After all of the chaos of wedding planning, I couldn’t bear to plan one more thing. So, my husband Kevin and I pooled our limited resources and booked an all-inclusive trip to the Bahamas for our honeymoon. We were greeted by sad polyester bedspreads and some hole-ridden kayaks. The food was the finest institutional a’la Cisco. And we got stuck with flat tires in the middle of a rainstorm after taking out the complimentary bikes one afternoon.

Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled when my husband told me he got a great deal on an all-inclusive in Cancun for our fall vacation last year. It’s not that I don’t like the idea of all-inclusive vacations (all-you-can-eat soft serve ice cream! Fountains of alcohol! No sneaky resort fees for towels or bottled water!). But after my initial experience I was jaded. It felt like we were grownups at a cheap summer camp. What I neglected to realize, however, is that I am not the same person I was as a fresh bride with virtually no responsibilities (and not all all-inclusives are created equal).

I arrived in Cancun circa 2018 as a working mom with a baby and a toddler and an overworked husband — a far cry from the unburdened 22-year-old I used to be. And as someone who has a Type A personality, and who spends her free time organizing and inventorying her pantry, let me say that an all-inclusive vacation was exactly what I needed. And now I plan to go on one every year for the rest of my life.

So, what does all inclusive mean to you? Here’s what I think it is and why I feel all-inclusive vacations are a must for people seeking a real vacation.

There’s No Decision Fatigue

If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time on vacation figuring out your next steps. Especially when traveling with children, who turn into swarming velociraptors when hungry. I often find myself glued to my phone whenever there’s down time, searching Yelp for restaurants with one $ sign and hundreds of five star reviews that aren’t too far from our hotel. I research the best beaches, the best pools, the best places to rent boogie boards. We are constantly deciding between Uber or a taxi, or maybe the public bus to save some money. Or should we just walk? Trips are full of decisions, way more than in our regular life, which can lead to fatigue as well as contention when you and your partner don’t agree. But at the all-inclusive, I felt none of that. Everything was there! The only thing we had to decide was which activity to do when and which restaurant has the best desserts. It was a true mental break, and it was absolutely delightful.

Meals Are Easy

When traveling on a budget, food is a big deal. You have to eat all the time, and when you’re feeding four people three meals a day outside of your kitchen, it can add up quickly. The ease of mealtime was one of my favorite parts of staying at a good all-inclusive. Sure, the breakfast was mass-produced. But they still had unlimited guacamole every morning and fresh-squeezed orange juice, so I had no complaints. Most importantly, I didn’t have to make it! There were six restaurants at the resort, and all of them served good food — not Michelin star food, but totally edible food with a wide variety of options. Every night, we ate at a different spot for dinner. A teppanyaki grill, Italian pizza restaurant, even a steakhouse. Every time my daughter needed a nap or was going down to bed, I ran to the coffee shop by our room and asked for warm milk. I didn’t have to scour the nearby area for a grocery store, or load up my bag with granola bars and bottled water. There was no “skipping lunch” as we’re prone to do when traveling. And the holy grail of an all-inclusive: someone else cleaned up under my toddler’s highchair when we were done.

We Saved So Much Time

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we didn’t leave the resort. Not once. Granted, we were only there for four nights, but I didn’t feel a need to. And we spent so much quality time together because of that. Again, there was no planning, no making it to a tour stop, no stressing over public transit schedules. There was no travel period once we arrived. So we spent all of our time actually enjoying ourselves. The kids got worn out from swimming and playing at the beach all morning, and easily crashed for an afternoon nap. In the evenings we took long walks together, stopping to get one more soft-serve ice cream before bed. It was incredible how much time we actually spent together. Not a minute was wasted (unless you count the Fruit Ninja tournament my husband and I had during nap time one day that lasted for a full two hours. I do wish I could get those two hours back).

All-Inclusive Resorts are the Best for Parents

I’ve already touched on the ease of meal time and convenience of an all-inclusive for parents. But I’ve yet to mention the most important aspect of our all-inclusive: The Kids Club. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the kind folks at the Hyatt Ziva took our children into their care so we could actually relax. Most hotels and resorts offer some kind of babysitting service or kids program, but prices are exorbitant (in a moment of crisis we once paid a hotel babysitter $150 for two hours of babysitting in Switzerland so we could attend a work event while our daughter slept). But, I digress. Every day I picked up our kids and they were decked out in face paint, had dozens of crafts to show me and tan lines from playing in the kid pool. Without fail, my oldest cried every time she had to leave because, “I miss all my best fwends!” Even if your resort doesn’t have a kids club, they will likely have free equipment rentals, life jackets, and kid-friendly food. Someone else cleaned our hotel room every day, and I didn’t think once about tidying up (although we did leave a good tip, because I know intimately how much fun it is to clean up after a toddler and baby all day!). Although Jerry Seinfeld would disagree, an all-inclusive really is fun for the whole family.

You Can Afford to Try New Things

When you’re already paying for flights, hotels, and food separately, you can trick your mind into going cheap on the fun stuff. But when everything is included, you can afford to try new things. I took a yoga paddleboard class that wounded my pride but was nonetheless a fun experience. Kevin tried his hand at windsurfing, which was also humbling for him and entertaining for me. I learned to make pupusas with a Guatemalan chef. We ordered interesting appetizers and cocktails and desserts at every meal that we would have been too cheap to try otherwise. My daughters left with dozens of crafts that I had to sneakily throw away when we got home. All in all, we tried new things that we never would have if we had to pay for everything individually.

It Was Worth the Money

So what does all inclusive mean for your budget? When we got home, we did the math. Even if we had paid full price for the resort (we got a deal and went during the off-season), we would have come out ahead with the all-inclusive. When you consider all of the food, transportation, activities, rentals, childcare, and more you’re paying for — it’s a good deal. It might feel like a lot more upfront, but once you account for how much you’ll be spending on the trip, most all-inclusive resorts actually save you money. And if you’re going on vacation specifically to escape the chaos of your everyday life, it’s especially worth the money. Because an all-inclusive vacation actually feels like, you know, a vacation.

The key is that you have to be completely realistic about how much you would spend on a vacation. You have to go beyond the basic budget you put together and look at how you really spend your money when you’re traveling, taking every purchase into account — not just your tickets, meals, and accommodations. Like to grab coffee on the go when you’re on a vacation? Got to factor that in. Sometimes spontaneously spring for museum tours? Make sure you calculate that as well. Tend to shell out for souvenirs? Don’t forget to add that in. You get the idea.

We loved our all-inclusive experience so much, that we booked a return trip to the Hyatt Cabo Ziva for September of this year. And you better believe that I plan to go to one every year for the rest of my life. The countdown is on.

One Response

  1. Elaine

    I’m looking for an reasonably priced All-Inclusive, to the Bahamas, Turks Caico, or
    Jamaica for 3 or 4 nights,
    December 21, 2019-January 1, 2020


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About The Author

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.