Hype vs. Reality at All-Inclusive Resorts - My Family Travels

Find out the difference between the hype your family is sold, and the reality of a vacation experience at an all-inclusive tropical resort.

I am often asked about all-inclusive resorts, “Are they as great as people say?”  Somewhere between the marketing hype and the reality of a vacation with kids in tow lies the truth.

All-Inclusive Vacation Myths

Hype: All-inclusive resorts are a great family bonding experience because there’s something for all ages.
Reality: All ages rarely play or even eat together.  Some parents are relieved to have time alone, while others are disappointed by how little they see kids who prefer peer companionship.
But: A great time can be had by all. 

Hype: All-inclusives are totally relaxing. 
Reality: Depends on you.  Some parents try to cram in every possible activity, others never leave the beach and love it, still others are bewildered when Fun Overload drives children “out of control.”
But: Some families need surrounding chaos in order to wind down.

Hype: All-inclusive resorts are a great value. 
Reality: Judge for yourself.  A funky, worn all-inclusive resort may cost more per night than a five-star luxury “a la carte” resort where only your fabulous room is included in the rates.
But: Never having to pull out a wallet might be considered priceless.

Do The Math

Let’s examine the math. An all-inclusive resort that is charging less than $100/day per adult may be a great deal, or it  may have tiny rooms, a lousy buffet, and a beach eroded by hurricanes.  In contrast, some luxury resorts charge as much as $160/day per adult, $80/day per child in addition to room rates for an “all-inclusive option” (meals, beverages, activities, etc.)

Will you and your kids eat, drink and play this much daily?  If not, families who care about their accommodations may find it a better value to stay at one these hotels on an a la carte basis (pay only for what you consume or do), then choose your activities selectively. Never lose sight of the fact that this is your vacation.

In 1999, the now-defunct Consumer Reports Travel Letter did a very interesting study.  CRTL identified the major players in the all-inclusive marketplace as Allegro Resorts, Club Med, Sandals, SuperClubs and Viva Resorts (now affiliated with Wyndham Hotels & Resorts).  At the time of their study, average all-inclusive rates began at US$200/day per couple for rooms, meals, beverages, most activities, tax, service charges and airport transfers.

Rates in Asia, Africa or Europe differed little from those in Mexico or the Caribbean, and because few guests ever ventured beyond the resort’s main gate, the vacation experience was similar regardless of the destination.  Though mega-resorts (over 500 rooms) often had cheaper rates, guest complaints included long lines and chaotic service during the busiest peak periods.

Not much has changed since then. Yes, some of the luxury or ultra all-inclusives have improved service by adding butler staff to the top room categories. Many all-inclusives now offer one or two a la carte restaurants to alleviate the boredoom that sets in from facing a buffet three times per day. And while average prices are in the $300+ range per couple, they fluctuate much more these days because computers have enabled resorts to predict weekly occupancy levels and alter rates accordingly.


Bottom Line

Having said all this, all-inclusive vacations do offer a turn-key solution for many families who just want to go to a beach, or someplace warm, and don’t have the time, interest or knowledge to research many options. And the very best all-inclusives really do deliver a first-class vacation experience.  What’s the best option for your family?

  • Dual-income, stressed-out family looking for a break:  Nothing beats a “one price pays all” vacation that can be booked with ease. These families should splurge for the luxury all-inclusives where the quality of food, beverage and activity offerings will be higher.
  • Budget-minded family: Consider traveling off season when Internet surfing will produce a great rate that will make an all-inclusive vacation worthwhile for all involved.  Beware of all-inclusives with cheap holiday deals.
  • Committed traveler:  Interested in a new culture and foreign cuisine?  Want to engage children in that process of discovery? Skip the gated all-inclusive resorts and book a local resort, hotel or B&B and… explore.

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