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

Travelling Alone with Toddlers

 

 

Last year my oldest daughter and I took the boys on a road trip from Southern Ontario to Panama City Beach in Florida. It went really well. Amazingly well, actually. You can read all about that adventure here.

A lot has happened since our trip last May. Both boys have been diagnosed with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). A sad and completely preventable form of permanent brain damage. That, however, is a story for another day.

The littles are now 2 1/2 and 3 1/2. I know for lots of people that’s not really a toddler but kids with FASD are often younger than their chronological age which is the case for us. Still kind of toddler like.

 

 

So when I had some unexpected time off of work I decided to use up the last couple of weeks by heading back down to Florida. Alone. With two toddlers. I was clearly feeling very confident that day.

Did I mention I booked this trip with less than two weeks until we hit the road? I’m spontaneous like that. To deal with managing two toddlers on a road trip all alone, I prepped a variety of snacks and activities in advance.

First, I re-introduced the dual DVD player that I used last year.

Best buy

 

I put it away at the end of the road trip last year and only brought it back out on the day we left. Can’t say I’m thrilled to listen to children’s movies for hours at a time but the boys really enjoy this and are generally quiet while a movie’s on.

Secondly, I re-used last years second hand wood trays for snacks and activities. This time they actually used them. I attached them to the seats with bungee cords and they held nicely while we drove. This gave them a space to put meals and snacks and was easy to unfasten to get the boys in and out of the car at rest stops. Yes. Liam colored on his last year.

 

 

I also prepared a number of different activities and separated them out before storing them in a large grocery bin in the middle of the van. There was a bag with cars, a mini-back pack with little people, a pile of dollar store toys, and some drawing and coloring activities. I snapped this pic with my iphone so it’s a bit blurry.

 

 

The bin fit nicely in the back seat of the van without rolling around which made it easy to grab activities when they needed a change.

The boys favorite, by far, was the sticker activity books I put together in a dollar store handled bin. I don’t know why I didn’t take a better picture so this is the best I’ve got.

 

 

They literally played with these most of the drive from Ontario to Alabama. Before heading off to Florida, I tucked them away and didn’t give them back until vacation was over and we were driving north. This kept them from being bored. By the time we crossed the border, Liam was covered in stickers. Border crossing dude was highly amused.

I also made a mini snack box out of dollar store bead storage boxes. Like the sticker boxes, I added the boys names to the top just for fun. This was a huge hit! So much wow, that I re-loaded them every couple of days for taking to the beach. We avoided a lot of tiki-bar snacks at the condo by bringing our own things.

 

 

I put together a bunch of other snacks and juice boxes in a shower caddy. This kept us from buying a lot of unhealthy junk at the gas stations and lasted throughout the trip.

 

 

Once we got to Florida, I brought most of the toys inside however, the boys mostly like to run around doing fun things with socks on their hands.

 

 

We had a fantastic time at the beach. The boys much prefer the pool which was fine by me since it was the last week of spring break and all in Panama City Beach.

 

 

Nuts, right? We were in Florida for two weeks, by the second week all the college kids had gone home and the beach was ours again. How great are those empty chairs? And that view?

 

 

The boys are finally able to eat in restaurants so we enjoyed a lot local seafood. Lunches were better for us because by dinner time, the littles were pretty much falling apart and tired from swimming all day.

These pictures are from Hunt’s over in St. Andrew’s Bay. A great local place with amazing seafood and very affordable.

 

 

 

 

I learned a whole lot about FASD on this trip that I didn’t fully understand before. Like the fact that we can only do one major thing a day. After the lunch at Hunt’s, I tried to swing by the Winn-Dixie. It was a nightmare. Liam was wild and completely out of control at the store and in the condo for the rest of the day. As much as I wanted to do a variety of activities, we just didn’t. I needed to learn to respect the boys needs and abilities. And that was just fine.

This trip was amazing, not just because it’s the Gulf Coast and we spent Easter in Alabama with our family but because I finally conquered my fear of travelling alone with the boys as a single parent. I really didn’t think I could do it alone and I’m glad to report that we’ve got this.

My only other piece of advice is to break up the trip in manageable chunks. We left at 3pm from daycare and made it to Ohio (5 1/2 hours). From there we made it to Helena, Alabama the next day (around 8 hours). And then headed to Florida the following morning (5 hours). It’s a long few days but was so worth it.

 

Yes, the sand really is that white on the Emerald Coast.

Do you have any tips or tricks for travelling long distances with young children? I’m always up for more ideas….email me or leave a comment.

Happy travels ; )