All inclusive vacations have risen in popularity in recent years due to their convenience and affordability. Clearly people like to know what the total cost of their trip is going to be when they book, and with all meals, drinks and activities included in the price, you don’t have to worry about going over budget while you’re away. Is an all inclusive holiday cheaper than doing it yourself?
Though many travelers are horrified by the very thought. Vehemently against the words “all inclusive”, some even claim that you aren’t really a traveler if you stay in an all-inclusive resort where everything is done for you. These travelers prefer to explore a destination thoroughly, go sightseeing every day, eat street food, meet locals, and discover locations off the beaten path which put them well away from their resort or hotel. And if you’re a regular reader of our blog, this is probably you. What does an all inclusive holiday include?
The argument is that an all inclusive vacation is destructive to local communities as it encourages travelers to stay in their hotels and not support the local economy. After all, who wants to pay for things twice?
But when it comes down to it, there is no right or wrong way to travel, and an all inclusive holiday could genuinely be for you.
When sponsored by DoubleTree by Hilton in 2014 we were honestly quite dubious at first when presented with the concept of being put up in an all inclusive resort. Surely this would have hurt my travel rep as an adventure traveler. However my stereotypes were quickly smashed, and there turned out to be some definite perks of this kind of a stay. Pros and cons of all inclusive
So before you turn your nose up at the notion of booking an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or Jamaica or the Bahamas, here are the pros and cons of going on an all inclusive holiday, plus some tips you should seriously consider to decide if this is the right kind of holiday for you.
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All inclusive packages are cheap. Everything is produced in mass, from the tours and entertainment to the food, and this keeps prices low. Discounts and deals are common as tour operators don’t want empty seats on planes, and kids will often go free which really helps families achieve an affordable vacation during expensive times of year. Advantages of an all inclusive holiday
Brilliant for keeping to a budget. All expenses are paid up front, and the price of all inclusive will often include travel, accommodation, food and drink. This means that unless you go nuts with side trips and souvenirs, you don’t have to worry about overspending. You know exactly what to expect and you can choose your accommodation based on the restaurants and bars it offers as well as its facilities. How much does an all inclusive resort cost?
These packages are therefore particularly good for families and people who have a specific budget. There’s no need to deal with lots of foreign currency and you can completely relax and switch off, knowing that everyone is well catered for. Is an all inclusive holiday cheaper than doing it yourself?
These kind of holidays are convenient. With everything having been taken care of for you, all you have to worry about is relaxing and enjoying your holiday. All expenses have been paid, and it’s all very easy to arrange.
You can eat whenever you want. It’s always mealtime somewhere on an all inclusive resort; breakfast rolls into lunch, lunch rolls into dinner, and then there are also likely to be snack bars dotted throughout for the in-between.
This is particularly beneficial for families if children may need to eat outside of standard restaurant hours, and also for those who may have come back late off a delayed day tour or excursion.
You’re not a prisoner at the resort. The reality is that you can get away anytime you want, and day trips and excursions are incredibly easy to book, with a number of resorts now supporting tours offered by local outfitters.
Tour operators in the lobby will be happy to whisk you to famous dive sites, ancient ruins, a rainforest, perhaps a volcano, and whether you leave on quad bike or the back of a horse, they’re not going to stop you from venturing out. These packages usually make sure that you are collected and dropped back at your hotel too.
Adults only. Sure, all inclusive resorts are a fantastic option for family travel, however if you need to escape other people’s kids for a week, there are adult only all inclusive resorts for you. It’s the promise of “serenity, romance and flirty fun.” What is included at an all inclusive resort?
Entertainment is also covered in the price. You don’t need to pay extra for entertainment – all inclusive resorts offer plenty of options for recreation, and organized activities run throughout the day for all ages.
Children are well catered for with kids clubs, child only swimming pools and high ropes courses, and teens and adults have age appropriate activities set up just for them. For instance archery or joining in the organised pool activities such as aqua-aerobics, water polo or walking on water inside giant, inflated balls. Are flights included in an all inclusive holiday?
As some people do travel to spend their whole vacation at the resort, the activities schedules on offer are incredibly varied and there is always plenty to do. Facilities often include games rooms, swimming pools, tennis courts, crazy golf and a variety of local acts putting on a show for guests each night.
Opportunity to meet new people. Where-ever you are in the world, an all inclusive vacation means you will meet people from all over the place, as the increasing popularity of these packages draws people from every corner of the globe. What isn’t included in an all inclusive holiday?
As we discovered in Costa Rica, all inclusive resorts are often an extremely popular choice of holiday among locals too, so chances are you’ll have the opportunity to mingle with locals who are also holidaying at the resort.
All inclusive doesn’t always mean all inclusive. While a lot of things will be covered by your package, it’s likely a lot of things will also be left out. Once you arrive in your destination you may find yourself having to pay extra for childcare services or internet, or for internationally branded drinks.
Further, most people are restricted to their all-inclusive hotels, since they do not want to spend more. As a result, they rarely explore their locality or go for excursions, which may diminish the holiday excitement. This is particularly relevant for resorts that are located far from any attractions.
Your money may not support the local economy. You could end up supporting international hotel chains and not boosting the local economy. This is especially true if you stay in a global international hotel chain.
Eating virtually all your meals in the hotel. This can be either a pro or a con depending on how you view it, however the buffets can become repetitive after a few days, and many resorts lack the option of providing an a la carte menu.
If the quality of the food and drink is poor then you’re stuck with it for the duration of your stay.
You feel guilty leaving the resort. Nothing is stopping your escape, though it can be mentally challenging to leave the confines of an all-inclusive hotel. With so much entertainment and recreation on offer at the resort, only around only 15 per cent of guests sign up for excursions, meaning they miss the hidden treasures of a place.
Being less likely to explore the surrounding region means you don’t learn much about the local culture, its traditions and even what the landscape looks like.
Deciding if All Inclusive is Right For You
There are definite advantages of booking an all-inclusive vacation, however you should first consider both the pros and cons, as well as the following advice, to decide if this type of vacation is right for you.
Firstly, you should know exactly what is included in your package so you’re not surprised by any additional extras once you arrive. Each resort will have detailed descriptions of their packages on their website, and if you’re unsure, you can email or call. Is an all inclusive hotel worth it?
For instance find out what food and drink is included. If it’s only meals in the main buffet room, you may be severely bored of the food after a week. Some resorts offer a variety of specialty restaurants with diverse menus in addition to their buffet. What kind of food is served at an all inclusive hotel?
Check if your resorts offers “24-hour all-inclusive”, meaning access to unlimited food and drink 24 hours a day. Some resorts are not open day and night and will usually specify meal times for you to follow. And, check if all alcohol is included. Sometimes international brands are charged at a premium cost.
Know which activities are included – non-motorised water sports like kayaking and paddle boarding are usually included, though motorised water sports like jet skiing may not be. Tours and excursions and trips to the spa are normally extra.
Check out the costs of non-inclusive packages in similar hotels in the same location. In so doing, you can determine if the all inclusive package is good value for money. You can use online calculators to compare the costs of all inclusive v self catered to find out for yourself whether all-inclusive is the best option for you.
Consider the location of the property as many all-inclusive hotels are isolated, adding to the separation from local life.
Check their website or call for further information as to the tour operators they recommend. Finding a resort which supports local businesses can really enhance a holiday.
Video of My All Inclusive Experience
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I once unexpectdly stayed in an all-inclusive hotel and had a fabulous time spending the money I had brougth for food and drinks on excursions and gettig out and about in the area. It wouldn’t be my first choice as I love discovering new restaurants and off the beaten path placse but I could really see the attraction for budget concious travellers, especially for families.
They do tend to take you by surprise if you’re normally an off the beaten path kind of traveler! The value for money is generally great, and while we’re also very fond of discovering new restaurants and eating off site, I think these kind of vacations definitely have a time and a place. And they’re exactly what some people do want :)
Glad you had a great time Kathryn – and also glad to hear that you did head out on a few different excursions. There’s definitely something to be said about not traveling halfway around the world to stay within the confines of a resort, but it’s one of those things which I think just requires balance :)
Well said! Completely agree with the points you make regarding the affordability. I think all-inclusives can be an often overlooked and snubbed way to travel on-the-cheap. I’ve found stays all-inclusives in some parts of the world to be cheaper than a pair of hostel beds in many parts of the world.
For us, they can provide a nice break for a week where you don’t have to worry about a thing. Its sort of a vacation within our travels, lol. I don’t think I’d want to go to one as my sole holiday but I’ve found them to be a nice compliment to an otherwise aggressive and rough itinerary. Who says you can’t travel hard and also enjoy the pleasures of an all-inclusive? We won’t be turing up our noses. ;-)
Thanks John! People really do underestimate all inclusive, and especially when it comes to the cost, it’s often luxury accommodation at a fraction of the price you would normally expect to pay for that standard and quality, so it makes perfect sense for families and someone who’s traveling for maybe the first time or doesn’t get to do it that often because of their budget constraints.
And that’s an absolutely amazing point about using them as a compliment to your other trips – I usually end up returning home more exhausted than when I left lol! So it would definitely be nice to find out what it’s like to take a vacation where you sit by the pool and actually kick back and relax :D That can be your vacation after your vacation :D
The flat-out BEST all-inclusive vacation we ever had (and that includes having gone on several cruises all over the world, which are “all inclusive,” sort of :D) was at a hotel in Cancun that not only was not affiliated with a major chain, it was one of the original hotels in the area. So very charming and unique! The best thing of all was that the airline tickets =and= accommodations for 3 were paid for by our earned (not purchased) frequent-flier miles, so we helped boost the local economy at the spa, excursions to Chichen Itza and other ruins, scuba & snorkel trips, shopping of course, and some local restaurants.
As a matter of fact, we now have more than enough miles piled up to do this again, someplace else…!
Points are a fantastic idea for booking an all inclusive stay – thanks for the tip Kim! And then you would absolutely have leftover cash to spend on local businesses, so it’s a win-win!
So glad to hear you enjoyed your time in Cancun. I seriously love that approach to having booked on points and then spent locally. It’s brilliant! Might have to look into that as a way to spend my own FF points :D
Great post, Megan! I’ve been to an all-inclusive resort once in Nicaragua and the one disadvantage I found was that a majority of people at the resort were just there for fun and not necessarily to explore the place. Also, it seems like people are a little less respectful of “travel” as a sport as they spend all day in the pool, eat, drink and then retire for the night without doing much else. But, of course there are some that go out and explore more.
Thanks Nidhi! All inclusive experiences are definitely left up to the traveler to make it into whatever they want. Some people are going to head to the resort to drink, party and stay by the pool, though I think my main aim was to maybe present this as an experience that other travelers often overlook when there’s the potential for it to be so much more.
I really enjoyed this post. The only time we have stayed in an all inclusive was in Mexico because it was so difficult to find a non all inclusive hotel! We stayed in two different resorts and both differed hugely in restaurants, even though they were both 5 star. We did eat out quite a bit though so that we could experience life outside the resort (also, the food at the first resort was not very good…). I think, for now, all inclusive is not really for us. Unless we go to the Maldives :-)
Thanks Kirsty – and I absolutely agree, I’ll probably be looking to hook up an all inclusive experience if we ever get to the Maldives also :D
That’s what it ends up coming down to – I think some destinations lend themselves to an all inclusive experience more than others perhaps do :) I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Mexico!
Good tips. Every person and place is unique, so different types of travel in different places may apply to different people. We must balance our wants and our needs while traveling, so if an all-inclusive resort is the only way to fit the budget, it is better to travel in that way than not travel at all. We can always give bucket the community in other ways at other times.
Absolutely Mary – which is why I never agree with those who say that an all inclusive experience isn’t travel. Because it is, it’s just a different way of experiencing the world, and often it’s the only type of travel that some people are able to afford.
Glad you enjoyed the post :)
I recently just stayed at my first all inclusive resort in Mexico for a friend’s wedding. I too was one of those travelers that cringed at the idea of an all inclusive. Although, after doing it, I was rather happy with my experience. It worked well for a wedding party. No one ever had to miss out on an expensive dinner or anything like that and we drank top shelf all through the night not regretting cocktail bills the next day. It ended up being a great week!
Glad to hear you had such a great week Jessica – sounds like a fabulous location for a destination wedding! I’ve realized that these vacations definitely have a time and a place, and they do serve a purpose for sure :)
For no hassle travel i love an All-Inclusive but like so many others it wouldn’t be my sole travel method. For a start I would miss all the planning, all the research…all the stressful bits! We’ve stayed all inclusive in Maldives, Dominican Republic, Kenya and Mexico…I wouldn’t say that this “doesn’t count” as traveling. Sometimes it fits our needs (like Porto Santo this year) and sometimes it doesn’t (like next year’s Croatia trip – too much to see to be tied down to one resort.
Great piece though!
Absolutely Emmalene – these vacations definitely have a time and a place; I too probably wouldn’t use it as my only method of travel, though I’m much more open to them now if I’m in need of a hassle free vacation to relax :) I too usually enjoy the stressful bits of planning and research haha :D
Travel safe – glad you enjoyed the post :)
I decided to go on an all inclusive holiday with my best friend to Jamaica right after TBEX North America this year. I’ve never done an all inclusive in my life as I’m not really into that type of travel…. With that said, I’m looking forward to taking a relaxing beach trip and hoping to do some excursions! I’m going to give it a chance :)
Fantastic Lauren! There really is a time and a place for these type of vacations, and I’m sure you’ll have a fab time on the beach. We need downtime during our trips at some point!
Happy travels X
I have always been one of those travelers who had no interest in all-inclusive vacations. I can honestly say this article changed my mind! I love great value for money first and foremost when traveling but having the opportunity to get to know about local culture in a destination is important to me too. I never considered that some all-inclusive resorts would help guests escape the resort and find local gems to experience. I love convenience as any traveler does, I guess it comes down to picking an all inclusive resort that best fit your travel preferences. Thanks for changing my perspective!
I’m glad we could introduce you to some of the pros of an all inclusive Tracey :) We really did love our time in Costa Rica, and we were surprised that we hadn’t considered that if done well, an all inclusive really can have a positive impact on the local community, providing jobs, sustainable income etc.
They really did push us to get out of the resort and experience everything the country had to offer, and all of the tour guides we had were locals.
There are definitely going to be some which cater better to off the beaten path travelers than others, but as you’ve said, just need to do a little research to find out which cater better to your preferences and interests.
Hope you have the chance to experience an all inclusive at some stage soon :) Happy travels!
We were given a Club Med holiday for our honeymoon in Malaysia. It is not something we would normally have done, but we had a very good time and were totally spoiled because we were “the” honeymooners. There is a place for every type of holiday and after our experience, I wouldn’t dismiss one again in the future.
Glad you had such a fabulous time in Malaysia Paula. An all inclusive resort caters to honeymoons really well, so I can imagine they spoiled you both rotten! :)
Absolutely is a place for every type of holiday – I’ve since learned that there’s no right or wrong way to travel and to never write anything off before experiencing it ourselves :)
My husband and I had been to two different all-inclusive resorts before we found our traveling groove. One local resort in Cancun (during the Swine Flu scare so we were maybe 2 of 15 people in the entire resort! And a Sandals resort in Jamaica. Was it authentic? No. Was it fun, delicious, and worth it? We believe so!
I think it depends on what you are looking for. I would do it again to be able to control my budget and have a place to unwind. After planning so much, sometimes it’s nice to just not think. But I think now, as we’ve traveled more, we would want to get off property a bit to explore the local area. But when it comes to travel, there really is something for everyone!
Great post on showing the pros and cons!
Thanks for sharing your experience with us Jess – you’re absolutely right, there’s no right or wrong way to travel, and I often think that all inclusive are a great way to start out if you haven’t traveled before, and like you said, haven’t yet found your travel groove. They’re a great way to dip your toes in the water and sample different travel experiences to figure out what you like. And then as you become more confident going further off the beaten path perhaps you can seek out a more authentic experience later down the track :)
So glad to hear you had a fabulous time at each resort though, there is a time and a place for the all inclusive experience, and there is definitely something for everyone!
Happy travels … thanks for stopping by :)
when booking all inclusive it is advisable to go for 4 star accomadation been on a 3 star one and was terrible all drinks served in plastic glasses and had to stand in a line at bar to get our drinks so would only recommend a 4 star which is a different class of all inclusive
Hi Janey, thanks for the tip and sharing your experience on the difference between 3 star and 4 star – definitely something important to keep in mind that the experiences will vary depending on the class of the hotel :)
This helped me with my geography GCSE homework. Thanks
Glad to help! Good luck with your project :)
Good article on the pros and cons of all inclusives, however I have to disagree that there’s no right or wrong way to travel. This kind of thinking just further’s people’s assumptions that they can travel somewhere and give absolutely no thought to how they are harming the environment or local communities. There is a wrong way to travel, and the all inclusive embodies it – putting yourself first for the sake of convenience, never mind who is affected negatively. Isn’t that what sustainable travel is all about – being mindful?
Hi Ally, thanks for your comment. I do agree with you that we should be advocating for responsible travel and being mindful about how our presence and behaviors impact the destinations we’re visiting. However I don’t think that all-inclusive vacations can be described as irresponsible travel in a blanket statement – you can still very much so support local communities and care about your impact on the environment while enjoying the convenience of an all inclusive.
It pays to do research obviously, and know how to spot when a resort is greenwashing, but the green movement nowadays is seeing a lot of larger resorts trying to put an emphasis on becoming more sustainable, giving back to the community, and encouraging guests to get out of the resort for immersive experiences. And if an all inclusive is a less overwhelming way for someone who’s never traveled before to have the courage to take a first trip, I’m all for that.
There are a lot of pros and cons of having large resorts in developing areas, and that could be another post in itself, I’ve recently decided to stay away from Airbnbs as a personal choice for instance. While on face value this sees your money going straight to the local economy, larger issues then come into play like Airbnb’s forcing locals out of affordable housing, where-as large resorts pay high taxes to the community. So it’s one of those things that I don’t believe is black and white, and mindfulness (to me) is about making sure that your stay contributes something as opposed to taking something away. Whether that be while staying in an all inclusive, or staying in a local homestay.
By ‘no right or wrong way to travel’, this was more a reference to those who say you’re not a REAL traveler if you do XYZ type thing, and I disagree with that mindset, that you have to be a hardcore backpacker and not do touristy things to have your experiences count. Often all inclusive vacations fall into this category of ‘touristy’ travel, but I don’t believe people should feel bad about the way they want to travel as long as, as you’ve said, they’re not actively contributing to a negative impact on the environment and local community.
Thanks for reading! :)
Ms. Jerrard, I would say you nailed it. All inclusive resorts are such a great option, and clearly not the only option. For me the closed resort speaks to those with teenagers who don’t want to be seen with their parents but can’t be allowed to wander off. When I am not in the mood for an open ended trip, I am definitely fond of locally owned all inclusive resorts. Given that Marriott has decided to throw in on all inclusive packages, I hope that these gems do not get eaten up completely.
Thankyou Bengt, so glads you enjoyed the post. Absolutely, it’s fabulous that there are so many resort options that are well suited to many different travelers, like your adults only, or closed resorts to allow a certain level of vacation freedom to young adults / teenagers.
I do love the locally owned all inclusive resorts myself, I’m with you on hoping that they don’t get swallowed up by larger chains and franchises. It would be a shame!
Thanks for reading :)
It is simply ‘economies of scale’ and the free market at work.
All-inclusive resorts also employ locals and source their needs from the area, like food.
They also provide a bubble from the outside world. For example, Egypt is a ultra conservative arab society where women are fully covered, yet you can wear a bikini and enjoy a western-style holiday at an all inclusive resort there, without outraging/offending the locals. At a cheaper price too, of course
Absolutely – excellent points Tomo. The all inclusive we stayed at in Costa Rica actually made quite large and serious contributions to the local community, including in providing employment opportunities, so they can definitely be a positive force should they choose to be – like any business, it always comes down to a business by business choice as to their level of corporate responsibility. I’ve found that many all inclusive do really try and make a positive impact in this way.
And for sure that they offer an opportunity for foreigner to feel more comfortable – get out and explore by day but have a semi insulated bubble to escape back to come night.
Ultimately there’s no right or wrong way to travel, so I’m more than happy to be an advocate for all inclusive resorts if they suit your personal travel style :)
Thanks for reading!