All-inclusive resorts: I don’t get the appeal

Every year from January to April, Canadians fly away from the unrelenting wackiness of winter to sunny spots in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Mexico, to spend their precious vacation time and kids’ March Break at an all-inclusive. Getting away from winter sounds great, but when I hear “all-inclusive resort,” I think one thing:

It’s simple: I just don’t get the appeal. If there’s something fun or interesting to be had from an all-inclusive, it hasn’t really been explained to me in a way that makes me want to do it. To that end, I canvassed my Facebook friends for insight. While I greatly appreciated the feedback, their responses can be sorted into several categories:

  • it’s easy
  • it’s cheap
  • you don’t have to think about it
  • if you need to zone out, do this
  • everything you need is in one place
  • it’s easy (there were so many of these, it’s going on the list twice)

All-inclusive travel is no joke, economically speaking. Statistics Canada international travel summaries  from 2010 show Mexico (1.3 million Canadian visitors), Cuba (1 million), and Dominican Republic (753,000) are three of the top countries visited by Canadians each year, and a combined total of CAD$3 billion in spending while in the country.

While all-inclusive travel is undeniably popular, I have a short list of concerns about all-inclusives:

  • The local economic development impacts are not clear. Beyond waged employment, these types of enterprises are generally not locally-owned, unless they’re owned by the state, which means profits and other benefits don’t stay in the (mostly developing) countries
  • Depending on the country, the atmosphere is very contained and a traveler’s foreign experience is the act of being in the country not meeting its people or seeing anything beyond the beach. From the stories I’ve heard, it sounds like you mostly spend time with other Westerners.
  • It sounds boring. What do you do all day? Drink? Sit?

Sitting on beach sounds great for a day. But then what? Moving to the pool with a plastic bracelet on while other Canadians are woo-hooing all night? Pass.

From my friends with families, I understand the budget appeal and ease-of-use. Looking around online, I found deals that could be booked immediately, leaving on a jetplane today. For a grand total of CAD$800, including taxes, I lined up some appealing packages that included airfare, an apartment-style hotel which includes breakfast and a pool for seven days.

An apartment in a town or city with great weather is definitely more my speed. Honestly, I was surprised to find something that could get me thinking about becoming an all-inclusive convert. Every bleak winter, I hit a point where I think about it and maybe next winter this will be it.

Now, cruises, they’re another matter entirely. HARD PASS.

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  1. The issue isn’t what the all-inclusive (or cruise) does or doesn’t have, the issue is the demographics of the traveller. If you are an adult travelling on your own or with one other adult, the world is your oyster. If you are travelling with children (or in my case a baby and a mobility challenged septuagenarian) sometimes you need to go somewhere where everything is “right there” and it’s easy. Now personally we go on cruises, because all three of us love being on a ship, you get to see different places (albeit briefly) but I can still get some of that sun and sand time that frankly, probably saves me from getting sicker than I do every winter. Which is also why some people like the all-inclusives. There are just looking for a break with a little sun and sand time.

  2. Much like you, I’ve never felt all inclusives are for me – with the exception of Cuba. A close friend loves it there, and has been a couple times. It seems like she was really able to explore Havana and spend a couple days lazing around on the beach. Glad you posted this because it’s nice to know such deals can be found.

  3. We’ve only done one all-inclusive. We went to Panama. And it turned out to be not that all inclusive because, yeah, we got kind of bored, and took a lot of excursions (both the resort-organized one, and an all-day-taxi-hire trip to Panama City.

    But we might consider it in the future with O-Dawg and any hypothetical siblings. For the easy, all-in-one-spot, sunny, sandy, pooly, no need to organize trips to restaurants kind of travel that will be easier until the kids are big enough to drag around cities using local transportation and other fun backpacking things.

  4. I see your points about all-inclusives, but it’s important to keep in mind that just bc you book a week at a resort doesn’t mean you have to stay on the resort the whole week. My bf and I just went to Mexico for a week and we rented a car for two days and drove to Merida (the nearest city – further toward the interior, therefore not a huge tourist trap – lots of authentic Mexican culture), visited Chichen Itza, the Ikkil Cenote, etc. We also took a day and visited Playa del Carmen to shop and look around and another day at a close-by eco/water park. We really only stayed on the resort and laid by the pool/beach a couple of days out of our week! Resorts can certainly be boring, but if you are someone (like my bf and I) that gets bored easily and needs variety, just book somewhere that is close to a major city or sites of some kind (like Playa, where we went, or Havana is another great choice) and you’ll have lots of choice for things to do. We couldn’t have been bored our week if we tried! Booking an AI was basically a cheap way to get the cleanliness, safety and amenities of a nice hotel combined with the freedom to do as much or as little as we wanted and explore the region – plus it WAS a vacation after all, so it was nice to have the option to sit and lounge if that’s what we felt like doing. Great blog!

  5. You make good points here, however it’s important to keep in mind that just bc you book an all-inclusive doesn’t mean you have to stay on the resort the whole week. You can be as lazy or not as you like! My bf and I recently went to Playa del Carmen and we rented a car for two days and spent a night in Merida, visited Chichen Itza, the Ikkil Cenote, etc. We also took a day and visited a nearby eco-water park and another day we went into Playa to explore. We really only “lounged” a couple of days out of our week! If you are someone (like my bf and I) who get bored easily and need variety, just make sure you book somewhere in a central area close to attractions and at least one large town or city. We couldn’t have been bored our week if we tried! For us, booking the all-inclusive gave us options: the cleanliness, safety, unlimited drinks/food, and amenities of the nice hotel + the freedom to come and go as we pleased – it was kind of the best of both worlds. Even though we are not ones to lay by the pool all day every day, it was nice to have that option.


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