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All-Inclusive vs Cruise? {Book the Best for Your Family Vacation}

Are you thinking of taking a tropical vacation? As the colder weather settles in, planning a warm-weather vacation can be very tempting. Family cruises and all-inclusive vacations are two popular options for families. They both offer lots of freedom and can be easy to plan and budget for, making them perfect vacation options.

Some families may wonder whether an all-inclusive resort or a cruise is the best for your vacation. Here are some considerations to help you decide between the two.

This post contains affiliate links and a purchase/click-through of one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no cost to you. We’ve been on some cruises and all-inclusive vacations on media trips and on some at our own expense.

If you are planning on taking a cruise, consider booking through our affiliate Get Away Today.

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Comparing All-Inclusive Vs Cruise Vacations

While there are cruises and all-inclusive resorts throughout the world, for this post, we are primarily focusing on Caribbean cruises and all-inclusive resort vacations. There are so many different family-friendly options, and the weather and water temperature won’t be a differentiating factor.

Keep in mind hurricane season, however, when you may experience bad weather, dangerous conditions, and vacation interruptions. We recently had a cruise extended due to a hurricane, although we still had an amazing time.

Both of these vacation types are a great way to know the costs of your vacation upfront. With many things included, you’ll understand exactly what you’ll be spending.

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas docked with rocky coast in the foreground. oreground.

Costs

It’s difficult to compare the costs of cruises and all-inclusive vacations directly because there are so many vacation options at different price points. Budget options are available but there are also some fantastic luxurious resorts and luxury cruise lines.

There are some factors to consider though. All-inclusive vacations will typically include alcoholic beverages, while you’ll have to pay extra on a cruise ship for individual drinks or a beverage package. This can really add up if you have several expensive alcoholic drinks per day. Depending on the cruise line, soft drinks may also cost extra. For those trying to budget for their vacation in advance, an unlimited drinks package on a cruise could be a good idea.

If you need WiFi for your vacation, it’s typically offered for an additional fee on most cruise lines and can be expensive. The streaming quality may also be a little slower. On Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, for instance, there are several different levels and quality of WiFi available to purchase. WiFi at an all-inclusive resort is more likely to be included and will probably be a slightly better quality.

On a cruise vacation, you’ll also have to pay extra for any meals you have when at the various ports of call. Excursions are also an extra cost, and can definitely add up for a longer cruise. Many all-inclusive resorts don’t include motorized water sports, so keep that in mind as you budget. You may also want to do some shore excursions or meals away from the resort at your own expense.

Gratuities are another consideration that is typically not included in cruise fares. Most cruise lines will allow you to charge them to your stateroom account at the end of your cruise, while others let you prepay gratuities. For an all-inclusive resort, gratuities are sometimes included. If not, you’ll usually leave tips as you go.

Akumal volleyball net on beach

Rooms vs. cruise cabins

Rooms can definitely vary depending on the resort you choose. But in general, you’ll probably find that standard cruise staterooms are much smaller than a traditional hotel room.

For both of these vacation types, I’d expect that you won’t spend much time in the room. So, you probably won’t need to worry too much about the specific room you are in. If you’re traveling with a baby, you may prefer to have a larger room where you’ll have more space for a crib, etc.

Activities

The activities you partake in will probably vary quite a bit between all-inclusive resorts and cruises. On a cruise, you’ll have very different days depending on whether it’s a sea day or a port day. Cruises also offer many different onboard activities, including Broadway-style shows, live music, movies, game rooms, karaoke, trivia, dance parties, spa treatments, etc. While all-inclusive resorts may offer these, you’ll have to check the specific resort to learn about the activities offered.

If you want to spend all day at the beach each day, an all inclusive resort is definitely going to be a better option (assuming it’s on the beach). While you may have some beach options on port days, they will probably be more limited and you’ll have to pay extra for an excursion. If you want to roll out of bed and go right to the beach, an all-inclusive beach resort would be a great option.

Cruises often have fantastic kids’ clubs, which can be so much fun for your children and a good way to meet new people on their vacations. While some all-inclusive resorts also do, you’ll want to check in advance to see what the offerings and activities are.

For more adventurous travel or a vacation that includes multiple stops and visits to new places, a cruise is the best choice. Every day on a cruise can be different, and you can find activities at each port that fit in with what your family enjoys doing. Zip lining, snorkeling, fishing, beach days, scuba diving, exploring the local culture, and city tours are just some examples of cruise excursions that you can sign up for – just keep in mind that these are an extra cost and not part of your cruise fare.

I don’t generally feel much motion on cruise ships. However, if you are someone prone to motion sickness, that is an obvious consideration.

Dining

Depending on the resort you are looking at, you may have more dining options at an all inclusive. Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, do offer specialty restaurants in addition to the main dining room. However, specialty dining is typically available at an additional fee on cruise vacations.

At most all-inclusive resorts, you’ll be able to dine at different onsite restaurants, including a standard buffet, as part of your stay. There may also be more flexibility in reservations. Most cruises require advance reservations for specialty dining, while all-inclusive resorts may not.

As you compare, keep in mind that these are general comparisons. Depending on the cruise line and resort you are considering these things may vary and not necessarily be applicable.

Beach with turquoise water and blue sky with white clouds

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