All-inclusive resorts have pros and cons that need to be carefully considered before you make a reservation.
Depending on the resort, and what you want from your vacation, the pros can be cons and vice versa . Was that helpful?
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The Pros of all-inclusive resorts
Budget: The primary positive aspect of all-inclusive resorts for most travelers is that you know the cost of your vacation ahead of time. During the booking process you need to give some thought to the alcohol, meals and other possible upgrades you may want to experience. If there’s a traveler among us who has never run over his or her budget – whether it’s a strict one or a vague one- that saintly soul can at least not have to keep a tally during the vacation. (This could be a “con” if the budget watcher is the sort who revels in tracking every expenditure. Why are you on vacation with this person?)
Convenience: We think of all-inclusive resorts as cruise ships on land. As on a cruise ship you only have to unpack once for a vacation spent at an all-inclusive resort. You will have everything you need; a concierge, an activities desk, an onsite photographer, restaurants, bars, a spa, possibly a casino and shops that can scratch any sudden shopping itch. You also avoid the hassle of finding cabs or renting a car and trying to figure out where to go and how to get there.
Something for everyone: If you think party is a verb and your traveling companion likes to read philosophical treatises all day you can each indulge your preference without depriving the other. (Although we humbly submit that you may be ill-suited for each other.) One of you may be a golfer and the other a swimmer; one sedentary and one always on the go; one eats 4 meals a day and one nibbles celery; a non-drinker and a heavy drinker – it can all be accommodated at one destination.
Consistent levels of quality: We said consistent, not consistently high – that depends on where you select. But if you’ve chosen say a Secrets Resort you know that the level of quality will be high and that will be true whether it’s the spa, the evening’s entertainment or the room. If you went for a bargain all-inclusive resort you know that they have to keep their costs low to keep your costs low so have appropriate expectations. Even the most basic resort should always be clean, safe and responsive to your (reasonable) needs.
Good way to sneak into travel: If you and maybe your companion think you want to travel but feel overwhelmed by concerns that it’s too complicated or expensive then an all-inclusive resort is a good first step to get over your apprehensions. It’s hard to go from years of staycations or going to the same place every year to suddenly planning a two-week trip throughout Europe on your own. It’s easier to pick one place with the things you want and go there. Once you’ve done this a time or two you will probably gain confidence that you can handle more than one destination, pick a restaurant on your own or even rent a car and explore. (We hope you will.)
You may try activities you wouldn’t have otherwise: Blonde first hefted herself on to a stand-up paddleboard when we stayed at The Verandah Resort and Spa, an all-inclusive resort in Antigua. Committing to renting something you haven’t tried before is a different mental leap that the “oh hell, it’s free, why not?” thought process. We’ve gone out in Hobie cats (admittedly with supervision) and taken night snorkel tours because they were included in the price.
May be the only realistic way to experience some places: We don’t tend to choose all-inclusive resorts because we like to move around and experience as much of a destination as we can. But in some places, Fiji and the Maldives for us, all-inclusives tend to be the best and sometimes only option. Fiji is more than 300 islands and there are over 1,000 in the Maldives. Many of the islands have one or a few resorts and that’s that. They don’t have hotels, restaurants, activity operators and all of the other pieces you need for a DIY holiday.
Exclusivity can mean more enjoyment: entertainment, private islands, etc. Some larger and usually higher-priced all-inclusive resorts have things like their own private island, their own ships to get you to and from a port and all kinds of entertainment. These things can be nice because they give you somewhere uncrowded to have fun and because if you want to see a show you can walk to it and not have to be concerned about combining drinking and transportation.
The Cons of all-inclusive resorts
Probably less authentic than an independently planned trip: This is a pro or con depending on what matters to you. If you want to see culturally authentic local performers you may not at an all-inclusive. In the last several years there has been a major push in the travel business towards local experiences so now you will almost certainly get some at least quasi-local acts. But then again you may get something like the nighttime aerial act above which, although highly enjoyable, probably doesn’t represent what Mexicans go see for their entertainment.
If you don’t like it you’re stuck: We don’t think it would go well to get to a resort where you’re booked for a week then walk into the lobby on Day Two and tell them you don’t like the place and want to leave. You can leave but it’s highly likely that the money you committed to stay at the resort stays there and doesn’t leave with you. And then you’ve lost all of the pros and are on your own to figure everything out on the fly or to go home. Because of this it’s extremely important to check the reviews other travelers have given the place before you book anything. Don’t believe even the best-intentioned travel agent – take the time to find out from the horse’s mouth (well, not a horse unless it’s a dude ranch).
Because everyone else has the same luxuries they may not end up being so luxurious: One all-inclusive resort where we stayed had free room-service. So on a beautiful morning when the idea of having chocolate pancakes served on our balcony sounded appropriately luxurious we called with our request. We were told it could take up to 2 hours and we should have called the night before. Now something that sounded like a luxury was a disappointment and left us grumping off to breakfast. (Oh the First World Problems we have bravely faced!)
Your selections may be plentiful but they are still limited: There may be a main dining hall and a few specialty restaurants (that usually cost a premium). But if you don’t like them you will still probably feel as if you have to eat there anyway because you’ve paid for it. The same with activities – if you’re a golfer and get there and call to arrange good tee times you may have found that they’ve already been reserved. This is a good reason to see if you can reserve activities ahead of your visit so you don’t get your knickers in an avoidable knot.
They often aren’t a good way to experience a new destination: Say you’ve never been to Italy and you decide to go and spend your time at an all-inclusive spa. You may love the food, the wine and the treatments but you won’t go home having really seen Italy. You will have had a homogenized experience that somewhat defeats the point of travel (for us anyway).
Is an all-inclusive the right choice for you?
Maybe, maybe not. If you have limited time and a set budget an all-inclusive resort can be the easy button for a needed getaway. If you’re planning a destination wedding, a family reunion, a bachelor or bachelorette party then an all-inclusive resort can also simplify your life.
If you like to explore and experience local culture all-inclusive resorts may not be the best choice for you. Or they may be a good choice for a portion of your trip but not the whole time.
We aren’t solidly pro or con all-inclusive resorts for the many reasons we covered above. We prefer to use them when they seem to make the most sense and to avoid them otherwise.
But then that’s us and you’re you.