Additional reports based on earlier trips seem to confirm that while prices at the "Big Three" have been steadily rising in recent years, their offerings have occasionally not kept pace with the newer, more elaborate facilities of the upstart all-inclusives. The latter are companies originating in Spain (and, like Riu, especially on Spain's Mediterranean holiday island of Majorca) in the 1950s and 1960s. Starting in the 1980s and 1990s, the same chains began planting flags in dozens of beach resort areas in the Americas, concentrated mostly in such Spanish-speaking destinations as Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Panama. More recently they have begun expanding beyond that cultural comfort zone to destinations such as Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas.
For those Americans like myself who love the tropics, this simply means that we must now consider and weigh all the opportunities when we plan our next Caribbean vacation, and give some heed to the new all-inclusives. The available groups of hotels are no longer three in number, but eight. And the new entrants don't even include such smaller players as Viva Hotels, NH Hoteles, Catalonia and Bahia Palace.
Here's a quick rundown of the new Spanish chains (not including Riu):
* Barcelro (1-800-227-2356, www.barcelro.com ). Founded in 1931 as a bus company on Majorca, it's grown from having one hotel in 1962 to becoming one of the world's largest hotel companies, with a presence in 13 countries and 30 all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Central America.
* Iberostar (1-888-923-2722, www.iberostar.com ). Founded in 1983 as the hotel arm of the half-century-old Majorcan travel agency Viajes Iberia, in 1992 it got into the Caribbean and Mexico, where it now runs some 39 all-inclusives. Iberostar's monumental complex on the "Riviera Maya" below Cancun is breathtaking.
* Occidental-Allegro (1-800-858-2258). A merger of Spanish and Dominican groups, it operates 80 properties worldwide, including nearly two dozen all-inclusives in Mexico, the DR and Costa Rica.
* Sol Melia (1-800-336-3542, www.solmelia.com ). Established in Majorca in 1956, it now boasts more than 350 hotels worldwide, including a dozen all-inclusives in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and the DR.
A smart traveler considers all the possibilities, and not just the ones that are heavily advertised.