Cruise vs. All-Inclusive Resort: Which Is Best for You?

Summer is near, which means it’s time to book that long overdue vacation. Whether you’re headed south of the border or to the Caribbean, the beaches and ports of the world are calling your name! 

With endless destinations, the big decision to make is not only where to go, but how to see it. 

Two of the best vacation options are all-inclusive resorts and cruises. They each offer a comprehensive and total experience — nobody wants to think about meal planning on vacation. Keeping in mind that both lend themselves to an easy and luxurious stay, there are differences to take into consideration. 

Packaged experiences like a cruise or an all-inclusive resort don’t require hours of extra  planning, but you should consider what you’re getting for these package deals. Are they really worth the price you’ll pay, and if so, which one is more suitable for your vacation experience? The differences between the two can lead to pretty different vacations.

It all comes down to what you value in a vacation experience. Do you like daily excursions to and from white sands? Are you ready for ocean views out your window 24/7 as you travel the sea? Here’s one thing to consider: do you get seasick? If you do, definitely don’t head on a cruise. 

Getting There

One of the major factors in considering your ideal vacation is the amount you want to spend on air travel to arrive. Cruises often depart from major ports nearby international airports. It’s easy to leave on a Mexican or Caribbean cruise from California or Florida, but what if you don’t live in these states? 

Make sure when you’re booking a cruise that the air travel works for you. You don’t want to be spending money on a cruise plus extremely expensive airfare. Planning is key if you don’t live near a major port city with international airports and cruise line departures.  

Depending on where you live, air travel may also not be necessary! All-Inclusive resorts more often require an extra day or two of travel, like taking commuter jets from smaller regional airports or ferries. That being said, travel is often included in the price of an all-inclusive experience, which can help keep you organized and ready for your vacation without much thought. 

You won’t be left to figure out your own transportation and you’ll have access to a support team from the resort who can help you with any challenges that may arise. So in a sense, all-inclusive resorts can be a great way for you to sit back and enjoy your vacation without a thought of transportation questions, which can be a total nightmare. 

Think Location

Cruises get big points for giving guests the opportunity to visit multiple ports and countries in a short time span. It’s not uncommon to wake up in a new country every morning on some cruises since you have access to so many different places in a short amount of time! Traveling from location to location to location would otherwise take extreme planning at extreme cost. And because you’re staying in a floating hotel you can keep your same bed for the entire trip! 

Visiting so many different locations will not only increase the number of colorful stamps in your passport but give you access to a ton of different cultural experiences. You can ride mopeds in Rome and gamble in Monte Carlo on the same vacation. But if you’re looking to spend more time in one place, with less travel and scheduled departures, then you might consider an all-inclusive resort. 

One Beach…or Five?

All-inclusives give you the option to build a vacation routine and familiarize yourself with a specific place, while a cruise gives you access to an assortment of different places that you only get glimpses of. But hey, if you’re looking for multiple beach experiences then a cruise is the right fit for you. However, if you’re ready to sip some mojitos on the white-sanded shores of a Caribbean island and not move for a week, then the all-inclusive option is right for you. 

Maybe you’re looking for one beach so that you can experience various recreation options? Then an all-inclusive resort may be better suited for you, and your family, if they’re traveling with you. 

All-inclusives were originally built to give travelers a sense of safety and comfort, and you can expect that when staying at a closed-off resort. Either way, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to wear your newest bathing suit or sundress and enjoy crystal clear waters and a warm tropical breeze. 

Home Away From Home

Accommodations on cruises and at all-inclusives are definitely different. For starters, there’s more space on land than sea, obviously. 

For this reason, the average room at an all-inclusive resort is going to offer more square footage at a lower price with some additional storage. However, cruise ships have to pack thousands of people aboard a large floating resort, and that limits the cabin space. 

If you’re not comfortable in smaller spaces, you might find yourself enjoying the all-inclusive resort more. 

Both options will offer tiered accommodations, but it’s safe to assume that when landlocked you will at least have a window/balcony, which some cheaper cruise options do not. And who doesn’t want to watch a sunset from a balcony in a caftan?

Finding Cuisine That Serves You

Food aboard cruise ships and at all-inclusive resorts are prepped in-house. Typically both will offer multiple dining spaces, so you’re not eating every meal in the same restaurant with the same guests. 

Cruises often include a basic meal package, but leave out many extras like alcohol and more expensive dining options. That’s right; don’t expect any free drinks on a cruise ship, those prices will add up quickly. 

However, if you’re someone who doesn’t drink, then paying for an all-inclusive resort may not be worth it for you. Alcohol is included in the all-inclusive prices.

When docked at different ports, you’ll have the chance to try different local cuisines throughout the day. At an all-inclusive resort, what you see is what you can eat at your price point.

When it comes to food quality it’s worth considering that ingredients on cruises tend to be less fresh than at a resort where the kitchen can be restocked more regularly. Ultimately, both options may rely on buffet-style selections and other less than luxury dining selections. 

So if you’re looking for the best of the best when it comes to cuisine, try to travel off the ship or dine locally near your resort. 

Staying Entertained 

Cruises are known for their world-class entertainment options. Most ships have multiple performance spaces that host a range of options from Broadway-level productions to ice skating spectaculars. 

These options will give you plenty to pick from on days spent entirely at sea, and trust us, there are many. 

All-inclusive resorts also include a range of entertainment options, but they don’t typically exhibit the same showcase of world-class performances and high production value. 

Cruises offer plenty of options for adults to spend time away from the little ones, like nightclubs and wine tastings. You can still find entertainment at all-inclusive resorts, but they may not operate at the same level of grandeur that customers have come to expect on cruises. 

However, there is a sense that cruise entertainment can be exhausting. If you’re on a two-week cruise, it might get a little old to go to a show every night. Consider this when choosing a resort or cruise for your next vacation!

Kids and Travel

Let’s face it: traveling with kids is tough. You want to relax, but being a parent requires constant supervision and planning for every moment. However, you’re trying to go on a vacation…how do you balance kids and travel?

Both options here can help to relieve some of the difficulties that come with traveling as a family. The first thing to think about is whether or not the space on a cruise will be sufficient enough for you and your whole family. How old are your kids? Do they want their own rooms? Are they younger than five? You may end up needing double the space you would at an all-inclusive to accommodate the entire family, or you may not. 

Cruises definitely offer a lot of 24/7 fun activities, as well as a more regimented schedule that can give you time to plan your own excursions with your partner. Endless programming for the family means there’s always an outlet for the energy kids need to burn off. 

Both cruises and all-inclusives offer plenty of recreation, but cruise ships are certainly more geared to families that may need some additional structure and distraction to keep little ones from boredom. And good news; both will offer spa treatments for you and your partner to unwind after a long day.

Pricing Your Experience

The price structure of cruises and all-inclusives are similar but have some differences. Cruises usually have more hidden costs. Don’t be surprised at the end of sailing the seas to find a large bill forwarded your way. 

And while all-inclusive resorts have been retrofitted to offer WiFi, many cruise ships still don’t have full internet connectivity for free. 

Hidden Costs

Another hidden cost of cruising is shore excursions, which will lead to other sightseeing opportunities and expenses not covered by the cruise line. All of this means you have to be more responsible in budgeting a cruise. Don’t let yourself spend more than you’d like to on a vacation this summer. 

You’ll find that many all-inclusives tend to be more expensive in general, often thousands more upfront. That’s not to suggest there aren’t ritzy cruises out there. Both cruises and all-inclusives exist at several price points that give you options when planning which vacation to splurge on. Definitely do your research ahead of time so that you can know your options and find price points suitable for you. 

Sunny Activities

Both cruises and all-inclusives are bound to offer a variety of fun recreational activities. Cruise ships are now built to include anything from mini-golf to go-kart racing, to zip-lining. Day trips off the ship to local ports will also offer additional activities that might give you more regional experiences you won’t find aboard. 

Most of the recreational activities at all-inclusives will tend to be more based in the water — think parasailing and jet skiing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t thrill-seek at either. You’re bound to wind up doing some epic stuff no matter where you land. Some of these extras are not included in your initial investment, so it’s wise to do your research beforehand and budget accordingly. With wide-open spaces and ocean views, skydiving is a popular option for individuals at all-inclusives…just a thought! 

No matter where you land though, you’ll be sure to make ample use of your newest bathing suit, poolside or beachside. 

You Do You

Before booking your trip, it’s smart to consider what you want out of it. If you’d like to see the world, visit several countries, and see as much as possible, then you’d be more satisfied with what a cruise offers. 

However, the upside to an all-inclusive resort is much more downtime to relax. The pace of an all-inclusive is more geared to the workaholic who needs a break, a cocktail in hand, and a beach to work on their tan. 

The cruising experience still offers plenty of opportunities to relax by the waterside, but you’ll be more inspired to get off the ship and explore different destinations. An added bonus of cruising is the route can be adjusted to account for and avoid inclement weather. 

This is especially useful during hurricane season. All-inclusive resorts are still typically found in places with sunny weather year-round, but if you are planning to vacation during late summer in the Caribbean then take weather into account!

Start Planning

At the end of the day, the vacation of your dreams has to be determined by your own wants and needs. There is no right or wrong way to go here. A cruise ship is geared to people who want to see more of the world, to keep moving, and have new scenery every day. 

An all-inclusive resort will provide a deeper sense of relaxation, and you’ll never have to worry about making it back to port before undocking at night, which can be a total stressor. 

Both of these options are sure to give you the vacation you desperately need. And maybe next year, you’ll decide to try the other option. You simply can’t go wrong; just do what’s right for your needs and vacation hopes!


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