Top Picks For You

Hot Take Alert: My Family Can’t Stand All Inclusives

Sometimes when things seem too good to be true, it’s because they are. Take the all-inclusive resort, for example.

At first glance, free food, booze, childcare, pool access, and entertainment on a beachfront paradise sounds like the most amazing vacation. Sign me up! But upon closer inspection, things aren’t as glamorous as they seem. Food is mediocre, drinks are watered down, your kids might not be old enough or willing to part ways with you in favor of the hotel staff, and when you wish to leave for a bit of fun outside of the resort’s walls, you feel like you’re wasting the money you’d already invested into your all-inclusive staycation.

Such was my experience at my family’s first all-inclusive stay at a beachfront resort in Puerto Vallarta last summer for our friend’s destination wedding. (Full disclosure, we came down with COVID during that trip and voluntarily quarantined in our hotel room for the latter part of our stay, but I don’t think it would’ve changed my opinion.) We’d heard mixed reviews overall about all-inclusive resorts, from friends with and without children, and so were excited to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. I have since been to one other all-inclusive (also for a destination wedding in Mexico, this time in Cancun and without the kid in tow), and had previously gone on a few short cruises. While I can’t speak to the gamut of all-inclusives, I think I get the picture. In short, I’m absolutely glad that our friends presented us with an excuse to treat ourselves to an all-inclusive stay. But overall, I don’t plan on taking my family again anytime soon.

Continue Reading Article After Our Video

Recommended Fodor’s Video

Get Real About Your Travel Values

You might not agree with me. As with any decision, your travel preferences depend on your values, and I’d encourage you to always be attuned to your own likes over what some influencer or magazine writer tells you. In our family’s travels, we’ve become much more values-driven. We’ve learned that if some aspects of a trip don’t align with our values and expectations, even the most critically-acclaimed destination may not live up to the hype.

For example, I’m a foodie and look forward to and maximize every opportunity (3+ times a day) to dig into delicious local cuisine. So if I don’t get that on a trip, regardless of how amazing the scenery or chill the vibe (both also values of mine, just not quite as important as food), I get antsy. Hence why I had a hard time at the resorts–this foodie was not impressed by the fare, even at the more premium restaurants. My partner and I hypothesize that the food at all-inclusives can’t be more than passable, because otherwise, guests would overrun the kitchen staff with room service and restaurant orders.

Meanwhile, my kid’s fondest memories from our vacation were the unlimited pool time and all-you-can-eat ice cream.

See? Someone who is in touch with their values!

For the record, we value local food, being more mindful on our travels together, practicing anti-racism, swaying to the beat of our own drums, and taking things slow, meaning lots of breaks or naps in between activities, which is quite a departure from my pre-kid travel days where I made itineraries down to the minute and walked for 12+ hours every day. We continue to refine our travel preferences and uncover ways to balance our values both as a family and as individuals that are part of this family.

All this to say, you do you, boo. It’s your money and your vacation! But if you’re on the fence, here are some reasons why you might think twice before booking an all-inclusive vacation for your family:

1. You’re adventurous and want to experience local sights and culture with your family.

2. You’re a penny-pincher pained by the thought of paying a small fortune for an all-inclusive stay, regardless of how convenient–at the end of the day, the house always wins, and in your mind, there is not enough food, drinks, lounging, or babysitting that could justify the cost. Plus, you’d feel even more pained at the thought of stepping foot outside the resort and spending additional money on outside activities and sightseeing.

3. You don’t want to spend that much on all-day pool parties, food, and room service. In Mexico, we spent about $150 plus incidentals per adult per night (half that amount for our kid). Now instead, think about all the tacos you could eat with that cash!

4. You love choosing your eateries to visit and would feel limited by just a handful of predetermined buffets and restaurants that cater to bland palates.

5. You prefer to rub elbows with locals and witness everyday life in the location you’re visiting; you don’t want to be surrounded by crowds or party people or tourists all day.

6. You feel weird about constantly having to ask staff for the basic things you might be used to getting for yourself (like food).

7. White Lotus gives you the creeps–you recognize the inherent inequities within the hospitality industry. Those with the most resources get waited on hand and foot by resort staff who make minimum wage.

But one of my superpowers is seeing all sides of the coin, so while it might not seem like it, I’ll admit that my family and I enjoyed ourselves on our all-inclusive vacation. Here’s why you might, too:

1. You’re traveling with a big group (say, for a wedding) and don’t want to deal with coordinating people, itineraries, or hurt feelings–at a resort, there’s something for everyone, on their own time. This might especially be appealing to the women of the group, who tend to shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor when it comes to travel planning and household duties.

2. The thought of going out and sightseeing with your family sounds exhausting and not worth the hassle. Laying on a beach chair all week sounds like heaven and a much better deal.

3. Depending on the destination, you might actually consider an all-inclusive stay a bargain deal, providing a no-hassle, and sometimes more affordable, way to travel with your family.

4. You don’t mind food that might be just so-so–food is food, so long as everyone is fed and full. Especially if your kid is a picky eater, a buffet everyday might be your best bet to get them to chow down.

5. You and your fam love the cheesy entertainment and resort activities (in our case, pool competitions, bubble parties, Zumba lessons, and bracelet-making). This is one of the reasons why I’d consider going on a Disney cruise with my little one–I think we’d all have a lot of fun!

6. You don’t mind passing your kid off to an activity leader for a few hours.

7. Traveling makes you anxious, you don’t feel safe or experienced enough to venture out with your family, or you enjoy the certainty that comes with a set-it-and-forget-it type of vacation.

8. You love the idea of paying one bill and avoiding local scams.

9. You like living in a compound and retiring back to your room whenever you feel like it.

10. You want to experience that all-inclusive life at least once.If you haven’t tried living that all-inclusive life for yourself and are even slightly curious about it, I’d say go for it, because YOLO. You can even dip your toes in like we did on our first family trip to Mexico by splitting your vacation between gallivanting on your own and staying at an all-inclusive resort, just to experience the best of both worlds. And perhaps you won’t be a Scrooge like me and actually enjoy your time there with family!

johnecheveste3392 April 4, 2023

All-inclusives may not be everyone's favorite, but I've been a Club Med fan for 33 years now and highly recommend it to my friends with families.  The child-care facilities are first-rate and you always have the option of how much time you want to spend with the kids (if any).  You also have the option to go off the village for private tours.  The food may not be the greatest, but you don't have to make three restaurant decisions a day that tax the wallet.  Many of the clubs now have specialty restaurants with excellent service and food.  If you're a food and want to explore the area, it's not the place.  But for a relaxing beach vacation, works perfectly for me.