There are two types of Proud American vacationers: those who like to carefully choose what and where they eat and drink, and those who love an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink orgy of buffet and booze.
You know who you are.
Hey at Proud American Traveler, we’re not here to pass judgment. We’re here to help you decide what best suits you—for example, an all-inclusive resort or an a la carte resort? Well, let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
The biggest and most obvious difference between an all-inclusive and an a la carte resort is the food and drink.
For all-inclusive, you pay one lump sum and your food and drink are included. At a la carte, you pay as you go.
When it comes down to it, all-inclusive essentially offers quantity over quality, while a la carte offers quality over quantity.
My fiancé and I have been to both an all-inclusive and an a la carte. In fact, we just got back from the all-inclusive El Cid Riviera Maya resort in Cancun, Mexico.
Here’s what we found to be the most important differences between the two.
At an all-inclusive, it’s all about gorging at the buffet for breakfast and lunch, followed with a somewhat more “formal” dinner in the evening. Eat whenever you want, anytime you want. Eat dinner twice. Who cares?
However, the all-inclusive resort comes with the concept of getting as much bang for your buck as humanly possible. The pressure is real to eat and drink to the point of pure intoxication and gluttony.
The best part of our all-inclusive resort?
The free “rail” liquors included Johnny Walker Red and Blue, Grey Goose, Tito’s, and a slew of other medium-shelf spirits. We were pleasantly surprised, however, don’t expect that kind of selection at every all-inclusive resort.
If drinking free liquor of decent quality is important to you, you’ll want to call the resort and find out what they offer before you book your stay there.
The whole point of an all-inclusive is the security of knowing you’ve already paid for everything you’ll consume during your stay. Of course you still pay for airfare, tips, and any excursions outside of the resort, but that’s it. It’s super simple and stress-free, which is delightful—just keep your expectations relatively low in terms of overall quality and service.
Now, if you have kids, all-inclusive is definitely the best option. Let those growing boys eat until their hearts are content. Or let your picky toddler eat only two bites of their chicken fingers. You’ve already paid for it, right? And the kids will love you for it. The El Cid resort even offered daycare.
Now, the quality of food varies greatly at these resorts.
My fiancé and I stayed at the El Cid resort just before Thanksgiving this year. My parents had stayed there three years earlier in 2015 and they could not stop raving about the food.
Unfortunately, the food we experienced was definitely not what they experienced. While our food wasn’t bad by a long shot, it was uninspired and mediocre, which was disappointing.
And you’ll feel like cattle waiting in line for the buffets. My fiancé waited almost thirty minutes in line for an omelet.
The nightly entertainment was almost laughable as well. The “shows” were pretty bad even by your high school theater production standards. After 11pm, there’s either a band or a DJ and that’s it.
The nightlife was almost non-existent because everybody had been drinking all day and most people were already passed out.
Lastly, since all-inclusives are designed to keep you on the resort, you may find yourself feeling a bit claustrophobic and bored after being there just a few days.
A La Carte Pros:
A la carte has no choice but to offer great food because it’s their biggest selling point. They really can’t afford to serve mediocre food because otherwise people wouldn’t go.
At an a la carte, there is zero pressure to gorge. And if loading up on alcohol isn’t your thing, this is the kind of resort for you.
The nightlife and shows are a million times better, which is great for those night owls.
Additionally, a la cartes offer better destination choices and the beaches are much nicer.
And feel free to travel outside the resort without feeling guilty for missing out on all the free stuff like you would at an all-inclusive resort.
A La Carte Cons:
How many times do you find yourself stressed out over how much money you spent the night before? Are you disciplined in budgeting what you can spend?
“Hey maybe we should chill out tonight because we went a little overboard with our spending last night,” is not something you’ll have to worry about at all-inclusive.
So at an a la carte, make sure you’ve paid off those credit cards, because you’ll be racking up charges all over the place. You’ll need to budget your money carefully or you’ll end up sitting bored by the pool because you can’t afford anything else.
Imagine going to Las Vegas and blowing all your money on the first day. That’s what it will feel like.
Other than that, there aren’t a whole lot of cons to an a la carte.
So do you like to venture out, eat at different places, and visit different beaches?
Or does the security of staying in one place and not worrying about money sound more relaxing?
If your answer is “a beach is a beach” or “I just love to lay by the pool all day,” then an all-inclusive is a no-brainer for you.
Just remember, whatever you choose, it’s important to do the research on both before making your decision.
You can always call the resort and ask them any questions you may have too.