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Cruises vs All Inclusive Resorts – Complete Comparison

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 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 – unless you sail with an expensive, luxury line.

There is a lot to think about when making the decision between an all-inclusive resort and a cruise other 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.

all inclusive resort vs cruise

What is Included

RESORT:

In a typical all-inclusive resort you’ll find the following things included in the fare as standard:

  • Accommodation
  • Entertainment
  • Meals at one or two restaurants
  • Some alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks

CRUISE:

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 ResortCruise
AccomodationYesYes
EntertainmentYesYes
MealsYes (Limited Choice)Yes
DrinksYesNo (Limited Drinks)

Alcohol

The main difference between an all-inclusive resort and a cruise when it comes to what is included is that it is very rare 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 favourite mainstream lines, check out this post:

Which All-Inclusive Cruise Lines Include Alcohol? (Budget & Luxury)

Drinks Packages

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 unusual 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 in 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.

Norwegian Prima Metropolitan Sustainable Cocktails
Norwegian Prima Metropolitan Sustainable Cocktails

Onboard Experience

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.

Entertainment

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT:

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
  • Sometimes local entertainment

CRUISE:

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 so guests have a lot of variety to choose from, particularly on the bigger ships.

Fred Olsen Bolette Neptune lounge theatre

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, 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 theatre shows and speciality meals.

Typical cruise entertainment includes:

  • Theatre Shows
  • Musicians
  • Singers
  • Dancers
  • Gameshows
  • Trivia
  • Magic Acts
  • Meet Ups
  • Pool Games
  • Guest Lectures
  • Craft Lessons
  • Gaming

Do All Inclusive Resorts or Cruises Include More Entertainment?

You’ll usually find more choice and more entertainment on cruise ships than at 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 “Mama Mia” on Royal Caribbean and “Six” on Norwegian Cruise Line.

You can keep up to date and book theatre shows via the cruise lines App.

Find out more about what you can use the App for, and why you don’t need to buy the ships Wi-Fi to use it here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

msc for me mobile phone app msc meraviglia

Relaxation

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT:

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:

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 a wonderful way to unwind.

The infinity pool on Super Yacht Emerald Azzurra was usually empty.

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.

virgin voyages scarlet lady main swimming pool top deck seating
Above is a picture of Virgin Voyages pool. It is very small for a cruise ship of her size, and only the darkest part of the pool is deep enough to swim in!

Cruise ships often have many pools, often offering an inside and outside pool to cater to different weather.

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.

It can be difficult to find a sun lounger on some ships on sunny days due to the number of other guests.

Food

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.

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT:

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 the only other option is to buy food from outside of the resort.

CRUISE:

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 early and late seating.

On other cruise lines, the dining will be flexible and you are free to eat whenever you’re hungry.

Norwegian Prima Main Dining Room Hudson's
Norwegian Prima Main Dining Room, Hudson’s

What is a Speciality Restaurant on a Cruise?

Speciality 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 speciality restaurants focus on things like Steakhouses or Teppanyaki.

Below are some of the dishes served in Celebrity Edge’s speciality restaurants.

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 dependent on the cruise line and all-inclusive resort.

You will find more food options on a cruise ship.

In my experience, I’ve always found the food on cruise ships to be better than that 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.

Excursions

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT:

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 use public transport to get around and to go to different attractions.

CRUISE:

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 could 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 ExcursionsThe cruise line will organise 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 ExcursionsIndependent 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 ExcursionsYou 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.

Find out about how long ships stay in port, and the differences you might find here:

How Long Do Cruise Ships Stay In Port? (My Experiences of Short Stays to Multi-Day Stays)

Celestyal Cruises Olympia Lindos Excursion Rhodes
Excursion with Celestyal Cruises

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 the local area.

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.

Sometimes purpose-built all-inclusive resorts are miles from anywhere, so options for exploring are limited.

Cabins/Rooms

One area where all-inclusive resorts and cruises are always going to be different is in the accommodation.

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS:

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 as 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.

hotel resort room

CRUISE: 

Cruise ship cabins, although incredibly well organised, 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 favourite 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 CabinsOutside 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 CabinsBy 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.
  • SuitesCruise cabins have many suites onboard for those with a bigger budget.

Find out more about booking “guaranteed balcony” cabins here:

I Always Book Guaranteed Cabins on Cruise Ships – (Photo Examples, Regrets & More)

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 and 4th beds in a cabin often fold down out of the ceiling and are “Pullman” beds- others are just double sofa beds.

A Pullman bed is a bed that pulls down from the ceiling or folds out from the wall of the cabin, allowing more people to sleep while taking up less of the precious floor space.

Not a problem for children, but for some adults it can be uncomfortable.

norwegian prima balcony cabin
My favourite Balcony Cabin, onboard Norwegian Prima. Not all cabins are this spacious!

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.

Amenities

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT:

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 kid’s 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.

CRUISE:

On a cruise, you’ll find multiple restaurants, bars, lounges, entertainment venues and swimming pools.

On the bigger ships you may also find things like:

  • Ropes courses
  • Water slides
  • Surf Simulators
  • Sky Diving simulators
  • Go-Kart Tracks
  • VR Games
  • Sports Courts
  • Bowling Alleys

A cruise ship typically has around 15 decks so there is plenty of space for onboard amenities.

Watch me try out some of the scariest activities onboard Norwegian Prima in the video below:

Most cruise ships will have a full-sized theatre while some have multi-screen cinemas/movie theatres.

There is so much to do on cruise ships that sometimes people choose to just stay onboard when the ship gets to port. To find out why, read the article below:

Staying on a Cruise Ship in Port: Here’s When You Can and Why You Would

On almost all cruise ships you’ll find kid’s 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 trying out MSC Meraviglia’s ropes course. It was very high -around 60 metres above sea level!

Is There More To Do On a Cruise Or In 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 and cruise ship size.

Some cruise lines which operate smaller more traditional cruises will not have many of the things mentioned above.

Larger, newer cruise ships like Symphony of the Seas have full parks and neighbourhoods in the middle which you can zip-line across!

Find out what I thought of that ship in the video below:

Other Guests

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT:

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 in 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 to how busy it is 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.

Out-of-season land-based holiday to the Canary Islands.

CRUISE:

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.

At certain times like on embarkation day or popular theatre shows you will be reminded of this fact.

There are also many cruise ships which are adult-only.

Destinations Visited

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.

If you take a standard “Mediterranean Loop” cruise it is easily possible to visit 5 different countries in 7 days. It’s a great way of seeing a lot in a short period of time.

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.

When I sailed with the Greek cruise line Celestyal Cruises, we visited more than one port a day!

It was a very busy, not relaxing cruise, but it was a great way to visit multiple Greek Islands.

Find out more about that memorable cruise here:

Price

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 the cruise was cheaper than staying on land and included much more.

It was an easy choice since I much prefer the onboard experience of being on a cruise ship.

Find out about a really cheap cruise I took on MSC Preziosa, and whether i got value for money here:

I took my friends on a cheap cruise that cost £53/$68 per night

Example Cruise:

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.

This doesn’t include any flights.

To upgrade to a balcony cabin you’re realistically looking at around an extra $300/£240 bringing your total to $916/£722

The price is based on two sharing and not selecting the specific cabin location.

Add on gratuities and this brings the total to around $1021/£805 per person. 

Find out more about how much Caribbean cruises actually cost in the article below:

How Much Does a Caribbean Cruise ACTUALLY Cost? (Real Examples)

Gratuities

The price above does not include gratuities which are added on automatically on many cruise lines.

You can expect to pay around $20/£16 per person per day for gratuities on a cruise.

Many cruise lines include daily gratuities in the fares, but American cruise lines do not.

To find out which lines do, check out this post:

Which Cruise Lines Include Gratuities? (Cruise Line Guide)

To learn more about gratuities and other additional costs that you might have to pay for, read this article next:

Onboard Expenses – What Costs Extra On A Cruise? Gratuities, Wi-Fi And More…

Drinks

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 whether these are worthwhile depends entirely on how much you like to drink.

Example Resort:

Staying at the Secrets Aura Cozumel all-inclusive hotel in Mexico for 7 nights may cost $2100/£1655 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/£1200-£2000

The great thing about the resort is that once this price has been paid there is nothing else to think about.

All Inclusive ResortCruise
ExampleSecrets Aura CozumelNorwegian Encore, Western Caribbean
Length7 Nights7 Nights
Cost Estimation$2100$1021
Includes MealsYesYes
Includes DrinksYesNo

ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS:

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.

all inclusive resort

CRUISES: 

I’d recommend a cruise to those who want to see multiple destinations in a short period of time.

It is often possible to add a hotel stay at the beginning or end of the cruise to give you the opportunity to explore an exciting city like Barcelona or Rome – you get the best of both worlds!

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.

Like everything, cruise lines and resorts vary dramatically so it’s definitely worth doing your research ahead of time.

Before You Go

Find out when is the cheapest time to book your cruise to get the best value for money here:

When Are Cruise Prices At Their Cheapest? Hints and Tips To Help You Book At The Right Time

Many people think cruising is for older people – I started this website to dispel that myth! Find out why more young people than ever are cruising here:

Are Cruises For Young People? Why are more young people cruising Than Ever?

Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources

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