When is an all-inclusive vacation really all-inclusive?
That’s a question that comes up often when travelers consider whether to book a resort vacation or a cruise vacation. So often, in fact, that it makes me wonder if there really is such a thing as an all-inclusive vacation anymore. And if not, which one is more inclusive: the cruise or the resort?
It’s important to know what you’re getting from your “all-inclusive” deal, whether it’s on land or at sea. If you fail to research the product properly, you could end up on a trip from hell with a credit card bill to match. There’s no need for that to happen, so listen up.
Cruises are rarely all-inclusive.
Most cruise lines include your cabin, your meals and your onboard entertainment in the published fare. But if you’re not careful, the bill that is discreetly slipped under your door on your last night at sea just might make you want to jump ship.
On most cruises you can expect to pay extra for beverages (not just alcohol, but also soda), all shore excursions, any meals in the “specialty” restaurants, onboard purchases, gambling (never charge gambling to your stateroom unless you want a hefty surcharge), maybe ice cream at the Häagen-Dazs shop, your burger at Johnny Rockets, your internet access, your telephone calls and, of course, your tips.
For a family of four, you can easily add $1,000 to your “all-inclusive” cruise fare. When you board, you will usually be required to put a credit card on file for those charges. For those who don’t use credit cards, or don’t want to give their credit card number to the ship, many ships now require cash deposits of $200 per day; any refunds due at the end of the cruise will be paid by check when you disembark, so save some money for the cab fare home.
As long as your travel professional (or professional Web site) has made you aware of the additional costs, you will have a great time enjoying the experience that only cruising can offer. Unlike any land-based vacation, a cruise will take you to many different places — five or six ports of call during a week at sea. While the port stays tend to be short, cruising is a good way to get the flavor of a region — perhaps as a prelude for a future land-based visit. Ships currently sail in all seven oceans and while the Caribbean may be the most popular, cruising can be also be a great way to see the South Pacific. If the warm sand is not calling, cruising Europe can save you a bundle. Take advantage of the weak dollar and book your “mostly-inclusive” vacation with your U.S. dollars (save the splurge for that fabulous restaurant in Monte Carlo or Barcelona).
All-inclusive resorts are a relatively new phenomenon, and they are limited mostly to the Caribbean and Mexico. Here, for one upfront price, your vacation does indeed include virtually everything, including all your drinks, ice cream, water sports, diving, and yes, even golf if it is available.
If you are a finicky drinker, be sure to check whether the program includes premium alcohol; a lot of resorts include only the local hooch. Of course, any personal purchases and gambling are on you. You will be required to put a credit card on file for your incidentals, but it is very easy to walk away without any charges. Your personal expenses will be a bargain in the Caribbean and Mexico, anyway, due to the strong dollar in those areas.
Now that your expenses are in check, be sure the all-inclusive resort lifestyle is for you. Most all-inclusive vacationers are content to remain on the resort property just basking in the sun, one umbrella over their head and another in their drink. The resorts generally do offer side trips to local attractions for guests who get antsy; the prices for these are comparable to what you would pay for a shore excursion offered by a cruise line.
As on a cruise ship, the food at an all-inclusive resort will be plentiful and varied in the main dining area. Most resorts will have several themed restaurants for you to try out as well; these restaurants generally require a reservation and have a dress code, but they are available at no additional charge.
Cruise or resort? It’s up to you. But as you plan your “all-inclusive” vacation, you need to keep one more thing in mind: Many destinations are very affordable once you get there, but the cost of getting there is sky high. So choose your resort or cruise carefully. Cancun and Jamaica (the epicenters of all-inclusive resorts) offer affordable airfare worldwide, and many cruise lines now sail from embarkation cities all up and down the U.S. coast: Baltimore, Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, Galveston, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. If you don’t know all about air routes and cruise ports, talk to a travel agent.
With some research and a better understanding of what “all-inclusive” means, you can get control of your vacation costs. That way you’ll know what you’re paying for, and you’ll come home relaxed and refreshed — not broke.