The Problem With All Inclusive Travel

(and what to do about it)

So, first of all, I want to emphasize that I have taken SEVERAL all-inclusive vacations, including one to Ireland and one to Barbados.  I also have an aunt who is retired and is almost always traveling, so she has seen and done it all, travel-wise.  The two of us put our heads together to come up with this guide, because we want other people to have great vacations, and we felt like there is a lack of information out there when it comes to “what to do to have the best trip.”

That was sort of a disclaimer, in case you think I am making all of these little factoids up.  I’ve been there!   I’ve done that!    I have learned a thing or two along the way, some of which I would not want to repeat.  So, hopefully my insights will help you avoid the pitfalls.

If It Seems Too Good to Be True…..

I started thinking about putting this article together because I got one of those “best / cheapest all-inclusive vacation” emails.  It listed a bunch of destinations ranging from Italy to Jamaica to New York City and everything in between.  I happen to have been to almost all of the places on the list in the email, so just out of curiosity, I read the whole email instead of just deleting it like I usually would.  Some of the all-inclusive trips were a little bit funny, just in their, shall we say, extreme economy.  For example, you are not staying in New York City for $89 anymore.   Or, maybe I should say, you are not staying in New York City for $89 if you are trying to have a good time on your vacation, if you don’t want to stay in Queens, or basically if you value your life.  I used to live in NYC, so I am going to tell you right now, if you see a deal on a hotel room that is THAT good, there is most definitely a catch, and you are not going to like what you get once you get there.  That is one of my biggest concerns with all-inclusive vacations—you are basically a captive audience because you spent a bunch of money on the package, so if one part of it is really bad (like the hotel), it is often not practical to go somewhere else because you are going to have to do that on your own dime.  I would be super upset if I spent several thousand dollars on a vacation, only to find that the hotel was in a neighborhood where I didn’t feel safe.   That is just a recipe for disaster, in my opinion.

What Am I Supposed to Do Now?

Let’s say you are from somewhere far away, like China.  You fly all that way, you are exhausted, you don’t speak the language.  You get to New York, to what you think is a hotel where you can rest and plan your sight-seeing adventures.  You don’t know New York, but you know that when you take the $150 cab ride from the airport (not included in the all-inclusive package, a thing that I will cover later), you’re not nuts about the neighborhood that the cab is going into, then you’re even more not nuts about the hotel where he is trying to drop you off.   What are you supposed to do?  Is the travel website where you booked the all-inclusive going to be there for you when it’s late at night and you desperately need a new hotel?   The answer is:  maybe, but probably not.   What I’ve just described is the start of a really bad vacation experience, and it actually happened to me in Athens, Greece, only I left out the part of the story where the cab driver mugged my friend along the way.  So, there’s that.

What Else Is There To Do??

Here’s another thing about the all-inclusive:  you really don’t know if you’re going to find that destination boring once you’ve been there a few days, but because you’re obligated to stay there for the full time because you’ve paid upfront.  This happened to me on a trip to Barbados—I wanted to move on and see what else there was to see after a couple of days of my “all inclusive resort,” which was not at all as fancy as the website made it sound.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, and there was a beach close-by, but I quickly discovered about myself that I am not really a “relaxing vacation” type of person.    I had still had five days left in the vacation package after I came to this realization, so I basically read books and took local tours to keep myself occupied.  I didn’t have the money to go anywhere else, so I made the best of it, but I have to say it was kind of boring.  I don’t mean that in an “I’m so fancy, I am bored by luxury” kind of way, because I’m not and I’m not, but if you know yourself to be a Type A kind of person, I would not recommend booking an all-inclusive vacation in a place that is supposed to be “relaxing” without giving yourself the option of doing something else once you get there.   I have since learned that you can add “excursions” to an all-inclusive package, but I kind of feel like the money would be better spent just getting there, then being free to go and do what you want.

“Don’t Boss Me Around”

This point might just apply to me (and several of my friends), but I thought I would mention it anyway in case you are this same way.  I do not like being told what to do, and the confines of an all-inclusive vacation were so annoying to me, I kind of wanted to leave early.  I’m again referring to my Barbados vacation package, which was a screamingly good deal.  I think the resort achieves such pricing by having everything very regimented, but I found that, in addition to not wanting to sit on the beach all day, I really resented being told what time I could eat my meals.   As I discovered, if you happen to sleep through breakfast or aren’t hungry at the time they are serving lunch or dinner, then you have essentially paid for a meal but forfeited it (kind of like a health club where you pay dues but don’t actually go).  Again, you would be better off just getting there, then eating what you want where you want.

So, all in all, the all-inclusive was not the right choice for me, and I’ve had much better vacations by just saving a little more money, then arranging the flight, hotels, and meals on my own.  After all, with the internet being such a wealth of information, you really have no need for someone to plan a whole vacation for you anyway!