All Inclusive Resorts: Are They Worth It?

by AJ Pettersen · 22 comments

All-inclusive resort

My wife and I recently got back from our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort, where all of our food and drinks were covered in the price of the room. Of course, this luxury came at a cost, as the nightly rate was quite high. If you stay at a resort or a hotel on vacation, how do you choose where you stay? Is the all-inclusive option a large factor?

Pros of Having Almost Everything Included

The biggest advantage of an all-inclusive hotel is convenience. My wife and I were able to order room service, drink anything out of the mini bar in our room, and go to any restaurant without worrying about getting a bill. This removed a lot of hassle and allowed us to order food and drinks without thinking about the cost. Not having to worry about tipping after every meal was also a plus. (For some, a huge plus.)

Many all-inclusive resorts offer a number of restaurant options. On our honeymoon, my wife and I had nine restaurants from which we could choose. They were all included, so we didn’t have to do any cost comparisons and instead went where we wanted.

Cons Are Present, Too

The biggest negative for all-inclusive resorts is the cost of entry. Not only do you pay for the food and drinks, but you also pay for the convenience these plans offer. For my wife and me, the cost of the all-inclusive was just over $130 per day per person. Even with all the food and drinks we ordered, I doubt we met that amount.

Another con can be the quality of the food. With all-inclusive, you aren’t usually going to get first class food. The food we ate was very good, but not incredible. The number of options was also limited. Since there’s no payment per meal, there isn’t a huge incentive to offer a lot of options or really exquisite meals.

Which Do You Prefer?

Many travel spots are starting to offer all-inclusive options, as people are becoming more receptive to the idea of paying everything up front. My wife and I found our vacation to be very stress-free, as we never even had to carry our wallets. We decided that it was a good value based solely on the convenience factor.

If you’re searching for a hotel or resort for vacationing, check to see if an all-inclusive option is offered. If you’re looking for a worry-free vacation, all-inclusive may be a good idea. If you’re looking to save some money on food and drink to spend elsewhere, or have very fine tastes, it may not be right for you.

David’s Note: I like all-inclusive resorts, because worrying about the cost of every item is no way to enjoy a vacation (something I’m prone to do!). But be careful though. Last time I was on a week-long cruise, I came home 7 pounds heavier. Don’t over-consume just because everything is free!

What’s your experience with all inclusive resorts and hotels?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

misty November 7, 2012 at 9:56 am

My experience with all inclusive hotels is that the quality of food goes way down and it is much easier to indulge on junk because it is always available. And you tend to leave the resort less often, because you have already paid for all the food and drinks. I prefer to eat at a local business and try a different variety of food that is custom to the country I am visiting. Who wants to eat Italian food in Mexico?

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Jordann @ My Alternate Life November 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I’ve never been to an all inclusive resort, which is why my fiance and I decided on that for our honey moon. I’m really looking forward to not having to pay daily, since I’m a big worrier about money.

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Kate November 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm

My Dad and I went on an Alaska cruise together, and the all-in price of food was a definite plus for us. Neither of us has much imagination when it comes to food, so the wide variety available “free” made us willing to branch out and try things we might not like (e.g. caviar, lobster thermador, escargot and things we couldn’t pronounce) and leave them on the plate if they turned out to be, um, not tasty.

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moneymaker November 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

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Dave November 20, 2012 at 7:58 am

160 hours at $79 an hour is only $12640. Where does the few hours / $18529 come in exactly?

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Joe B. November 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm

You would have to work just under 59 hours a week to earn that much. I would be willing to do that if I believed I would really make that much. But, alas, I do not.

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Carol Mac November 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I absolutely LOVE all inclusive resorts! They’re available in virtually all price ranges, and depending on why you’re going to a particular location can definitely affect your choice. I’ve gone for inexpensive (but adequate) ones to use as a base camp to explore from, to super deluxe “why would you EVER leave this place” resorts where the pure pampering is the major reason to go there! The trick is to shop around, and aim for fringe/off seasons (which usually seem to be cheapest about six weeks before going) and last minute selloffs, if you can get away with little notice. Right now I’m in a fabulous new 5* resort in Puerto Vallarta, and after factoring in the air fare and taxes, am paying less than 50 bucks a night for accommodation in a junior suite with 2 jacuzzis (one on the balcony) and spent the day eating amazing food and drinking top shelf liquor. As I post this using the free wifi and drinking the free Chivas, I’m thinking of the plush king sized bed with (lord knows why they have a down duvet on it in PV!) deluxe bedding. All inclusive all the way I say :)

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Nadja April 15, 2013 at 10:39 am

Carol Mac, what resort were you in? We often consider this type of vacation but like to hear reviews first hand!

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Allie Grohs November 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I’ve only gone to an All Inclusive once & only because it was such a great deal (effectively the cost of airfare plus 3 AI nights was less than airfare alone). I think they are fine for inexperienced travelers going to a place for the first time. That being said, if you can get half-board its better. Breakfast included is great…and being ableto get lunch or dinner is. Ice, but not feeling tied to a single location. We negotiated an airfare & 7 night package into airfare plus just 3 nights & went on our own for the other four nights. Enjoyed out other two hotels much more.njot as “grand” as the AI common rooms – but guest rooms at AIs tend to be pretty bland.

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Ron December 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I have lived and worked in the Caribbean for the past 15 years. I have never been able to understand the attraction of all inclusive resorts. From what I have seen is they are for lazy tourists who really have no interest in learning about or experiencing local culture. To those whose experience is limited to that type of vacation, perhaps try expanding your horizons. You will likely spend less and experience more. My parents did the all-inclusive thing 40 years ago and abandoned it after two tries. They went ‘on their own’ for the next 3o years and never regretted it. Places like St Lucia, Martinique, Barbados, Tobago, Dominica, and Cuba all have so much to offer that you miss by restricting yourself to an all inclusive artificial resort. Then again, that is just the opinion of an expat who has lived there for 15 years.

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Kathy March 4, 2013 at 12:03 pm

“Lazy tourists” who want to relax on their vacations since they work 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year? Everyone is different in what they want on their vacation, some want to just sit by the pool and not make any decisions about anything for a few days. You shouldn’t be so judgmental about the people who choose all-inclusive for various reasons that you obviously don’t understand because you are too busy with your snooty nose up in the air. Stay an expat.

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anne December 18, 2012 at 6:34 pm

all-in have to be picked up, too, like any other hotel. You have great ones, average, and bad ones. But they are cheaper than anything else and those who pretend anything different are lying to themselves. The author paid $130 a person for an all-in resort somewhere, Mexico, probably. If you do not drink at all, no booze, no pop, and no water (tough!), you can get cheaper places. But any decent hotel will charge you $2 for a bottle of water, $1 for a coffee, $/10 for a cocktail…. So, no wine, two meals a day with a bottle of water and a room, you will be close to $200 a day for 2 persons. Ans you say you are saving money? youdeprive yourself of all the fun, you spend the same amount and you have to be careful all the time. I have been all around the world in half board, rooms only and all in, and the cheapest and most pleasurable was the all inclusive. You do not have to pick up the lousiest, cheapest of them all. You get Club Med as all in, and great food, great drinks, great fun. Was in Kenya or Egypt in an all-in, and the people with half board doubled the price of their holidays with water, whereas we brought 24 bottles of water to the pyramids and polished them in a day 100 degrees F outside. As to the “local” places, if they are good, they are expensive. And if you want to try them, go ahead! your all-in bill won’t change.

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millennium December 28, 2012 at 7:33 am

We’ve run into a two other negatives to all-inclusive.

On Ibiza (famous Spanish dico island in the Mediterranean), the buffet food was impossible to eat!! We weren’t long puzzled by the near empty dining room. The food was attractive and beautifully displayed but had been prepared with ingredients run the clients right out the door. Outright fraud. Try to check out client satisfaction before booking an all-inclusive.

On Maspalomas in the Canary Islands, everything, including the food, was five star. In fact, it was so good, we went back the next year. This hotel was in the German “Riu” chain. We highly recommend them.

We find another draw-back to all-inclusive is it can keep you “prisoner” in your hotel. After we’ve spent so much for the package, we tend to not venture out much feeling we´re wasting something we already paid for. So, we now limit all-inclusive to vacations in isolated areas.

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Allie Grohs December 28, 2012 at 8:11 am

I prefer half board to All Inclusive – gives you more a sense of freedom – by the way the RIU chain is owned by the Spanish Riu family! I’ve only stayed in one – rooms were OK, common rooms were lovely, food was acceptable but not excellent.

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RKDen January 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

The devil is always in the details for the price of the all-inclusive. If you are paying $400/ night for a place where the average room is $150 you had better come with a large appetite (for food and/or booze). Many All-inclusives make American’s feel warm and fuzzy about their trip to other countries– ie) Mexico.

I would say 99% of the time the all-inclusive is a waste of money– however there are exceptions– kids stay free (and usually free child care for excursions) is one and if you want to spoil yourself is the other. All-inclusives are usually very relazing and it is nice to just take it easy and have all the food/drinks/ammenities avaliable. Kids stay free– that is a no-brainer!

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Tony February 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm

We had staying in all-inclusive twice Cancun, Cartagena, and would do it again. Our idea of a vcation was enjoying the beaches and sun with pampered service, not to explore in dangeous places in the city or the jungles, especially at night. They even included food on our island tour so we felt safe.

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ceka February 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

We have stayed in two AI’s, one in Cancun and one on Negril Beach, Jamaica. Negril was gorgeous, a lovely place, and the staff could not have been nicer. The food, however, left something to be desired and everything began to taste of curry after a few days. Cancun was a big disappointment. The pace was frenetic and the staff unfriendly, not at all conducive to a good vacation.

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Ep Sato March 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I typically vacation in the Caribbean and have stayed at a variety of locations in Puerto Rico. I’ve also stayed at an all inclusive in Jamaica.

Puerto Rico’s all inclusive (“Copa Marina”) is on a bleh beach, but they offer amazing food (lobster tail for dinner 7 days in a row is possible, for example), and the price isn’t that different from the “pay as you go” resorts on the north side of the island (such as the “Caribe Hilton”). The other perk is that all inclusives tend to be newer establishments.

Although I didn’t stay at a “regular” hotel in Jamaica, my all-inclusive experience there (honeymoon) was spectacular. We ate great food (the resort had 3 restaurants in-house), sat on a beautiful beach, and drank 24 hours a day thanks to a stocked bar in our room.

I have heard that it pays to spend a few extra $$$ for the “bar” rooms, but we still only paid less than $200 a night, which is what most regular hotels charge in Puerto Rico.

The other thing to consider is your vacation plan. For someone who intends to spend all day “on the road” or exploring, you’ll likely find inexpensive food. But a resort’s a bad idea for the “adventure type” in general. Who wants to pay luxury fare if they’re not going to be at the facility? The “adventurer” vacationer, the backpacker, that’s the sort of person who benefits from discount rooms, paradors and hostels.

But if you’re planning to be on the beach for a week at a resort/hotel, food’s going to be $50 a meal (for chicken fingers and burgers) anyway, so the all-inclusive is a super deal at that point.

I’ve done both sorts of vacations. Going the route of an all-inclusive, staying at a “regular” hotel or even renting a place all have their own distinct advantages. The question to ask yourself is the type of vacation you seek. If you want to sit on the beach for a week with a little umbrella getting free drinks and you don’t plan to leave “the compound,” do an all inclusive. If you want to rent a car and explore, rent a house or look into hostels or paradores. If you want a mixture of the two, then a “regular’ hotel or resort is probably best.

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Willie May 23, 2013 at 6:10 am

Just returned from 5 night all inclusive vacation at RIU at Paradise Island. There is very little I could say good so I’ll say nothing but “Don’t go there”.

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chris June 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

We stay 2-3 times per year at the Royal Solaris in San Jose delCabo…food is very good, drinks excellent, service wonderful….been going there for years and continues to be a friendly, welcoming place. Cost, wel lunder $100/per person /night all inclusive

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Michael Trotter July 12, 2013 at 7:57 pm

My wife and I stayed at the Rennaissance in Aruba. It is a mixed property, with all inclusive and regular guests staying there. Each time we ate they brought a bill to sign. We saw that breakfast ran $35-45, lunch with drinks $50-55 and dinner at L G Smith’s steak house $120-125. That’s $200 to $225 without the cost of drinks throughout the day. The cost of all inclusive was I believe was $300 a day.

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Juelz September 26, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Most of the time when going on vacation, we choose an all-inclusive resort. It makes more sense money wise! My husband and I are very active and we live a healthy lifestyle. Once or twice a year we treat ourselves to a 5 star AI Resort because we eat every 2-3 hours, It would probably cost more if we had to pay for each meal. We do have a few drinks while on vacation too. We choose five star resorts because they have a better selection of food and usually more healthy choices. I have stayed at a hotel in the Caribbean that wasn’t all inclusive and the food was very expensive. I don’t like worrying about money and how much things cost while on vacation so AI’s for me are the way to go.

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