Sometimes you want a vacation with cultural excursions and foodie diversions. Sometimes — like in the middle of a Canadian winter — you just want a beach. Photo: Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd/Getty Images
Keen on a sunshine getaway this winter — but not the hours of travel planning, pricey flights and a slew of unexpected costs? Here’s a roundup of hassle-free, all-inclusive holidays to keep you warm this winter.
Sometimes you want a vacation with cultural excursions and foodie diversions. Sometimes — like in the middle of a Canadian winter — you just want a beach and a margarita. A tropical all-inclusive that’s a short, direct flight away. Yes, this generally (but not always) means large resorts in well-known destination — and travelling off-peak for the best rates. So, you won’t land at a design magazine-worthy boutique hotel with 30 rooms. But you will be out of the snow and into the ocean, with the only extra cost being a taxi to the airport.
Not every good all-in hotel packages include airfare, so let’s first look at the best deals on direct flights to the Caribbean for *January 2024. Flying out of Toronto, you can score return fares to Montego Bay for $500 and Punta Cana for as little as $300. All of them are four-and-a-half hours or less. Cuba is just three-and-a-half hours from Toronto. Departing from the west coast, nearby offshore options aren’t plentiful, but a four-and-a-half hour flight from Vancouver gets you out of the cold drizzle and into sunny Cabo San Lucas for $410.
This 120-room and suite boutique resort earns a fabulous rating on Booking.com and a nod from the travel arbiters at Mr. & Mrs. Smith who deem it a “sandy-soled sophisticate, just off the hustling Hip Strip and backing onto the best-loved beach.” You can’t book a flights-included package for this adults-only property, but rates are 25 per cent off right now on Booking.com — with free cancellation before Dec. 9. That’s a week for two for $5,343. Add $500 airfare from Toronto and you and your beau or bestie are in lap of tropical luxe, all in, flights, food, drinks and accommodations, for $3,200 each. Just five minutes from the airport, a four-hour afternoon flight gets you here for dinner. Jah Mahn!
Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba: Royalton
This adults-only resort does require a one-and-a-half hour transfer from the island airport but it’s through the scenic countryside and this is TripAdvisor’s ‘Best of the Best’ winner, island-wide, for the past three years. Voted No. 1 of Santa Maria’s 11 all-inclusives, the Royalton offers a white powder sand beach, clear turquoise waters, two pools, three restaurants and five bars — but just 122 rooms and suites. Not a mega resort, you’ll skip the crowds and noisiness, along with the kids, and always be able to find a free pool or beach lounger, which come with “butler service.” Room service is 24-hours and the hotel’s food gets good reviews, which can be an issue in Cuban hotels. Various fitness classes Aqua and Yoga to Zuma are available for an extra fee. One-week packages booked with Sunwing include flights, transfers, hotel and “unlimited” food and alcohol for $1,665 per person.
Convenient to the Punta Cana airport, this 1,290-room resort on its namesake Playa Bavaro is a big all-inclusive resort with everything that entails. A vast oceanfront family friendly compound is perfect for a multigen escape with a private beach that’s home to 10 restaurants, à la carte and buffet, multiple bars, a trio of tennis courts, fully equipped fitness centre and a grand spa. There’s a nearby golf course and free transfers to the Avalon Casino. It gets an 8.3 rating on Booking.com with the only soft spot being slow Wi-Fi — which could be a bonus, time to disconnect — and some gripes that upgrading your package to ‘Platinum Service’ is not worth the added $300 fee. But an excellent advantage is that this all-suites resort, built in 1997, was fully renovated in 2020; its spacious modern rooms redone in tasteful coastal earth tones, its many bars and restaurants given a stylish refresh. A current 43 per cent off Booking.com sale discounts a January stay for two guests in a bungalow suite (private terrace, separate bedroom and living room, soaker tub) to $3,533 with free cancellation. But Sunwing’s package includes the flights — and costs $163 less.
The key benefit of this smaller all-inclusive resort is that it’s on the island’s less developed side, a leisurely 40-minute beach walk (or 10-minute drive) from Las Terrenas — a super charming town with a Med Chic accent thanks to its sizable French and Italian expat community. Opened in 2015 with 144 simply decorated, white-washed rooms and thatch roof cottages arranged around a large pool, facilities are relatively new. You won’t get all the bells and whistles of a Punta Cana luxury property here — there are a handful of restaurants, not 13, and the buffet won’t be that of a five-star. But it does sit on a beautiful private beach that runs long and uninterrupted in both directions along the palm-lined Playa Cosón, no other nearby resorts, and this Atlantic coast is where the annual whale migration is viewed January to March. A current 55 per cent off January promo on Booking.com discounts a week at this ideally located hotel to $2,431 for two, with free cancellation before Jan. 5, so you’re not paying for five-star perks either. Direct flights into Samaná El Catey International Airport on this less-trafficked side of DR do cost twice as much as those going into Punta Cana, but at $700, the fare is still very reasonable, especially when you’re spending just $1,200 per person outside of that.
This 600-room, adult-only resort compound on Cabo San Lucas’ popular El Médano beach opened in 2019, so everything is nicely new. Owned by the Rui hotel group, which has properties worldwide, this one offers two tennis courts, a full gym and spa, four pools (two with swim-up bars) and a stretch of beach reserved for guests. The array of international menus includes American buffet breakfasts, Italian and Indian restaurants, a sushi bar, a poolside steakhouse, cafés, a patisserie and numerous hotel bars. It is known for its evening DJs, drinks and dancing during peak times of year; you’ll avoid all that in slower, quieter mid-January when the high-season crowds aren’t in town. The current 35 per cent off offer of $4,313 scores you a nicely appointed Junior Suite for two in January, all in, except the flights.
This smaller property on a secluded beach is located in the tranquil town of San Jose del Cabo, up the beach from the livelier hub of Cabo San Lucas. A low-profile Hyatt resort that’s terra cotta exteriors, red tile roofs, archways, and courtyard fountains give it a classic hacienda vibe, it houses just 57 rooms and suites. Unlimited, à la carte, gourmet cuisine, including organic selections, no reservations required, top-shelf alcohol, 24-hour room service, a spa, Bulgari toiletries, laundry service and no check-in or check-out times earn this all-in property a “fabulous” rating on Booking.com. The January deal here is 35 per cent off a Deluxe Ocean View room for two guests: $6,992.00, flights excluded.
*All costs are accurate at the time of publication and are based on Jan. 8 to 15, 2024, bookings but any time between Jan. 4 and the end of the month is typically a sweet spot for lower rates.
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