Cruise or All-Inclusive? This is an age old question that travel agents get asked all the time. I'm here to not pick a side, but to lay out all the factors you should take into consideration before making a decision.
Before I dig in, understand that these are generalizations. You can always find exceptions. An experienced, local travel agent can help you make sense of which option can be a better fit for your next trip!
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Explorer of the Seas
All-Inclusive - Traditionally, with an all-inclusive resort, you will be at one location for your entire trip. By staying in one place, it allows you to move at your own pace. The beach is usually close by. Depending on where you are, you can explore the local area. Some great spots to do this are in Cancun and Riviera Maya. There are usually opportunities to do excursions like zip-lining, swim with the dolphins, or seeing historical ruins.
Cruise - When you are on a cruise, you are on a "floating hotel". If you pull into a port and don't like it....don't worry! Tomorrow you'll be in a new port. Part of the appeal of cruising is that you can unpack once, and then see multiple locations throughout your sailing. You traditionally only have between six and ten hours in port. One thing to remember is that you are on the ship's schedule, so it can be more difficult to move at your own pace when you know you have to get back to the ship at a certain time. This all being said, All-Inclusive resorts tend to be confined to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Cruises go everywhere. All the continents. including the South Pole!
Zoetry Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
All-Inclusive - For the most part, rooms at an all-inclusive resort will be large and full of amenities. In our experience, they will be larger than the standard hotel room in the US. The rooms typically will have one king or two queen/double beds, one or two sinks, a shower, toilet, and many times a jacuzzi/hot tub. Usually there will be a balcony and sometimes the jacuzzi/hot tub is actually located out there. There can be a mini-fridge, couch, a desk/table. In some instances, if you are on the ground floor, there could be a swim out room with a pool right outside your patio
Cruise - Be prepared for a smaller space when setting sail on a cruise. Cruises can have over twenty different options for cabin categories. When you see pricing for cruises advertised, it is almost always going to be interior pricing. This means there are no windows or access to a balcony. Traditionally, interior cabins will be the cheapest, with costs going up for an oceanview (window), or balcony cabin. Regardless of the category, the spaces tend to be smaller than a standard hotel room, with beds that either are separate twins, or can be pushed together for a king. With more than two people in the cabin, there will be additional options for sleeping. This might be a pull down bunk bed. Or even a pull-out couch. Bathrooms on cruises are compact. Many times there is only a shower, no tub. There is usually a desk, mini-fridge, and small television.
On any trip, flexibility is key!
All-Inclusive - An all-inclusive resort will traditionally have a schedule that lists activities each day. They can range from sports, yoga, cooking demos, karaoke, etc. Depending on whether or not it is an adults only property may change some of the nature of the activities. There can be boards around the resort showing what times the activities take place.
Cruise - Cruises also have a schedule that lists what activities take place each day. Typically, each evening during turndown service a steward will place the following day's schedule in your cabin. There may also be boards posted around the ship with activity options for that day. The range of activities is similar to all-inclusives. Something to remember is that for the most part, cruise ships have casinos in them. Certain locations don't allow for casinos at all-inclusives.
Oceana Restaurant at Secrets Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
All-Inclusive - One of the big reasons why people travel to all-inclusive resorts is because of the food options. There are almost always something to eat! From buffets, restaurants, snack-bars, and room service, it is hard to go hungry at an all-inclusive. Some restaurants may require reservations. It is good to find that out before you go. A travel agent can help.
Cruise - The food situation on a cruise is unique if anything. For one thing, you are usually asked when making your reservation if you want to eat "early" or "late". This is in reference to dinner, and early is usually around 6pm and late is around 8pm. In recent years, cruises are also allowing "anytime" dining, where you can eat anytime you wish. Cruise lines like Norwegian are considered "freestyle", where they don't even have an early or late option.
For other options, there are always going to be big buffets on cruises. And there are also sit-down restaurants. Beweare that these sit-down restaurants can cost extra. There are also snack bars by pools, and room-service to meet your needs.
Two pina coladas enjoying the view.
All-Inclusive - One of, if not the biggest perks of an all-inclusive resort for many people is the free drinks. Most beverages are included in your price. Some premium spirits and wine can incur additional costs. But you can probably get by without them. Keep in mind that because drinks are free, bartenders can put less alcohol in your drinks. It doesn't hurt to tell them to make it strong. You can also stick with beer and wine that have consistent alcohol amounts.
Cruise - The only beverages that come standard on cruise ships are water, lemonade, juice, coffee, milk, and tea. Higher end coffee drinks, soda, and all alcohol cost money. Most cruise lines have beverage packages you can buy. Expect to pay around $50 per person per day. On top of this, there is usually a 15% gratuity added on for each purchase. This all being said, the drinks on cruise ships can be stronger than at resorts. And if you befriend a bartender or server on one of your first days and give a good tip, they can take very good care of you.
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