Families on the Go: Are All-Inclusives Really Worth It?

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A family trip can be a wonderful way to reconnect, recharge and escape regular life, but it can also be a pricey endeavor.

The cost of flights, car rentals, accommodations, childcare, meals and drinks can be overwhelming.

Thankfully, there is an alternative: all-inclusive resorts.

Families On The Go: Are All-Inclusives Really Worth It?

By definition, staying at an all-inclusive means all of your lodging, dining, drinking and activity costs are lumped together in one sum (usually upfront), which is often lower than the à la carte option.

What to Expect

If the word “all-inclusive” makes you think only of honeymooning couples and spring-breaking college kids, think again. Turns out, there are a ton of reasons why families should consider an all-inclusive vacation.

How Do You Have Family Fun on a Budget?

Would you ever consider staying at an all-inclusive with your family, or have you? Do you find the prices to be comparable to an à la carte vacation?
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Free Food

Taking the family to an all-inclusive means you won’t have to worry about what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or how much all of that will cost. It’s part of the package. With this sort of vacation, you can eat and drink all you want without worrying about hidden fees at the end, or feeling nickel-and-dimed while you’re supposed to be relaxing. That said, if you’re a true food gourmand, then an all-inclusive vacation may not be for you; the food at most all-inclusives isn’t Michelin-star quality.

The all-inclusive food option is especially appealing to families with picky eaters. Got a kid who wants to try the fajitas, and it turns out he hates them? Just head back to the buffet and try something new. All-inclusives tend to have some kind of food available most hours of the day, so hungry teens shouldn’t have a problem grabbing a snack before their next adventure. Which brings us to …

Activities Galore

Entertainment options, like kids’ clubs, sporting equipment and supervised games are usually included in the price, so you won’t have to worry about bored kids. As a side note, while some equipment and activities will be available at almost any all-inclusive, other, more intensive activities will probably cost you extra. For example, snorkel gear might be available for free snorkeling along the shoreline, whereas taking a boat to snorkel in deeper water might cost you.

Babysitting Services

All-inclusives tend to offer options for childcare services, whether through babysitters, kids-only supervised activities or kids’ clubs. This means that even though you’re on a “family” vacation, you and your sweetie can easily slip away for some alone time.

What You’ll Pay

The price tags that come with an all-inclusive stay might cause a bit of sticker shock … at first. A family could almost certainly stay at a national hotel chain for cheaper, but the added price is because the quality of all-inclusive hotels tend to be nicer, and all of your options will be rolled up into one price. So, after taking into account food and activities, does it come out on top?

To show how the two options would compare, we priced out an all-inclusive hotel stay as compared to a similar, non all-inclusive option. This is just one example, but we wanted to show the rough math.

All-inclusive option:
Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Port St. Lucie, Florida (a 4.5-star hotel rating on TripAdvisor.com)

  • Price: $3,018 for a 7-night stay in a Deluxe Family Room with a private room for parents and separate bedroom for kids
  • A deluxe room that sleeps a family of four
  • All meals and drinks
  • Activities including the kids’ club, baby gym, circus school, sailing, golf and tennis, and more
  • Professional childcare specialists 
  • Total Cost: Approximately $3,018, with the exception of any additional tips you want to give (taxes and standard gratuity included)

À la carte option:
All prices are based on estimates for an average family’s expenses, staying at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Port St. Lucie, Florida (a 4.5-star hotel rating on TripAdvisor.com)

  • Price: $667 for a 7-night stay in a king bed studio suite with full-size sofa sleeper 
  • Breakfast included
  • 7 lunches for family of four = $280
  • 7 dinners for family of four = $560
  • 7-day car rental + two tanks of gas = $400
  • 3 rounds of golf at nearest course= $360
  • Family activities, like mini golf and museum visits, for 7 days = about $700
  • Gym = Free
  • Total Cost: About $2,967

Our Verdict

In the end, and depending on your personal choices, the costs come out roughly the same. If your family likes to have tons of flexibility and venture away from where you’re staying, then an all-inclusive probably isn’t for you. If you’d love to plop the family down in one spot where all your activities, food and drink are taken care of, an all-inclusive could be a great fit. Moreover, many of the activities offered at an all-inclusive (like an art studio, baby gym or circus school) might be otherwise hard, or impossible, to find in the area–and, for the same price as an à la carte vacation, you may be able to afford nicer accommodations, such as a suite with a private room away from the kids.

Some Good Options

We did a little searching, and each of the resorts below is accessible by direct flights from major U.S. airports, includes tons of activity options for kids and adults and allows a family of four to bunk together in one suite.

Small disclaimer: All rates are quoted for a family of four (two adults and two children) traveling in the busy season of March 2012. Prices will vary drastically based on time of travel, type of room you stay in and what specials are taking place at the time. We know you might have to save up for a trip like this, so feel free to use these as simple benchmarks for the future.

If you travel in the off-season, you should be able to find prices $100-$200 per night cheaper. Just keep in mind the weather—traveling off-season puts you at risk for bad weather, like hurricanes or heavy rains. Do some research ahead of time to make sure you don’t travel during an inclement time.

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