All-inclusive resorts make family vacations easy -- easy to budget and easy to handle. Besides knowing exactly how much your vacation will cost, an all-inclusive price means you won't have to play the heavy.
Instead of saying no to your child who wants to windsurf, play tennis and try sailing because the hourly fees are breaking the family budget, you can put your hands in your pockets and smile as you encourage your children to go ahead and try another round. As a result, all-inclusive resorts are a special blessing for sports-minded families, especially those with active teens.
But not all one-price resorts are created equal. Definitions vary. Generally, the fee covers lodging, meals and sports, but even this should be clarified. So you won't have a big add-on bill at check-out, ask these questions before you book:
* Lodging: What accommodations are part of the package? If all rooms, whether beachfront or facing the parking lot, are the same price, can you request a top room for no additional fee, or is there a surcharge for a better room?
* Meals: Some all-inclusive packages come with three meals a day, while others include just breakfast and dinner. If you plan to spend most of your time lying poolside soaking up the sun, then choose a three-meal package. But if you will be off the property hiking the trails, shopping in town and touring nearby ruins, a two-meal plan is often less costly.
* Drinks: Some all-inclusives cover the cost of alcoholic drinks and sodas, and some do not.
* Tips: Are gratuities for waiters, maids, bartenders included?
* Sports: Ask specifically what sports are available and if "free" applies to equipment rental, lessons, court time and greens fees. Be sure to ask if the resort provides child-size snorkel masks, fins, life jackets, tennis rackets and golf clubs, and how many? Should you bring your own gear, or can you reserve equipment that fits your child ahead of time? Ask what sports activities are available for an extra fee.
* Children's programs: Are these included or merely available for extra fee? What is the program's cost, age range, hours, supervision and activities? Do the counselors take the children outside for volleyball, beach games and swimming, or are they confined to a playroom? Is the program available daily, year-round or just during selected hours on weekends and holidays? Be sure that a program for your child's age operates for the hours you want when you will be at the resort.
If the children go swimming, is there a lifeguard on duty, do the counselors know CPR and is there increased supervision? Once at the resort, be sure to observe your child's group when he or she swims to be certain that the level of supervision is adequate.
* Baby-sitting: In addition to the children's program, is private baby-sitting available for tots too young to participate in the scheduled activities? Can you get a sitter so you can enjoy a romantic, adult dinner and evening dancing? Ask the hourly fee, the minimum number of hours required and the amount of notice (it can range from a few hours to a few days) before a sitter can be guaranteed. Find out who these baby sitters are, how they are selected and if the resort stands behind their reliability.
* Add-ons: Does the price include taxes and airport transfers? Are there any additional charges?
While asking the right questions is important, you also have to decide where you want to go. Here are some family-oriented, all-inclusive choices that might meet your needs:
* Club Med: Club Med, one of the best-known of the all-inclusive resorts, offers programs for children at no extra charge. From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., baby clubs welcome tots 4 months through 23 months at Sandpiper in Florida and toddlers 12 months through 23 months at Ixtapa, Mexico. In addition, children from 2 through 11 enjoy activities from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; St. Lucia, West Indies; Ixtapa, Mexico; and Eleuthera, Bahamas.
Intensive sports programs for children and adults, at selected resorts, let you really learn to ride and hit tennis balls. For example, at St. Lucia, for $290, adults take intensive horseback riding training and trail rides, and for $190, children 8 through 11 get ring instruction. For an additional fee, at Sandpiper and Ixtapa, adults and children can opt for comprehensive tennis lessons.
An added bonus: Children 4 months through 5 years stay free at Eleuthera Feb. 22 to March 7 and at Punta Cana and Eleuthera the week of April 25. Rates, which vary depending on dates and Club Med locations, start at about $140 daily per adult, about $85 per child ages 6 through 11 and $70 per child ages 2 through 5. Call: (800) Club MED.
* Franklyn D. Resort, Runaway Bay, Jamaica: This relatively new, all-suite resort opened in February '90. It combines the all-inclusive concept with "no problem" Jamaican flair by assigning each family its own "Girl Friday."