If you were to ask me a few months ago if I had any interest in all-inclusive holidays, I would have said no. I like to think of myself as a pretty independent traveler and a felt that an all-inclusive trip would cramp my style.
Smash cut to last December when I found myself researching ski holidays in Europe. Coming off a 12-year break from when I last hit the slopes and traveling with a boyfriend who grew up on a tropical island, I was totally out of my element.
After many, many hours of research I narrowed things down to a list of destinations, priced out flights, equipment rental, ski passes, and hotels, and ended up with numbers that were astronomically high. That’s when I finally conceded and started perusing available packaged deals. Some were obvious rip-offs, while others were more enticing.
Following a lot of consideration and some discussion with my tropical other half, I eventually bit the bullet and booked a 1-week all-inclusive ski trip to Arinsal, Andorra with Inghams (discounted through Secret Escapes). The package included the following:
- Round trip airfare from London Gatwick to Toulouse
- Round trip airport transport
- 6 day passes to the Vallnord ski area
- 6 days ski or snowboard rental from Shusski (30 EU supplement for a snowboard)
- 6 vouchers for a sandwich, side, and a drink at cafes in Vallnord
- 7-nights accommodation in a luxury suite at the 4* Hotel Princesa Parc in Arinsal, Andorra
- Breakfast and dinner buffet at the hotel each day
- Unlimited drinks (water, soft drinks, beer, wine, cocktails, hot drinks) at the hotel
- Access to the hotel’s spa, game room (including bowling alley and pool tables)
The Transportation (Thomson Airways, Inghams Shuttle)
The day of our departure I woke up bright and early to make the 6:40am flight to Toulouse. I was disappointed to discover that online/kiosk check-in was not offered by the airline, Thomson. Instead we had to wait in a 30-minute queue to check-in. The flight itself was uneventful, as was our departure from Toulouse airport. A representative from Inghams was waiting right outside the exit and quickly directed us to our ground transport.
The turnaround time between departing the aircraft and departing the airport en-route to Andorra couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes. I was thoroughly impressed.
On board our large and comfy shuttle was Dobrin, a rep from Inghams who quickly introduced himself and handed us our ski passes, vouchers, and all the other documentation we needed for our holiday.
The Hotel (Hotel Princesa Park – Arinsal, Andorra)
The journey to Andorra took 3-4 hours. The shuttle dropped us off right in front of the hotel, at which point I made a mad dash to reception to avoid the long check-in line (can you tell by now that I hate waiting?). It turned out to be a wise move, as we checked-in, unpacked, and ate lunch in the time that it took the understaffed hotel to get through the queue.
The hotel itself was nice, but probably not 4* by US standards. Nevertheless our room was clean and the bedroom portion had been fairly recently renovated. The bathroom was also clean, but slightly older looking – definitely more 3* than 4*.
To be honest though, with the inclusive drinks, spa, and game room access, we didn’t spend that much time in the room. Upon check-in the staff issued us a card with our photograph. Instead of paying cash for drinks and services, we simply handed over our card and weren’t charged a thing.
Due to the size of the hotel, guests have to book their spa appointments in advance. Appointments were offered in 2-hour intervals and we never really ran into any availability issues. Each time we visited, we were provided with a robe, disposable slippers, and a locker. The spa consisted of two pools heated to about 32°C. Each was fitted with massaging jets that worked wonders on sore muscles. There were also two sauna rooms, one hammam room, and a strange sculpture of a polar bear that spewed ice.
Our only poor experience at the spa came when we visited prior to 5pm and it was full of screaming children. Other than that, it was excellent.
The food at the breakfast and dinner buffets was decent, but nothing to write home about. The service was great and I have to say that the staff at the hotel really worked hard and were always extremely helpful.
The Skiing (Vallnord)
We arrived on a Sunday and had ski passes that were valid starting the following day. At 9am Monday morning we headed up the gondola just a few minutes from the hotel to reach the main ski area. This is, conveniently, also where the equipment rental shop was. Everything about the trip had been beautiful planned and executed up until this point. With a long line of people waiting to get fitted with boots, skis, and snowboards, the staff at Shusski were getting overwhelmed and it took an hour to get our gear.
Vallnord is really popular with British tourists, and is ideal for beginners. Just beyond the gondola is a very gentle bunny hill flanked by a green run and a mixed blue/red run. The lift passes we were given included an RFID, allowing the gates to each lift to open pretty much automatically. They certainly didn’t have this kind of technology when I last went skiing in California 12 years ago!
The ski conditions were good as far as spring skiing goes, and I came away really happy with Vallnord in the end. The ski area spans three sectors (Arinsal, Pal, and Arcalis), though I was only able to check out Arinsal.
After 5 days of skiing my boyfriend convinced me to give snowboarding a go. I popped into Shusski and swapped my skis for a snowboard. After receiving my equipment I tried to pay them the snowboard supplement but they said I didn’t have to. Delighted, I took to the bunny hill and promptly face-planted in the snow.
I guess what I learned most from my all-inclusive holiday is “don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it”.
Was the food excellent? No. Was the snow powdery soft? Not really. But did I have a good time? Absolutely.
In a nutshell going all-inclusive saved a little bit of money and a whole lot of stress. It wasn’t nearly as hokey as I thought it was going to be and the holiday delivered on everything it offered.
Will I book an all-inclusive holiday again? I’m not sure. For me personally, I can only see using them for really specialised trips (e.g. skiing holidays). Next ski season I’d really like to try booking my own trip, but if I come up empty handed again I’ll be a lot less hesitant to head in the packaged holiday direction.