If you are considering taking a vacation you may be wondering if a cruise or an all-inclusive resort would suit you better. There are many things to consider including the price, onboard experience, and destinations. In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of both to help you to decide which is the best fit for you.
What Is The Difference Between a Cruise and an All-Inclusive Resort?
An all-inclusive resort is a hotel on land where drinks and meals are included in the price. A cruise is similar to an all-inclusive resort apart from that the hotel, restaurants, and entertainment venues are all on a ship and different destinations are visited each day. Cruises are rarely truly all-inclusive.
There is a lot more to think about when making the decision between an all-inclusive resort and a cruise than just which is better value. There are many people who prefer to cruise than stay in all-inclusive resorts and many who prefer staying in resorts than on cruise ships.
What is Included
In a typical all-inclusive resort you’ll find the following things included in the fare as standard:
- Accommodation, Entertainment, Meals at 1 or 2 Restaurants, Some Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Drinks
On a typical cruise you’ll find the following things included in the fare as standard:
- Accommodation, Entertainment, Meals at Multiple Restaurants, Limited Non-Alcoholic Drinks
|All Inclusive Resort||Cruise|
|Meals||Yes (Limited Choice)||Yes|
|Drinks||Yes||No (Limited Drinks)|
The main difference between an all-inclusive resort and a cruise when it comes to what is included is that it is very fare to find cruises that include alcohol as standard. There are a few but these are the exceptions to the rule and most cruise lines which include alcohol as standard are quite expensive.
To learn more about which cruise lines include alcohol, including one of my favorite mainstream lines, check out this post: Which All-Inclusive Cruise Lines Include Alcohol? (Budget & Luxury)
Cruise lines do offer drinks packages where you can purchase a certain level of drinks for a certain price. The most common packages are soda packages, soft drinks packages, and alcoholic packages.
You usually pay per day and are allowed seemingly unlimited drinks, there is usually a cap of around 15 drinks per day but it’s rare for people to hit this.
Do All Inclusive Resorts or Cruises Include More?
Many would argue that although all-inclusive resorts appear to include more there is more variety on cruise ships with multiple restaurants, buffets, and bars to choose from.
In reality, what is included on both is generally speaking pretty similar and this shouldn’t be a deciding factor between the two. For people who love to drink there are alcohol packages available on cruise lines that effectively make your cruise all-inclusive.
When it comes to the experience of being in an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise ship there are quite a few differences. There is, of course, a large amount of variety within cruise lines and resorts but in this comparison, we look at mainstream mid-level cruises and resorts.
At an all-inclusive resort, you can expect there to be entertainment in the evenings and possibly some throughout the day. Many all-inclusive resorts will have local entertainers and performers who come in to entertain the guests.
The number of activities happening does depend a lot on the number of people at the all-inclusive resort. If you are only staying with 30 or so other guests it’s unlikely you’ll find much entertainment. There are also usually limited options.
Typical resort entertainment includes: Musicians, Singers, Magic Acts, Pool Games.
On a cruise, you’ll usually find that the daily schedule is quite busy with activities happening every hour of the day. There are usually multiple events happening at once and so guests have a lot of variety to choose from. Each day of the cruise passengers are given a daily schedule that lists the activities of the day, where they’ll be held, and what is happening.
That said because cruise ships do carry so many passengers certain entertainment venues and events can get busy. Cruise ships can carry thousands of other passengers so on some ships certain things need pre-booking like theater shows and specialty meals.
Typical cruise entertainment includes: Theater shows, Musicians, Singers, Dancers, Gameshows, Trivia, Magic Acts, Meet Ups, Pool Games, Lectures, Craft Lessons, Gaming.
Below is an example of a daily schedule from a Christmas cruise which I took a few years ago.
Do All Inclusive Resorts or Cruises Include More Entertainment?
You’ll usually find more choice and more entertainment on cruise ships than on land-based resorts. Due to the size of the ships and the number of passengers, there are usually multiple events happening at once with guests able to choose what suits them best.
Cruise ships have substantially more entertainment venues than land-based resorts and are able to produce high-quality entertainment such as Broadway-style shows and acrobatics. Many of the bigger American cruise lines have well-known productions of Broadway shows such as Grease on Royal Caribbean and Kinky Boots on Norwegian Cruise Line.
Depending on the resort you should not have a problem finding a nice seat by the pool and enjoying a relaxing day with a book. The pace of a day in an all-inclusive resort does tend to be pretty slow with guests doing whatever they’d like to do on their own schedules.
Some particularly high-end resorts can be beautiful with swimming pools which come right up to guests’ rooms.
Cruise ships can get busy and if you are cruising on a budget/mainstream line it can be difficult to find a sun lounger by the pool on a sunny day. Cruise ships usually don’t feel crowded and you’re always able to find a quiet corner somewhere but generally speaking, I find land-based resorts better for relaxing by the pool.
One massive benefit that the cruise has above the resort is that being on the ocean is incredibly relaxing. Enjoying a drink on the balcony or looking out to sea at night is incredibly relaxing.
Premium cruise lines are unlikely to have the same issues with crowds around the pool as they have more space per person onboard. A premium cruise line is usually more in line with the price of an all-inclusive resort, more about that later in the post.
The photo below is of the Marella Explorer’s top deck. This is quite a common sight on a busy day around the main pool. That said, many cruise ships have multiple pools and higher decks where it’s easier to find a sun lounger.
Is An All-Inclusive Resort or Cruise More Relaxing?
In terms of just sitting by the pool, I’d argue that all-inclusive resorts are more relaxing. The daily schedule on a cruise can be busy (although guests don’t have to take part in any activities that they don’t want to) and it can be difficult to find a sun lounger on some ships on sunny days due to the number of other guests.
Both all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines are able to provide high-quality food. Both will try to use local ingredients where possible and all good resorts and cruise lines should cater well to those with intolerances and allergies.
When it comes to your meals at an all-inclusive resort you’re likely to only have one or two restaurant choices. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are usually served in the same place and asides from this the only other options are to buy food from outside of the resort.
On a cruise ship, it isn’t uncommon to find 10+ restaurants. Some restaurants do come at an extra charge but at a bare minimum, there is usually a main dining room, buffet, and poolside grill where guests can have meals. Many cruise lines also have other options such as pizzerias, grab and go sections, or tapas restaurants.
On some cruise lines dining is fixed and there will be an early and late seating. On other cruise lines, the dining will be flexible where you are free to eat whenever you’re hungry.
What is a Speciality Restaurant on a Cruise?
Specialty restaurants are restaurants onboard a cruise ship that come with an extra charge. There are two ways that specialty restaurants are charged, either by the meal or by item similar to a restaurant on land.
It isn’t necessary for cruisers to pay extra to dine in these restaurants but they are there as a way to enjoy something special. You’ll usually find that specialty restaurants focus on things like steakhouses or teppanyaki.
Do All Inclusive Resorts or Cruises Have Better Food?
It’s difficult to say in regards to quality which has better food. Both have the potential to have high-quality food but like everything, this is dependant on the cruise line and all-inclusive resort.
You will find more options on a cruise ship and in my experience, I’ve always found the food on cruise ships to be better than that which I’ve had on land. That said, service can be slow on occasion on cruise ships as the kitchens are literally cooking THOUSANDS of meals.
A land-based resort is fixed in one location and as a result, the places that you can visit are limited. That said you really have the opportunity to explore the destination in-depth and are free to explore late into the evening or early in the morning.
Many resorts will organize excursions but you are free to organize your own. This means that you can shop around and find the best deal if there are certain things that you’d like to do or see. If you’re staying somewhere with good transport links you can even use public transport to get around and to go to attractions.
On most cruises, the cruise ship will be docked from around 8/9 am until 5/6 pm. On occasion, this could be earlier or later in the day and couldn’t be considerably shorter.
This does make it difficult to explore a destination in as much depth as you would at an all-inclusive resort.
There are a few options when it comes to cruise ship excursions:
- Cruise Line Excursions – The cruise line will organize excursions that leave from the ship. These are usually the easiest way but aren’t always the best. Cruise line excursions can be expensive and they don’t really give you the opportunity to explore on your own.
- Independent Excursions – Independent excursions are a good option for those looking for something cheaper. Many companies cater to cruise lines and will offer similar excursions to the cruise line for a discounted price. The downside of these is that they’re often more complicated to organize and the ship will not wait if the excursions are late back to the ship.
- No Excursions – You do not need to take excursions in every port. I sometimes take full cruises without doing any excursions! I’m personally a big fan of a walking tour and using the hop on hop off buses. In most ports, you’re able to walk off the ship and explore on foot.
Cruise excursions are one of the biggest expenses on a cruise. To learn more about how to cut the costs of excursions and how to cruise well on a budget. Check out our cruise course here: How to Cruise For Less
Are All-Inclusive Resorts or Cruises Better For Exploring The Local Area?
Cruising gives you a short but good introduction to the ports that you are visiting. There are many options when it comes to excursions but you won’t have the long days or freedoms that come with a land-based resort.
When staying in an all-inclusive resort guests have much longer to explore a place. That said many people who do vacation at a land-based resort actually stay in the resort for the entirety of their trip so it really depends on how much exploring you’d like to do.
One area where all-inclusive resorts and cruises are always going to be different is in the accommodation.
Resorts have the freedom and space to offer guests big rooms with balconies, outdoor spaces, and possibly even private pools. Accommodation does vary but it’s very unlikely that you’d ever find a room within the building without any windows similar to how you would on a cruise ship.
All-inclusive resorts are usually able to offer rooms or apartments which suit large families and a lot will come with things like baths.
Cruise ship cabins, although incredibly well organized, are still much smaller than rooms you’d usually find in resorts on land. The cabins that you’ll find on cruise ships vary a lot by cruise line and ship but almost all cruise ships have the following cabin grades available to guests:
- Inside Cabins – A personal favorite of mine is the inside cabin. Inside cabins are, as they sound, cabins which don’t have any windows or a balcony. They’re located in the inside of the ship and they are the cheapest grade by far. I usually book inside cabins as it’s rare to spend too much time in the cabin if you do so. A cruise ship cabin just becomes a functional, clean place to sleep and shower.
- Outside Cabins – Outside cabins are almost identical to inside cabins but they have a window. You’ll find cabins with a round porthole window and those with a square picture window. The prices of these vary.
- Balcony Cabins – By far the most popular type of cabin is a balcony cabin where the cabin comes with its own small private outside space. There’s nothing quite like sitting on a balcony watching the ship sail into a new port. Balcony cabins can be expensive but picking a ‘guaranteed’ balcony where you don’t decide on the specific location can make it cheaper.
- Suites – Cruise cabins have many suites onboard for those with a bigger budget.
It’s rare that cruise ship cabins will have baths because well, a bath of water on a cruise ship isn’t the easiest thing, they take up a lot of room.
Cruise ship cabins can usually hold up to 4 people with some cabins holding 5. If you need accommodation for 5 or 6 it may be a good idea to look into booking adjoining cabins.
Be aware that many of the 3rd/4th beds on cruise ships come out of the ceiling and are like bunk beds. Not a problem for children but for some adults it can be uncomfortable.
Do All Inclusive Resorts or Cruises Have Better Rooms?
All-inclusive resorts usually have bigger rooms and always have at least a window if not a balcony and outside space. Cruise ship cabins are much smaller and may not have any windows if an inside cabin is selected.
The quality varies dramatically by all-inclusive resort and cruise line.
All-inclusive resorts are usually made up of a few swimming pools, bars, restaurants, and many hotel rooms. You may find a few things like entertainment venues in bigger resorts.
Some all-inclusive resorts do partner with other nearby resorts so that guests can use each other’s pools/restaurants.
In a lot of all-inclusive resorts, you’ll find kids clubs. I still remember going to the kid’s clubs at a resort in Malta I went to when I was around 8! The kid’s clubs usually take children of varying ages and will have various activities for them to do.
On a cruise, you’ll find multiple restaurants, bars, lounges, and entertainment venues. You’ll also find things like swimming pools, ropes courses, water slides, surf simulators, sky diving simulators, and much more.
A cruise ship typically has around 15 decks so there is plenty of space for onboard amenities. Most cruise ships will have a full-sized theater with some having cinemas, sports courts, and bowling alleys.
On almost all cruise ships you’ll find kids clubs. The kid’s clubs are usually split into ages and because there are usually so many children in the clubs there are different activities happening for children of different ages.
Cruise ships also usually have casinos on site which is something that all inclusive resorts rarely have.
Below is a video of me onboard the MSC Meraviglia’as ropes course.
Is There More To Do On a Cruise on an All-Inclusive Resort?
Due to the size of cruise ships and the number of people on board, you’ll usually find a greater variety of onboard amenities. That said, this does vary a lot by the cruise line.
Some cruise lines which operate smaller more traditional cruises will not have many of the things mentioned above. Larger, newer cruise ships have full parks and neighborhoods in the middle which you can zip line across!
The number of fellow guests at an all-inclusive resort can vary but in my experience, most do not feel too crowded. If you pick a resort where all of the accommodation is in one building with one shared pool this can feel busy but most resorts where the accommodation is spread out over an area you will be able to relax away from other guests.
The time of year which you travel can make a big difference too. In most parts of the world, there are peak seasons for travel and a lot of land-based resorts actually shut out of season.
Many land-based resorts are adult only.
On a cruise, you are sharing the ship with thousands of other passengers. For the majority of the time, you won’t feel as though you are with many other people as they are spread out across the ship but at certain times like on embarkation day and at the muster drill you will be reminded of this fact.
There are also many cruise ships which are adult only.
It’s rather unsurprising that the cruise ship wins the ‘destinations visited’ portion of this article! On a cruise, it’s possible to visit a new port every single day.
I’ve taken a cruise in the past which visited 5 different countries in 7 days. If I was to try and do a similar trip on land it would not only take ages but also be incredibly expensive. A cruise is a brilliant way to get a little taste of many different ports.
One big thing that affects the decision of whether to cruise or visit a land-based all-inclusive resort is the price. On the face of it, cruises seem much cheaper but additional expenses like drinks packages or upgrading to a balcony can soon change this.
I’ve been on cruises before where I didn’t actually plan to go on a cruise but the cruise was cheaper than staying on land and included much more, so it was an easy choice since I much prefer the onboard experience of being on a cruise ship.
The average price of a 7 night Caribbean cruise visiting Mexico in April is around $616 (£493). This price is fairly standard for an inside cabin without a drinks package. To upgrade to a balcony cabin you’re realistically looking at around an extra $300 bringing your total to $916.
The price is based on two sharing and not selecting the specific cabin location.
The price above does not include gratuities which are add on automatically on many cruise lines. You can expect to pay around $15 per person payday for gratuities on a cruise. Many cruise lines now include gratuities but the larger American cruise lines do not. To find out which lines do, check out this post: Which Cruise Lines Include Gratuities? (Cruise Line Guide)
This brings the total to around $1021 per person.
Only basic drinks such as water and tea/coffee are included in the price above. Alcoholic drinks and soda must be purchased at bars onboard. There are drinks packages available to purchase but if these are worthwhile depends entirely on how much you like to drink.
To learn more about how much Caribbean cruises cost in reality, check out this post. It explores how the price changes by not only time of year but also cruise line:
Staying at the Secrets Aura Cozumel all-inclusive hotel in Mexico for 7 nights will cost $2100 dollars per person. This price includes all meals and drinks.
Prices by resort do of course vary but for the same week, Cozumel resorts vary between $1500-$2500.
The great thing about the resort is that once this price has been paid there is nothing else to think about.
|All Inclusive Resort||Cruise|
|Example||Secrets Aura Cozumel||Norwegian Encore, Western Caribbean|
|Length||7 Nights||7 Nights|
Deciding between an all-inclusive resort and a cruise can be difficult. Below are who I’d recommend each to:
I’d recommend an all-inclusive resort to those who want to be able to relax and enjoy a slow pace of life.
All-inclusive resorts are great for guests who want to be able to explore the local area in depth and those who want to hang around by the pool with a drink and some food.
I’d recommend a cruise to those who want to see multiple destinations in a short period of time. Cruise ships provide a lot of variety when it comes to onboard amenities, food, and entertainment so I’d recommend a cruise to people who want many options of what to see, eat and do.
Both all-inclusive resorts and cruises are brilliant ways to travel and each comes with their own benefits and drawbacks. Like anything cruise lines and resorts vary dramatically so it’s definitely worth doing your research ahead of time.
Want to learn how to cruise well on a budget? Start here: How to Cruise For Less
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