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Cruise Vs. All-Inclusive Resort: Which is Better?


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If you aren’t familiar with all-inclusive travel, you might assume that a cruise is like a floating resort or that a resort is just a cruise on land. While those notions aren’t actually too far off from the real thing, there’s a lot more nuance to these two vacation styles than that.

To start, what does “all-inclusive” really mean? How does the term apply to resorts versus cruise ships? Apart from considering your travel budget, which vacation style is the right one for you and your family?

We answer those questions and more by comparing the pros and cons of a cruise vs. an all-inclusive resort.

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Cruise Vs. All-Inclusive Resort: Which is Better?

Are cruises really all inclusive?

Cruises are widely considered to be a great value vacation, but what does that really include? To begin with, the level of inclusivity does depend on the type of cruise you are booking. When you book most cruises, you are paying for your room on a per-person basis. This individual fare covers the cost of your accommodation. Plus, all meals in at least one or two dining venues; entertainment and activities onboard; kids clubs. And of course, access to an itinerary of destinations, with port taxes and fees bundled in.

There are generally more room categories to choose from on a cruise ship than at a resort. These include smallish rooms with a porthole window to sprawling suites with a wraparound balcony. Prices — and even inclusions — vary depending on your accommodation level.

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Some cruise lines, like Virgin Voyages, include fitness classes, tips, all dining venues, and most nonalcoholic beverages in their cruise fare, regardless of room type. Many river cruise lines include wine and beer at lunch and dinner, specialty coffee at any time, as well as one included tour in each port. The essentials are part of any cruise fare — your room, your meals, some basic drinks and of course transportation. However, pay careful attention to what is not part of that fare, as well.

A business at the end of the day, many cruise lines get you onboard but also upsell you on various experiences. Perhaps drinks being the biggest differentiator between a cruise and all-inclusive resort. You must purchase a beverage package on most cruises to save on daily alcohol consumption. Otherwise, you are spending for each cocktail or cold beer a la carte.

Other standard extras on cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean are shore excursions; specialty restaurants (bundle packages are available); Wi-Fi access. Some activities like arcade games, laser tag, or a wine tasting are additional costs as well. Further, sweets shops or premium ice cream and sometimes access to an exclusive, adults-only sun deck area are extra too.

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Some aspects of cruising would also carry an additional charge at a resort. For instance, spa treatments; shopping; casino play; or that vintage bottle of wine for a special occasion.

If you book with a luxury cruise line, such as Silversea, just about everything is part of your cruise fare. This includes premium spirits to butler service, gratuities, specialty restaurants, and more. However, you are understandably paying much more up front for the luxury of that inclusivity.

Are all-inclusive resorts really all inclusive?

Not every all-inclusive resort is created equal. But generally speaking, there is quite a lot included when you book a room at one of these resorts. Based on our time at Excellence Riviera Cancun, a resort in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico, I was pleasantly surprised even as a longtime cruiser.

First of all, drinks are widely included at all-inclusive resorts. If you like to wind down with a tropical drink on the beach or poolside, or have a glass of rose at lunch, it’s not a problem. Not every brand of wine or beer is always available. But I felt there was a good selection and an impressive list of creative cocktails at various bars around the resort property. This can depend on the resort brand, so if you are picky with your spirits, do a little research.

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As for meals, I wasn’t sure what to expect being spoiled for choice on mega-ships. Though, Excellence resorts have various restaurants around the property. None of them require an extra fee or often even a reservation. From a steakhouse or hibachi to Indian, Spanish tapas, or Mexican, the venues spanned international cuisines. And interiors matched the mood.

However, not every restaurant is open every night. So, pay close attention to the schedule when you arrive to get to your preferred dining venue during your stay. Some are more popular than others, and the downside of not having a reservation is that you might have a long wait.

There were complimentary activities around the resort each day, like hat-making or a margarita demo. Unlike large oceangoing ships, there isn’t a ton of choice when it comes to evening activities at the resort. Each night there was a different show on the main outdoor stage. These were typically preempted by some live music and followed by a DJ dance party or karaoke session. However, we felt the offerings were varied enough for a stay of a few nights.

Obviously your resort isn’t moving, so your excursion options on the property are limited. Still, day trips to go fishing, snorkeling, or biking switch it up from simply lazing in the sun. (No judgement if that is all you want to do). Many of these excursions do cost additional, especially if you book a tour off the property to a nearby town or another city like Tulum. Although some resorts do not charge for use of nonmotorized watersports like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.

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Similar to cruise ships, upgrading to a suite comes with its own added perks and inclusions. At the resort I visited, a suite came with access to its own private concierge, lounge, bar and restaurant, as well as a pass for one hydrotherapy session at the spa. In the spacious room, there was a Jacuzzi tub, a balcony, and a welcome amenity. If you weren’t already imbibing enough, the suite has impressive, full-size bottles of premium spirits and a fridge full of replenishable snacks and drinks.

Kids clubs are onsite only at resorts that cater to kids and families. Though, programming is not always as comprehensive as it might be on the most family-friendly cruise lines. MSC Cruises, for example, boasts a partnership with LEGO and other industry-leading programming for littles.

For those who can’t imagine disconnecting, these days the majority of all-inclusive resorts provide free Wi-Fi throughout the resort property.

Which is cheaper: a cruise or all-inclusive resort?

This is a tricky one to answer. But of course, a key factor for many in determining which vacation option to choose might be whether a cruise or an all-inclusive resort is cheaper. The entry-level price point at an all-inclusive depends on the resort. Like cruise lines, some all-inclusive resorts are cheap and cheerful to attract a fun and young crowd. Others are more oriented to couples-only romantic escapes or luxurious spa retreats. Don’t compare crackers to caviar.

While prices for both cruises and adults-only resorts are typically based on a two-person room occupancy, resort prices are a per-night cost whereas cruise prices are a per-person, per night cost. That doesn’t mean one is necessarily more than the other. Though, pay attention to this differentiation if comparing the total price of a week on a ship to a week at a resort.

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For those who like to pull out all the stops and spend on vacation, resorts and cruises will be more than happy to take your money for every extra. That being said, there is less to splurge on at a land-based resort. Simply because you are stationary, and your thirst is well quenched.

An entry-level fare on a cruise line like Carnival is typically for an inside cabin (room with no window or view). Further, the price does not include drinks or tours. Part of the thrill of a cruise is that you might wake up in a different place every other day. While independent exploration is possible, some experiences require you to book a shore excursion. These are one of the expenses you will have to factor into your cruise vacation in order to compare it to a resort stay.

It’s for these reasons that on the whole, I would consider an all-inclusive resort to be a cheaper vacation option. You can choose the number of days that you stay (sometimes there is a three-night minimum), but generally you can choose to get out of town for a long weekend if you wish. Cruises offer sailings of just a few nights, but standard voyages are about a weeklong commitment.

One consideration is airfare. Depending on where you are in relation to the resort, steep flight prices might be unavoidable. On the other hand, cruise ships depart from a number of U.S. cities. So, it might be very possible to find a departure to Bermuda within driving distance of your home in Boston.

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Tempting though it may be to book anything based on price alone, don’t base your special getaway only on a number figure. A travel advisor can help navigate which is the best vacation option for you — not only between a resort or cruise, but also between which type of resort and which type of cruise ship.

If you are a family, an adults-only resort or ship will obviously not work for you. If you are a couple celebrating an anniversary, it might be best to avoid very family-friendly options unless you want screaming kids interrupting your intimate dinner for two.

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Which is better: a cruise or all-inclusive resort?

Unlike price, “better” is entirely subjective. Similar to the advice on selecting a wallet-friendly vacation, advisors can also help pick the type of vacation experience that is best for you as a traveler.

The very sober elephant in the room is if you or someone in your travel party (apart from children) don’t drink very much or at all. Given the default inclusion of alcohol in the price of an all-inclusive resort, you could be paying a huge premium on drinks that you’ll never even have. At least on most cruise lines, the decision to buy a drink package or only have one or two drinks a day is optional, as it is not part of your cruise fare. Mocktail options were virtually nonexistent during our all-inclusive resort experience; it was typically soda, juice, or water.

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If your idea of the ultimate holiday is an island in the sun —napping or reading with an umbrella drink in hand — then you will easily find your bliss at an all-inclusive resort. If you like to explore new places and experience new things, the dynamic appeal of a cruise ship that travels from port to port will better satisfy that wanderlust.

While the masses might assume that all resorts or most cruises are in Mexico or the Caribbean, nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a Club Med resort in Quebec. There are cruises that sail around Japan or venture up into the Arctic Circle.

Something to consider is weather. For example, hurricane season normally affects the Caribbean from May to November. If you are staying at an immobile resort and the weather kicks up, you are likely out of luck — there is nowhere else to go. Despite viral videos online of cruise passengers braving stormy season, this is by far the exception. Advanced weather technology allows the captain and crew of cruise ships to do their very best to avoid inclement weather at all costs. Sometimes they even have the ability to skirt a storm entirely.

Service is another all-important aspect of any resort or cruise vacation. While I experienced stellar service during my time at an Excellence resort, service across all-inclusive resorts as a whole might be more inconsistent than crew who receive training across an entire cruise line’s fleet of ships. Read reviews.

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“Better” is all about where you see yourself at peak vacation happiness. For some, that is pure and total relaxation. Others like to fill their days with tours of historic capitals or a thousand-and-one classes and activities.

This might sound obvious, but are you adverse to sandy beaches? Maybe don’t shack up at a resort on the beach. Are you anxious about being at sea? Consider these preferences before booking time away that you’re meant to totally enjoy.

Which is a better deal: a cruise or all inclusive?

To me, a deal is about getting the most bang for your buck. In this case, I might be biased toward cruising. Not only are you taking part in the vacation experience that is your “floating resort,” but you have the added bonus of visiting new countries or taking in the salty air of three different white-sand beaches in just one week. There is something about the blend of port days and sea days that combine to create an ideal combination. You can do as much or as little as you want.

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Cruise ships have sailed far from visions of crowded buffets and a lack of sun loungers by the pool. Modern ships feature cutting-edge technology in the form of Disney first-run productions or Broadway-style stage performances. There’s also state-of-the-art waterparks; go-kart tracks; entire skating rinks at sea; multi-level spas; even restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred chefs.

The best deal is going to be the money you paid for the vacation you truly wanted. Do a little digging. With resources like this article, hopefully you are on the path to the perfect escape for you.

Comments

Which vacation do you prefer, a cruise vs. all-inclusive resort? What are your pros and cons for each type of travel? Drop us an anchor below to share your vacation experiences.

The post Cruise Vs. All-Inclusive Resort: Which is Better? appeared first on EatSleepCruise.com.

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