Are All-Inclusive Vacations and Cruises Worth the Money?


You see an ad for an "all-inclusive" tropical getaway. It seems like such a great vacation deal, right? All-inclusive resorts charge a flat fee for lodging, food, use of facilities, and activities, and it's a concept that has been adopted by thousands of hotels and cruise ships since Club Med premiered its one-stop-shop design in 1950. But are flat fee escapes truly a bargain? Here's how to decide whether the all-inclusive vacation model is right for you.

All-Inclusive Won't Work for Everyone

If you're looking for quiet relaxation, a party atmosphere, an opportunity to meet other singles in an exotic setting, a pampering experience, or a place where there's a little something to interest your family's three generations, there's an all-inclusive vacation out there to suit your wants. Some resorts cater to honeymooners, for example, while others target guests with young children in tow.

If you're looking for adventure, however, an all-inclusive resort probably isn't the way to go. There's a certain ease in knowing where your next meal is coming from and exactly how much it will cost you, but that will only detract from the experience for folks seeking raw exposure to a new place and all of the historic, geographic, and culinary flair it has to offer. In short, all-inclusives make for great vacations, but they're not particularly suitable for adventure-driven travelers.

You'll Likely Miss Out On Local Culture

Even the hula dance shows offered to guests at Hawaii resorts have been culturally sanitized. For authentic local culture, you'll likely have to journey outside the resort's perimeter, where you can mix and mingle with the locals and experience first-hand how they live.

You Won't Have to Think About Money

There are very few people who aren't constantly thinking about money. And studies show that just the thought of greenbacks can incite physical or emotional stress on the human body. Luckily, when all your food, drinks, and activities are prepaid, there isn't much opportunity to contemplate the money you're spending on your annual week of leisure. For this reason, all-inclusive getaways create an atmosphere that offers many guests a supreme form of relaxation. You literally never have to pay for anything, because you already have.

"All" Doesn't Mean Everything

Don't assume that spa treatments, airport transportation, and alcoholic beverages are included in the flat rate. Some all-inclusive packages include just food and lodging, while others also cover perks such as Internet access, parking, cocktails, premium meals featuring lobster or steak, and boat trips. "It's ‘all inclusive’ with an asterisk," says Laura Mandala, the managing director of tourism-industry research firm Mandala Research.

Some Perks Go Unused

Marketed as money-savers, the all-inclusive vacation also offers a big convenience factor. Choose a resort or cruise ship, pay a single fee, show up, and enjoy. But if you're not taking full advantage of all the perks you're paying for — top shelf liquor, motorized water sports, horseback riding, adult comedy shows — then you might have been better off booking your lodging, food, and activities separately. The big benefit of the all-inclusive concept, of course, is that it makes budgeting easy. You know how much your vacation will cost you and if you don't want to spend any additional money, you don't have to. But you would be wise to do the math and make sure that you'll actually be utilizing the inclusives you're paying for.

Beware of Hidden Fees

Like other hotels and cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts can charge what's commonly dubbed a "resort fee" or "convenience fee." Here's the kicker: This charge isn't included in advertised prices and it can run as high as $30 per night. "Increasingly, hotels give away free breakfast, free Internet, and now some hotels are trying to claw that back with "convenience fees,"" says Robert Habeeb, president of First Hospitality Group in Chicago, which operates 53 hotels. Notably, these fees are on the rise. The hotel industry collects more than $2 billion in fees annually. Guests paid just half that amount a decade ago.

Sometimes Cheap Is Cheap for a Reason

If the advertised price tag on an all-inclusive vacation package seems too good to be true, there's probably a reason. Maybe it's for a week that falls smack dab in the middle of hurricane season. Or maybe the view from that particular unit features nothing but concrete and pavement. Yes, there is such a thing as a good steal, but read all the particulars to be sure that you're comfortable with what you're getting.

Do Your Research

Before you book an all-inclusive package, be sure to read the recent online reviews and message board postings by other vacationers. That's where you'll learn just how good the food really is, whether the cocktails are too sugary or watered down, and if the resort is undergoing renovation work that may inhibit your experience.

Loyalty Is Often Rewarded

If you find an all-inclusive resort or cruise you love, it often pays to repeat the experience. Loyalty programs and perks for return guests are common, running the gamut from room upgrades to gratis premium meals and cocktails.

Have you been on an all-inclusive vacation cruise? Was it worth the cost? Share with us!

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Guest's picture

All-inclusive cruises seem to be some of the best overall value vacation options.