Here are 5 factors to consider when making that decision:
Obviously, one of the big selling points of an all-inclusive resort is the sheer quantity and availability of guilt-free food (guilt-free in terms of amount you’ll be paying per cubic centimeter of food on your plate — $0 at the time of consumption — not guilt-free in terms of healthfulness).
I’ve been on both sides of this table as I see true benefits to both. It can depend entirely on what I am looking for on this particular vacation.
All-Inclusive: large amounts of food, whenever you want, without having to worry about shelling out cash at every meal (see #3 — Budget). Note: the quality of food can vary greatly depending on the resort. For some resorts, the quantity might not make up for the quality. For all inclusive family vacations, the fact that food is included for the duration of your trip makes this option a no-brainer.
Non-All-Inclusive: while you will be paying out of pocket per meal, you have the opportunity to try some of the local favorites, including many that are very reasonably priced. Requires a little more effort to learn about the best restaurants and eventually choose a place, though.
The same applies to drinks, too. At some all-inclusives, the vast quantity of alcohol served makes you question whether you’re actually drinking the top-shelf liquor you ordered. After all, how can the resort afford to feed everyone all this expensive booze? Maybe they actually do, though. And again, not having to shell out cash per drink is a nice feeling (again, see #3 — Budget).
All-Inclusive: Assuming the alcohol has not been doctored in such a way as to make it go further, it’s a nice perk to be able to order drinks at will, at any time of day by flashing a wristband.
Non-All-Inclusive: While the quantity and ease of drinking at an all-inclusive is nice, it’s also great being able to try the specialty drinks of various establishments. Since all-inclusives house everything on their own property, non-all-inclusive hotels generally have much better access to other commercial areas, like bars, lounges and hotels, which may each have their own specialty drinks.
Factors 1 and 2 both refer to the need, or lack thereof, to pull out money each time you order food or drinks. The idea of budgeting deserves being a factor of its own.
All-Inclusive: Paying for your room, sales taxes, gratuities (usually), food and drink all in one lump sum makes budgeting very easy at an all-inclusive. For those people who feel a tinge of anxiety or apprehension each time they pull out their wallet to buy something, an all-inclusive could be the right choice. After all, anxiety and apprehension are not welcome on vacation.
Non-All-Inclusive: For those people who don’t feel that discomfort when pulling out their wallet to pay for things, a non-all-inclusive could be a good choice. When you’re paying for things out of your wallet each time, you know exactly how much you are spending on what. An opaque all-inclusive bill doesn’t give you that luxury, so you don’t know if you’re actually overpaying for certain things (or underpaying for others).
Don’t expect the best nightlife on an all-inclusive resort. Sure, the all-inclusive may include bars or clubs but they’re just not going to be as cool as the bars and clubs that are more easily accessible from non-all-inclusives, like the awesome Reina Roja Hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, which has a hopping bar of its own. But then again, you might not be looking for nightlife in your vacation, which makes an all-inclusive very appealing.
#5: Exploring the Area
By their nature, all-inclusives are the way they are so that you never have to leave the property. It is not a coincidence that all-inclusive properties are in more remote locations than non-all-inclusives. After all, in order to make room for all the amenities they provide and the infrastructure needed to provide them, all-inclusives require large amounts of space and tend to be massively sized resorts.
All-Inclusive: You might have more difficulty seeing and interacting with local cultures if you stay at an all-inclusive resort. If you don’t really care to explore the local culture of your destination, then going with the all-inclusive is fine because you will have everything you need on the property.
Non-All-Inclusive: If the idea of staying on one property for your whole vacation is a little off-putting for you, non-all-inclusives are generally closer to local life.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you have a better sense of which type of accommodation is a better fit for you after considering the above factors. Obviously, there are more factors to consider, and obviously the generalizations above don’t always apply. For example, you might find an all-inclusive that also features some of the great qualities of non-all-inclusives, and vice-versa.
Again, your choice between all-inclusive or not could depend on what type of vacationer you are or what you are looking for in this particular vacation. There’s just no right or wrong answer in this case.