Do We Hate All-Inclusives? Pros & Cons of One-Stop Shop Vacations
I’ve always had a complicated relationship will all-inclusive resorts.
Actually, I’ve been a hater. The thought of traveling to a different country only to not see that place struck me as pretty messed up. There is no culture in sight! English is spoken, and the buffet in the dining hall ensures you never even have to try the local flavors. Pancakes and hashbrowns, coming right up. Pizza, pasta, sushi, here’s dinner. Whether you’re in Mexico, The Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Bahamas, or anywhere else. This is what strikes me as so antithetical to traveling: You could be ANYWHERE.
With all that being said, it might surprise you to learn that I spent my 36th birthday last week at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. Hypocrite much?
I’ll get into my reasons for choosing an all-inclusive resort for my birthday getaway in this post. I’ll also tackle the million dollar question: Is an all-inclusive worth it if you don’t drink? Lastly, I’ll list what I think are the top Pros and Cons of staying at an all-inclusive.
Buckle up, folx. We’re going to Cancun. (Not real Cancun, but like a resort there.)
Why Choose an All-Inclusive?
So, you ask, what brought this all-inclusive hater right into the belly of the beast?
Simple. Exhaustion. Laziness. Needing a break from reality (and some sunshine) but having no desire to “plan” a trip. I knew I wanted to get away, but the thought of research destinations or running around exploring once I arrived sounded like a LOT.
When I found out my friend Meagaan (You’ve seen her before in posts like This one on being overscheduled, and this one about the marathon we ran together in 2018.) was going to be in Cancun on the exact dates I was looking to go away, I considered my plans made. I booked a room at the same resort, and my birthday trip was on.
So, How did it go? The all-inclusive hater escaping to the convenience of all-you-can-eat and resort chairs on the beach? Was it a dream vacation? Or a waste of travel? Is paying for an all-inclusive worth it when you don’t drink? Am I still “too good” for all-inclusives or has my mind been changed?
Well, there are no definitive answers. I am certainly not a convert to the all-inclusive lifestyle. But my distaste for all-inclusives has faded, and I do think there is a time and a place for them. I’ve put together some pros and cons of vacationing at all-inclusive resorts.
Why did I go to an All-Inclusive? Meagaan made me.
Is it Worth It?
I guess I should answer the question posed by one of my friends regarding whether an all-inclusive is ‘worth it’ if you don’t drink. Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I haven’t drank alcohol in nearly two years. I never thought I would stay at an all-inclusive resort and not slam a bajillion mojitos, but here we are. Life.
The nuanced answer is that I don’t know if an all-inclusive is worth it or not in genera, as you’ve seen in this post. But the short answer is “yes”. I think it’s worth it enough.
The caveat is that I am a very hungry girl. I ate gelato every day, ordered lattes out the wazoo, and had at least two plates at every meal. (Chill, one was piled high with fruit.) I found a discounted rate for our room that started as $750 for the three nights, but ended up being about $900 with tax. This is $300 per night, and $150 per person per night. Is it more than what I usually spend on hotels? Yes. Is it more than what I spend on hotels plus food and drinks and coffees and desserts? Maybe not.
We spent on some add-ons like a long, much-needed massage at the spa, and a couple hours of hookah. But I still don’t feel like I was “ripped off” or whatever because I didn’t take advantage of the free beers and drinks. It’s a personal choice for everyone. If you eat like a bird, maybe this doesn’t feel worth it to you. We also got to spend the entire fourth day at the resort, rather than on the plane, because our flight was delayed. After checkout, and until 6pm, we ate, drank, and sunned ourselves as much as we wanted. They gave us access to “Hospitality rooms” where we were able to shower and get ready for our flight. This was hours of additional time we had not planned to be there, so it felt like the deal was only getting better as the hours went on.
Is an all-inclusive resort worth it if you don’t drink?
Short answer: Yes.
Real answer: It all depends on you.
Pros & Cons of All-Inclusives
Alright, we’ve made it this far. Thanks for that, now here are the Pros and Cons of staying at an all-inclusive resort.
Pros of Staying at an All-Inclusive Resort
1. No Planning
Book the resort and your flight and you are good to go. There’s no need to map out an itinerary. Sitting by the beach or by the pool can easily be determined moment to moment. No need to get recommendations for the best restaurants in town. Even if you choose to do a more adventurous excursion off property, you can book it right in the office and do not even have to haggle on prices. The one-stop-shop experience of an all-inclusive is one of the things I tip my nose at, but to be honest, it can be kind of nice.
The month before this birthday trip to Cancun, I had a lot going on. Working what felt like an endless number of flights. Dealing with extremely expensive home repairs (that of course popped up by very inconvenient surprise). Holding it together through family medical emergencies. And that’s besides all the mundane tasks and tribulations that make everyday life feel exhausting. I slept very little. What I needed was to get away and not have to think.
And all-inclusives are perfect for the brainless vacation.
It’s not what I would want all the time. But in this particular time it was exactly what I needed and as much as I could handle.
2. Paid in Full. (Almost.)
Your food and drinks and accommodation being paid for in advance means you can leave the budgeting at home and just have what you want. This is especially nice if you’re traveling with a large group. No splitting the bill for dinner! No dealing with the friend who wants to nickel and dime their order, forget about tax, tip, and the dessert they shared. Or the one who ordered two bottles of wine to your single sparkling water but insists “Split down the middle is fine!” No tracking expenses for cover charges or entry fees or cabs or tips.
Okay, actually, we did have to use Venmo to split our rides to and from the airport, as well as for a hookah session that was not included in the cost.
But mostly everything is paid in advance. This makes it easier to track spending, to budget. I also found out this weekend, that kids under 12 stay at the resort for free. (The side of the resort we stayed at was child-free. But the adjoining resort was family friendly.) This gave me a new perspective. I can totally see being all-in for the all-inclusive if it allowed you as a family to travel for the same price as two adults.
All costs for vacation paid in advance is easily one of the biggest Pros of vacationing at an all-inclusive resort vs. DIY travel.
Not splitting the bill makes for a happy birthday.
3. They’re Family-Friendly (Or Not.)
I like that there is the option to choose a family-friendly option, or a child-free zone when you book an all-inclusive. I’m sure going on vacation and realizing the hotel is stuffy and doesn’t cater to kids can be kind of uncomfortable if you’ve got your brood in tow. And the romantic getaway vibe can really be crumpled and crushed by kids (that aren’t yours) splashing you with their cannon balls or whining in the chair beside you.
The resort we stayed at was divided, with part of it being adults-only, and part of it being very kid friendly. They even had a babysitting service. You could drop your kids off in the morning and pick them up in the evening. They get to play, supervised, with other kids, use the facilities and have a fun day. And you get an adults-only experience that, let’s face it, you probably need. (I’m not a parent so I don’t know if y’all would feel safe handing off your kids at a resort, but the option sounds nice to have.)
With an all-inclusive you get to choose the kind of atmosphere you want. Cartoon characters and pirate lunches? Clothing optional? Or somewhere in between. Like Captain Planet says, the Power is Yours, and that’s nice.
These drinks may be cute, but they are adults only!
4. Familiar Faces
There is something comforting about seeing the same people over and over again. Of course this can be terrible if the people are terrible and you keep running into them. But that didn’t happen on our quick trip to Cancun. Chatting with a Canadian couple in the jacuzzi one morning and then running into them later that day at the beach. Taking a family photo for a group we had met the day before. A knowing nod or a friendly wave of recognition to the people you’d seen at the swim-up bar, now dressed for dinner. These casual, barely-there acquaintanceships make me feel good.
It’s why I loved taking Spanish classes in Medellin Colombia and later in Mexico City. It’s why I enjoyed going to the same weekly language exchanges in both places. There is something about seeing familiar faces—even if you don’t become “friends”—that makes you feel more at home. At ease. Less anonymous in an otherwise wholly anonymous experience.
(Brought these familiar faces with me)
5. Options for All Budgets
The first all-inclusive I ever stayed at was in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It was in 2014, right after I graduated from Flight Attendant training and had no money but plenty of travel benefits to burn. (It is essential that you start traveling and using your benefits immediately after you begin working as a flight attendant. Otherwise, you will hate your job and quit.)
That first trip was in the most basic of budget all-inclusives. We didn’t mind it back then, but now I wouldn’t stay there. My standards have risen. Partly because my salary has, and partly because I spend about 40% of my life living in nice hotel rooms. My standards for hotels have risen because the bar is set higher by what I’m accustomed to at work. Still, it was nice for two broke 20-somethings to be able to go away on vacation. The all-inclusive we stayed at last week in Cancun was nicer, for sure. It was more expensive because of the higher caliber and because of the location. (The DR trips are the cheapest you’ll find.)
When researching resorts in the Cancun area, though, there was a wide variety—hundreds to choose from at all different price points. Some were way out of budget for me. They looked beautiful in the pictures. Our resort was the Hideaway at Royalton Cancun Riviera. Quite nice, a beautiful property and a suitable stay. Not the lap of luxury, nor did I feel anything was lacking. Good.
Having grown up without a lot of money, I’m acutely aware of how much privilege I have to be able to travel so much. And the lessons I’ve learned and the ways I have grown through travel have convinced me that it is an opportunity everyone should have. I love the fact that these resorts can be found in different price ranges. Families, couples, friends, and individuals can take a vacation without breaking the bank. And so we’re clear, I really do think everyone deserves a vacation.
EVERYONE-of any budget-deserves a vacation. Periodt.
Cons of staying at All-Inclusive Resorts
Now for the negative.
We all knew this was coming. My sour attitude about all-inclusives has definitely shifted. But there are still some things lacking for me in this idea of all-inclusive “travel”. Here they are:
1. It’s not travel.
I said what I said.
We met a lovely couple from Ottawa in the hot tub one morning and got to chatting with them. It was their first time in Cancun and they felt pretty “meh” about it and the resort. And I am all in for feeling “meh” about an all-inclusive resort. The issue for me was that they were making judgements about Cancun based upon this resort stay. I’m not even trying to hold up Cancun as the mecca of travel and a top-tier cultural destination. I’m simply saying that sitting holed up in one resort tells you exactly NOTHING about the destination you have traveled to.
They went on to say that they preferred Jamaica. They’ve “been all over”: Jamaica, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands. But in each case, they were referring to a resort they had stayed at.
Not to be a travel snob (fine, maybe I’m being a travel snob.) But in my mind this very sweet couple has not been to any of these places. This is the same reason I’m anti-Caribbean cruise. Sit inside your floating hotel for days?! Why? The Caribbean is right there, just fly over and be done with it. And leave the hotel for heaven’s sake! I just can not wrap my head around this version of “travel” that so many people seem to like.
I suppose when you’re overworked, and underpaid, and feel like you don’t have a moment to yourself, and life is overwhelming and less than perfect and not what you’ve expected, and you just need a few minutes to sit in the sun and drink a watered-down cocktail and read a book and NOT THINK, this is perfect. This is kind of the headspace that I went into my all-inclusive birthday trip with. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotionally drained, I was thrilled to sit on my ass for four days soaking up the sun and listening to the same (non-Mexican) songs blaring out over the pools.
But when I think of “travel” this is the furthest thing from my mind. What I did in Cancun can be called a getaway. But not travel.
Travel is exploring. Seeing new things. Meeting new people. Eating cultural dishes that are local and important to the people. Hearing music that local people listen to. Experiencing a culture that is different from your own. Getting to know a place. Idk, do I sound pretentious here or what?
You leave your all-inclusive not even knowing what the nearest city looks like. What the spoken dialect of language sounds like.
Being in an all-inclusive resort is like being anywhere. Fill-in-the-blank sunny destination. It doesn’t matter where, and I hate that. The where is important to me when I travel. You can go to all-inclusive resorts in 100 different countries, and I’ll still think you’ve been nowhere and seen nothing.
I’ll get off this soapbox now.
These buns have been around the world. All-Inclusives aren't it.
2. Service is…Eh.
Coming from the States, it is incredible to hear a customer service rep say “There’s nothing I can do.”
I realize the irony in my working for an airline—the worst of the worst in this regard. But hear me out.
It’s not like “There is a snow storm, there’s nothing we can do to get the plane out.”
I’m talking “Sorry your Wi-Fi code expired the day before checkout, there’s nothing I can do.”
“Sorry your room isn’t clean,” (an hour after check-in) “It will be two more hours. There is nothing we can do.”
It’s kind of funny, actually. The lack of thinking outside the box. It seemed like when something went wrong there was no protocol for service recovery. Of course, this could have just been the specific issues we had at this specific resort. And let me say that overall, the experience was quite good and I wouldn’t tell you not to go there. But it is weird to hear “There’s nothing I can do” over seemingly easy fixes. Give a new Wi-Fi access code. Ask the cleaners to go to the room in question now instead of later. I guess the fact that I stay in hotels so often, and run into these little issues all the time, colors my judgement about how they’re handled.
The food & beverage service at all-inclusive resorts can also be very slow. A friend who stayed at an all-inclusive in Cancun a month before me warned me of this. Though her resort was gorgeous and wonderful, she said the service to get drinks took a long time. This makes sense to me. In places I visit where tipping is not customary (most places outside the US) the service tends to be slower. One could imagine that when everything is pre-paid there is less incentive for speedy service.
I was actually pleasantly surprised at the rate we got most of our food and drinks at this resort. The only thing that took a long time was room service, and to be honest, when you’re having food delivered in any fashion, from anywhere, that is par for the course.
The resort was not at full capacity when we were there. Whether that is because of COVID protocols, or a slow week, or people choosing to stay home out of precaution, I’m not sure. But I do think that helped in the service arena. We never had to wait more than a couple minutes for drinks at the bar, in a beach chair, or in restaurants.
I included the service bit here under Cons of all-inclusive travel, because I have heard from several people more versed than I am, that this is a thing to be mindful of. It isn’t a deal-breaker for your trip. Just have some patience, set your clock to island time, and consider ordering two drinks instead of one.
3. Is this it?
No matter how big the resort, it can start to feel small after a few days. Once you’ve got the lay of the land, figured out which pools you like best, it can feel pretty routine. “Oh look, there’s DJ Leo doing trivia in the pool again.” “Gee, another coconut drink with the animal faces made out of fruit.” “Another evening dance performance (that is not Mexican)—cool.” It can kind of feel like the same old, same-old after just a couple of days.
That isn’t inherently terrible. My party of four discussed how the resort might be a great place to work from home. Meetings on your balcony and emails by the pool. We talked about how if we were there for longer (seven days, instead of four) we would actually take advantage of yoga on the beach, the pristine gym facilities. Maybe we would do excursions through the hotel offerings. Or rent a car and go it alone.
There are opportunities to leave and situations where staying put might not be the worst. (Like the work from home example).
But if you are not planning to leave the resort, it can feel pretty tired pretty early on.
This view from our balcony (with jacuzzi). It really, really is not the worst.
That’s all I’ve got. Those are my pros and cons of all-inclusive resorts.
Do they ring true for you?
Sometimes at the end of a post, I end up having more questions than answers. And this is one of those cases. I hope some of you will take a second to answer in the comments 😊
People who love all-inclusives—Am I way off? Speak your mind! Tell us what we’re missing. Give us all the pros I missed. And let us know your favorite all-inclusive resorts!
Anti all-inclusive folx—What keeps you away? Are there obvious cons I missed here?
Do we think that flight attendants are more against all-inclusives than regular folx? Or am I just a travel snob? Do Flight Attendants like the bottomless buffets and margaritas as much as the next guy?
Tell me what you guys think in the comments! We’re conducting VERY IMPORTANT research here!
Thanks for stopping by for another round here at A Wheel in the Sky. If you’ve got ideas for future posts or questions you want answered—about flight attendant life, travel, life without alcohol, or other topics tackled in this blog—then feel free to reach out. In the comments, email, or in my Instagram DMs. Always happy to hear from you 😊
I hope you’re all busy planning your next trip—even if it is to an all-inclusive.