Many people feel a vacation without sun, sand, and sea is no vacation at all. Yet a beach holiday could be the worst of all choices for solos. Imagine yourself watching couples and families cavorting in the surf. You swim alone. Tan alone. Dine alone. Sit by the pool alone. Evenings, you either retire to your room with a book or warm a barstool while couples dance up a storm. To voluntarily brave such a scenario you have to be in the mood for solitary reflection. Or, you need absolute confidence in your ability to attract friends among the crowd. Or, you can sign up at an action-packed, all-inclusive resort where organized activities fill your days and nights. And friends, hopefully, are ready-made.
Much has changed since the 1950s when Club Méditerranée pioneered the "all-inclusive" holiday concept with a few tents set up on the Spanish island of Majorca. Now, you have a bewildering array of resorts to choose from. With new properties being built and chain corporations busily buying, selling, renovating, even renaming old resorts, choosing the perfect one is getting to be a pretty daunting task, especially for the solo vacationer looking for the right combination of ambience and value.
Where one resort boasts cool sophistication another claims non-stop merriment. Some resorts cater to adults only and some to families. Even at "adult only" resorts, you have no guarantee you won't be the only solo among many couples and honeymooners.
From a quagmire of possibilities, how do you extract the information useful to finding a suitable all-inclusive vacation for one?
Whether you study brochures picked up at your local travel agency or research via the Internet, take care to note exactly what is included in the advertised price.
Some resorts define all-inclusive to mean lodging, meals, and use of minimal sports facilities.
>> Often extras such as airport transfers, alcoholic beverages, gratuities, service charges, and taxes are included, but don't assume so. Likewise, a choice of optional activities may or may not be included: scuba diving, horseback riding, golfing, spa treatments, classes and lectures, sightseeing excursions, evening entertainment. Watch for asterisks and other signals designating "optional," which simply means you pay extra for some features.
>> Is airfare included? Tipping? And, last but not least, how much is the single supplement add-on charge? If you are willing to share, will the resort find you a roommate and guarantee single occupancy at the share price in the event a roommate is not available?
The easiest option is to go with a singles-only group, and let the trip organizer handle the choices and logistics. By and large, you still have the usual single supplement versus room-sharing conundrum to deal with, but there is some good news in that respect.
>> Several British tour wholesalers have stepped ahead of their North American counterparts in negotiating single occupancy rates at hotels, mainly in Mediterranean resort towns. Packaged arrangements generally include airfare from the UK, transfers, a private room, some meals but minimal emphasis on organized activities.
There have been, over the years, intermittent attempts to dedicate a resort to singles, usually in the form of one or two "Singles Weeks" during a year, but most resorts prefer to go the "adults only" route, thereby widening the market to a mix of couples and singles.
>> One exception worthy of special mention is SinglesInCrete.com (Mistral Hotel) on the island of Crete. Operating on a smaller-is-better premise, this 33-room, family-run hotel is dedicated entirely to "sociable holidays for the independent single traveler." Although the Mistral is neither beachfront nor full-service resort, it does provide a variety of themed activity weeks throughout its April to October season. Prices include transfers, meals, and, most importantly for many singles, a private room.
>> ClubMed.com still retains top place as a vacation haven for singles regardless of a change in focus towards a more diverse clientele, and despite pricing based on sharing. Where single rooms are available, a single supplement applies.
Although a party of one is welcome at any of its 80 clubs, five are designated to appeal to singles: Columbus Isle in the Bahamas, Buccaneers' Creek in Martinique, Itaparica in Brazil, Turquoise in the Turks & Caicos, Kemer in Turkey.
>> Important: With any "singles only" arrangement, you should understand and be comfortable with group dynamics. Ask yourself: Does age range matter? Is the number of males to females important? Are social factors a concern, such as profession, religion, sexual orientation? Will group activities fit your idea of a good time? Any such concerns should be discussed between you and the trip organizer beforehand.
If, for whatever reason, joining a singles-only group doesn't appeal, you will really have to do some homework to find the single-friendliest combination of atmosphere and affordability.
Set priorities: Location. Activities. Ambience. Price.
Start the old fashioned way, at your local travel agency in the autumn, when all of the new brochures come out. Here you'll find the wholesale tour operators that package beach holidays from your region. Flip through the brochure indexes. Maybe, you'll find one or two companies that have taken the trouble to highlight resorts priced to avoid single supplement fees in one way or another.
>> SignatureVacations.com, for example, lists separately all of its properties in Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Mexico that waive single supplements for parties of one as well as for one-adult families.
Once you have narrowed the price factor to a select few resorts, you can concentrate on elimination by location and amenities based on the wholesaler's descriptions and ratings system.
>> ResortVacationsToGo.com is a good online resource for ranking resorts according to location and style.
Bottom line, nothing else matters if the ambience isn't right. If the thought of nude bathing and saucy games makes you cringe, you'll probably want to avoid resorts that advertise those activities, such as Hedonism II or Temptation Resorts.
What you really want is a personal recommendation from others who have gone before. Failing tips from friends, family, or travel agent, go online to endless networking resources.
>> My favorite is TripAdvisor.com, where personal reviews are posted and can be sorted by perspective, including that of a solo traveler.
>> CSTN Friends in Travel, our own online discussion board. Keep in touch with your recommendations.
The following all-inclusives sometimes relax or waive single-supplement charges during off-season, April through mid-December, or whenever bookings slacken due to economic downturn, bad weather, or political events.
The downside of bargain prices is that there are likely to be fewer people at the resort. So you have to balance maximizing cost savings with your expectations for maximum enjoyment.
>> Check CSTN's "Current News" page for single-friendly special deals.
>> Allegro Resorts, En.occidentalhotels.com/allegro. Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico. All ages.
>> AlmondResorts.com. Resorts in Barbados, St Lucia. Some adults only; some all ages.
>> Beaches.com. Resorts in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos. All ages.
>> Breezes.com. Resorts in Jamaica,Bahamas, Curacao, Brazil, Panama. All ages.
>> DreamsResorts.com. Resorts in Mexico. All ages.
>> HedonismResorts.com. Resorts in Jamaica. Adults only.
>> Iberostar.com. Resorts in Brazil, Caribbean, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, Tunisia. Some adults only; some all ages.
>> TheAmazingHoliday.com. La Source Resort in Grenada. Adults only.
>> TheBodyHoliday.com. LeSport Resort in St Lucia. Adults only.
>> SecretsResorts.com. Resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. Adults only.
>> SolMelia.com. Resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain. All ages.
>> SunsetResortsJamaica.com. Jamaica. All ages.
>> TemptationResorts.com. Resorts in Mexico. Adults only.