The all-inclusive resort is a vacation style I’ve come to slowly love. When I first experienced an all-inclusive resort, I was, truth be told, a little put off by the way the resort was hermetically sealed. You were essentially cut off from authentic experiences of the island you were visiting. Sure it meant everything you might need is available within the resort’s gates, such as water sports, tropical floral gardens, massages, and all the seafood you could eat. However, you don’t have much sense of place.
What about the local culture? In Barbados, there’s so much of it: Bridgetown, the capital, and its colorful colonial buildings, and long and complex history; the little roadside food shacks serving fantastic fresh-off-the-line fish; pleasant streets, beautiful gardens, and user-friendly infrastructure. I have come around and now recognize that, sometimes, what you need most for your well-being is to plunk down on a beach lounger and read a book or spend time connecting with a spouse, the kids, and grandkids.
Barbados has some fantastic all-inclusive resorts. Many are adult-only (ages 16 and up). However, there are also great resorts if you’re planning to spend time with your extended family. On the island, many of the all-inclusive stays are lined up along the West Coast beaches, while a few can be found along the windier wavy-er South Coast. I still venture out of paradise no matter which one I stay at. Barbados is a safe country with warm and welcoming locals and here I’ve found I can have it all. Pink sand beaches, the stress-free benefits of an all-inclusive hotel, and easily accessible excursions beyond the gates.
These are my six favorite all-inclusive resorts in Barbados.
1. The Crane Resort
The Crane Resort, on the unspoiled, uncrowded South Coast is perched on a cliff overlooking the famous Crane Beach, a beautiful strip of crushed pink coral sand. The resort’s location is exceptional. You take in views of the dramatic limestone cliffs while being cooled by the ocean breeze. It’s so tranquil; you hear nothing more than the sound of your breathing. The Crane Resort opened in 1887 to serve people coming for health reasons. The island is the first Caribbean landfall of warm restorative winds from Africa.
The grounds have beautiful gardens of fragrant frangipani and ginger lilies. Resort amenities include a cascading cliff-top pool complex, day spa, fitness center, kids’ club, and seven restaurant and beverage options. The Crane’s history-loving owner has developed the onsite Crane Museum, which features archival photos, postcards, and rare historical images he and his team have unearthed that tell the hotel’s story ever since the Victorian era.
2. Sandals Royal Barbados
St. Lawrence Gap
This couples-only resort is one of the newest in this famed all-inclusive group’s portfolio. It’s located at Maxwell Beach, close to what the islanders call St. Lawrence Gap (also known as the Gap), a happening strip on the South Coast. The resort offers a high level of service and all-inclusive experiences. It has 338 guest accommodations with no entry-level rooms — all are suites. Outstanding features are the large glass-fronted infinity pool, a rooftop pool, and a wellness aspect to the resort, with several health-focused eateries and some wellness suites with aromatherapy components. Bowling at the resort’s four-lane bowling alley (it’s cutely called Lover’s Lane) is a fun thing to do before dinner.
The food and beverage offerings are good and varied: The resort has a craft beer bar, an excellent donut and coffee shop, an American tavern, an Asian fusion restaurant, a New York-style deli that also has fresh smoothies, and a rustic farm-to-table eatery. There are no limits and restrictions, unlike some all-inclusive resorts, which might give you a voucher for their higher-end restaurant so you can dine there once during your stay. However, here you can have dinner at any restaurant or the same one every night. With so many choices (and the option to dine at its sister property (see the other Sandal’s entry in this story), you might have a hard time deciding. I like to dine around the resort. Go to one restaurant for an appetizer, another for a main, and then dessert. The resort is a good option for those with mobility issues: It offers accessible rooms and it’s flat.
There are a few bridges to cross but those are in limited areas. It’s an easy elevator ride to the rooftop pool. I like the resort’s look — modern and chic with rooms done in soft, muted colors. You can also opt for butler service. A designated butler is there for you from the minute you arrive and completes the in-suite check-in. These staff will make dinner reservations and arrange island excursions. I’ve seen people lounging at the pool who’ve forgotten their books and called their butler on a special cell phone to bring their belongings to them. Some people like this next-level service. I find it unnecessary.
St. Lawrence Gap
This Sandals resort is also near the Gap on Dover Beach, a prime location where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean (it is also close to the airport). It’s just a couple of years older than its neighbor and sister property, Sandals Royal. I like that there are full exchange privileges between the two. In other words, you can lay your head at one resort and hang out at both Sandals. This is a great value. Guests go back and forth between the two resorts seamlessly on easily navigable pathways.
This resort has 280 rooms and suites with balconies or patios, including Crystal Lagoon Swim-Up suites, which are especially lovely. It’s loaded with amenities I like, including 11 pools (and because it’s an adult-only resort, the pools are quiet without too much splashing). There are 11 different restaurants (in addition to the ones at Sandals Royal), including a great Indian restaurant, the Bombay Club, and I’ve found the spa services to be great. The grounds skirt a lovely beach and there’s complimentary water sports equipment and activities — from snorkel gear to sailboats, along with tennis courts, and an expansive fitness center.
4. Sugar Bay
Sugar Bay is a great place to come with the family. It’s kid-friendly with a great vibe and cheery, pastel-colored architecture. It’s located just steps from a tranquil ocean lagoon. The kids will also be delighted by the monkeys who occasionally drop in at the resort. You can treat the little ones to a snow cone from a vendor on the beach. I particularly like the onsite restaurant, Reefs, which offers a daily all-inclusive buffet with lots of fresh island fruit, local dishes, and fish (there are also the requisite casual restaurant offerings of foods that kids tend to like).
At sundowners, you can enjoy a cocktail to suit your mood or color scheme: A blue cocktail to match the sea, a pink one to match the gorgeous sunsets that turn the sky an abstract of pink and purple, or an espresso martini to match the dark sky. The rooms are spacious and they face the ocean. The resort is also within walking distance of Bridgetown’s South Coast Boardwalk, historical attractions, and nightlife. Technicians at the onsite Karma Spa give great deep tissue massages, which you can have in the spa or on the beach, alone or as a couple. Kids and teens will enjoy the activity-packed clubs designed for them. There’s even a creche (nursery) for infants.
5. The Soco Hotel
With just 24 rooms, The Soco Hotel is more intimate than many all-inclusive resorts, but it still gives you the stress-free, hands-on experience you expect from the vacation style. As its name indicates, it’s located on the island’s South Coast. The resort is incredibly picturesque with a cheery color palette. Highlights here for me include the rooms, each of which has a private balcony with an ocean view.
The staff is welcoming, attentive, and do everything they can to make your stay exceptional. The resort is close to Bridgetown and the island’s nightlife and restaurants, which makes it attractive for people like me who need to get off campus for an authentic taste of the island (the resort only has one restaurant). It’s a good resort for couples too, but it should be noted that it doesn’t offer water sports activities on-site or a gym.
6. Crystal Cove
I’ve stayed at this all-inclusive hotel located on the West Coast a couple of times and appreciate many things about it. It feels sophisticated, yet family-friendly. The Crystal Cove Cave Bar, a truly unique swim-up bar within a rock formation next to a waterfall is a highlight of the resort. As is its location, on a cliff on the West Coast.
It’s an upscale resort and its look reflects that — the style is breezy, contemporary, and makes a change from the overarching colonial style of many all-inclusive resorts. The color palette is as becoming as a tropical garden. It’s also near a lot of the West Coast’s attractions and retail outlets. On the property, there are two restaurants and three bars, all delightful places to have a sundowner at. The views of the sunset are spectacular. It has three large pools, a 24-hour fitness center, a spa, and a great kids club.
For more information on traveling to Barbados, check out these articles: