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OhioMomof3

All-inclusive vacation or cruise?

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My friend and I are planning a special trip for the summer of 2019. We were thinking of a cruise at first, but someone recently warned us about all the add-on fees for each excursion. We'd really love any wisdom, helpful hints, warnings, and recommendations that you can share with us. We are considering the eastern coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean islands. We are not considering Mexico as my friend has vacationed there previously, and she'd like this trip to be in a new location. Thanks for helping us plan!   :)

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As long as you plan on each excursion costing you, you're fine.  I think ours were between $30 and $100 per person, based on what was offered, and there were different tours available within each port (for example, a more costly tour got you longer hours, maybe a side trip, or more access to the site.  The cheaper tour would get you the basics: 2-4hours, lunch on your own, and only what the general public sees/does.  Dh and I based our excursions on access. Some things were farther away from the port and needed a bus ride, therefore we took the tour offered through the ship rather than haggle in the parking lot.  Or we decided to because it streamlined the process - like access to a world heritage site.  Rather than wait in line we were given a sticker and allowed to go through immediately.

 

The one fee I balked at was when we were getting ready to get on the ship.  Drinks were not included, except water, bulk coffee, and a sort of Tang.  Dh pushed me into getting the "drink package", which included alcoholic beverages, coffee drinks, juice, and smoothies. (About $200 for the two of us)  I thought it was a rip off, and it probably was, but it made the trip more enjoyable.

Edited by HomeAgain
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A number of years ago a friend said they loved their all expenses included vacation in the Dominican Republic. 

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I have come to really love a cruise, after initially thinking it wasn’t what I would like in a vacation. DH, in particular, enjoys a vacation much more, I find, when he is not continually faced with costs. I chose our excursions before the trip and in that manner, almost every cost was already planned and paid for before we went.

 

I have not been at an all-expenses-paid resort before. My sense is that it might not work for me because then I would not be actually experiencing the place I travelled to; I would be experiencing only the resort’s picutre of it. YMMV, though. I can’t say from experience.

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We just booked a cruise for summer of 2019!  We've not done one before and are really looking forward to it... We booked on Harmony of the Seas and are excited about all the options on board.  I'm not planning on adding on any excursions... They're really expensive and not worth it for us (we're a family of six).  For me, the fun will be in the ship itself rather than the stops we'll be taking.  (I know it could be both, but given the price and the number of us, it adds up quickly and doesn't have enough value--to me this time).  It'll be the start of some extended travel we're doing so I think cruising will be a great way to unwind and not have to keep track of much.

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For cruises, I like them but I also get frustrated at the price games. X price for the cruise advertised, but it’s actually Y price booked because of scheduling conflicts, the Z final price for the room. Then another X for tips, Y for excursions, Z for drinks, AA for specialty restaurant, etc. I’d say if you assume the trip is twice the price as a cruise ticket, you’ll be less frustrated when the costs add up. It’s probably not twice the price, but maybe you understand where I’m coming from. I like cruises d/t: with kids there’s no need to relocate everyone every few days to see new things, you get a wide exposure to new places, they have babysitting, I like sailing/boating on the water, kids like pools, etc. Resorts are fine if you want to stay in one place. Idk, I feel staying at a resort is more like a hotel vs a cruise, for some reason.

 

If you want to cruise, you MUST go to cruisecritic.com. They have forums discussing different cruise lines, destinations, rooms on the boat, excursions, etc.

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You can easily anticipate the add-on cost for cruises. Other than drinks, shopping, and gambling (which will depend largely on personal preferences), excursions are indeed the main expense. It does depend a lot though on where you are going/what you plan to do. We've been on several cruises and depending on location/activity the cost can vary from almost nothing to substantial. However, if you are looking at a Caribbean cruise with 7 days you probably have no more than 4 or 5 days for excursions. 

 

You have several options:

Stay aboard (no cost)

Do something low cost on your own (e.g. just walk around the port area which can be good or bad depending on where you are)

Do a more intense excursion on your own (generally mid-price)

Go on a ship excursion (prices vary but generally the most expensive option)

 

In the Caribbean, many excursions are either beach trips (not that expensive) or more adventurous (those can be quite expensive). One idea is to go on the cruise website, look at an itinerary you are considering, and see what excursions are offered (I know that you can do that for Royal Caribbean and am pretty sure it includes prices). That way you can get an estimate on how much you would have to pay. Also, look around - especially in the US you can often get some onboard credit when booking at certain times/via certain travel agencies that can be used to pay for excursions.

 

We have actually only been on one Caribbean cruise but here is what we did (I don't recall specific prices but can give an indication how much it was):

Our stops were Labadee, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel (fairly standard itinerary.

 

Labadee is owned by the cruise line (well, rented from Haiti) so food there is free as is use of the beach etc. You can spend quite a it of money renting private cabanas, doing zip-lines etc. but it isn't necessary. I paid about $8 to rent a floating mattress (well, I also bought a cocktail...) and that was it for me (one of the kids also did the aqua playground).

 

Jamaica we opted to do a self-organized excursion by booking a day pass at a local resort. It was around $60 for an adult (that was 5 years ago) and included transfer to the resort, food/drink and use of pool, beach etc.

 

Grand Cayman I hadn't made a lot of plans and when we got off the ship we couldn't really agree on what to do so just looked around a bit and bought a couple of t-shirts.

 

Cozumel again we did on our own. We took a cab (shared) to Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park and paid for entrance ourselves. We did not do the dolphin encounter or any other more expensive activities. We did rent snorkeling equipement for one kid and we bought a meal there. I don't remember exactly how much this was but probably around $35 for cab/ticket and another 30 or so for the rest. There were excursions through the ship to the same place but they were quite a bit more.

 

All of this was easy to do and for one person I spent around $100 to $150. However, you could easily spend five or ten times as much if you chose the most expensive excursions. But it isn't necessary to spend a lot and you can easily look up which options would appeal to you.

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How much you spend on excursions is really up to you on a cruise.  You can always stay on the ship--sometimes those are the nicest days to be on the ship as the pool area (or whatever part of the ship you enjoy) is not crowded.  Your options for excursions will really depend upon where you are cruising.  Sometimes there are a number of sightseeing options available to you for free by simply walking off of the ship.  In other locations, you would need to arrange transportation to reach sightseeing places on your own.  If the cruise stops at a private island, you can enjoy the day in the beach without any additional charges.

 

Even at an all-inclulsive resort, there can be extra fees, so make sure you know what you are comparing.  Sometimes water activities will cost extra at the resort.  Would you stay at the resort location?  Or, would you want to do any excursions and sightseeing from there?  If so, that will be extra just as it is on a cruise.

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I realized that I just talked about excursions/costs for cruises in my earlier post. So as far as all-inclusives compared to cruises are concerned:

 

We enjoy both and both have advantages and disadvantages. All-inclusives are maybe still a bit more relaxing (depending on how you handle excursions etc.). A port-heavy cruise e.g. in Europe can be a bit tiring as well. On the other hand, cruises give you the option to see different places and come back to familiar surroundings in the evenings.

 

Travelling with kids, I rather prefer cruises as they offer a mix of alone time (with kids at kids clubs/doing their own thing) and family time (excursions) while we tend to spend little time together during all-inclusive vacations. But as you are not planning on taking kids this would not apply to you.

 

I guess it depends on what you are looking for. I don't think there are many all-inclusives on the East Coast of the US (maybe I am wrong though - the Club Med Sandpiper is the only one I can think of). If you do not want to go to Mexico, the most likely destination for an all-inclusive would probably be the Dominican Republic. With cruises you could sample more different destinations. Drinks can be expensive on cruises (many lines offer all inclusive packages but they are rather expensive) - so if you enjoy more than an occasional drink you might want to factor that cost in. In my experience, entertainment tends to be a bit more elaborate on cruises than many all-inclusives due to the large number of passengers but most all-inclusives we have visited were in Europe/Asia/Africa so not sure the same applies for the Caribbean. The rooms will likely be bigger at an all-inclusive. What kind of activities do you enjoy? By their nature, all-inclusives are probably a better choice if you enjoy golf, tennis, sailing etc. On the other hand, many ships offer novelty activities (bumper cars, escape rooms, flowriders, miniature golf, climbing walls etc.). If you enjoy dressing up for dinner, cruises tend to have more formal options than all-inclusives (but it depends on the individual resort/line).

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Thank you, everyone! I think a cruise might be a better option for us, based on your insights. How does onboard credit work? Can it be used for anything during a cruise?

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I've been on three cruises.  All with Norweigien.  I don't have anything to compare to, but I thought they did a fantastic job.  There were some restaurants that were an extra charge, but for the most part, everything on board was included, except pop and alcohol.  The excursions were extra, but they weren't extremely high priced.  There are a range of prices of excursions at each port.   You could skip excursions and site see on your own or find a beach to lay on during the time in port.  

 

I personally couldn't imagine going on a cruise and not going on a few excursions or not getting off the boat.  I didn't think there was enough to do on the boat to keep me busy the entire time.  There were shows, but they were only in the evening, after we were back from port.  There was a pool, but for our Alaskan cruise, it was chilly, so I didn't want to swim on the boat.  

Edited by mom2samlibby
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I've been on three cruises. All with Norweigien. I don't have anything to compare to, but I thought they did a fantastic job. There were some restaurants that were an extra charge, but for the most part, everything on board was included, except pop and alcohol. The excursions were extra, but they weren't extremely high priced. There are a range of prices of excursions at each port. You could skip excursions and site see on your own or find a beach to lay on during the time in port.

 

I personally couldn't imagine going on a cruise and not going on a few excursions or not getting off the boat. I didn't think there was enough to do on the boat to keep me busy the entire time. There were shows, but they were only in the evening, after we were back from port. There was a pool, but for our Alaskan cruise, it was chilly, so I didn't want to swim on the boat.

Yes, I agree. To me, the main important perk of cruising is that you can experience several locations/points of interest, while not having to do any of the effort of getting to the next one. The ship activities keep one entertained when going from port to port, and there is no need to spend a moment thinking about getting to the next site. Not leaving the ship would defeat the entire purpose of cruising for me; I want to see the next location and experience it!

 

I loved Norwegian far better than Royal Carribean.

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Years ago, we had a wonderful time at the Mayan Dude Ranch in Bandera, TX. Everything was included. Meals, obviously, entertainment, two horseback rides per day. I didn't order alcohol, so can't comment on that. I especially liked that lunch was at a big communal table, so it was easy to meet people. Family run resort, *super* friendly.

 

Only thing is, it is not nearly as sophisticated or cosmopolitan as a cruise. Lots of families when we were there and also lots of adults from Germany -- some had been coming for decades.

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Neither? I can’t get over the the risk of norivirus on an enclosed ship or the carefully curated views of destinations you get from all inclusive resorts. The best vacations we’ve ever had, especially as a family of four, were flying to destinations and choosing our own accommodations and excursions based on trip advisor/booking.com reviews. The excursions made available by the hotels and ships can be pretty lame, mostly sedentary. When DH and I did an all-inclusive we felt like we had to stay there since the meals/drinks were included. It was too constricting. We like spending full days out and about, eating like locals, doing quad rides, zip lining, skiing, etc. I guess it depends on what your preferred activities are? We’d probably waste too much on uneaten meals.

Edited by Sneezyone
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There is still a zika virus warning out by the CDC, so anyone planning a pregnancy in the next year or so can check the CDC website to see which areas are still risks for zika virus transmission (Caribbean, Mexico both are).

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