Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort – What’s Best for YOU?
We recently returned from a 5 night stay at an all inclusive resort property in Los Cabos, and on the flight home, my mind was racing. I couldn’t help but to compare the all inclusive resort experience to cruise travel.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve visited about 8 all inclusive resorts, and we’ve cruised over 30 times with 6 different cruise lines. While we obviously devote most of our vacation days to cruises, we love throwing little spice into our travel routine with the occasional land vacay. All inclusive resorts provide a great escape from the day to day routine, and are similar to cruise travel in many ways.
While this comparison is meant to point out some of the differences between cruise vs all inclusive resort travel, we find that cruises and all inclusives typically have a lot in common. They both offer a worry-free vacation, an abundant amount of dining options, incredible service, pampering from the staff, and something for everyone.
And hey, you can even expect pool chair hogs in both situations. Funny? Maybe not. Nobody likes chair hogs.
Aaanywaaay, let’s start with some of the differences between the two, then stay ‘til the end to hear what we prefer about each. You might be surprised.
Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort – How They’re Different
Aside from the obvious fact that a cruise transports you from place to place on a moving vessel, and an all inclusive resort is a stand alone property, there are some key differences that usually apply.
First, Alcohol, soda, specialty coffee and a wide variety of beverages are typically included in the price at an all inclusive resort, but on a cruise, you’ll usually pay extra for those, at least on the mass market cruise lines. The same usually goes for WiFi. Most, but certainly not all all-inclusives. usually bundle WiFi with the daily rate, while on a cruise, you’ll pay extra.
Let’s talk about accommodations for a moment. Unless you’re cruising in a very large suite, cruise ship staterooms are usually a lot smaller than resort hotel rooms. That means you’ll have a lot more room to spread out, order room service and maybe even soak in a jacuzzi tub in your spacious resort hotel room. You can even book a swim up suite at some properties which isn’t something you can do on a cruise – YET.
Entertainment & Activities
How entertainment figures in to the cruise vs all inclusive resort scenario is not always easy. The topic is tough to generalize because there’s so much variance between different cruise lines and all inclusive properties, but we tend to see that cruise ships offer more broadway style entertainment, casino fun and cruise director staff led activities while all inclusive properties tend to focus on beach and pool activities, watersports and the occasional evening show.
On a cruise, you’ll find everything from bingo to line dancing and High quality comedy and broadway shows , and at a resort, it may be water aerobics, sports on the beach for all ages, and organized kayaking and paddleboarding sessions. We realize some resorts have more entertainment than others, but cruise lines typically have more to offer in this area.
And the last key difference is that a cruise typically takes you to several destinations, or ports of call, while an all inclusive, obviously, is a single destination. One thing to note about this difference is that there are some all inclusive resort properties that will allow you to visit their sister properties in the same area for the day. Cancun and PLaya del Carmen all inclusives are a good example of this type of property.
So, if you’re the type who likes to mix it up and experience something different, you may look at properties that offer this type of experience.
What We Love About All Inclusives
Lazy Beach Days
Let’s talk about what we prefer about all-inclusives. For us – the pools, swim up bars and beaches at many all inclusive resorts can’t be beat. There’s something ultra relaxing about waking up each day, and enjoying a full day by the pool, or at the beach. And let’s face it, cruise ship pools are comparatively smaller than most resort pools, so there’s more room to spread out and enjoy pool life… and maybe even rent a cabana for the day.
If you’re a “lounge by the pool type of traveler” there are some gorgeous, expansive pool designs at resorts. They tend NOT to feel as crowded as cruise ship pools, and simply offer a lot more real estate. How you like to spend your time should definitely be a consideration when looking at a cruise vs all inclusive resort.
The same goes for beaches at some resorts. While a cruise ship TAKES you to ports with beaches, nothing quite compares to spending your vacation with your toes in the sand from sunrise to sunset, if you choose. From playing sports on the beach to taking a horseback ride, or playing in the waves, beach time is abundant at some all inclusive resorts.
Swim Up Bars
And, can we talk about swim up bars for a minute- I absolutely LOVE being in the pool and swimming up to the bar for my next beverage. To me, this is another element of all inclusive and resort travel is that there’s typically NO substitute for. Anyone with me here? I mean I get it, there’s probably too much motion on cruise ships to make a swim up bar a good idea on the high seas, but a girl can dream right?
Swimsuit & Chill
One thing that stands out for us is that we love the casual vibe that resorts offer. While there are dress codes in some restaurants and you can go all out if you’d like, you could also easily spend your vacation in shorts and swimwear if that’s the experience you’re after. In fact, the last resort we visited had a food truck by the pool, so yah, it was ceviche, tacos and NO shoes for us most days for lunch.
And that vibe also applies to the pace at a resort. You’ll never be rushing to get back to the ship, or anywhere for that matter, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered.
We also appreciate that there are typically fewer up-charges at these resorts, which is good because the resorts also tend to be more expensive than cruises, overall. Simply stated, more is included in the prices with all-inclusives. Tipping is optional, and can be done in cash, while on a cruise, a “gratuity” or “service charge” of $12-15.00, per person, per day is added to your bill at the end of the cruise.
More Baby & Toddler Friendly
Lastly, if pool time is important to you and you’re traveling with little ones, all inclusives can be a better fit for families with babies who are still in swim diapers. Cruise ships typically do not permit babies in the pools until they are potty trained. Swim diapers are a big no-no on cruise ships.
What We Love About Cruises
There are MORE than a few things we prefer about cruise travel!
See More Places
We love that on a cruise, you typically wake up in a new place every day. The variety of port stops is such a draw for us, and there’s no method of travel quite like it. Not convinced? Here’s an example – we cruised from Tokyo to Singapore, covering 5 countries in just 10 days over 2800 nautical miles, and only unpacked ONCE.
We have a fond appreciation for the tradition that comes along with cruises travel. Formal nights, the incredible service, the bond with your room steward and servers, and the thrill of sailaway draw us back again and again. I want to clarify that I don’t believe that the service is necessarily better on a ship, but there’s something unique about the entire cruise experience that can’t be matched, because unlike some resorts, you’ll see the same staff several times per day, which allows them to memorize your name, your beverage preferences, and so much more.
We also find that cruising is a great value, and you can customize a cruise a bit more. For example, let’s say you don’t drink alcohol- no problem, just don’t purchase a drink package on a cruise. With an all inclusive resort, you’re sort of paying up front for all those inclusions, even if you don’t take advantage of them. Here’s another example- on a cruise, you can choose the size and price point of your room, while a resort may have fewer choices. Because cruise ships offer more variety in size and price of rooms, cruising can truly appeal to just about any travel budget.
No Need to Fly
Cruises also offer what I like to call the “home port advantage”. What I mean by that is that if you live in the United States, It may be possible to drive to your embarkation port, making it unnecessary to fly to your destination. Not only can this save money, it’s also a great time saver and an excellent option for people who don’t like to fly. While there are some exceptions, most all inclusive resorts are in locations that require a flight.
The Romance of the Sea
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my number one LOVE of cruise life. Yep, it’s the open sea. The romance of being on the ocean, exploring a new spot each day, then falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves. I love the rocking of a ship as I lay my head on the pillow, exhausted from a day of exploring and adventure. Nothing quite compares to that high seas experience that only cruising can bring.
Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort – What’s Best For You?
Do you have to choose one or the other when it comes to a cruise vs all inclusive resort? No! We truly believe that both forms of travel offer something unique and different for different seasons of travel. If you’re still trying to figure out cruise vs all inclusive resort, here’s some food for thought:
All Inclusive May Be Better For You IF:
- You don’t want to be on a schedule or be “rushed” back onto the ship.
- You’re traveling with small kids in swim diapers.
- You love swim-up bars as much as I do.
- You’re a beach lover.
- You want more time in one destination.
- You don’t want to deal with upcharges.
- Unlimited alcoholic beverages are important to you.
Cruise Travel May Be Better For You IF:
- You don’t want to fly to port.
- You’re on a strict travel budget.
- You want to dress to the nines for dinner now and then.
- You’re looking for a casino experience.
- You want to visit multiple destinations in a short time.
- You simply love being at sea.
- You want a late night party experience.
Tell Us What You Think!
Have you been to an all inclusive resort? What are you thoughts on cruise vs all inclusive resort? Let us know how you felt it was different from a cruise, and which type of travel you prefer. We’d love to hear from you – shoot us a DM on Facebook!. Also if you’d like to see more photos and video from our all inclusive trip to the Hyatt Ziva in Los Cabos, check out our Instagram highlight.
Looking for more cruise inspiration?
- Check out our Podcasts.
- Join our Intro To Cruising Master Class. Use code ALLABOARD for $5.00 off the course!
- Learn why Packing Cubes are essential for both cruise and all inclusive travel.
Thanks for watching our take on cruise vs all inclusive resort travel and until next time, we’ll see you on the high seas.