All-inclusive versus a la carte

All-inclusive versus a la carte © iStock

Sometimes, the lure of “everything included” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

In an all-inclusive vacation, lodging, food, drinks, activities and sometimes transportation are part of what you pay for. But buffet meals, watered-down drinks, overeating — these are just some of the caveats to this type of vacation.

Plus, an all-inclusive vacation usually means that guests are “held captive” within the perimeters of a resort. Some may appreciate the convenience and value of this type of vacation, while others may like flexibility and variation.

Here are five reasons to skip the all-inclusive vacation and plan an a la carte trip instead.

It’s not as great a value as advertised

It's not as great a value as advertised © iStock

While bundling hotel, meals, drinks and activities may seem like the best way to go, sometimes finding deals using your own research may yield better values.

“I’ve never found a packaged trip that could hold a candle to my own careful planning. Using the very powerful tools of the Internet, it’s quite easy to find deals on your own,” says Jeff Wilson, a public television personality in Athens, Ohio.

“Often, the lists of ‘what’s included’ on an all-inclusive are padded with things you’ll likely never do, or that you won’t have time to do. Plus, you’ll be lining up to do the same activities with hordes of others who signed up for the same deal, making it unlikely you’ll be able to take advantage of everything,” Wilson says.

With the Internet, comparing prices to design your own a la carte trip means you’ll have a unique experience for less, potentially with fewer people doing the same activity, he says.

Where’s your sense of adventure?

Where's your sense of adventure? © iStock

Sometimes, stumbling upon an authentic, local restaurant is a real treat. “The best travel moments are unexpected: the surprisingly delicious hole in the wall, the bar where you befriend some locals or the wrong turn that ends up bringing you to a beautiful beach.

With an all-inclusive, you miss all of that, San Diego-based travel blogger Susan Shain says.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of travel is the growth and learning that comes from seeing how other people eat, talk and live. But you won’t experience local people and customs if you’re staying at an all-inclusive, because you’ll be surrounded by other tourists,” she says.

Following the well-worn footsteps of every other tourist zaps all the sense of spontaneity and adventure from travel, Wilson says.

“With a little bit of research from home ahead of your trip, you can make a loose plan with wiggle room in it so that you can take advantage of whatever comes up on the spur of the moment as you travel,” he says.

Liz Dahl, the Louisville, Kentucky-based president of the Boomer Travel Patrol website, says some all-inclusive resorts offer opportunities to go off-site, but it’s not the same as venturing out on your own.

“They provide tours, etc., but it is a sanitized version of interacting with the locals,” Dahl says.

Restaurants may not be good quality

Restaurants may not be good quality © iStock

Food and restaurant fare at a resort, where everything is included, also should be closely considered, Dahl says.

“One of the biggest turnoffs is the quality of food. Even though food and liquor are included, the premium brands of liquor are an upgrade, and there are very few, if any, gourmet dining experiences,” Dahl says.

“One of the joys of travel is tasting the unique dishes and flavors of the area, and that is lacking in this situation. There is also a mentality that if you paid for it, you have to have lots of it, which goes with the liquor. That, too, is a turnoff for many people,” she says.

Does resort cater to specific clientele?

Does resort cater to specific clientele? © iStock

Resorts with an all-inclusive focus generally cater to a specific client segment, whether it’s honeymooners, singles, families or sweethearts. This really could affect guests’ experiences if they don’t fit in with that type.

For example, if a guest wants to stay at an all-inclusive resort with his or her friends, the group of singles may not want to be surrounded by newly married couples, and the vacation might turn into a costly downer.

“Traveling beyond an all-inclusive allows you to meet and learn from people who are different from you,” Shain says.

There are similar venues to consider

There are similar venues to consider © iStock

Some vacation venues include spacious and fully equipped villas, featuring gourmet kitchens and separate living and dining areas that can accommodate an entire family. Though sometimes costly, they might be a good substitute for an all-inclusive vacation resort.

“Many brands, including Marriott Vacation Club’s four Caribbean resorts, offer a nightly rental program so customers can experience staying at a resort without actually being an owner,” says Ed Kinney, vice president of corporate affairs for Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp. in Orlando, Florida.

“Family-oriented conveniences are standard at resorts, including in-villa washer and dryers, fully equipped kitchens, separate living and dining areas, multiple flat-panel televisions and DVD players, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi.”