Cruise or All Inclusive Resort? Counting the Costs.

Hey, globetrotters, it's Sarah again! If you've followed my travel tales, you know I've got a soft spot for both cruises and all-inclusive resorts. But hey, the million-dollar question (well, hopefully not that much): Which one's more wallet-friendly?

The Nitty-Gritty: All-Inclusive Resorts

Let's talk deets. I was at this swanky all-inclusive resort last summer, and you wouldn't believe it—the price covered EVERYTHING. We're talking meals, drinks, and even some of the water sports. But there's a kicker. Many resorts have premium activities or dining experiences that can sneak up on you. Take that into account, and you might end up shelling out more than expected. However, on the upside, no tipping! That’s a New Yorker's dream come true. Your second block of text...

All-Inclusive Resorts

  1. Accommodation: Prices often start around $300 per night but can go into the thousands for luxury locations.
  2. Food and Beverages: Usually included, sometimes even premium alcohol.
  3. Activities: Often included, but special excursions or spa services may be extra.
  4. Travel: Airfare not typically included.
  5. Additional Costs: Tips, certain high-end restaurants, special activities.

All-Inclusive Resorts: When They Do Better

Examples of Locations with Ample All-Inclusive Resort which make those the better more affordable option when considering overall value.

  1. Cancun, Mexico: Not only does Cancun have a plethora of all-inclusive options, but many are also focusing on sustainability efforts, such as waste reduction and local community support.
  2. Dominican Republic: With places like Punta Cana offering a multitude of all-inclusive resorts, you're spoilt for choice. Several of these establishments have been adopting more sustainable practices in recent years.
  3. Jamaica: Known for its vibrant culture and beautiful beaches, Jamaica offers a variety of eco-friendly all-inclusive resorts that make it easier to relax without worrying about your environmental footprint.
  4. Greece: Particularly in islands like Santorini or Mykonos, you'll find all-inclusive options that often use local produce, solar power, and offer cultural excursions that support the local economy.
  5. Thailand: From Phuket to Koh Samui, Thailand offers several all-inclusive resorts focused on sustainability, many of which are positioned in less touristy areas to reduce overcrowding.
  6. Turks and Caicos: Known for luxury and seclusion, many of its all-inclusive resorts are now following sustainable practices, including water conservation and eco-friendly toiletries.
  7. Seychelles: This island nation offers several high-end, all-inclusive resorts that focus on sustainability, from building materials to food sourcing.
  8. Morocco: Places like Marrakech and Fez offer all-inclusive resorts that provide authentic local experiences. They are generally smaller and contribute to less waste and environmental damage compared to cruises in the area.
  9. Fiji: Known for its coral reefs and outdoor activities, Fiji has several all-inclusive eco-resorts that focus on marine conservation and sustainable tourism.

See Sandals Resorts Montego Bay in this video: 

  1. Eco-Resorts in Costa Rica: Costa Rica's commitment to sustainability makes it a prime location for eco-friendly resorts. These all-inclusive spots often run on renewable energy, reduce waste, and offer nature immersion activities.
  2. Bali, Indonesia: An ideal location for those seeking spiritual and mental well-being. Bali offers numerous wellness retreats that are all-inclusive, focusing on yoga, meditation, and locally sourced meals.
  3. The Maldives: Although it's a high-end destination, the Maldives has several resorts with strong commitments to coral reef protection and renewable energy. Ideal for honeymooners or romantic getaways.
  4. Tulum, Mexico: Known for its yoga retreats and beautiful beaches, Tulum offers several all-inclusive resorts that cater to the eco-conscious traveler.
  5. Kenyan Safari Resorts: Combine the all-inclusive experience with wildlife conservation. Many of these resorts contribute directly to animal conservation efforts.
  6. New Zealand: If you're looking for outdoor adventure and locally sourced food, New Zealand offers eco-lodges and farm-to-table dining experiences in an all-inclusive package.
  7. Swiss Alps: Especially great for winter sports enthusiasts. Your all-inclusive package can include ski passes and equipment rental, reducing the need for multiple transportation options and excess waste.

Ahoy There: Cruising Costs

Adjusting the 2019 figures by adding 50% to account for inflation and other cost increases gives us an estimate for 2023/2024 as follows:

Passenger Ticket Revenue (Estimated for 2023/2024)

  • Carnival Corp: $151 pp, per day in 2019 becomes approximately $226.50 pp, per day.
  • Royal Caribbean Group: $175 pp, per day in 2019 becomes approximately $262.50 pp, per day.
  • NCLH: $219 pp, per day in 2019 becomes approximately $328.50 pp, per day.

Onboard Spending (Estimated for 2023/2024)

  • Carnival Corp: $68 pp, per day in 2019 becomes approximately $102 pp, per day.
  • Royal Caribbean Group: $69 pp, per day in 2019 becomes approximately $103.50 pp, per day.
  • NCLH: $94 pp, per day in 2019 becomes approximately $141 pp, per day.

These figures provide a more current estimate for travelers planning their budgets for a cruise in 2023 or 2024. Keep in mind that these are still estimates, and actual costs can vary.

Cruises, my friends, are a different beast altogether. You might find a killer deal that gets you thinking, "this is it." But hold your horses. Gratuities are generally not included, and they accumulate—fast. Then, there are the on-shore excursions. You really think you’re gonna pass up snorkeling in the Caribbean? Didn't think so. Oh, and specialty dining? Add that to the tab.

Cruises

  1. Accommodation: Cabin costs can start around $200 per night for budget options and go up.
  2. Food and Beverages: Meals are generally included, but alcohol and specialty dining usually aren't.
  3. Activities: On-board activities often included, excursions are extra.
  4. Travel: You'll need to reach the port of departure, which often involves additional travel costs.
  5. Additional Costs: Mandatory gratuities, gambling, on-board shopping, and sometimes even things like bottled water.

The Surprise Factor

Let's not forget the 'surprise' costs. WiFi on cruises is, pardon my French, exorbitant. At a resort, you can usually get it for free. And what about getting to the port for the cruise? If it's not in your hometown, you've got airfare to consider.

Expense Item All-Inclusive Resort Cruise Notes
Base Price $150-$600 per night per person $100-$500 per night per person All-inclusive usually covers room, meals, and some activities.
Flights Varies Varies Not typically included in either option.
Transfers Sometimes included Extra, unless specified Some all-inclusive resorts offer airport transfers.
Meals Included Included Quality and variety can differ.
Alcoholic Beverages Usually included Extra cost Some luxury cruises may include alcohol.
Excursions Extra, unless specified Extra Can add significantly to the cost on both.
Spa Services Extra, unless specified Extra
Wi-Fi Usually included Extra Some modern cruises are including Wi-Fi in the package.
Gratuities Usually included Extra Gratuities are often automatically added to your bill on cruises.
Entertainment Included Included
Gym Access Included Included
Specialty Dining Extra, unless specified Extra
Travel Insurance Extra Extra Not typically included in either option.
Environmental Impact Can be managed better at eco-resorts Generally higher Consider choosing resorts with sustainability initiatives.

So, Who Wins?

If you're a control freak like me, all-inclusive resorts offer a bit more predictability in pricing. Cruises? They're like New York: full of surprises, some more welcome than others.

Cost Effectiveness

  • Short-Term: Cruises often appear cheaper initially but can end up costing more when all is said and done due to extra fees and optional experiences.
  • Long-Term: All-inclusive resorts can offer more bang for your buck if you plan on staying for an extended period and want to know all your costs upfront.

FlexibilityOverall ExperienceBest For

  • Cruises offer the excitement of visiting multiple destinations but are generally more rigid in scheduling.
  • Resorts allow for a more flexible, personalized itinerary, and can provide a more in-depth cultural experience.
  • Cruises offer a "see many places, shallowly" experience.
  • Resorts offer a "see one place, deeply" experience.
  • Cruises: Ideal for those who want a sample platter of destinations and enjoy the social aspects of group travel.
  • All-Inclusive Resorts: Perfect for travelers wanting a more laid-back, deeply personalized holiday.

Bonus Tips:

  • Check for Certifications: Look for resorts with sustainability certifications like Green Key or EarthCheck.
  • Ask About Initiatives: Don't hesitate to ask about a resort's sustainability efforts. Many are more than willing to share their green initiatives with you.

While cruises offer the advantage of visiting multiple destinations in one trip, the dense concentration of all-inclusive resorts in these locations provides more controlled environments where sustainability can be better managed. So, if you're eco-conscious, these destinations may align more closely with your values.

Frequently Asked Questions: Cruise vs All-Inclusive Resorts

Q1: What is typically included in the price of a cruise?

A1: A cruise fare typically includes your cabin, meals in main dining areas, and basic onboard entertainment. However, you'll have to pay extra for excursions, specialty dining, alcohol, and some other amenities.

Q2: What does "all-inclusive" actually mean for resorts?

A2: At an all-inclusive resort, your stay generally includes your room, all meals, drinks (including alcohol), and a variety of activities and entertainment on the property.

Q3: Which option is more budget-friendly?

A3: It can vary widely based on the type of experience you're looking for. Cruises can offer budget-friendly options, but extras can add up. All-inclusive resorts are generally upfront about costs, making it easier to budget.

Q4: Which option is better for families?

A4: Both cruises and all-inclusive resorts can be family-friendly but offer different experiences. Cruises often have kids' clubs and family activities, while resorts offer the freedom to move around without the confines of a ship.

Q5: How do the dining experiences compare?

A5: Cruises often feature a variety of dining options, from buffet to fine dining, but specialty venues often cost extra. All-inclusive resorts typically include a range of dining experiences in the upfront cost.

Q6: What about alcohol?

A6: Many all-inclusive resorts include unlimited alcoho Answer

Q7: What are the environmental considerations?

A7: Cruises are generally considered less environmentally friendly due to their high fuel consumption and waste production. Many resorts are now focusing on sustainability, making them a more eco-conscious choice.

Q8: Can I customize my experience?

A8: Both options offer customization, but at an additional cost. Excursions on cruises and special activities at resorts are usually not included in the base price.

Q9: What about socializing opportunities?

A9: Both cruises and resorts offer communal settings ideal for meeting people. However, the close quarters on a cruise may make it easier to bump into the same people and forge connections.

Q10: What if I get seasick?

Q10: What if I get seasick?

I hope this FAQ clarifies the main differences and considerations for choosing between a cruise and an all-inclusive resort for your next vacation.

table comparing different aspects of cruises and all-inclusive resorts

Aspect Cruise All-Inclusive Resort
Accommodation Cabin, usually smaller than a hotel room Hotel room or suite, generally more spacious
Meals Basic meals included, specialty dining extra All meals included, various dining options
Alcohol Usually extra, or available via drink package Often included, sometimes premium liquor is extra
Entertainment Shows, pools, and basic activities included Varies but usually includes shows, water sports, and other activities
Excursions/Activities Extra cost, wide range of options Some included, others like spa treatments extra
Socializing Easy to meet people but can feel crowded More space but might require more effort to socialize
Environmental Impact Generally less eco-friendly Varies, some focus on sustainability
Customization Available at an extra cost Available, sometimes at an extra cost

About the Authors

April Ricky Author Photo

Avid travelers who love to find a deal, Ricky and April Wright love to share about awesome experiences in amazing places. Ricky worked in resorts for decades which led him to prioritize guest experience combined with great locations. The result is awesome, hand-picked resorts for you to visit.