All-inclusive family vacations aren’t right for everyone. You need to do the math and read the fine print before you decide.
Our family had always been a little dubious about all-inclusive family vacations. Images of non-family-friendly beach resorts with scantily clad singles danced in our parental heads. It turns out, that viewpoint is very out of date. Although destinations like that can still be found, all-inclusive family vacations are growing in popularity and variety. The choices for family travel are so compelling that we decided to check them out.
As we researched options for a kid-friendly beach resort, we realized the choices are plentiful and broad. Our criteria were simple, and probably similar to what many vacation planners look for in all-inclusive resorts. We wanted the perfect combination of a white-sand beach resort, water-sports, and swimming pools. Plus, we wanted it to be located on one of the best beaches in the world, without breaking the bank. Easy right? Maybe not always.
How to Know if an All-Inclusive Family Vacation is a Good Deal
We’ve now been to several all-inclusive resorts, each chosen for particular reasons. The Tamarijn Resort in Aruba was enticing because of its smaller size and beachfront location. With only 236 rooms at this resort, we knew we could avoid massive crowds at dining locations and find easy bookings for activities and events. That’s exactly what the Tamarijn delivered, and more. It was fun, affordable, and pleasant for the whole family. You can read my hotel review of the Tamarijn Resort here.
The Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort & Spa, a luxurious 5-star resort, was quite different. Located on the Mayan Mexican Caribbean, Grand Velas encouraged guests to try all of the restaurants, activities, pools and more throughout the 206-acre property. It was heavenly, but not an inexpensive nightly rate. However, if we added up what it would have cost a family of four to purchase all these luxury experiences at regular hotel pricing, it would have gone way beyond our vacation budget. See more about budget comparisons below.
It turns out there are many destinations that offer all-inclusive amenities and more. Resorts from Mexico to the Dominican Republic to St. Lucia all fit the bill. Scattered throughout the Caribbean, there were literally dozens of options. As we looked past the amazing beach photos, our comparison turned up some important considerations.
Fewer Vacation Budget Surprises
One of the complications of booking at some all-inclusive resorts is budget versus actual costs. When reviewing options, it’s important to make sure you fully understand the full cost of any meals, drinks or activities. Check to see if these go beyond the original daily rate per person. At some resorts, alcoholic drinks are not included in the all-inclusive cost, and at $15 per drink those extras can really add up. Many resorts offer a variety of activities included with the daily rate. Some charge an additional fee per activity for what are considered “enhanced activities”. Certain restaurants at all-inclusive resorts can be deceiving as there are up-charges for certain menu items.
These extra charges may surprise you with several hundred dollars more than you bargained for. Another budget concern to consider really comes down to value. Is the value of all of the included activities at an all-inclusive family resort worth it? Will your family make use of the horseback riding, golf course, paddleboarding, kids club, and evening entertainment? How about all the other things the resort offers as part of its package rate?
For our family vacations, we searched for resorts that offered an all-inclusive price which was truly all-inclusive. By avoiding the extra charges, we knew our ultimate destination would cost us exactly what we had calculated and agreed to in advance. No surprises.
Less Vacation Planning Time
One of the key considerations in planning a vacation for many families is the difficulty in the actual planning process. With so many choices at gorgeous destinations all over the world, it can be overwhelming. Then, once you’ve chosen a hotel, you must research all of the activities, tours and sights that your family might enjoy there. If you are not a travel agent, this process can be daunting and very time consuming.
We loved the concept of an all-inclusive resort for its ease of decision making. The peace of mind we gained from not having to worry about planning all those outings was priceless? That time and effort went right back into the enjoyment and relaxation of spending quality time with our family. No one had to play tour guide, drill sergeant, or referee. We let the kids choose several things they wanted to do at the resort, and since everything was included the answer was nearly always yes. For example, there were bikes available to guests for riding along the beach. (Of course, when we were just blocks away the kids decided it was too hot and we had to turn back.)
The time we saved in the planning process was considerable. There is also something pretty wonderful about not having to make all the decisions. With so many activities available on-site at an all-inclusive resort, our biggest problem was deciding which to do next.
All-Inclusive Family Vacation Compared to Self-Organized Vacation
If you’re still not fully convinced, we have sometimes turned to a simple cost comparison analysis. The daily price per person at an all-inclusive resort might initially seem high, but the costs are often less than if we booked a similar vacation ourselves.
For example, when we decided to visit Aruba we compared the cost and experiences of staying at an all-inclusive resort versus staying at a regular resort. We had already fallen in love with the Tamarijn Resort, and we calculated the total cost of our vacation if we stayed there. We then chose two other regular resorts, calculating the cost of room nights, meals, beverages, activities and even hotel transfers from the airport.
In the case of one resort in Aruba, the cost was considerably more to book the hotel and then arrange and pay for all the rest ourselves. At the other resort, the costs added up to a very similar total budget as the all-inclusive costs at Tamarijn Resort. This process solidified our decision, justifying to us the value to our wallets as well as our time.
All-Inclusive Resorts Are Not For Everyone
Our family has fallen in love with the ease of the all-inclusive vacation concept. We’ve now visited three resorts offering all-inclusive packages, and had great experiences at all of them. However, some travelers may not enjoy the experience.
Some of our friends have said they did not like the “herd mentality”, citing examples of guests all trying to eat at the on-property restaurants at the same time. Or trying to book a boat excursion only to find out all the seats were filled for the entire week of their vacation. Certainly, experiences like that can be disappointing. The lazy river at the swimming pool may be a little over-crowded, or your plan to try rock-climbing may be thwarted by overly-rambunctious teens (like ours).
Another downside, similar to a cruise ship, is that an all-inclusive family resort experience may seem repetitive after awhile. With a finite number of choices, some travelers might long for something different. Others might get bored of seeing the same guests at the pool every day.
Fortunately, these have not been our family’s experiences. We loved our visits to all-inclusive family resorts. In fact, the kids said it was our best family vacation ever! For our next visit, we’re looking at locations in Costa Rica, the French Caribbean, Cancun, and Beaches Turks & Caicos. Maybe we will see you there!