To All Inclusive or Not to All Inclusive, That is the Question!

by Ray Bridgeman

So, over the last few years, the wife and I have constantly had the conversation about are all-inclusive resorts worth it?  You know, those ones where you write the big check or hit the credit card for the large purchase months out, and you think, really, couldn’t I have done the same thing for less at the Jersey shore or down in Florida?  

Let me explain how this started for us.  We discovered a great hotel (names have been changed to protect the innocent) down in the gulf.  A great iconic pink place where the food, drinks, and service are excellent.  We absolutely love it, and we actually got engaged there.  On one of our regular trips there, I prepaid a week’s stay.  Hanging out by the pool and the beach, whenever we wanted a drink, we just raised the flag, and here came your server with your favorite cocktail.  Keep in mind that we didn’t stay on property every night, matter of fact, most nights, we were out and about in the local spots.  The morning of check out comes, and the $0 balance bill I was expecting since I prepaid was more than my week’s stay cost.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the bar bill and ok, the occasional lunch was more than the week’s stay!  With our love of relaxation and traveling, we immediately started to search for ways to continue this hobby while making this more affordable or start robbing banks! 

Jump forward as we started to plan our destination wedding. We visited a couple of those all-inclusive resorts, the ones where even the tip is included.  We were hooked from check-in, where we were greeted with cocktails, 5-star meals at every dinner, and great service.  Matter of fact, just lock the passport and cash in the safe for the stay. The only time you need it is when you leave the property.  And really, it is hard to leave the property.  You want to see some of the local stuff, but when you take a vacation to relax, they make sure you do. It is hard to leave the property.  (But, depending on location, make sure you do at least once to experience the local culture).

So now a destination wedding in the books, along with a honeymoon and a few other trips, both all-inclusive and not, I think we have a fair comparison.   Especially our last one, we split the time, part at an all-inclusive and the rest at a pay as you go on.  A week’s stay for a couple, about $4,000.  I know that sounds like a lot but do the math.  That’s at least 3 meals a day (if you’re like us, you might do appetizers at several different restaurants a night before going to your main meal. There are so many options. You would need to stay a couple of weeks to hit all the dinner spots otherwise.  Swim-up bars for your morning Mimosa or a Bloody Mary, and then you’re on vacation, so who’s counting the rest of the drinks.  Oh yeah, you need breakfast and lunch to soak up some of the adult beverages too. So, you prepaid that bill, and really no tipping.  It’s all included.  Go ahead and play with the calculations, 3 meals a day, snacks, drinks (whenever and no matter how much you want), and room service 24 hours.   

Now jump over right after to the non-all inclusive.  First place we hit after landing, the lobby bar for a round of relaxing dirty martinis.  The bill comes, and culture shock! $45 for 2 martinis that includes an additional 12% VAT (I think it stands for Value Added Tax, but I think it should mean Vacation Added, you are not a local dumb a##, so you have to pay tax) and 15% added gratuity because I guess once you get the bill, you can’t afford to tip.  Now, I spent many years in the hospitality business, and I consider myself a good tipper, so for good to great service, I tip 20-25%, so tack that on and you’re at $50 for 2 martinis.  Go one night to one of the Signature Restaurants, which don’t get me wrong, great food and service. Still, I think Signature Restaurant means since you don’t want to leave the resort, we have you, so go get a home equity loan to pay for dinner.  Again, here nothing is included down to the usual water bottles in your room, and good luck finding one for under $4.   

I’m not saying we won’t go back to that pink hotel in Florida or even to the Jersey Shore, but when you are on vacation to relax, nice that the cash stays in the room safe! So, the next time you go away, I challenge you to save every receipt, analyze it and quote out an All-Inclusive for the same amount of time. You will be surprised at the results.

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