Cruises versus resorts: How all-inclusive is your vacation?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Photo: PhotoDisc
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 14, 2004. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: beach, cruise, Erica Silverstein, resort.

Cruises appeal to many travelers because they are considered all-inclusive vacations. Pay one price and receive accommodations, meals, entertainment, and transportation between island and port destinations. But once onboard, many cruisers find themselves shelling out hundreds of additional dollars for shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, and gratuities. What happened to their supposedly all-inclusive vacation?

Many land-based resorts also refer to themselves as all-inclusive. Yet these properties offer a different set of included amenities. So what does it really mean to be all-inclusive?


If you've been debating the merits of cruise and resort vacations, we've come to your aid. We've compared the all-inclusiveness and considered the pros and cons of both resorts and cruises to help you choose a vacation. Read on to find out which type gives you the better value for your money, and which is the better choice for your travel preferences.

What's included?

All-inclusive cruises and resorts tend to include different amenities in the base price. Book a mainstream cruise, and you'll receive accommodations, all meals and snacks, certain beverages at meal times, use of the ship's facilities (such as the pool, kids club, and fitness center), onboard activities and entertainment, and transportation between ports-of-call. You will have to pay extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, gratuities, spa treatments, shore excursions, airfare, and airport transfers. Luxury lines may include gratuities and alcohol in their base price.

On the other hand, book an all-inclusive resort package, and you'll receive at minimum accommodations, all meals and beverages, nightly entertainment, access to the resort's facilities, use of all nonmotorized water-sports equipment (such as snorkeling gear, sailboats, and windsurf boards), and gratuities. Many also include airfare and airport transfers, and higher-end properties, such as Sandals and Super Clubs, often include scuba diving in the cost as well. You'll notice that much more is included in the resort price than in the cruise fare.

Which is a better value?

Just because a cruise includes less than a resort does not necessarily mean that it is not as good a deal. You are certainly getting a lot for your money, and with cruise lines offering specials as low as $300 or $400 per person, many travelers feel that they can save with a sea vacation.

We asked Mark Venezia, director of marketing services for NLG and Vacation Outlet, which he thought was a better value. Vacation Outlet sells both all-inclusive packages and cruise vacations. For a seven-day vacation in January, he told us that you could pay $1,100 for a resort in Mexico or the Dominican Republic. Given that most resorts offer several restaurants and a variety of beach and water activities, most vacationers never need to venture beyond the resort walls during their week's stay.

You could also get a seven-day Caribbean cruise for about $600 on Vacation Outlet. That money will get you an inside cabin with no window and tight quarters. Add on tax, airfare, and airport transfers, and your bill will be close to $1,000. That price seems comparable to the price of a week at a resort. But if you want to drink soda or alcohol, go snorkeling or sailing, have a window in your room, or even explore part of the port that is not within walking distance from the docks, you'll likely shell out hundreds more dollars. To really take advantage of a vacation opportunity, a cruiser will more likely spend more than a resort-goer.

Are you a cruise or resort vacationer?

Many kinds of travelers would be equally happy at a resort or on a cruise, but certain styles of vacations will get you better value for your dollar at each place. For instance, a cruise may be less inclusive and therefore more expensive than a comparable resort vacation, but if a resort vacation is not what you want, your trip will be less valuable to you.

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