What you should know when making a decision about a cruise vs all inclusive vacation
In this episode it’s cruise vs all inclusive resort as we put the two head to head. It’s not always clear which is the best value. We’ll take a close look at the pros and cons of both.
We recently returned from a 5 night stay at an all inclusive resort property in Los Cabos, and we couldn’t help but to think about a cruise vs all inclusive resort comparison. 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.
While this podcast is meant to point out some of the differences between cruises and inclusive resorts, we find that they 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.
Cruise vs all inclusive resort: The differences
Let’s start with some of the differences between the two, then read ‘til the end to find out what we prefer about each. You might be surprised.
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 when considering cruise vs all inclusive question.
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. For many this is a primary factor in the cruise vs all inclusive quandary.
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.
How does Entertainment & activities figure in to the cruise vs all inclusive question? This topic is tough to generalize in the cruise vs all inclusive discussion 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. How important is the destination in your cruise vs all inclusive argument? 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 like
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. 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.
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?
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. 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.
Now let’s talk cruising
We’ve talked a lot about resorts in our cruise vs all inclusive discussion, now here are a few things we prefer about cruise travel: 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.
With a cruise, we have a fond appreciation for the tradition that comes along with cruises. 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.
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.
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.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my number one LOVE of cruise life. Yes, 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.
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