began to offer an optional all-inclusive rate this past season. And midway through the season, the Elegant Resorts of Jamaica group of independent resorts, which includes among others Tryall, Round Hill, Trident and Half Moon, announced separate all-inclusive rate called the Platinum Plan, covering everything except golf.

These few properties are just the tip of the iceberg, even in the Caribbean. Throughout that sea of perennial sun, other hotels and resorts, at all levels of the market, have either gone all-inclusive or are offering it to guests as an option. Others include the Pineapple Beach Club and Yepton Beach Resort on Antigua; the Bushi Beach Resort on Aruba; the Nassau Beach Palm Club at the Nassau Beach Hotel and Merv Griffin's Club Paradise in the Bahamas; the Harmony Club in Bermuda; the Las Velas Hotel in Cancun; and in the Dominican Republic, Club Confesi, Jack Tar Village and the Decameros Club.

In Jamaica, it would appear that almost every property is all-inclusive or offers it as an option, which isn't quite true. However, the choices are many, including members of the Elegant Resorts group, Carlyle on the Bay, all of the Sandals resorts, Jack Tar Village, Couples, Boscobel Beach, Grand Lido, the Hedonism resorts, Jamaica/Jamaica, Franklyn D. Resort, Divi Jamaica and Swept Away.

On St. Thomas, all-inclusive plans can be had at the Limetree Beach Hotel, and on St. Maarten/St. Martin at Treasure Island Resort and Casino le Grand St. Martin. St. Lucia has three resorts offering them -- Couples, Le Sport and Club St. Lucia.

Are all-inclusives the wave of the future in the Caribbean? Only time will tell, but they appear to be catching on, if only on an optional basis.

That brings up an interesting point. With the exception of the top-of-the-market resorts such as Necker, Jumby Bay and Curtin Bluff, which are only all inclusive, and those on Jamaica, which have had them for years, most of the others offer them as options. As such, these often money-saving rates aren't generally found listed with their "rack rates," the ones included in their brochures, or with regular rate information.

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