All-Inclusive Travel Makes Cents and Sense

Once you’ve done an all-inclusive resort or cruise vacation, you’ll be convinced: it’s the only way to travel. All inclusive vacations are the ideal solution for budget-minded travelers who still enjoy a touch of luxury. Check out of list of resort and cruise vacation destination vacations that are kind to your wallet and good for your soul. We’ll start with an overview of all-inclusive vacations – what’s included, what to expect and what you’ll have to pay for out of pocket, and then go on to a list of cruise and resort destinations that are especially good values for your money.

Once you've done an all-inclusive resort or cruise vacation, you&'ll be convinced: it's the only way to travel. image © Robert Linder

Once you’ve done an all-inclusive resort or cruise vacation, you’ll be convinced: it’s the only way to travel. image © Robert Linder

All-inclusive Vacations: What’s Included?

What you get for your all-inclusive fare depends on the type of vacation your book. Cruise and resorts are the two main types of all-inclusive vacations available. They tend to include different amenities, though they’ll both save you a lot of dough over booking a similar vacation a la carte.

Your booking price for an all-inclusive cruise will include your accommodations, all meals and snacks, some meal-time beverages, onboard activities and entertainment, use of the ship’s facilities and transportation between ports of call. Your fare doesn’t include soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, shore excursions, some shipboard activities, airfare and airport transfers and gratuities. If you book a cruise on a luxury line, the fare may include standard gratuities and alcohol.

When you pay the booking price for an all-inclusive resort package, you can expect accommodations, all meals and beverages, access to the resort’s facilities and use of non-motorized sports equipment, and most gratuities. Many packages also include airfare and airport transfers, and nearly all have some sort of “bonus” freebie: at Sandals resorts, for examples, you’ll get free scuba diving lessons, while Disney resorts often include admission to theme parks in their inclusive price.

Which Is the Better Deal?

It all depends on what kind of vacation you’ll most enjoy. If you shop carefully, you can enjoy a cruise vacation for as little as $300 to $400 a person for a 3- to 4-day cruise, which is comparable to some low-end resort vacations, which start at about $110 per person per night. Both types of all-inclusive vacations will generally include meals at many different restaurants, and a variety of beach, water and shipboard activities. The biggest differences will be in the accommodations. A $600 seven-day Caribbean cruise generally means you get an inside cabin with no windows – which could actually work to your advantage if you suffer from seasickness. You’ll have to pay extra for tax, airfare, snorkeling or sailing, or enjoy a shore excursion beyond the confines of the dock area. By the time you finish paying for everything you want, your cost could easily be hundreds of dollars more.

The same cost at a resort will generally get you a spacious room – or even a suite – with an ocean view and access to all the beach and water sport activities you can fill your days with. You will not, however, be visiting many different cities and ports – you are where you are.

Would You Prefer a Cruise or a Resort?

If you want to see a variety of destinations and enjoy a variety of activities, a cruise may be your style. A seven-day cruise will typically involve stops at three to five ports of call, with visits to historic sites and local attractions at each port. You can certainly enjoy a shipboard-only cruise, but if you plan on staying in a floating resort, you may enjoy a resort vacation just as much for considerably less money.

In addition, if you really enjoy luxury service, you’re more likely to find it on a cruise ship, where the service is provided by professionals in their lines from all around the world. Resorts, by contrast, tend to hire locals who may or may not have experience in the service industry.

Resorts, on the other hand, are the ideal vacation for travelers who want a relaxing getaway. Most include plenty of opportunities for sunbathing on the beach as well as for snorkeling, paddle-boarding, parasailing and any variety of water sports. Many resorts have several different restaurants and bars where you can enjoy yourself without laying out extra cash, and some include spa services as part of their package deals. If you love to golf, ride bikes or hike, you can choose an all-inclusive resort that offrs those activities as part of the package deal. You won’t find any of those options on a cruise ship – and a rock wall makes a poor alternative.

Bringing the Kids?

Cruises and resorts are both good options for family cruises. Most destinations and ships have kids’ clubs to entertain children and you can always get a babysitter so mom and dad can get a night out alone once in a while.

Cheap All-inclusive Vacations

What to Expect:

  • Round-trip airfare from major cities
  • Complimentary ground transportation to the resort
  • On-property lodging, food, drink and entertainment
  • Access to onsite facilities, including pools, fitness centers, golf courses, tennis courts and spa
  • Free use of equipment such as sailboats, snorkeling gear, windsurfing gear and bicycles
  • Basic instruction in a variety of activities
  • Some complimentary off-site tours, excursions and classes

Insider Tips for All-inclusive Resort Vacations

Mexico and the Bahamas are a major destination for family vacationers, with dozens of all-inclusive resorts vying for your dollars. That means some serious discounts are available, especially if you scour travel and tour auction sites.

Do some research in advance so you’ll know whether tips are included in your package or whether you’re expected to pony up for them separately. You should also research any additional activities you might want to enjoy during your trip, including the costs and any discounts that may be available to you as a resort guest.

Booking your flight and resort together often saves you a lot of money – but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Always do your own research to compare prices before putting down your deposit on reservations.

Favorite All-inclusive Resort Destinations

Cancun

Cancun has a big reputation as a partying town, and is especially popular with spring breakers, but there’s a lot more to the Mexican Caribbean city than college bars and all-night parties. Look for all-inclusive resorts for families and couples – and specialty resorts for golfers, snorkelers and tennis players. Many resorts include day trips to some of Mexico’s most famous historical, archaeological and ecological sites.

Jamaica

Jamaica is rife with all-inclusive resorts of all sizes and values. You’ll find everything from 5-star resorts to cozy B&B style resorts where you’ll be treated like one of the family – only better. No matter where you stay, look into the opportunity to go horseback riding, surf in Boston Bay or swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Bay. If you’re a reggae fan, make arrangements for a trip to Kingston to visit Bob Marley’s former home, now a museum honoring Jamaica’s most famous musician.

Dominican Republic

Punta Cana is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations. Located on the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana is THE destination for travelers who love luxurious, all-in-one resort vacations. Sandy beaches, sunny skies and clear, shallow ocean pools make Punta Cana a particular favorite with those who love the tropics. You’ll find all-inclusive resorts focused on golf, swimming, luxury spas and more – and nearly all of them feature restaurants with international flavor.

Cozumel

If scuba diving is your passion, head for an all-inclusive resort vacation package on stunning Cozumel. The small island is part of the Great Maya Barrier Reef, making it one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world. Beside snorkeling and scuba diving, you can enjoy deep sea fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, bone-fishing and bicycling, among other activities. If you’re looking for local flavor, you’ll find it on Cozumel, where the locals and tourists all come together on Sunday evening to hear live bands in the town square – an experience you’re not likely to get on a cruise ship.

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