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A new kind of all-inclusive getaway

When booking a quick getaway, Debra Arbit wants to make as few decisions as possible. She doesn’t want to have to spend time finding a restaurant that will suit everyone. Or tell others when and where to meet up.

“When I try to get away, a lot of what I’m trying to get away from is decision fatigue,” says Arbit, who lives in Minneapolis.

When she visited Wild Rice Retreat, a hotel overlooking Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wisconsin, a big part of the appeal was that everything was taken care of for her. Wild Rice, a Nordic-inspired retreat on Lake Superior, includes all meals and activities. “It’s nice to have everything in one place,” says the consulting firm founder.

Wild Rice Retreat is an example of a new kind of all-inclusive getaway, a "boutique" resort that eschews the large, sprawling feel typical of all-inclusive destinations in favor of a more modest scale that allows it to cater to every guest individually. These types of properties can be found throughout the US and are significantly smaller than their Caribbean counterparts. They typically have fewer than 100 rooms and perhaps only a single restaurant. They also tend to be located in more remote areas, where dining options are limited.

According to Nicholas Fabbri, from the sustainable travel company Origin, guests appreciate the intimacy of the smaller boutiques. "It's something unique," says Fabbri, who has worked with clients seeking hassle-free, luxury vacations. "People are really looking for this built-in experience."

Not needing to consider every spending decision or worry about gratuities can certainly be a relief. But guests looking to book a resort where everything is included may be surprised at the daily rate, says Brad Kiesendahl, chief executive at Woodloch, a resort located in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Rates can range from $300 to $3,500 per night for such resorts.

Woodloch comprises 2 all-inclusive properties: Woodloch Pines, which has been in operation since 1958, and the Lodge at Woodloch, a 58-room venue that opened in 2006. The Lodge is a spa resort that offers a luxurious experience for guests interested in rest and relaxation, while Woodloch Pines provides a variety of family-oriented activities, including miniature golf, go-carts, and hiking trails.

While the adults-only Lodge, where rooms start at $500 per night, offers a more refined atmosphere, it's not stuffy. Guests often walk around the grounds in their robes following their spa treatment. "Somebody can come to dinner in a jacket and somebody else comes in a robe—luxury doesn't have to mean formality," says Kiesendahl.

Angela Lotito, a frequent visitor at Woodloch Pines, says it helps to be able to gather with multiple generations of family without having to do a lot of planning. Most days she enjoys kayaking or lounging near the lake. “We call it a land cruise—we drive, we park our car and we’re done,” says Lotito, who visits the property’s family resort at least once per year from her home in Mineola, New York. “It’s the best medicine and the best escape from reality.”

Heidi Zimmer, who founded the 31-room Wild Rice Retreat in 2021, was eager to create an all-inclusive wellness hotel in an area full of natural beauty. Guests live in individual luxury cabins and have access to a sanctuary with a sauna and rain shower. To make the guests feel at home, chefs are trained to speak with them about their meals. Most guests stay on property and spend their time doing classes, including yoga and painting. “The advantage is you don’t have to think or plan—you simply arrive,” says Zimmer, who adds that rates start at $300 per night in the high season.

At Castle Hot Springs, near Phoenix, Arizona, the 30-room resort offers all meals, including multi-course dinners, as part of the offerings. Most guests visit to hike the Sonoran Desert and soak in the hot springs, both located on the 1,100-acre ranch. “There are no buffets or premade offerings,” says general manager Kevin Maguire, noting that many of the ingredients used in meals served at Castle Hot Springs are drawn from their very own farm on the property. There’s been an uptick in repeat guests since the historic property underwent an extensive renovation and reopened in 2020 with rates starting at $1,250 per night, he adds.

For those interested in visiting this type of boutique destination, Fabbri recommends figuring out what they most want to get out of the experience. For instance, those who are traveling with families may prioritize easy access by car or properties that offer individual cabins. Others may choose a property based on the activities it offers on-site and the variety of meals. And many offerings are seasonal, so it’s important to check what’s available before you book. “These hotels can be a significant investment, so you need to make sure what you’re getting reflects that,” he adds.

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