As many of us traveling adults have made the difficult transition to becoming traveling parents, we've been faced with some unfair financial conundrums. For example, my son turned two while we were on a trip—which meant that while he flew there for free as a lap infant, on the way back, he suddenly cost the same as a whole full-price adult. (And he still sat in my lap the whole flight.) Yep, my son aged five days and $500 on that trip, and it felt like a scam.
But airfare isn't the only place you end up paying an unfair premium for that pint-sized traveler; family travel can make it feel like you're getting fleeced when it comes to hotels and food, too. As for the boon of spring breakers everywhere, the all-inclusive resort—is that erstwhile bargain off the table now, forever? After all, you can't just go ham on the booze all day when you've got to be back in time to read Curious George three times before bed (and wake up again at 6 AM). Plus, picky kids aren't going to eat much of that mediocre resort food anyway. All-inclusive can't possibly be worth the money when you're traveling as a family, right?
Wrong. In fact, choosing an all-inclusive resort can be one of the best decisions you can make as a traveling parent—both for your finances and for your mental health. Ahead, seven reasons going the all-inclusive route is well worth the money with kids—plus tips from travel experts on how to make the most of it.
All-inclusive is not all about the alcohol—but it can be a perk, if you choose.
Sure, there's that image of the all-inclusive resort or cruise filled with spring breakers determined to maximize their money's worth by drinking terrible vodka 24/7. Not something most parents and kids are going to take part in. That said, is paying the all-inclusive rate and not partaking in all that "free" alcohol a total waste of money?
Travel advisor Kristin Luz thinks not, insisting that "all-inclusive resorts are definitely worth the money, even if parents don't drink." Monica Martin, travel advisor at Blue Fusion Travel, agrees. "A good all-inclusive resort for a family will include meals, activities, kids clubs, entertainment, and drinks." So, paying one price upfront to get a major deal on four out of five? Not too shabby.
And even the beverage deal doesn't save you money on alcohol alone. "Order the kids smoothies, treat them with milkshakes, order your favorite latte every day," Martin suggests.
That said, if fine wine and craft cocktails are indeed part of what "vacation" means to you, that can absolutely be an added benefit—provided you know where to go for the good stuff. For example, I recently vacationed at Garza Blanca Resort and Spa Cancun, where the all-inclusive rate includes all top-shelf liquors and some shockingly fantastic signature cocktails—a pleasant surprise after decades of bottom-shelf booze being the all-inclusive norm.
In fact, the resort's goals are just that: Upgrading the all-inclusive norm with "elevated food, drinks and experiences," Sasa Milojevic, chief operating officer of TAFER Hotels & Resorts, which owns Garza Blanca, tells Parents. And it's important to note that here, all that top-shelf liquor and the like comes included with the cost (the gourmet all-inclusive plan at Garza Blanca starts at just $269 per night, including taxes), not as a pricey add-on for the good stuff.
Good food is absolutely worth it.
And speaking of gourmet, resort deals worldwide are catering more and more to families' demands for quality—and that, of course, carries over to the food.
"We find that our gourmet culinary all-inclusive plan is particularly popular among families who appreciate the option of having several gourmet restaurants on property, each with its own distinct cuisine style, so you can easily grab a casual lunch beachside or dress up for a date after ordering 24-hour room service for the kids to enjoy in-suite," says Milojevic, who adds that the resort's many high-quality options make the all-inclusive plan particularly "carefree for parents and little ones to indulge."
Imani Bashir, world-traveling journalist and mom of one, agrees that quality food is the main ingredient in making all-inclusive worthwhile with kids: "A property I really like as a family was the Allegro all-inclusive resort in Cozumel," Bashir tells Parents. In particular, she says, "the food was amazing, and I don't often say that about resorts."
Another food perk of going all-inclusive, according to Martin, is that these fee plans not only cover the costs of three square meals; they also include "anytime snacks," she explains. "Choose a resort with several choices of restaurants," Martin advises traveling families. "The more options, the better, making sure there's something everyone will like so you don't find yourself needing to get meals off property at an additional cost."
In expensive destinations, going all-inclusive saves you even more.
Kathleen Porter Kristiansen of Maine is a lawyer turned family travel and personal finance writer behind Triplepassport. She and her husband took their two young kids on a pandemic relocation trip to the Maldives for a month last winter.
"It was truly extraordinary," Porter Kristiansen says of the trip. "We noticed the most value in the all-inclusive resorts, despite not being big drinkers. Since even a round of kids' lemonades can be $50 in the Maldives with tip and tax, we found The Intercontinental Maldives had a great deal where breakfast, soft drinks, afternoon tea, kids club, and all kids meals were included with every booking, including those on points."
Plus, "you get an air-conditioned shuttle ride and inclusive meal when you arrive at the airport—and those things make a big difference compared to being left to fend for yourself in the heat," Porter Kristiansen adds.
Included on-site activities save parents major money (and booking time).
Of course, all-inclusive savings go beyond food and drink prices, too. "We loved that a high-end hotel such as the St. Regis Maldives (also bookable on points) had free activities such as daily yoga, bicycles, and kids' club—plus free kayak rentals and a library," Porter Kristiansen explains.
Martin advises traveling families to "stay at an all-inclusive that has a variety of activities for all ages. Pick one with water and land activities. If activities at your resort keep you busy and are already included in your cost, you don't need to spend extra on offsite activities and excursions."
Luz concurs, noting that "all-inclusives offer a variety of activities that can cost big money elsewhere but are included in one price tag for your vacation at an all-inclusive." During my own all-inclusive stay at Garza Blanca, free activities included kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, a floating Wibit Aqua Park (!) for the kids, and daily morning yoga for me—on the gorgeous pier extending towards Isla Mujeres. And since I can often be found traipsing around a foreign city trying to find a local class where I can take a break from Mom Duty, it was so nice to have that available right outside my room—and for no additional fee.
The kids’ club is worth its weight in gold.
But all-inclusive activities are not all water sports and beach yoga. "Family-friendly all-inclusives generally offer a kids club/program, where kids participate in a number of fun activities, including crafts, pool games, scavenger hunts, and more," Luz notes. "This is an included service, meaning parents can take time for themselves at no added cost. The hours of these resorts vary, but some kids clubs go as late as 10 pm, meaning parents can have date night without the cost of a sitter." Yep, you read that right. And let me tell you: For all parents, especially for long-time single parents like myself, the opportunity for a break from parenting that doesn't cost you per hour is priceless.
Bashir, meanwhile, sings similar praises of the Allegro's kids programming, noting that "they have movie nights for kids, outdoors. There's a kid's water area as well as pools and direct access to the beach." And Martin minces no words: "An all-inclusive with a kids club and kid-specific activities is always worth it," she insists. "Built-in babysitting."
You might be motivated to try more unique experiences when they’re free.
One surprising benefit of booking an all-inclusive resort with kids? You might be inspired "to take advantage of special experiences available at all-inclusive resorts," Luz notes. Maybe you're not usually the type to seek out a cooking or craft class—but hey, if it's all included, why not?
Time is money.
This, for many parents, is the real clincher for why all-inclusive resorts are worth it when traveling as a family pack: They do so much of the stealth "work" that can creep into vacation-planning (and vacation-having) for you. "You can't put a price on some things," says Luz, "and the value of having so many activities and facilities available so that parents don't have to micro-manage and plan every minute of the day while on vacation is absolutely priceless."
Martin adds that the all-inclusive route allows families with children "to get away without the stress of figuring out meals, activities, and daycare once they arrive at their destination. With onsite activities that they don't have to travel to, it eliminates the stress and expense of a car rental. If your property has everything you need, you can arrive, settle in for the duration of your stay, and not have to worry about leaving the property until it's time to go home… The reduced stress of knowing everything you need for your family is right there is worth the cost in itself."
I would be hard-pressed to disagree. When I arrived at Garza Blanca, the staff had even sweetly set out a coloring set, backpack, and a tortuga stuffie (sea turtles nest on the coasts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya throughout the summer) for my 5-year-old son. Lodging, food, booze, beaches, pools, activities, and souvenirs, all in one fell swoop? Consider me converted to all-inclusive with kids—at least for those family trips when I really want to relax.