An all-inclusive vacation is a good way to de-stress — as long as you've made the right resort choice. While making the right decision does require some homework, it sure beats trying to work out all the details of booking flights, accommodations, meals and recreation separately.

"Generally, all-inclusive vacation packages include flight, hotel, meals and some or all beverages," explains Jean Collette, Chair of the board of directors of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and owner of the Quebec-based travel network Club Voyages Dumoulin (French only). Knowing what you're getting, he says, is important when choosing a getaway that matches your wants and your budget.

1. Decide what vacation you want

"Different resorts place emphasis on different things so that they cater to a particular type of vacationer," says Mr. Collette. Your choices are very broad, so take the time to consider your options, including:

  • Gastronomic delights. Take a bite out of your vacation at a resort that caters to adults and couples who prize fine dining and wine.
  • Entertainment centres. Live theatre, casinos and discos are part of the appeal of these resorts.
  • Active retreats. Want to get into or stay in shape? These resorts not only include top-notch fitness facilities and programs, they also focus on water and land sports.
  • R&R indulgence. If rest and relaxation is more your thing, look for a resort that offers on-site spa services.
  • Family-friendly getaways. Bring the kids along and keep them occupied with special themes including Sesame Street and circus shows. These resorts cater to families and some even offer on-site babysitting services.
  • Special interest. Perhaps you want to meet other singles or want uninterrupted couple time. Or maybe you want to embrace your inner "naturalist" and prefer to vacation in the buff.

2. Decide where you want to go

"Generally, Canadians flock to the Caribbean and stay in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, for example," says Jean Collette. "But there are so many other countries that offer great packages at great prices." If you're not set on one destination country, explore other options. "Some places, like Panama for example, have just opened their doors to tourism and offer unique all-inclusive vacation packages that give you very good value for your travel money," advises our expert.

3. Conduct your own star search

Does it really matter if a resort receives a three or four-star rating? Maybe not. "Today, there are no set international standards or rules regarding how many stars a resort gets," informs Mr. Collette.

"The system is very regional — meaning it gives you an idea of how one particular resort ranks against others in the same area or country." That means that a three-star resort in, say, Jamaica is not ranked on the same scale as one in Mexico.

Expert tip: "People think that the star ranking system has more to do with the service provided by staff and less with the different facilities the resort or hotel has to offer," he explains. "In fact, it is a combination of criteria, including service. In the Caribbean, for example, a five-star property is often a big resort with a complete range of options, such as restaurants, bars, lounges, discotheques, casinos, spas, tennis courts and so on, but which also offers high-quality service.

4. Get the scoop from a trusted source

While you'll find many websites with forums posting personal reviews on just about any vacation destination and resort, Jean Collettte warns that the Internet isn't your best bet for an unbiased opinion. "The bottom line is that you don't know who is actually posting their opinion," he says. "It's better to get a recommendation from someone you know or from an experienced travel agent." For example, one resort may sound perfect, but if you knew it was a party destination for rowdy college students, would you still want to go?

5. Know what you're paying for

All-inclusive vacation packages are not created equal. You'll want to know what is included in the price so you can compare your options equally. Check if:

  • All or some meals are included.
  • All international and domestic drinks and wine with dinner are included.
  • Any activities (water sports, day trips) are included.
  • Any services (spa services, babysitting) are included.

Expert tip: "Don't get stuck on prices too much," advises our travel expert. "Today, it's easier for Canadians to get a good deal regardless of what time of year they're travelling. While prices are competitive all year round, it is a good idea to book early in order to have the most choices and ensure you get the best for your money. Plus, booking early is less stressful and gives you more time to plan your vacation."