Deciding between a cruise and an all-inclusive resort? Wondering what the differences are? While there are some similarities, there are plenty of differences. We’ll dive into the battle between a cruise vs. all-inclusive resort or an all-inclusive resort vs. cruise.
When it comes to cruise vs. all-inclusive resorts, there are some key differences that you need to be aware of before making your decision. Both have pros and cons; they can be a lot of fun, but deciding the right option for you can be tough.
We love and have done both throughout the years of our travels. Most recently, we spent a fabulous week at one of the best all-inclusive resorts: Hilton La Romana in the Dominican Republic.
While we were frolicking on the beach of Bayahibe and enjoying one too many beach drinks, we couldn’t help but point out the differences we love between all-inclusive resorts vs. cruises.
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This article will examine cruise and all-inclusive resorts’ key differences and similarities. So that you can make an informed decision about which type of vacation is best for you.
Here are related cruise articles you may want to read next:
- How to Plan for a Cruise
- How to Prepare for a Cruise
- Over 120 Helpful Cruise Tips for New Cruisers
- Cruise Essentials to Pack
What Are Cruises?
Cruising is a vacation where you travel on a large ship with thousands of other people. The cruise ship will take you to different destinations, and you’ll have the opportunity to explore each destination for a few days before moving on to the next one.
Cruises are mostly all-inclusive, so your food and entertainment are included.
Why are cruises better than resorts?
Are cruises better than resorts? That is subjective. However, two main differences may sway you to book a cruise rather than a resort.
- A cruise ship is an on-the-water resort that sails through oceans worldwide.
- Cruises have different itineraries that allow you to visit an array of destinations.
Why are cruises cheaper than hotels?
If you compare apples to apples, you may likely find that taking a cruise is cheaper than staying at a hotel. That would depend on the hotel and the cruise you are deciding on. When you start factoring in food and entertainment, you’d be surprised how cheap a cruise per night will cost.
Are cruises all-inclusive?
Depends on how you look at it and what cruise line you’re planning to sail with. We consider them mostly all-inclusive. While every cruise line differs, cruises provide food, some beverages, and entertainment. Other things like specialty dining, alcoholic drinks, the spa, and other extracurricular activities may require you to pay extra.
There are luxury cruise lines that offer full all-inclusive cruises that include everything from specialty dining to shore excursions as part of your cruise fare. But you will be paying a premium to sail with those cruise lines.
Read more: What is included in a Cruise?
What are all-inclusive resorts?
All-inclusive resorts are exactly what they sound like. They are hotel resorts where everything is included in the price of your stay, minus spa treatments and tours. That means your food, drinks, and entertainment are all covered.
All-inclusive resorts tend to be in tropical destinations like Mexico or the Caribbean.
Why are all-inclusive resorts better than cruises?
An all-inclusive resort may be a better fit for you because it’s on land, a destination you may want to explore further. Or you can choose to stay at the resort your entire vacation and relax because they have everything you need right there.
After the Big C, all-inclusive resorts became one of the most desired forms of vacation due to their cost-effectiveness and, generally, ease of booking. Cruising took a back seat for a short while during that time but has made a huge comeback and is more than ever in 2023.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of a cruise vs. an all-inclusive resort, let’s look at some key differences and similarities.
Cruises vs. All-Inclusive Resort
Pricing of Cruises vs. All-Inclusive Resorts
- The price of cruise vacations can vary greatly. From experience, cruises have generally been cheaper to me than an all-inclusive. It all depends on the cruise line, the type of room you book, and the time of year you cruise.
But whether you book an interior or a balcony cabin, you’ll receive most of the same standard amenities throughout the ship. You can get amazing deals for interior cabins and have a wonderful cruise vacation like everyone else.
- Wi-fi, cruise gratuities, drinks (not including regular coffee, tea, and juice served at the buffet), spa treatments, specialty classes, and other extracurricular activities cost extra. You’ll have to factor that into pricing when booking. A lot of these amenities are already included with an all-inclusive resort.
- All-inclusive resorts also have a wide range of pricing, all dependent on the destination and what is offered at the resort. The more amenities and luxury, the more expensive.
- Sometimes you can add premium amenities at an extra cost.
Transportation to Cruises and All-inclusive Resorts
- Cruise port destinations are all over the world. You may have a port destination right near you. Who knows? You may live close to one or maybe within driving distance. This is a huge plus because you plan a cruise out of that port, which makes it easier to travel to take that cruise vacation. Also, more money you get to save and spend on experiences.
- Now, not everyone is so lucky to live near a port city. Sometimes you must take a short flight to take your cruise vacation.
- You will likely have to fly to stay at an all-inclusive resort. Most all-inclusive resorts reside in Mexico, the Caribbean, and some countries in Central America.
Accommodations on Cruises vs. All-Inclusive Resorts
- Cruise ships have a wide variety of accommodations that will fit any type of traveler and cruise vacation you are looking for, from interior cabins with no windows to suites with a butler and balcony. You can find the perfect cabin for you and your cruise vacation.
- Since you are on a ship, the standard basic layout of the cabins can be cumbersome. The bathrooms are usually smaller. The balcony sizes vary.
We prefer to stay in a cabin with a balcony, even though it costs slightly more than an interior or a window cabin. What is your preference?
- What are suites like on a cruise? Staying in a suite is a whole other experience, whether on a cruise or at a resort.
Suite cabins offer more room and luxurious amenities like a restaurant, pool, and butler. Our stay in the Norwegian Haven on the Getaway gave us a fabulous taste of the suite life.
- All-inclusive resorts will have different types of accommodations as well. You can find anything from your standard hotel room to a villa. Like cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts offer different rooms that will fit any type of traveler.
- The rooms at an all-inclusive resort will be bigger than you find on the cruise ship. However, you will be on land, and some all-inclusive resorts offer villas or bungalows.
- It depends on the accommodations you are looking for when deciding between a cruise or an all-inclusive resort.
Are you packing for a cruise? Make sure you don’t forget these cruise essentials! This printable cruise packing list will help make sure you have everything you need for your trip. Plus, we’ve included some helpful cruise tips and hacks. Don’t forget to add it to your vacation packing list.
Setting and Atmosphere on Cruises and at All-inclusive Resorts
- The main difference with cruising is that you’re on a ship and out at sea with other cruisers. You will be sailing to different port destinations. There are usually daily activities and nightlife on the cruise ship.
- A ship is a sailing resort, so everything will be meticulously clean, modern, and have a resort feel.
- When you’re outside, you’ll appreciate the salty breeze.
- All-inclusive resorts are located in tropical destinations. When you’re not exploring the destination, you’re at the resort. Most all-inclusive resorts offer a wide range of activities and some nightlife.
- Resorts vary, but staying at an all-inclusive resort is relaxing and luxurious. The resort you choose may be on the beach, which views and access to it whenever you like.
Land vs. Sea
- One of the main differences between cruise vs. all-inclusive resorts is that cruises are on the water. A cruise may not be for you if you suffer from motion sickness.
- There is something about being out at sea in the middle of the ocean. It’s calming yet exhilarating all at the same time.
- However, the downside of cruising is that you’re stuck on a ship on sea days as the ship is on its way to its ports of call. For some people, sea days are one of their favorite parts of cruising.
- All-inclusive resorts are mostly located on land in tropical destinations. If you don’t like being on the water or getting seasick, an all-inclusive resort may be a better option.
Type of Traveler at All-Inclusive Resorts and Cruises
- Cruises are great for all types of travelers. Whether you’re a family, couple, or group of friends, there is a cruise vacation that will fit your needs.
- There are themed cruises, adult-only cruises, kid-friendly cruises, and more. cruise vacation for you.
- All-inclusive resorts are also great for all types of travelers. Families, couples, and groups of friends can find the perfect all-inclusive resort for their next vacation.
- You can also find all-inclusive for adults or one dedicated to scuba diving.
Dining at All-Inclusive Resorts vs. Cruises
- All-inclusive resorts have plenty of dining options as well. You will find a buffet and restaurants for which you’ll have to make reservations throughout the resort.
- The all-inclusive resorts also have plenty of food options available throughout the day. It really depends on the resort and what they offer.
During our stay in Hilton La Romana, I didn’t think there were many options during the day. The sandwiches, pizza, and burgers available during the day were not versatile enough. Although, if you booked a premium room, you had access to a couple of restaurants for lunch.
Meanwhile, during a trip to Costa Rica, the all-inclusive we stayed at had plenty of choices at their restaurants open for lunch.
- One of the best things about cruise vacations is the food. You will never go hungry on a cruise. There are so many food options available that you can find something to eat no matter what time of day it is.
- Cruise ships are notorious for their buffets.
- You will have the option to dine in the main dining room or order room service. The main dining room usually has set times for breakfast and dinner. Sometimes there are special lunches.
- Cruises also have specialty restaurants. They do cost extra, usually a small fee, and worth the price.
Alcohol on a Cruise vs. All-Inclusive Resort
- When you cruise, alcohol is not included in your cruise package. Unless you booked a cruise that includes everything, most mainstream cruise lines do not.
- Sometimes you’ll find cruise lines offering drink packages as a free perk included with your fare (like Norweigan Free at Sea), and that’s a huge cost saver. If not, you may want to consider buying one.
Cruise tip: Before purchasing a drink package, do the math and see if you'll be able to drink what your package is worth.
- A wide selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available throughout the cruise ship. Cruise ships normally have several bars for you to enjoy.
- All-inclusive resorts include alcoholic beverages during your stay. You will be able to find a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available throughout the resort via water service and bars.
Looking for help planning your next trip? Check out our top travel resources! These tools help you find and organize airfare, hotels, and more. So start planning the best vacation.
Activities on Cruises and All-Inclusive Resorts
- One thing cruise vacations are known for is their activities. You will never be bored on a cruise. If you are, that’s by choice. There are so many things to do on a cruise that you will have difficulty deciding what to do next. Of course, you can do as little or as much as you want.
- All cruises have pools and hot tubs.
- Cruises offer various activities, from watching a show to taking dance classes. You can also find plenty of physical activities, like basketball or rock climbing.
- Depending on the size of the cruise ship and the cruise line, you’ll find waterslides, ice skating rinks, carousels, go-kart race tracks, etc.
- One of the biggest reasons cruises are great for families is their fantastic kid’s clubs.
- You can also join a cruise roll call to get the most out of your cruise experience.
- All-inclusive resorts offer plenty of activities as well. The most common denominator between cruises and all-inclusive resorts is that they will likely have pools.
- You can find many other activities at all-inclusive resorts, from water sports (snorkeling, paddle boarding) to Zumba classes. Waterparks and lazy rivers are quite popular and all-inclusive for families.
- Like cruise ships, all-inclusive family resorts will also have a kids club. This is a great place for the kids to be entertained while the adults enjoy some time to themselves.
Itineraries and Destinations During a Cruise vs. All-Inclusive Resorts
- Another one of the main differences between a cruise vs. an all-inclusive resort is that you will have a set but very exciting itinerary on a cruise. This means that you will be visiting different port destinations during your cruise. The itinerary will also tell you when the ship arrives and departs from each port.
This is the exciting part of cruising. You have the opportunity to explore different places and come back to the cruise ship at night.
- Cruise itineraries port in islands and cities in Bermuda, Southern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, Mexico, Mediterranean, and more.
- Sometimes, you’ll even get the opportunity to enjoy one of the cruise line’s private islands. These private islands can’t be visited if you’re on a land vacation staying at an all-inclusive resort.
- Can you take a cruise to a resort? Yes, day passes to resorts bear ports are available to cruisers when they are docked in certain destinations.
- All-inclusive resorts do not have an itinerary that takes you from one city to another. However, you can plan a local itinerary to explore more of what the destination you’re in has to offer.
While in the Dominican Republic, we visited nearby Isla Catalina.
Excursions From Cruises and All-Inclusive Resorts
- One of the best things about cruise vacations is the shore excursions – they cost extra. Cruise lines offer a wide variety of excursions at each port destination.
You also have the freedom to book excursions not sponsored by the cruise line; check out How to Book Shore Excursions Independently for tips.
- All-inclusive resorts also offer excursions. These are usually tours of the nearby attractions.
- The main difference between a cruise vs. an all-inclusive resort is that resorts don’t have as many tour options as cruise lines. This is because cruise lines can offer a greater variety since they have multiple ships in different port destinations.
- One of the best things about staying at an all-inclusive hotel is that you can also rent a car to explore the local spots and more of the local culture.
Entertainment on Cruises and All-Inclusive Resorts
- As I mentioned, cruises have much to offer regarding entertainment and activities.
The cruise ship will have multiple shows, including Broadway-style productions and comedy shows. There are also movie nights, trivia, game nights, dance parties, and more.
- All-inclusive resorts will offer entertainment and activities like dance parties, trivia, and live music.
- Some of them may have a casino and a disco club.
- From experience, all-inclusive resorts fall flat when it comes to entertainment compared to cruises.
Staffing on Cruises vs. All-Inclusive Resorts
- Another fantastic thing about cruise vacations is the staff. The cruise ships have a high ratio of staff to guests. Each cabin has a steward that takes care of you throughout your cruise stay, sometimes paying close attention to detail.
You will be well taken care of during your cruise vacation. The staff is also super friendly and always willing to help.
- Depending on the all-inclusive resort, the time of the season, and the local economy, there may not be enough staff to meet everyone’s needs at a resort. In my experience, cruises have more staff on board their ships to tend to guests than an all-inclusive resort.
Generally, the staff is very friendly and accommodating.
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So, what’s the verdict about cruises vs. all-inclusive resorts? Are all-inclusive resorts and cruises amazing experiences that everyone needs to have at least experience once in their lives? But do they both have unique benefits that you may prefer depending on your travel goals?
Both options have pros and cons, ultimately due to personal preference.
If you can’t decide which type of resort vacation is right for you, we suggest trying out both – they each offer unique experiences that are well worth experiencing at least once in your life!
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Meet Kathy Ava – a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she’s become a pro at crafting unforgettable travel itineraries. She’s always looking for delicious, fun cruise itineraries and travel destinations and is slightly obsessed with Italy. Her passion and curiosity for travel started in childhood on her yearly and sometimes bi-yearly trips to PR. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it – so let’s explore the world and make some incredible memories.