Personally, I’m not a huge fan of all inclusive resorts most of the time. I have this thing about wanting to kind of immerse myself in wherever I happen to be traveling and I want to feel like I’m part of real life. Having said that, I’ve been to my share of all inclusive resorts and we just came back from an all inclusive in Cuba (Blau Costa Verde Plus) with my two little boys. As a single parent, all inclusive resorts are a great way to get your feet wet in the big wide world of travel. I think all inclusives are great when traveling with children, particularly young ones for a whole bunch or reasons. I also think there are a few drawbacks. Here are a few pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.
Pros of All Inclusive Resorts:
While it’s true that all inclusives can be pricey, depending on the location and resort, they can easily be way more cost effective than regular travel. Our last trip to Cuba cost us $1800 (CAD) for three of and that included having to pay the adult price for my four year old. Our regular jaunts to Florida (Panama City Beach) costs us around $1100 (USD) for the condo alone for a week. That doesn’t include the driving and overnights in hotels, food along the way, or meals out when we arrive. And, despite my intentions to eat in, we tend to go out for a ton of meals. I usually end up spending closer to $2500 for a condo rental at the beach for a week. Not so cheap. If you’re willing to go last minute, which we did, the cost cutting can be huge.
What’s generally included in the price? Airfare, transportation to and from the resort, the resort accommodations, all meals and beverages including alcohol (!!), kids club (if available), beach and pool chairs, hotel fridge stock up (although limited, it’s always been enough for us), entertainment and shows, the disco, activities during the day, and all the sun and relaxation you can handle.
FOOD AND DRINKS
An all inclusive is exactly that. Food, drinks (booze included….hallelujer!) and snacks are part of the package. Now, I listened to lots of people bitch and complain about both the food and the quality of liquor but as a single parent, having free flowing wine, rum punch, ice cream, and meals all thought out and planned for me was a big time win. Ready for dinner, kids? Let’s belly up to the buffet. No cooking, no clean up, no trying to find a restaurant that everyone can agree on only to order kids meals that cost $6 each that no one eats. (When will I learn to just order them a single plate of fries?) My guys really enjoyed the virgin slushies and Liam (4) had his first Shirley Temple. Which he charmingly refers to a Shirley Centennial. There’s nothing quite like hearing your 3 year old ask if we can go to the bar to reinforce why all inclusives with kids are pretty awesome.
All lot of people complain about the food and liquor at resorts, claiming it’s not the best, or it’s boring and repetitious. That may be true but it’s never bothered me one bit. And I probably should point out that the repetitive thing is a total plus when travelling with kids. My guys loved that there was pancakes for breakfast every single morning, rice and pork for dinner, and they could always find something to stuff their picky eating faces with. The very thing that makes adults complain, usually makes for happy and well-fed kids.
By their very nature, all inclusive resorts are usually located in some pretty fantastic places. Generally, they are right on or very close to a beach, usually in tropical climates. Most days the biggest choice involves sunbathing at the pool(s) or hitting the beach. It’s a hard life. In addition to the great location, all inclusives usually have the airport transport thing taken care of as part of the package. Not having to find a taxi or bus after dealing with kids, customs, and luggage is pretty great. The resorts are usually fairly close to airports as well which minimizes the amount of traveling you do back and forth when all you want to do is either get there or get home. In addition, if you care about this kind of thing, all inclusives are exclusive walled communities with gates and security. As you can probably tell, I don’t worry about stuff like that but I know lots of people that do.
All inclusive resorts are known for their amenities. Most have more than one pool, many have swim up bars (Aiden’s favorite thing), they often have designated kids pools and even kids clubs where parents can get a break as part of the all inclusive price. Water sports are often included, as is the gym in the price you pay before you arrive. In addition to what’s included in your package, many resorts offer fee for services as well, including spa treatments, babysitting (hello!), and sports such as scuba diving, golf, and sailing. Often the resort provides entertainment at nights, a disco (that we will likely never get to since we’re all asleep by 10pm) and activities during the day. I enjoyed watching the aqua gym classes while sipping a cold drink in the shade. So inspiring. On top of all that, your bar fridge is topped up daily, there are tons of places to eat and drink, and you don’t need to lug beach chairs or make your bed since all that’s taken care of.
Along with the resort amenities, most offer tour packages off resort. In Cuba there were trips to local cigar factories or markets. In Jamaica, we took a snorkeling day trip on a catamaran and climbed the waterfall in Dunn’s river. Well, the kids did. I cheered and took pictures.
Everything you need for a great vacation is right inside the walls of the resort. Beaches, pools, activities, kids clubs, meals, drinks, and entertainment. If you’re looking to relax, this is the way to go. As someone who spends a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of everything and overthinking pretty much all of the time, an all inclusive is a really nice break from all of that. Meals are planned and scheduled, beverages flow, and while you’re sunbathing or sipping rum punch, someone cleans up your room and makes your bed. No grocery shopping, no cooking, and no cleaning. Can’t argue with that.
Cons of All Inclusive Resorts:
FOOD AND DRINK
You are not seeing double. This made it into the pros and cons list.
Personally, as a fairly picky eater, I’ve never been unhappy with the food at an all inclusive resort. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to plan, prep, cook and clean up that I’m happy with whatever is being served. Having said that, I’ve heard tons of complaints about food at all inclusives, largely around the buffet which can get repetitious. Yes, lots of the dishes are repeated, particularly breakfast meals. The theme nights can look a bit like all the other nights but there’s also lots of a la carte dining options to get a break from the buffet. The downside of those restaurant options is that you need to make reservations fast. Like the day you arrive or most will be booked and you’ll miss out. The only a la carte restaurant we managed to get into was the Cuban restaurant at Blau Costa Verde. Everything else had been all booked up and that happens pretty much everywhere.
IT’S OFTEN NOT “ALL INCLUSIVE”
While lots of things are included in the package price, many things are not. Generally water sports involving catamarans, golf, spa treatments, and babysitting are going to cost extra. Tours are rarely included in your ticket price and can be expensive. Car rental, jet skis, and bike rental can all add up as well. Check the details of your package to be sure of what’s actually included to avoid disappointment and unplanned for expenses once you arrive.
LIMITED TIMES FOR MEALS AND DRINKS
The buffets and restaurants operate according to certain hours. As an example, the buffet hours at our resort in Cuba were as follows:
Breakfast: 7-10:30 am
Lunch: 12-2:30 pm
Dinner: 6:30 – 9:30 pm
The pool bar on the plus side of the resort was open from 10:30 am – 6:30 pm. There were loads of other bars open, but that one was the most popular.
Lots of folks had something to say about that. Personally, that doesn’t bother me in the least since that’s kind of how the world works. Restaurants have operating hours. I don’t run an all day kitchen at home. And, I’m traveling with little kids so those hours worked fine and made sense for us. There are lots of other bar options but if you’re having a good and boozy time around the pool, the early closure was pretty insulting for some travelers. Those are the same folks that had a bit of trouble getting to breakfast in time and, thus, complained a lot about the breakfast hours.
Many resorts have a 24 hour place to grab a light meal or snack but some don’t. Ours had lunch offered in different restaurants and near the beach in addition to the buffet. Again, check your resort details before leaving home so you know what to expect.
YOU’RE NOT SEEING THE COUNTRY
I have tons of friends who travel constantly to all inclusive resorts who “love Jamaica”, and “adore the Dominican Republic”, and tell me “Mexico is awesome”. But they don’t leave the resorts. And when they do they’re on tours designed for tourists. There is nothing wrong with that at all. We were in Cuba and didn’t leave the resort because…well….the boys and a problem with renting a car. The boys, both of whom have FASD, don’t do well with more than one major thing a day. That’s okay and I knew it would be that way going in. But when friends asked me how I liked Cuba, I say “I don’t know, I haven’t really been there.” Because when you go to a resort you could literally be anywhere. Like, can you figure out where this is? Me neither, but it sure is pretty.
Going to an all inclusive resort teaches you nothing about the country your visiting with the possible example of how they cater to tourists. There is no learning about a new culture or country, nor is there any real participation in local life. The outings are on catamarans and to tourist destinations. The sight seeing is just that. Seeing the sights. The only interaction with local people or customs occurs pretty far away from reality. Even the food is toned down to cater for tourists from a wide variety of places. So all inclusive resorts are not a good way to see a country unless you’re willing to leave and strike out on your own. I tried to rent a car in Cuba one day but they didn’t have any available and the cost was insane. Also, the fellow insisted I rent it for 3 days which kind of defeated the idea of an all inclusive for me. I wanted to tour for one day but the rest of the time, I wanted the luxury of no meals to plan and no brain power to harness. So we happily stayed on the resort. But I can’t pretend that I know what Cuba is really like, either.
Maybe it’s just me but I feel a fair bit of guilt when I stay in a luxury resort in a really poor country. Perhaps it’s the whole former social worker thing, or just that I really want to feel a connection with people wherever I am. So when very poor people from a very poor country are waiting on me, I always struggle. Maybe guilt isn’t the right word, but there’s definitely an awareness that while I’m not wealthy by any means at home (#singleparent), I’m one of the haves being waited on by the have nots while I’m in a resort. When other guests start bitching and complaining about the service, or the resort, or the “quality” of foods or liquor, I have a tendency to become mortified at the entitlement that we have and are taking for granted in, what is usually, a third world country.
And then there’s the whole “I should be doing more” thing that happens to me when I get anywhere and park my butt on a beach chair. When we’re at the pool, I feel guilty that we’re not at the beach. When we’re at the beach, I feel like we need to leave the resort and do more. I voiced that to a lot of folks at our resort and learned I wasn’t alone until someone kindly reminded me that “You paid to be lazy”. Bless him.
Travelers guilt. It’s real. It’s yukky. I think someone needs to invent a very strong, rum soaked drink called “Travelers Guilt”. Strong enough to wipe away any guilty feeling about anything. It could be accompanied by a sister drink called “Shut Up”. Strong enough that people stop complaining that the food and such isn’t up to their standards and all.
All inclusive resorts can be an amazing way to have vacation, particularly when traveling with kids, as long as you know what you’re looking for in a holiday. As always, check things out before you leave and read the fine print to avoid disappointment after you arrive.
NOTE: Affiliate links to TripAdviser have been included in this article because I pretty much don’t go anywhere without them. Read our full disclosure policy here.