10 all-inclusive beach resorts that deliver surprising luxury, service, and cuisine at an affordable (and predictable) price.

An agent at the luxury travel firm Absolute Travel, Natalie Nevares may seem an unlikely candidate to stay at an all-inclusive resort. After all, aren’t all-inclusives the home of bad buffets and who-cares-my-tip-is-already-paid service—and at an excessive cost?Shouldn’t a high-end travel agent know better?

The fact is, Nevares does know better—which is why she keeps going back to resorts where everything is covered upon arrival. She’s learned what many savvy travelers have: that an influx of service-oriented hoteliers has raised the bar on the all-inclusive concept, introducing more services, more amenities, and far better food.

Related: America's Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Better still, with a little shopping around, the convenience and perks of an all-inclusive vacation can be had at a great price (from as low as $180 per person per night at Azul Beach Resort on the Riviera Maya). So grab your sunglasses—but leave your wallet behind.

One of the biggest changes at all-inclusives is the restaurants. As recently as the 1990s, the cuisine at many all-inclusive resorts had all the flair of a Holiday Inn buffet, with a few slices of pineapple to signify location. Sure, you’ll still find buffets at some resorts, but more and more are recognizing the importance of fresh ingredients and local cuisine in luring customers like Nevares, a self-described “food snob.”

But now some spots boast enticing menus by award-winning chefs. Azul Beach Resort, for one, calls itself “gourmet-inclusive”: The small, 97-room hotel operates four full-service restaurants, several snack bars, and a lounge dedicated to tequila, just to keep foodies coming back.

Gone, too, is the desperately perky social director organizing a poolside conga line. Today’s ever-expanding roster of available diversions may surprise you: golf, tennis, zip lines, kids’ clubs, snorkeling trips, beachfront climbing walls, kayaking, and trapeze instruction. Even lazing on the beach has received an upgrade: you’ll find hand-carved Balinese beach beds under palapas at Melia Caribe Tropical.

And while exploring outside a resort’s gates used to be discouraged or nigh impossible, most spots now offer activities designed to see the surrounding world. CocoBay, a small all-inclusive in Antigua, encourages guests to check out the nearby national park and local museums to get a taste of the rich culture and indigenous flora and fauna that can’t be experienced from a hammock.

Accommodations have grown up, too—say aloha to the cinderblock dorms that used to pass for all-inclusive hotels. Club Med, for example, hired interior architects to transform their Ixtapa property into a bougainvillea-tinted showcase of modern convenience with traditional Mexican touches. And the well-manicured and lavish gardens of Melia Caribe Tropical feature faux Greek ruins, multiple fountains, flamingo-studded waterways, and wandering peacocks, creating a glamorous illusion of paradise.

There’s no lolling around for resort staffs, either: all-inclusives must now provide notable service to battle stiff competition from à la carte hotels and cruise ships (that other fixed-price vacation option). To stay in the game, they’ve created innovative spas; hired butlers, concierges, and sommeliers; professionally trained nannies and kids’ club counselors; and started offering services like 24-hour room service, a in-room candlelit dinners, and breakfast in bed. Real, grown-up hotel service has officially arrived.

You may be able to find great food, thoughtful service, a wealth of activities and amenities elsewhere on the beach, but this selection of 10 affordable all-inclusive resorts offer vacations where, for a few nights, you can also count on economic stability. Treat yourself to one of these trips as a kind of stimulus package for your budget—and your peace of mind.

Club Med Ixtapa Pacific

The brand has slipped out of its swinging ‘70s threads into something a little more family-friendly. Guests can practice yoga in a beachside palapa, lounge on a daybed next to the pool, sail, snorkel, or sea-kayak in the Pacific. The swinging hasn’t ceased altogether, either: Intrepid guests can learn trapeze at the on-site circus school.

FDR Pebbles

This decidedly un-fancy resort enjoys great popularity with families because its daily rate includes a "vacation nanny" who tidies the room and entertains the kids all day long. Accompanied by activity coordinators, they can snorkel in the nearby bio-luminescent lagoon, go river-tubing, play basketball, tennis, soccer, cricket, and can take surfing and windsurfing lessons. Parents are left alone to enjoy any of the above activities at the resort or just go limp in the hammocks along the beach, then return to guestrooms that have separate sleeping areas for adults and kids.

Casa Velas

Live like colonial gentry at Casa Velas, a small adults-only, all-suite boutique hotel in Puerta Vallarta. The quiet grounds—manicured tropical gardens, koi ponds, a curvaceous swimming pool, inviting patios—and attentive and discreet staff will have you convinced that you're staying at a five-star hotel. The oversized suites feature private plunge pools or outdoor Jacuzzis. While Casa Velas is not on the beach, it maintains a private beach club with its own restaurant, lounge, infinity pool, and cabanas.

Mango Bay

Many resorts keep you to themselves, but Mango Bay Resort wants to share you with Barbados. A friendly, small resort on the island's west coast, Mango Bay is a stroll away from boutique shopping in Holetown and adjacent to a lively stretch of bars and clubs that cater to island visitors and residents. Guests are welcomed at the weekly street parties in town and local bands provide the nightly entertainment in the hotel bar. The all-inclusive rate includes a few off-site excursions, as well as resort activities like kayaking, pedal boats, and waterskiing. Lounge chairs stretch the length of the modest beach and around the curvy free-form pool.

Barcelo Playa Langosta

This glorious arc of Pacific beach has attracted surfers since the 60s, and when you see the ocean from this vantage point, you'll understand why. Getting in touch with nature here isn't a challenge: without any more effort than a stroll along the beach or even across the grounds to the hotel pool, you can see howler monkeys, iguanas, raccoons, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parrots. A wild nightlife is another thing, though—travelers in search of a lively scene should take the $5 cab ride to the nightspots of Tamarindo.

Melia Caribe Tropical

While it's so sprawling that a mini-train shuttles guests around its vast grounds, the Melia Caribe Tropical offers a Royal Treatment upgrade which tames the beast. Royal Treatment guests can take advantage of the extensive amenities of a mega-resort while staying in their own wing, complete with dedicated butler service, as well as a private restaurant, pool, and exclusive stretch of Punta Cana's spectacular blue water and bone-white sand beach. A beach concierge and runners fetch drinks and cool towels to your shady palapa. The distractions are many: golf, a climbing wall, windsurfing, a zip line, seven pools, tennis, casino, and a cigar bar. The Flintstones-themed kids' club operates until the late evening so parents can enjoy some uninterrupted yabba-dabba-you time.

Divi Aruba

The water's the thing in Aruba—aqua-tinted and so ridiculously clear you can inspect your pedicure when you're in it up to your chin. At Divi Aruba and its next-door sibling, Tamarijn, you'll spend most your time in that water. The two resorts share amenities: pools, a 30-foot climbing wall, bikes, tennis courts, a gym, children's camp, and access to a neighboring casino. Though families and honeymooners outnumber other guests, the vibe remains mellow and beach-focused, not frantic with kiddie activities or bass-thumping nightlife.

Tamarijn Aruba

The water's the thing in Aruba—aqua-tinted and so ridiculously clear you can inspect your pedicure when you're in it up to your chin. At Divi Aruba and its next-door sibling, Tamarijn, you'll spend most your time in that water. The two resorts share amenities: pools, a 30-foot climbing wall, bikes, tennis courts, a gym, children's camp, and access to a neighboring casino. Though families and honeymooners outnumber other guests, the vibe remains mellow and beach-focused, not frantic with kiddie activities or bass-thumping nightlife.

Ocean Coral & Turquesa

Luxury travel agent Natalie Nevares likes the little touches at Ocean Coral & Turquesa: "Chaise longues studded with air jets are built right into the children's pool, so parents can sit in the water with a pina colada, enjoying the bubbles and watching the kids play all day," she says. Opened in late 2007, these side-by-side oceanfront resorts are still sparkling new. Guests share six restaurants (including a tapas bar), a spa, four pools plus a children's pool, and a lovely stretch of palapa-shaded beach that boasts the world’s second-largest barrier reef right offshore. And because the resorts are just 15 minutes from the Cancun airport, you can catch an early flight from the U.S. and be swimming in the Caribbean before lunch.

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