Cruising vs. all-inclusive resorts: Which is the better overall value, according to TPG readers

Oct 4, 2020

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When comparing any two vacation options you’d be hard-pressed to find a unanimous answer. Traveling is personal, whether you’re debating widow vs aisle, snow vs sand, or a packed itinerary vs a busy day of doing nothing.

So we turned to the TPG Lounge to settle the question of which travel experience is the best overall value: A cruise or an all-inclusive resort? Here’s what our readers had to say.

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Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Cruising

Cruising is divisive — most either love it or hate it. These folks fall into the former, and for good reasons, ranging from the opportunity to see many places at once, to the packing convenience, to the onboard activities and even the crew itself.

“I’ve done nine cruises, so I vote with my dollars. Being out on the ocean, even on a cruise ship, just feels more ‘detached’ than being at an all-inclusive.” – Tom M.

“I find cruising to be a better bang for your money. I always get the drink package so it’s similar to all-inclusive resorts but the whole idea about being out at sea brings everything to a whole new level. The breeze, the ocean, the sunsets and sunrise. You just can’t beat those sunset walks along the lido deck. Sunsets don’t get any better than the ones in Santorini.” — Leonardo I.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles

“On a cruise ship, you build a family with the crew. It’s an amazing bond that you never see coming. They are the true reason I continue to cruise. The entertainment, the food, the shows and the excursions are great but the crew… WOW. You are on a cruise visiting several islands and at the same time, you get to learn about so many cultures around the world because of the crew.” — Leonardo I.

Shows are one of my favorite evening activities. And all the different stops.” — Jacki S.

“You can explore new places that may be out of reach at a sole vacation destination, meals and snacks are included (assuming you don’t do the added fee restaurants and coffee shops) and it’s fun! It’s easy to price out and add on and get perks if you stay loyal with a cruise line.” — Gigi B.

“You can explore many different places and only unpack once. You get on the ship and the next day you’re in a different port. Evenings you have a nice dinner, dancing, and entertainment. You meet people from all over the world on a cruise. You do need to pick the right cruise line, ship and itinerary for your style.” — Carol P.

Related: When will cruise ships resume sailing? A line-by-line guide

“You unpack once, someone else drives and you can have a resort day on the ship. They are called sea days! You meet new people or stay in your circle. Kids, families, couples, older and younger folks can all enjoy and participate. The right cruise line with the itineraries you want can open up the world!” — Ra W.

TPG readers stressed that it’s important to not just pick any cruise, but the right cruise:

My favorites are Crystal (including their wonderful new river ships) and Oceania. Case in point: Was on Oceania for 20 days from Beijing to Hong Kong. As our cruise got underway, they closed the port in Shanghai because of the weather. They scrambled the schedule and we ended up spending four days in Shanghai which were excellent. Docked right in the center of the Bund meaning we could walk everywhere. It was fantastic.” — Dominic B.

Cruise, but only a Regent. Have done four and you can’t beat them. Wonderful to have fantastic dining, with top-level drinks/wine, tours, everything included. Ultimate cabins, big, balcony, walk-in closets, showers… Most five-star hotels don’t compare.” — Kristi M.

Related: Which cruise brand is best for you? A guide to the most popular lines

“The right cruise can be amazing. Crystal Yacht, Windstar, Viking. Less than 300 people.”— Carla P.

“River cruise with AmaWaterways. Hands down an incredible, all-inclusive experience. Less than 150 people on the boat with curated tours of 10 or fewer people in every port. You’ll never get me on a giant cruise. But I’ll take a river cruise any day. Expert tip: Don’t challenge the crew to a drinking contest. It doesn’t work out.” — Gloria L.

All-inclusive resorts

All-inclusive resorts can get a bad rap, but if it’s convenience you’re looking for, look no further. Add the proliferation of COVID outbreaks on cruise ships, and all of a sudden the resort life may sound even more appealing.

“You can sit by the pool or beach and just order food and margaritas all day and you don’t have to worry about tiny bedrooms, even tinier bathrooms, and weird buffets with hundreds of other people crowding you. Bonus points for an adults-only resort!” — Leah W.

Related: 11 all-inclusive beach resorts you can book with points

“Generally, the drinks are also included and I don’t feel the need to do something every day like when you go to port. Maybe I just want to lounge but then I miss the island. Plus all the schedules, etc. Cruises are stressful.” — Leah W.

“Let me start with full disclosure: I hate cruises. I find high-end all-inclusive resorts offer a great value.” — Adis M.

“I like staying in one place and exploring! Doing some tours, going into the towns meeting locals and people from all over the world.” — Mary Beth W.

All-inclusive private game reserve in South Africa. Can’t beat the surroundings plus food and beverages and animals and photo opportunities. I’d go every year if I could.” — Judy G.

“You can do everything at your own pace without being herded like cattle. Not as many rules. Free to do excursions at your leisure. Any time I’m at a popular cruise port destination like SXM or SJD, the cruisers can’t wait to get off the boat and they’re bummed when the horn sounds.” — Mike C.

“Larger rooms, different restaurants and locations, excursions both in and off the resorts — no motion sickness!” — Katie S.

“We did one cruise and it was our first and last. It was awful. We missed ports. Food was mediocre. Never again. But we are going to an all-inclusive resort in a few weeks because we need to go SOMEWHERE.” — Natalie W.

Both

It depends on the experience I’m looking for. When I book a cruise I always book the drink/bar package so it equates the all-inclusive to the cruise. When I go to an all-inclusive my main goal is to relax, sleep on the beach, lay at the pool. So I like to do that at least once a year to just get away and recharge. When I book a cruise I honestly don’t go to relax. I’m going to tour different ports/cities, do excursions, go to shows, play games, etc. and wake up every day (or almost every day) in a new town. It’s a non-stop type feel for me on a cruise. Two totally different experiences!” — Adam D.

“My wife and I both thought we liked cruises better until we stayed on the ship while in port. The spa, pools, lunch weren’t overwhelmingly crowded, etc. We liked that part of it so much we did that at every port on our next cruise. We mentioned it to a travel agent friend of ours who asked, ‘Why are you using a cruise as an all-inclusive resort? Just go to one of those.’ Sometimes, the cruise is the all-inclusive resort and an experience all of its own. Disney is a perfect example, Alaska is another. But for beach and relaxation, a great all-inclusive resort can’t be beaten.” — Michael G.

Neither

All that fanfare aside, there are still those who prefer to go their own way — and who can blame them? TPG travelers are nothing if not savvy and have no problem choosing their own adventure.

I feel like a boat captive on cruises. All-inclusive resorts are also “islands” that isolate people. For example, a friend and family went to a Marriott resort in Phuket, Thailand. They didn’t see Thailand… They saw the resort. A hotel shouldn’t be a destination. I much prefer a centrally located hotel and explore the area.” — Doug M.

“I’d choose an all-inclusive resort over a cruise because I loathe cruises but all-inclusive resorts are not how I want to travel either. I want to actually see the place I’m going, not spend all my time at a hotel.” — Kristen L.

“Neither. Nothing beats wandering about a new place discovering amazing places to eat, from street food to fine dining. I’m off tomorrow to do just that!” — Linda S.

“Way too many lines/checkpoints/crowds on a cruise and even the expensive cabins are still dull and cramped. Of course, you will see a whole lot more of the world on a boat than in a bungalow. Personally, I avoid both and plan out my trips on my own. When I want to spend time on the water, I book a cabin in a yacht and do it in style, minus the crowds and virus outbreaks.” — Tina J.

“We plan our own trips which is a bit of work but saves a lot on fees. We are scuba divers and travel to the Pacific islands quite a bit. We have got our routine down so well and it works well every time! We arrange our own flights, overnight stays near airports for next morning flights and inter-country flights! No need for travel agents since we do a lot of our own research. We don’t do all-inclusive unless the resorts we stay are not near to other restaurant choices. But if our resort is in town or close walking distance we only choose the breakfast plan, then walk into town for other meals trying new restaurants. The only cruises are dive boats where we spend lots of time under the boat in the water and only use the boats for sleeping, eating and gearing up for the next dive with land excursions in between!” — Deb C.

Related: 14 mistakes to avoid at all-inclusive resorts

Bottom line

Let’s be honest: There’s no wrong way to vacation. But, if you’re up in the air between booking a cruise or a stay at an all-inclusive resort, hopefully this feedback will help you make a decision so that you can focus on the important stuff: margarita or pina colada?

Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.