Pros and Cons of All Inclusive Resorts With Kids

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 and cons of all inclusive resorts with kids. travelingsinglemom.com

 

Pros of All Inclusive Resorts:

PRICE

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.

LOCATION

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.

AMENITIES

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.

Pros and cons of all inclusive resorts. Tours and sight seeing. Travelingsinglemom.com
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CONVENIENCE

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.

Pros and cons of all inclusive resorts. The food. travelingsinglemom.com
Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor.com

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.

Pros and cons of all inclusive resorts with kids. Travelingsinglemom.com

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.

TRAVELERS GUILT

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. Pros and cons by traveling single mom.
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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.

Want to start planning your own all inclusive vacation? Take a peak at the Top All Inclusive Caribbean Resorts as recommended by TripAdvisor.

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


Traveling With Kids? Why You Should Go For It

As someone who’s had the blessing of two sets of children in two distinct phases in my life, I wanted to share a few thoughts about why traveling with kids is a pretty great idea. In fact, if travel is in your soul then you’re going to want to find a way to make it happen, even if you think that having children means your travel plans have been shelved. Here’s why.

I had my first set of children fairly young, during my early to mid twenties, when time and money were in short supply. I was building my career and raising a young family. Who had time to travel? Not this girl. And I sure as heck didn’t have the money. When the girls got a bit older, I made it a point to start taking a vacation each year because travel had always been on my bucket list. We started small by renting a cottage a few hours from home for a week each summer. When that worked well, I added a second week. And then we started camping because we couldn’t afford much more and I still wanted us to get away on the weekends. When the girls were a bit older, I made time and saved the cash to take road trips to Florida, South Carolina, and other southern destinations that took us out of the suburban Canadian world we lived in. We even flew to an all inclusive Jamaican resort one year where I had the opportunity to learn that I don’t like all inclusive resorts. Not as adventurous as I wanted to be but at least we got out there. And those trips were amazing even when the girls drove me nuts. Because they were teens by then and they drove everyone nuts.

Thinking about traveling with kids. Here's why you should.

Once they grew up and didn’t want to go anywhere with me anymore I continued to travel by myself. And then I suddenly became a parent again in my mid-forties to two tiny little boys born 12 months apart. I cried a lot because I was afraid life was going to go back to the same mind-numbing way I had been living when my first set of kids were younger. Until one day I decided that I wouldn’t let that happen.

So we traveled. Always by car for the first couple of years so I could feel somewhat in control (ha!) and always around my work schedule. By the time the boys were 3 and 4 they had been to Florida 4 times, hung out in downtown Nashville on a Friday night, been on a pirate ship in the Gulf of Mexico (twice), and spent every weekend one summer camping in a glamper on the shoreline of Lake Erie. Still pretty safe and predictable but I liked the fact that we were getting out there. There were meltdowns and tantrums and all sorts of chaos. One kid forgot to get off the elevator after the doors closed. The same kid cut his face and blackened an eye in Alabama. The youngest fell asleep standing up in an elevator after a particularly late dinner one evening. By late, I mean dinner ended at 9:30 pm. He’s a good sleeper and enjoys going to bed. Bless him.

Aiden at 19 months, eating alligator sausage
Aiden at 19 months, eating alligator sausage

But we mostly laughed, spent time together on purpose (as opposed to just existing in the house at the same time), and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. On our last trip to Florida, I had the luxury of three weeks which means there’s a whole lot less pressure to do everything in a week before rushing back home so I let the rule book fade away. One day we hit up a beach bar right on the Gulf coast where I ordered a daiquiri at lunch, we ate whatever we wanted without worrying about nutrition, and I let the boys dance to eighties rock music out on the dance floor. I use the term “dance” kind of loosely here. Best day ever. We made friends everywhere we went, not just because the boys were cute, but because people love kids. Even wait staff in the most obvious tourist places who were exhausted with people loved to hang out and chat because of those little boys.

Then there was the time in Panama City Beach last year, where Liam told all the young ladies his name was Ricky Bobby and became the most popular guy at spring break. Even Aiden, who had some serious shyness issues back then, waltzed off into the deep end with his date that day without looking back. Best half hour of free babysitting of my life. I actually closed my eyes for a few minutes that March afternoon and just relaxed.

Why you should travel with kids.

I learned something on those trips. Kids are the ultimate people connector. Even the hotel/condo staff or most aloof server, cracked wide open when the boys showed up. They wanted to chat about their own kids, or their relatives kids, and I got to know people in a very different way than when I traveled with adults. Kids, I realized, are your ticket into the local culture and for someone who’s kind of shy and introverted, they’re a ticket to conversation and immediate camaraderie. Which is pretty cool when you’re socially awkward and introverted like I am.

Before Liam was born, I went to Hawaii on a solo vacation. I think I spent that entire week in Oahu with my head buried in a book and not speaking to anyone because of that whole shy/introvert thing. And in doing so, I lost a huge opportunity to connect with local people. Assuming they would have me since that tourist thing is huge in Hawaii and all. But kids are never going to allow you to bury your head in a book and ignore what’s going on around you. Everyone wants to chat to the boys, and by extension, to their mom. Sweet. Mostly. Because, shyness, and all.

Everyone has choices and there a lot of them to be made once you have kids. Should I take that job even though it’s farther from home? What car should we buy? Do we need a minivan now? Breast or bottle? (Although that’s thankfully off the table when you’re not the bio-mom!)  Soccer or baseball? Girl scouts or ballet? If you’re at all interested in travel and worried that it can’t be done with kids, stop freaking out and go do it! The older they get, the harder it gets. Do it before the kids lose interest because they will and that’s going to suck. Or before they need to be entertained all the time and don’t know how to just enjoy being somewhere different. Because kids do that.

Why you should travel with young children

Have you successfully traveled with young children? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below or email me at Jenna@travelingsinglemom.com and share your story.