The silver dome is lifted with a flourish to reveal my Cajun eggs Benedict prepared by the chef. Crepes laced with spiced rum and Chantilly cream from a local delicatessen are also unveiled. This fine-dining breakfast is taking place on a secluded hotel veranda looking out on Jamaica’s Montego Bay, one of the most magnificent seascapes in the Caribbean.
Yes, it’s special, but also totally unexpected – for this is part of a package holiday. Where once guests might have expected to queue for an all-you-can-eat buffet in some concrete monstrosity on the Costas, you can now opt for breakfast- in-bed room service. In recent years, rebranding has seen the package holiday transformed into the all-inclusive. Want a daily massage treatment included? Done. Vegetarian? No problem. Yoga for the kids and wi-fi? You bet.
It’s easy to see why all-inclusives are the smart choice for families, honeymooners, couples and, well, anyone looking for great value.
Drink it in: A swim-up bar and one of the resort’s four pools, above. The spotless beach is the ‘biggest attraction’, says The Mail on Sunday’s Toby Walne
After all, once you’ve bought an ice cream or a sundowner, paid for an activity or two every day and forked out for airport transfers, the total bill for other sorts of holidays can rocket.
My only previous experience of a package tour was to the Caribbean as a heady post-degree celebration in the 1990s and I’ve blotted out most of that (residual memories include sunburned singalongs and rum around the clock). Could slick marketing and luxury extras really make the difference?
We checked into the Sandals resort, which is the first ever Sandals and its flagship resort. It has turned the concept of all-inclusive on its head. Moving with the times, the focus is on individual choice – and ensuring guests are spoilt with a new level of luxury.
From the moment you are picked up at the airport in a top-of-the-range BMW (at some Sandals resorts a Rolls-Royce is dispatched!) and greeted by your own butler, you know this is something special. Although not trained in the stiff-upper-lipped Noel Coward manner – the playwright lived at Firefly, just 75 miles from here – our Guild of Professional English Butlers graduate is impeccably dressed in black tie and waistcoat. And Nasha is also female. White-gloved hands deftly crack open a bottle of bubbly in our room with little encouragement required.
Spectacular: An ocean front villa at the Sandals Resort featuring an outdoor bath and seating area to enjoy a morning cup of coffee
After Sir and M’Lady introductions, we are handed a mobile phone. The only finger we lift on this break is calling the butler, who gets up before the Germans to place a towel – along with icebox of water and beer – on the best sunlounger spots.
Nasha also books restaurant tables and brings fresh, chilled strawberry daiquiris to the beach.
A super-king four-poster mahogany bed takes centre-stage in the room. The walls are decorated with coral shells and vibrant oil paintings from local artists. One of the pictures is on rollers and can be moved to reveal a window and view of the vast shower room.
The fridge is so jam-packed, there isn’t room for one-litre bottles of gin, rum, vodka and whisky – they have to sit on top.
Two 52in satellite TVs provide further company – one is in the high-ceiled bedroom and the other in a separate living space you can close off. Open the glass doors and you step out on to the balcony. Beside the breakfast table setting is a ‘tranquillity’ tub from where you can listen to waves gently lapping the shore.
This resort caters to all tastes. Young British honeymooners rub shoulders with free-spirited Canadians and middle-aged Americans in search of gourmet food. Children are not allowed.
The spotless beach is the biggest attraction but there are four pools and four whirlpools if you fancy relaxing elsewhere.
And if you do get itchy feet, then sign up for a free watersport – you can snorkel or scuba dive at world-renowned reefs. Later, you might try your best to stay upright while waterskiing.
Then there is ‘cuisine’, not food. There are nine world-class restaurants at this resort and no fewer than 23 dining places and bars on site or ten minutes away in two neighbouring Sandals retreats. Think sushi at Soy, green curry at the Royal Thai private island, lobster at the formal Oleander, or fish and chips at The Cricketers Pub.
Fill your boots: The resort has nine world-class restaurants on site. Pictured above is Bayside Restaurant
An all-inclusive seven-night stay at Sandals Montego Bay in a Seaside Oceanview Luxury room starts from £2,047pp, or from £2,931pp in a beachfront luxury suite with butler and balcony tub. The price includes Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick and resort transfers. For more information visit sandals.co.uk
An impressive cocktail list accompanies this never-ending menu wherever you go, including at the over-the-water Latitudes, where you sit by a firepit at night. In between meals, why not pop down to Cafe de Paris to try one of six varieties of ice cream – perhaps pistachio, or rum and raisin – or treat yourself to a mille-feuille and iced coffee. You can live off these indulgencies, making a dozen visits a day.
In the evenings, stroll under the stars on an empty beach, listen to the beat of a steel drum band, or go wild and ‘mash up di place’ at a reggae party.
If you want to see more of the country, you can pay £175 extra for a full-day tour.
There is no rep counting you on to a bus. Instead, you are handed the keys to a Mini Cooper convertible and follow an experienced guide who is behind the wheel of another car.
Motoring around the lush tropical scenery like an extra from The Italian Job, you visit the famous 1,000ft Dunn’s River Falls and Discovery Bay, where Christopher Columbus first set foot in 1494.
Back at the resort, spa pampering is not included. An hour of ‘tropical paradise’ pummelling is £250.
Push the boat out with a private candlelight dinner for two on the beach and that’s £140 extra. You can tie the knot – or renew vows – at a chapel, walking over a glass aisle above the sea for £230.
On the modern all-inclusive holiday, the only schedule to follow is your own. I feel nostalgic about my package past, but now I’m older my expectations of a great holiday are higher so it’s these little touches of luxury that make all the difference.
FIVE OTHER PACKAGE BREAKS TO BLOW YOU AWAY
To prove just how far the package holiday has come, we’ve compiled this list of fabulous deals.
Remarkably, these enticing options can be found with high street holiday companies and are all-inclusive.
KENYAN SAFARI ADVENTURE
Bush tucker: Dining alfresco during a Kenyan safari
Seals the deal: Camp out on safari in a luxury tented suite with views of Mount Kilimanjaro. A private deck at the wilderness lodge looks out over watering holes where you can observe hippos and crocodiles, while on game drives you’ll search for lions, elephants and giraffes. Each tent includes a freestanding copper bath. The Finch Hattons Suite has a plunge pool, plus a personal chef and butler.
Total cost: From £5,499pp for a seven-night stay with Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk), based on two adults sharing. The price also includes return BA flights to Nairobi, onward flights and transfers, and an additional overnight stay in Nairobi.
GRAN CANARIA FAMILY THRILLS
Seals the deal: All ages and activities are catered for at the seaside resort of Arguineguin. Children are taken off your hands for adventures at the resort ‘mini-land’ and pool. Alternatively, you can share in the fun with family-focused yoga and gymnastics. Teenagers can escape to their own music and wi-fi lounge, while discos and evening entertainment are provided for all age groups. The apartment has a kitchenette where guests can make snacks and drinks. Adults can also relax at a spa, enjoy beauty treatments and take fitness lessons.
Total cost: £2,296 for a family of four for a seven- night stay in a seaview balcony studio apartment. The price includes return flights. Visit thomascook.com.
HEAVEN FOR FOODIES IN TENERIFE
Seals the deal: You might not think you can choose between two on-site Michelin-starred restaurants or stay somewhere as fancy as a Ritz-Carlton Hotel on a package – but you can now with Jet2. Pick the Ritz-Carlton Abama and you also get the chance to play golf on an adjoining 18-hole course.
Total cost: A week-long stay with breakfast and dinner, return flights from East Midlands Airport, and private transfers to the resort, costs from £1,366pp. Visit jet2.com.
ST LUCIA FOR SPORTS AND SPAS
Seals the deal: Windsurfing and waterskiing sessions in the sparkling Caribbean Sea are included for guests at the BodyHoliday Hotel. If you prefer to stay on land, enjoy free Pilates and golf classes, cycling, tennis and yoga. Exhausted? Head to the on-site spa for free daily treatments. Then end your day in an award-winning fusion restaurant.
Total cost: Tui (tui.co.uk) offers seven nights all-inclusive for two starting at £1,879pp, including food and wine and return flights.
THE MALDIVES FOR HONEYMOON PARADISE
Private paradise: Stunning Kudadoo Island in the Maldives where you’ll have a butler and a chef
Seals the deal: Take a 40-minute seaplane ride to the private atoll Kudadoo Island. A marine biologist will take you snorkelling with turtles, manta rays and dolphins, or you can go kite-surfing. For relaxation, head to the Himalayan salt room spa. You’ll also have a butler and chef.
Total cost: From £10,150pp for seven days, based on two sharing. Flights are not included. Visit kudadoo.com.