Pros and Cons of All Inclusive Resorts

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of all inclusive resorts most of the time. I have this thing about wanting to kind of immerse myself in wherever I happen to be traveling and I want to feel like I’m part of real life. Having said that, I’ve been to my share of all inclusive resorts and we just came back from an all inclusive in Cuba (Blau Costa Verde Plus) with my two little boys.

As a single parent, all inclusive resorts are a great way to get your feet wet in the big wide world of travel. I think all inclusives are great when traveling with children, particularly young ones for a whole bunch or reasons. I also think there are a few drawbacks. Here are a few pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Pros of All Inclusive Resorts:

PRICE

While it’s true that all inclusives can be pricey, depending on the location and resort, they can easily be way more cost effective than regular travel. Our last trip to Cuba cost us $1800 (CAD) for three of and that included having to pay the adult price for my four year old. Our regular jaunts to Florida (Panama City Beach) costs us around $1100 (USD) for the condo alone for a week. That doesn’t include the driving and overnights in hotels, food along the way, or meals out when we arrive. And, despite my intentions to eat in, we tend to go out for a ton of meals. I usually end up spending closer to $2500 for a condo rental at the beach for a week. Not so cheap. If you’re willing to go last minute, which we did, the cost cutting can be huge.

What’s generally included in the price? Airfare, transportation to and from the resort, the resort accommodations, all meals and beverages including alcohol (!!), kids club (if available), beach and pool chairs, hotel fridge stock up (although limited, it’s always been enough for us), entertainment and shows, the disco, activities during the day, and all the sun and relaxation you can handle.

FOOD AND DRINKS

An all inclusive is exactly that. Food, drinks (booze included….hallelujer!) and snacks are part of the package. Now, I listened to lots of people bitch and complain about both the food and the quality of liquor but as a single parent, having free flowing wine, rum punch, ice cream, and meals all thought out and planned for me was a big time win. Ready for dinner, kids? Let’s belly up to the buffet. No cooking, no clean up, no trying to find a restaurant that everyone can agree on only to order kids meals that cost $6 each that no one eats. (When will I learn to just order them a single plate of fries?) My guys really enjoyed the virgin slushies and Liam (4) had his first Shirley Temple. Which he charmingly refers to a Shirley Centennial.  There’s nothing quite like hearing your 3 year old ask if we can go to the bar to reinforce why all inclusives with kids are pretty awesome.

All lot of people complain about the food and liquor at resorts, claiming it’s not the best, or it’s boring and repetitious. That may be true but it’s never bothered me one bit. And I probably should point out that the repetitive thing is a total plus when travelling with kids. My guys loved that there was pancakes for breakfast every single morning, rice and pork for dinner, and they could always find something to stuff their picky eating faces with. The very thing that makes adults complain, usually makes for happy and well-fed kids.

LOCATION

By their very nature, all inclusive resorts are usually located in some pretty fantastic places. Generally, they are right on or very close to a beach, usually in tropical climates. Most days the biggest choice involves sunbathing at the pool(s) or hitting the beach. It’s a hard life. In addition to the great location, all inclusives usually have the airport transport thing taken care of as part of the package. Not having to find a taxi or bus after dealing with kids, customs, and luggage is pretty great. The resorts are usually fairly close to airports as well which minimizes the amount of traveling you do back and forth when all you want to do is either get there or get home.  In addition, if you care about this kind of thing, all inclusives are exclusive walled communities with gates and security. As you can probably tell, I don’t worry about stuff like that but I know lots of people that do.

AMENITIES

All inclusive resorts are known for their amenities. Most have more than one pool, many  have swim up bars (Aiden’s favorite thing), they often have designated kids pools and even kids clubs where parents can get a break as part of the all inclusive price.  Water sports are often included, as is the gym in the price you pay before you arrive. In addition to what’s included in your package, many resorts offer fee for services as well, including spa treatments, babysitting (hello!), and sports such as scuba diving, golf, and sailing. Often the resort provides entertainment at nights, a disco (that we will likely never get to since we’re all asleep by 10pm) and activities during the day. I enjoyed watching the aqua gym classes while sipping a cold drink in the shade. So inspiring. On top of all that, your bar fridge is topped up daily, there are tons of places to eat and drink, and you don’t need to lug beach chairs or make your bed since all that’s taken care of.

Along with the resort amenities, most offer tour packages off resort. In Cuba there were trips to local cigar factories or markets. In Jamaica, we took a snorkeling day trip on a catamaran and climbed the waterfall in Dunn’s river. Well, the kids did. I cheered and took pictures.

single parent travels, traveling with kids, all inclusive resorts, travel to cuba

CONVENIENCE

Everything you need for a great vacation is right inside the walls of the resort. Beaches, pools, activities, kids clubs, meals, drinks, and entertainment. If you’re looking to relax, this is the way to go. As someone who spends a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of everything and overthinking pretty much all of the time, an all inclusive is a really nice break from all of that.  Meals are planned and scheduled, beverages flow, and while you’re sunbathing or sipping rum punch, someone cleans up your room and makes your bed. No grocery shopping, no cooking, and no cleaning. Can’t argue with that.

 

Cons of All Inclusive Resorts:

FOOD AND DRINK

You are not seeing double. This made it into the pros and cons list.

Personally, as a fairly picky eater, I’ve never been unhappy with the food at an all inclusive resort. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to plan, prep, cook and clean up that I’m happy with whatever is being served. Having said that, I’ve heard tons of complaints about food at all inclusives, largely around the buffet which can get repetitious. Yes, lots of the dishes are repeated, particularly breakfast meals. The theme nights can look a bit like all the other nights but there’s also lots of a la carte dining options to get a break from the buffet. The downside of those restaurant options is that you need to make reservations fast. Like the day you arrive or most will be booked and you’ll miss out. The only a la carte restaurant we managed to get into was the Cuban restaurant at Blau Costa Verde. Everything else had been all booked up and that happens pretty much everywhere.

IT’S OFTEN NOT “ALL INCLUSIVE”

While lots of things are included in the package price, many things are not. Generally water sports involving catamarans, golf, spa treatments, and babysitting are going to cost extra. Tours are rarely included in your ticket price and can be expensive. Car rental, jet skis, and bike rental can all add up as well. Check the details of your package to be sure of what’s actually included to avoid disappointment and unplanned for expenses once you arrive.

LIMITED TIMES FOR MEALS AND DRINKS

The buffets and restaurants operate according to certain hours.  As an example, the buffet hours at our resort in Cuba were as follows:

Breakfast: 7-10:30 am
Lunch: 12-2:30 pm
Dinner: 6:30 – 9:30 pm

The pool bar on the plus side of the resort was open from 10:30 am – 6:30 pm. There were loads of other bars open, but that one was the most popular.

Lots of folks had something to say about that. Personally, that doesn’t bother me in the least since that’s kind of how the world works. Restaurants have operating  hours. I don’t run an all day kitchen at home. And, I’m traveling with little kids so those hours worked fine and made sense for us. There are lots of other bar options but if you’re having a good and boozy time around the pool, the early closure was pretty insulting for some travelers. Those are the same folks that had a bit of trouble getting to breakfast in time and, thus, complained a lot about the breakfast hours.

Many resorts have a 24 hour place to grab a light meal or snack but some don’t. Ours had lunch offered in different restaurants and near the beach in addition to the buffet. Again, check your resort details before leaving home so you know what to expect.

YOU’RE NOT SEEING THE COUNTRY

I have tons of friends who travel constantly to all inclusive resorts who “love Jamaica”, and “adore the Dominican Republic”, and tell me “Mexico is awesome”. But they don’t leave the resorts. And when they do they’re on tours designed for tourists. There is nothing wrong with that at all. We were in Cuba and didn’t leave the resort because…well….the boys and a problem with renting a car. The boys, both of whom have FASD, don’t do well with more than one major thing a day. That’s okay and I knew it would be that way going in. But when friends asked me how I liked Cuba, I say “I don’t know, I haven’t really been there.” Because when you go to a resort you could literally be anywhere. Like, can you figure out where this is? Me neither, but it sure is pretty.

Going to an all inclusive resort teaches you nothing about the country your visiting with the possible example of how they cater to tourists. There is no learning about a new culture or country, nor is there any real participation in local life. The outings are on catamarans and to tourist destinations. The sight seeing is just that. Seeing the sights. The only interaction with local people or customs occurs pretty far away from reality. Even the food is toned down to cater for tourists from a wide variety of places. So all inclusive resorts are not a good way to see a country unless you’re willing to leave and strike out on your own. I tried to rent a car in Cuba one day but they didn’t have any available and the cost was insane. Also, the fellow insisted I rent it for 3 days which kind of defeated the idea of an all inclusive for me. I wanted to tour for one day but the rest of the time, I wanted the luxury of no meals to plan and no brain power to harness. So we happily stayed on the resort. But I can’t pretend that I know what Cuba is really like, either.

TRAVELERS GUILT

Maybe it’s just me but I feel a fair bit of guilt when I stay in a luxury resort in a really poor country. Perhaps it’s the whole former social worker thing, or just that I really want to feel a connection with people wherever I am. So when very poor people from a very poor country are waiting on me, I always struggle. Maybe guilt isn’t the right word, but there’s definitely an awareness that while I’m not wealthy by any means at home (#singleparent), I’m one of the haves being waited on by the have nots while I’m in a resort.  When other guests start bitching and complaining about the service, or the resort, or the “quality” of foods or liquor, I have a tendency to become mortified at the entitlement that we have and are taking for granted in, what is usually, a third world country.

And then there’s the whole “I should be doing more” thing that happens to me when I get anywhere and park my butt on a beach chair. When we’re at the pool, I feel guilty that we’re not at the beach. When we’re at the beach, I feel like we need to leave the resort and do more. I voiced that to a lot of folks at our resort and learned I wasn’t alone until someone kindly reminded me that “You paid to be lazy”. Bless him.

Travelers guilt. It’s real. It’s yukky. I think someone needs to invent a very strong, rum soaked drink called “Travelers Guilt”. Strong enough to wipe away any guilty feeling about anything. It could be accompanied by a sister drink called “Shut Up”. Strong enough that people stop complaining that the food and such isn’t up to their standards and all.

All inclusive resorts can be an amazing way to have vacation, particularly when traveling with kids, as long as you know what you’re looking for in a holiday. As always, check things out before you leave and read the fine print to avoid disappointment after you arrive.

Want to start planning your own all inclusive vacation? Take a peak at the Top All Inclusive Caribbean Resorts as recommended by TripAdvisor.

NOTE: Affiliate links to TripAdviser have been included in this article because I pretty much don’t go anywhere without them. Read our full disclosure policy here

Blogging and Social Media- A look back at 2016 and some changes

Happy New Year! Aside from the freezing weather, I really do love this time of year because I find it so motivating. A brand new year means brand new plans, dreams, and ideas. All things I love to do. Follow through is a bit more work for me but I’m working on that. But like any look ahead, I firmly believe you need to take some time to look back to see where you’ve been before you move forward. Which brings us to why I’m  here today…

 

Blogging and social media. A look back at what has and hasn't worked for me over the past year and what I'm doing differently in 2017. 24cottonwoodlane.com

 

2016 was a really terrific year for me and our family in so many ways. The boys were finally made Crown Wards (terminating parental rights for you US folks) which means the threat of removing them from my care is no longer in my face every single day. The agency also backed off on forcing adoption on us as it really isn’t a good fit at this time. Which means I can focus on long term fostering without fear and it’s made a huge difference all the way around. The stress I’ve been under and constant implied threats have taken their toll. I’m glad that piece has wrapped up.

Although we were forced to move over the summer, read those stories here and here, I absolutely love our new house. This space just works so much better for our family. PS….a few coats of paint can really make a huge change. Everything happens for a reason and all that good stuff. (Note to self the next time I freak out about change!) I will, eventually, get around to sharing some updates. No dramatic room reveals since I’m never really finished but some updates are in order.

New Websites

I launched two new websites last year. FASD Families has been a huge hit in providing practical (and sometimes humorous) stories and ideas for families raising children with FASD. Thanks to all of the readers who are so actively engaged and keep the love flowing. I wasn’t as consistent as I hoped to be in adding posts but I’m plugging away.

FASD families....supports and resources for families raising children with FASD.

 

Traveling Single Mom launched last spring and I’m adding material here and there. Our travels were much more limited than I’d planned since I went back to my social work career in early spring (part time), limiting the amount of time I have for blogging, travelling, and writing in general. Travel is my true love (next to sleep) so I have no intention of giving this site up. It’s just going to take some time to develop. Stay with us 😉

Travelingsinglemom.com- Ideas, stories, trips for single parents and kids

Which brings me to blogging in general. I love, love, love blogging. What I don’t love is the crazy pressure to be the biggest, the best, and having to be a social media guru. When I starting teaching college this fall, I took a huge step back from blogging out of necessity. It just wasn’t possible to plan, teach, and follow through on four courses and then DIY everything and write about it. The fact is, I’m not the biggest and most well known blog. I haven’t made a living blogging even though it’s more than four years. And as a single parent, making a living is kind of a big deal. Also, I’m pretty shitty at self-promotion so even if I made and shared something brilliant, the idea of being in everyone’s face about it just isn’t for me. Mad respect for you full time blogging ladies, but I just can’t. I need sleep, comfort food, and a fairly steady pay check…so back to work I went after my almost two year hiatus from social work.

 

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Social Media

Oh, social media. I love and hate it all at the same time. I recognized that I maybe had a social media addiction when we came home from Cuba (there’s no wifi at any of the hotels unless you pay for it and stand close to a computer lol) and spent two hours at 3:30 am scrolling through Facebook while my boys slept in the hotel bed next to me. I acknowledge, in full, my addiction to Facebook and Pinterest.

But social media also makes me feel overwhelmed and kind of lacking at times. And the pressure as a blogger to use social media to promote my blogs has proven too much for me. I don’t want to spend hours scheduling and promoting my posts nor do I want my Pinterest feed cluttered up with blogging idea posts. I want to look at pretty things, funny memes, and inspirational quotes. Pinterest became a chore and a responsibility rather than the inspiration board it was intended to be. So I pulled out of all the groups I was in to promote my stuff, scaled way back on who I followed and have just starting pinning things for me again. I don’t care how to get followers or how to promote anything on Pinterest. I just want to be selfish and inspired. My boards are for me but if you like the same sort of things we can be Pinterest friends. 🙂

Twitter…not even going there. It is like junk food for my already scattered brain so I’m pulling out. I might just use it follow really funny people.

Facebook. God, I need a break but I just can’t. I have people to stalk and friends to share love with. And that’s it. If my post publishes to FB, that’s great. But I’m done with the attention seeking, like my post, follow me thing that I’m not so good at.

Genesis Framework for WordPress

Instagram. Oooohh…Instagram. So pretty. Except in the interest of being polite and doing Instagram challenges where we all have to follow each other it became yet another site full of things I didn’t care about. I’m unfollowing just about anyone who doesn’t inspire me with pretty pictures. That’s all I want on Instagram these days. Pictures of pretty rooms, flat lays, and beach photos. Maybe some bullet journals but that’s a story for another day. To my friends and family, I already see your lovely photos on FB so forgive me for deleting you on Instagram. Sixteen photos of your kids skating is great but I want a picture with pink flowers on a marble background.  No offence. I’ll still like and love all your stuff on FB, though. Promise 🙂

Blogging

Interestingly, I got some negative feedback this year over a few posts, features on my link party, and lost a shit ton of followers over my last post, both here and on my social media sites. That’s totally okay. In fact, that feels great. It tells me that you’re not feeling my vibe and I get that. If we don’t mesh, or our political ideals and my cultural heritage makes you uncomfortable, it’s cool to unfollow. It’s not cool to make racist and hateful comments about me or why I’m not a Trump supporter. I get to delete those types of comments because this is my happy space and that’s just not helpful or something I need to see when I sit down to write for those of you that still like me. I unfollow stuff that doesn’t interest me, too. It’s all good.

I’ve never shared anything about my Native culture and ancestry before on this site, nor have I shared anything political. But I stepped out of the lifestyle blog last week, took a chance on sharing my history and feelings about this past year and I’m so grateful for the love via comments, and emails that I have received about that post. It felt good to come out of the well designed pantry closet and just chat. Haters gonna hate, but the rest of you made me weep with gratitude. Love you all.

Ah. The Blog.  I have no idea where I’m going with it, but with teaching college and doing court investigations for custody and access disputes, I don’t have the time to be creating 15 fun ways to make Valentine’s day special. Truthfully, I never really did, but I tried. And if I do find some time and inspiration to create something crafty, you’ll be the first to know.

I have a feeling we’re heading in a different direction around here… more in the moment things I want to share and less planning and stressing about holiday posts and all that craziness.  Right now I’m all about taking care of the age spots that have crept over my face (because I’ll be 49 this year and all), organizing my life, and bullet journals. If you like those things, too, that’s great. Love you all madly and I hope we can still be friends.

 

Tips for Road Trips With Toddlers

 

I’ve been a bit absent from this site lately and one of the reasons (the best reason ever, actually!) is that we took a little family vacation. Ok, we took a major family vacation. 20 hours in a car on a road trip to the beach. With two toddlers. That’s right. 20 hours.

We’ve been vacationing in Panama City Beach, Florida forever. Liam has actually been there twice before this trip, including the month we spent there at the end of my parental leave. I was living the dream there, folks. It was fantastic. Here he is at 2 months of age, lounging on our balcony….sigh.

 

 

But when Aiden came along, I worried that we’d never travel again. I figured that as a single parent I could never manage two babies who then became toddlers on a 20 hour road trip. And I wasn’t wrong. What made this work is that my oldest daughter, Emily, came along and it made all the difference. I can’t do it alone. Not yet. So kuddos to Em for being the best auntie ever.

 

 

I have no real advice here because, let’s face it, I mostly just wing it. But I do have my “live and learn” wisdom and I’m sharing it here…..Some of it’s obvious, some of it is just what worked for our family.

 

1. PACK WELL IN ADVANCE
I took an extra day off work before we left while the boys were still in daycare and was able to finish packing and load the van the night before we left. Suh-weet. Just had to throw in the overnight bag and off we went.

 

2. DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO MAKE THEM HAPPY
Contrary to all the advice I read cautioning parents not to slide backwards in milestone achievements, I say “let it slide”. I haven’t potty trained anybody because diapers on road trips are way easier than going the bathroom every hour. (Also, Liam looks at me like I’m crazy when I ask if he wants to try the potty). Liam gave up his “suss’ (pacifier) at daycare a few weeks before our trip and he only has it when he sleeps. I gave it to him. For the entire drive. Both ways. My daycare provider is probably not too impressed but I figured since Liam is not in the most pleasant phase of toddler-hood (We’re calling him our “threenager”)….you do what you can for a bit of peace. I took it away again in Florida and at home….He was fine with this little “suss” blip.

 

Our grumpy, soon to be, “threenager”

 

I also left them in their pyjamas until late the first morning. We landed at McDonald’s somewhere in Ohio. As an aside, we NEVER go to restaurants. I’ve tried a couple of times with a friend or family member to help. The first time Liam announced he was pooping to anyone who would listen. (He wasn’t. He was just making friendly conversation.) The second time I was too tired to eat because I was trying to keep them from tossing drinks on the floor along with everything else they could get their hands on. So I was worried about disturbing other people but seriously, McDonald’s is so kid friendly, you can’t go wrong. And they love it. Because it was a Friday morning the place was full of seniors….the boys were fussed over and adored. They had more attention than they knew what to do with. Wish I’d been half that popular in high school. Or anywhere, really.

 

 

3. LEAVE EARLY AND DRIVE HARD THE FIRST DAY
I woke the boys and hit the road at 4:30 am because all the Pinterest/bloggy advice said they’ll go back to sleep and you could travel in peace. Well, they didn’t. They basically stayed awake for 16 hours but for a really short nap. But they were interested and (mostly) cheerful for hours since this was so out of their routine. I never let my kids nap in the car so the fact that they didn’t sleep much while travelling shouldn’t have surprised me. We travelled 15 hours the first day and neither boy napped longer than 1 hour. Which is crazy because they sleep til 8:30 am every morning and nap 2-3 hours every day. Regardless, they were insanely and unpredictably happy for the first 14 hours. Then we all fell apart and stayed overnight in Cullman, AL. I was trying really hard to make it to my sister’s house which is about another hour or so away but we just couldn’t do it. This is why I believe in driving hard and fast the first day. The next day we had 5 hours to go and that felt less daunting. It also allowed us to linger at Waffle House, Liam’s favorite place in the universe.

 

4. IGNORE ADVICE THAT DOESN’T WORK
Popular advice also says to stop frequently and let the kids run around to burn off energy. Ummm, not my boys. They acted utterly ridiculous and crazed at every rest stop. In Clanton, AL, one toddler followed the beer delivery guy and got stuck in a walk in freezer while the other was behind the counter grabbing for cigarettes. This was after they all but molested loved the giant plastic M&M dude to death. The cashier was lacking in our world famous “Alabama Southern Hospitality” that day and I’m pretty sure we’re no longer welcome in Clanton.

 

Let them run loose? Awww, hell no!

 

4. TV IS OUR FRIEND
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t much restrict the number of hours the boys watch tv at home. Don’t judge. I do restrict what they watch but I’m single and tired. I can only do so much. Before we left I bought a dual screen DVD player and they watched countless Disney movies, happily in the back seat. I bought 2 new movies that they’d never seen before which helped although, in truth, they’re not terribly picky. I bought this one from Best Buy. Love. This. Thing.

5. PREPARE SNACKS AND DRINKS
I packed a bag of individually packaged, moderately healthy snacks in case we couldn’t find anything on the road. Truthfully, they ate a lot of fries and I didn’t care that much because it was new and exciting for them to eat out. Or eat fast food. I knew we’d eat better in Florida because we rented a condo and planned to cook most of our meals at home. I also brought sippy cups. Lots and lots of them. Some of it we used and and some of it we didn’t but it was nice to know that on the last stretch to Florida, where rest stops and gas stations are sparse, I could have fed them if needed.

 

6. PLAN ACTIVITIES
Ok. I didn’t use this one at all. I made impromptu play trays for the boys and attached them to their car seats with bungie cords. Seriously. I spent weeks browsing Pinterest for ideas for DIY trays. However, I ran out of time and energy and at the last minute I grabbed two thrift store wood trays that I’d been planning to paint and used those. The boys used them once for like 5 minutes. And Liam only colored on the tray. He does what he wants.

 

Truthfully, they were either way too young or way too happy with movies to make use of all the activities that I packed. Most of those things came in super handy when we ate out in Florida but the in-car trays? Not so much. They’re still there because I think the boys will grow into them. And we’re planning more road trips in the near future.

 

7. RELAX
Easier said than done for old-school parents (aka grandparents raising grandchildren) like me. I love a good schedule for babies and toddlers because that’s what has always worked for this family. When the boys were tiny I structured everything around naps and bedtime. So I was so nervous about disrupting the boys and what could happen. Because sleep is my favorite thing. EVER. But, aside from the first night in the motel where Liam kept giggling and wanting everyone to play with him, the boys slept beautifully, napped well (and even skipped a few) and all was well. AMAZING. I brought playpens for the boys to sleep in and they did just fine. Aiden actually asked to go to bed the first night in the motel, even though we were all roaming around and the lights were on. He just lied right down and drifted off to sleep (love this kid!) For the first time in almost three years, I didn’t stick to much of a schedule and it was fine. I couldn’t believe it. They napped, they slept well, and they went right back to their routine when they got home. I was so scared! One night, after a late dinner, Aiden fell asleep standing up. In the elevator. He slept til 930 the next morning and life went on.

 

There you have it….what little wisdom I gained from road tripping with two toddlers. My standards were really low. Basically we just wanted to make it there and back alive.

I can’t begin to tell you what this trip meant to me. I have been single forever. FOREVER. When my girls grew up and moved out, I started travelling like crazy. I’d been Hawaii just a month before Liam was born and we were back in Florida when he was two months old. The hardest thing about accepting that I would raise two more babies at this stage in my life was thinking I wouldn’t travel again. It might look a little different but it’s clear that we can do it with some planning and help. Yay!

Anybody have any must have pieces of wisdom that they want to share for our next road trip in the fall?