Have you been thinking about a Caribbean or Mexican vacation but just don’t know whether to book a cruise or an all-inclusive resort stay? Let me share with you some information about costs, services and other offerings on both, to help you make a decision that you won’t regret later.
I’ll start out by saying that cruises are not for everyone, nor are all-inclusive resorts. By the same token, they both may be right for you. You may want a relaxing week on the beach one time and to hop from port to port another. Knowing what you are looking for in a vacation is the first step to taking the right vacation.
Cruising is a good mix of activities and relaxation. Cruise lines include most onboard dining and entertainment in their price. Also included is the use of the sports courts, kids’ clubs, rock climbing walls, miniature golf, movies and various other activities available onboard. Keep in mind though, with the growing number of activities being offered on these floating resorts, some, such as bowling, surfing, ice skating lessons, golf simulators, two story Wii games, etc., may have a fee. There are spas on most ships, and vacation is a time to be pampered, so indulge in a body wrap or a facial. It’s worth it!
You will find “alternative restaurants” on most cruise ships now. These are specialty restaurants, usually touted as four- or five-star, or themed venues, which usually require reservations and charge fees which can range from $10 to $50 per person for the “dining experience.” These specialty restaurants offer a perfect venue for celebrating a special occasion or taking a night to dine with just your spouse or small group. That being said, the main dining rooms are certainly elegant, with exceptional service and food. You do not have to spend any additional money onboard to enjoy a perfect dinner together. With the exception of a couple of cruise lines, eating in the main dining room does mean that you are assigned a table at the same time each night, for the length of your cruise, and will be eating with six to 10 people you may or may not know. We enjoy this, as we have met people from all over and have made some friends this way. However, if eating dinner with strangers is not for you, be sure to pick a cruise line that offers alternative choices or consider an all-inclusive resort. Gratuities are also not included in cruise fares, although it is customary to tip at an average rate of $10 per traveler, per day, which covers all dining staff and your personal stateroom attendant. The exceptional service you will receive warrants every penny. Bar gratuities are included in your tab.
Alcohol and soda are not included in cruise prices, however, most cruise lines offer a reduced price soda card that can be purchased when you first get onto the ship. This is one of the differences between an all-inclusive and a cruise. All-inclusive resorts include bar service in their price. Don’t let that fool you though, as the liquor, beer and wine are generally not the brands you may be used to. If you have a favorite vodka or are a bit of a wine snob (as I’ve been accused) you may spend your vacation trying to find “the perfect drink.” Some resorts do offer premium liquor packages for a premium price, so if that is important to you, be sure to ask about it.
Generally, on a seven-night cruise you will have three to four stops in various ports and two or three days at sea. Going to sleep at night and waking up on a different island or in a different country is my favorite part of cruising. The port days usually allow 8 to 10 hours in port, which is usually plenty of time to get a feel for the area. Organized shore excursions such as tours, diving trips, cultural events, etc. are available in just about every port in the Caribbean and can be arranged prior to leaving for your cruise.
Some cruise lines own private islands in the Caribbean, open to only their ships and guests. Often, one day on their private island is included in the itinerary. While on the island, food is served at no cost and bar service is always available, as well as beach activities and equipment.
The “sea days” are usually spent relaxing by the pool, in the spa, or participating in the many activities scheduled throughout the day. The choice is yours.
All-inclusive resorts can be found in some of the most beautiful places in the Caribbean. They are little paradises that offer activities, some entertainment (usually not to the level of cruise ship entertainment) and a lot of relaxation. Often these resorts are built in otherwise undeveloped areas, many very Third World, where it is either not safe to leave the property or there is just nowhere to go. If you like to get out and about, be sure to choose a resort in a place that allows for that, or consider cruising.
If you’re looking for peace and tranquility, a lot of beach or pool time, with activities such as scuba, snorkeling, tennis, horseback riding, golf and the like mixed in, you’ll love an all-inclusive. Many activities are included, but there are fees for some depending on the resort. Spa services are also available at most resorts. Once again, indulge yourself. There is nothing quite like a hot rocks massage outside, under a palm tree, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the beach. Contrary to cruising, all-inclusive resorts generally state that tipping is either not necessary or not permitted. Children’s clubs are included. Although, some resorts do not allow children at all.
Keep in mind, that resort employees often speak very little English, which can be
challenging, while cruise lines require all of their employees to speak English. Also, the staff on a cruise ship will represent countries from around the world. Part of the cruising experience is meeting and talking with the different staff members about their homelands. Resort staff members are generally native to the island, which attributes to a more authentic vacation.
Vacations are important and are always worthwhile if you take the vacation that’s right for you. Cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts both offer exceptional service and pampering and each offers a unique travel experience. With either, you can find vacations that are family friendly and very affordable or very luxurious and high-end. If you do a little research, and use a travel agent, you will no doubt enjoy your Caribbean vacation, whether by land or sea!