Jan 28 2010

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Family vacation: cruises vs. all-inclusive resorts

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By Alison Ulrich

Family vacation

(Photo: copyright Disney)

It is about that time of year to start planning a family vacation for spring break. I’ve been trying to decide between a family cruise and an all-inclusive resort. I have done a bit of research and wanted to share what I’ve learned.

Check the cost for children
When pricing out family cruises and all-inclusive resorts, consider the cost for the children. Some all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines allow kids to stay (or sail) free. Others charge a nominal fee or significantly reduced rate, depending on the age of child. In some cases, you may have to pay full price, which has a big impact on your family vacation budget.

Compare what’s included
On a typical cruise, your accommodations, meals, snacks, use of the ship’s facilities (pool, kids club, fitness room), and onboard activities/entertainment are all included. Add-ons like shore excursions, gratuities and visits to the spa tend to cost extra, and you may want to check whether non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages are part of the deal. In comparison, all-inclusive resorts typically include gratuities, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and non-motorized water sports, while golf, spa treatments and off-site excursions tend to be extra. You may want to confirm whether the resort includes transportation to and from the airport.

All-Inclusive resort

Kids activities at Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa All Inclusive

See what activities are available
For us, a successful family vacation is one where there’s something for everyone, young and old. Many family cruises and all-inclusive resorts offer a wide variety of activities and entertainment that cater to all age groups. However, one thing to note is that many cruise lines do not allow non-potty trained children to use the pools, even if they wear swim diapers. The islands that the cruise ships visit have a variety of activities, such as boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, four-wheelers, driving tours, hiking, etc. When looking at all-inclusive resorts, I’ve been checking for activities that are age appropriate, from kids camps to teen lounges.

Determine the kind of experience you want
A cruise gives the benefit of seeing multiple destinations in a single family vacation, which might be appealing to some travelers. There also are more than 20 cruise ports around the United States, including Boston, Galveston and San Diego, so if you live within driving distance, you can skip the airfare. On the other hand, an all-inclusive resort may be a better pick for travelers who want a longer time in one spot to experience the full offerings of the resort, island and/or country.

In the end, I am choosing to stay at an all-inclusive resort for our next family vacation because it is the most cost-effective option that meets our needs at this time. We will be traveling with my two-year-old son, and the resort is not charging for his stay or for his meals. More to report when we return!

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Alison Ulrich is an internal audit manager at Orbitz. She and her husband are parents to a 2-year-old son. They enjoy cruising, scuba diving, beach vacations, and traveling anywhere else a 2-year-old would like.

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