Which is Best for Families?

Are you trying to pick a family vacation that will make everyone happy? Odds are above average that you’ve at least considered whether a cruise vs all inclusive resort is best for your family. If you’re torn on which one would work best, let me offer my perspective on both as someone who has experienced both. 

My kids are 13 and 14, and we’ve been on a yearly cruise vacation since they were six and seven. I have always wanted to try an all-inclusive land resort, and recently, we had the opportunity to visit Beaches Turks & Caicos, which is an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean that caters to families.

Check out Trekaroo’s guide to the best things to do in Turks and Caicos.

Spoiling it all up front, I think we’ll always be a cruise family, but Beaches was a big hit, and if I had to nail down another family vacation right now, we’d go back to Beaches Turks & Caicos or explore one of the two Beaches resorts in Jamaica.

Although I don’t think you can go wrong with either type of vacation, I can compare the amenities and list some pros and cons to help you see if one or the other rises to the top for you.  

Beaches is owned by the same company as Sandals Resorts, which is well-known for all-inclusive adults-only escapes. Beaches resorts are very family—and teen-friendly. 

Cruise vs All-Inclusive Resort- What to Consider Before Booking Your Family Vacation

Are there any transportation issues that sway you? 

Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 1Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 1

If you have some trepidation about vacationing on a ship, whether that be fear of your children falling overboard or worries over seasickness, that might put an all-inclusive land resort, like Beaches, higher on your list of ideal vacations when you’re stacking cruise vs. all-inclusive.

If you’re not wild about flying or deterred by the high cost of airfare, flying into places like Turks & Caicos or Jamaica might be a dealbreaker. 

One of the advantages of cruise vacations is that families can drive to the port, though this will only be an benefit for those living within driving distance of a cruise port.

Disney Wish Cruise ShipDisney Wish Cruise Ship

Caribbean cruises leave from ports in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, and many options for Pacific Coast cruises depart from San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver, Canada.

If you can drive to the cruise port, flying to all-inclusive destination like Turks & Caicos or Jamaica will add an extra expense. Howver, my family found flying into Turks & Caicos to be easy. We flew Delta to Turks & Caicos and connected through Atlanta.

The flight from Providenciales was about three hours from Atlanta. All the major U.S. airlines offer service into Providenciales, and the even better news is that Beaches Turks & Caicos is a short drive – about 20 minutes – from the airport. 

Cruise versus all-inclusive: Which is the most cost-effective?

When I book a trip, I like to know precisely what is included in the base price and what I should expect to add on and be charged for. Here’s how it breaks out.

All-inclusive resort

Pool area Beaches ResortPool area Beaches Resort
Photo via Beaches Resort

An all-inclusive resort is exactly what it sounds like – pay one set fee, and your room, food, alcohol, and activities and entertainment are covered. Our stay at Beaches Turks & Caicos included our room, meals, snacks, and drinks, including alcohol and specialty non-alcoholic beverages such as smoothies, milkshakes, and Starbucks-style coffee drinks.

Also included was entertainment, such as shows, pools, Pirate’s Island Water Park, and kids club activities. Since I have teens, they were in and out of the teen club, the arcade, and the X-Box Play Lounge, although surprisingly, not much of the latter. There was also a schedule of organized activities they could join, such as dodgeball tournaments.

For younger kids, there was a kids club that offered more supervision and structure, Sesame Street characters, and a choo-choo train ride around the resort.

Also included were non-motorized water activities, such as snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kayaking. PADI-certified divers can dive free at Beaches, although there are a few restrictions, such as a limit on the number of tanks per day and the need to schedule dive times with the resort.

Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 2Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 2
Photo via Jill Robbins

There were also plenty of land games, such as croquet, cornhole, giant chess, volleyball, and more. The fitness center and fitness classes are also included.

What surprised me most about Beaches is how truly all-inclusive it was. I expected to have very basic food and beverage choices and be hit with upsells around every corner. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

The only things not included were boutique shopping, photography, candlelight couple’s dinners, spa services, and excursions.

Jill RobbinsJill Robbins
Photo by Jill Robbins

Some very nice, reasonably-priced excursions allow you to see a little more of Turks & Caicos. We went on a sunset catamaran cruise to “Iguana Island,” and the price was $135 for adults and $68 for kids. Beverages, including alcohol and snacks, were included. We had about 30 minutes to spend on Iguana Island, where we did indeed see iguanas and were able to take incredible sunset pictures.


Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 3Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 3

My family has cruised with MSC, Carnival, Disney, and Royal Caribbean. Although we’re not hardcore Disney fans, we love Disney cruises because of their white glove service and superior kids and teen programming.

Here are 10 reasons why we think Disney cruises are worth the cost.

Across the board, the base price of a cruise will include your stateroom, most food, and entertainment. Most cruises have alcohol or specialty drink packages that can be purchased separately. Disney doesn’t have an alcohol package, although fountain sodas are included in the price of the cruise. Overall, I think Disney has the most inclusions, although their prices are higher than other cruise lines.

Disney Cruise entertainment Disney Cruise entertainment
Disney Cruise entertainment by Sharlene Earnshaw

Read all about Disney’s newest ship in the Caribbean- the Disney Wish!

Most on-board entertainment will be included on board a cruise, such as movies and shows, kid’s clubs, pools and water slides, and deck games like shuffleboard and miniature golf. Most ships geared towards kids and teens also have some type of sports courts.

When the ship stops in port, the excursions and other activities you’ll do on land are not included in the price of your cruise. No rule says you must get off the ship and spend money everywhere it docks, but for many people, the lure of a cruise is the opportunity to visit different countries and different ports of call, and that’s usually going to involve spending money on excursions, either booked through the ship or on your own. 

Pelican Plunge at Castaway CayPelican Plunge at Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay by Cortney Fries

Many cruise lines have private Caribbean islands – Disney has Castaway Cay and the new Lighthouse Point in the Bahamas and Royal Caribbean has Coco Cay, also in the Bahamas. One of the upsides to stopping at one of these islands is that it is almost like a no-cost excursion. Families can use pools, beach chairs, umbrellas, and water play areas at no additional cost.

Coca Cay Coca Cay
Coco Cay Slides by Cortney Fries

Both Disney’s and Royal Caribbean’s islands have free lunch buffets. Alcohol is extra, although Royal Caribbean’s alcohol package will transfer onto land. Coco Cay also has Thrill Waterpark, which is an extra charge. 

Overall, the “everything for one flat fee” game was stronger at Beaches than any cruise I’ve ever taken, which makes it easier to budget and plan. That said, there are different all-inclusive resorts throughout the world, and your mileage will vary, so make sure you’re savvy about inclusions before making your decision. 

See the world or stay in one place

Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 4Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 4

Many families find cruises attractive because they offer the opportunity to travel fairly effortlessly. From the moment you get on the ship, you don’t have to worry about directions or dragging your luggage to different hotels.

The average seven-night cruise stops at four ports of call, so if exploring as much as possible is your jam, your passport can get a (theoretical) workout within a single trip. Most cruise ship ports don’t stamp passports, but pictures work just fine for bragging rights. 

Check out our review of Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas as well as our guide to Coco Cay.

Beaches was heavy on the chill Caribbean vacation vibes without the moving around, which my family found more relaxing. While getting up each day to discover a new port is exciting, it can also be tiring. The ship’s time in port is limited, so we get up early for breakfast to be ready to get off the ship when it is time for passengers to go ashore.

I’ve never met a cruise port I didn’t like, but that “Pack it all in” mentality is not usually relaxing and might leave you yearning for that vacation from vacation once you get home. At Beaches, we slept later and had more leisurely breakfasts before taking on whatever activities we chose to do for the day. We didn’t have as much of a need for planning, and it was easy to just let the day unfold instead of making a reservation to do something. 

Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 5Cruise vs All Inclusive Resort: Which is Best for Trips with Kids and Teens? 5
Photo via Beaches

Another advantage to staying at a resort versus taking a cruise was the ability to spread out. Beaches Turks & Caicos is 95 acres, and we weren’t rubbing elbows with humans the way we would on a cruise ship. 

Why pick a cruise vs. an all-inclusive resort?

Cruise ship in MiamiCruise ship in Miami

Several reasons could cause family vacationers to choose a cruise over an all-inclusive resort. Pick a cruise if the idea of exploring multiple new places on one vacation appeals to you. A ship moves, and a resort doesn’t. While that might be an oversimplification, the mobile versus static factor completely changes the personality and mood of your trip. 

A cruise might also be an option for families where not everyone has a passport. Closed-loop cruises, cruises that begin and end at a U.S. port, don’t always require a passport. If you choose this option, do your research carefully and ensure you are fully aware of how cruising without a passport might impact your trip and what sort of documentation you need instead of a passport. 

No matter the reason, you can bypass air travel by choosing a cruise if you don’t want to fly. As mentioned earlier, living within an easy drive of the port will make this a more practical option.  

Why pick an all-inclusive resort and not a cruise?

Sunset at BeachesSunset at Beaches
Photo by Jill Robbins

An all-inclusive resort allows you to immerse yourself more fully in a destination. While most all-inclusive resorts are so loaded with amenities that you might be content not to leave, you have the option to go beyond the confines of the resort and explore the local culture.

Beaches Turks & Caicos had a small market of local goods just outside the gates that was accessible to guests who wanted to shop for locally made items. 

My family was perfectly content to laze around the pools at Beaches and make as big of a dent as we could in the lineup of 21 restaurants, but we could have chosen to explore more of Providenciales if we’d wanted to. Turks & Caicos is safe to explore and has a low crime rate. This might not be true of all beach resorts everywhere, so do your homework before deciding to explore outside the confines of your resort. 

Another big incentive to choose an all-inclusive resort is alcohol. If you like a few cocktails or wine with dinner, an all-inclusive resort is a way to dodge that big bar tab at the end of your trip.

Paddleboarding is included at BeachesPaddleboarding is included at Beaches
Photo via Beahes Resorts

We also loved that Beaches included water sports. Snorkel gear, paddle boards, and kayaks were all included in the resort fee, which can give kids a no-stress opportunity to try a new activity. You can pick up cheap snorkel gear on Amazon, but it can be bulky to pack if you’re trying to conserve space in your suitcases.

My family loves the snorkel lagoon at Disney’s Castaway Cay and diving down to discover underwater statues of beloved Disney characters, but the mask and fin rental times four adds up for us. 

Another advantage that might swing your decision in favor of a resort is larger spaces for your family. Cruise ship staterooms are typically tiny, much smaller than the average hotel room.

Beaches had various rooms available, from regular hotel rooms to suites with butler service and private pools. Naturally, the more spacious rooms have higher price tags attached, but room to spread out a bit is generally easier and a little more affordable than on a cruise ship.

Do you need an adults-only area?

Adult Pool on the Disney WishAdult Pool on the Disney Wish
Adult Pool on the Disney Wish

Most of the cruise ships we’ve been on have dedicated adults-only areas. My husband and I especially enjoy how well Disney Cruise Line’s adults-only lounges are done. While we don’t go on a cruise ship that caters to families to escape children, ours included, that respite from kid-focused activities is nice sometimes.

There was an adults-only pool at Beaches Turks & Caicos as well as bars and nightclubs for adults. Surprisingly, we didn’t seek them out.

Perhaps it was the slower pace of activity and more room to spread out in our accommodations, but we spent more time with our kids at Beaches, or rather, they opted to spend more time with us. Another reason may be the smaller focus on video games and electronics within the scope of the offered kids’ activities. 

If you want that time separate from your kids, you can likely have it on board a cruise ship or at an all-inclusive resort, but if it’s important to you, I recommend researching the particulars of what is offered, as it can vary by location.  

Cruise Ship vs All Inclusive Resort- what’s the verdict?

Beaches Play AreaBeaches Play Area
Photo via Beaches Resorts

While my family lives within driving distance of the Port of Galveston, most of the cruises we’ve gone on leave from Florida, which means we usually fly to get to the cruise ship. The cost and ease of getting to Turks & Caicos was about the same as getting to Port Canaveral or Miami. Even though Providenciales is an international flight, it was easy to get there. A passport valid for six months from entry is required to enter the Turks & Caicos islands.

Comparing the cost of a cruise and the cost of a comparable length of stay at a Beaches resort was about the same price. However, we spent less money overall at Beaches because more was included, and there weren’t a lot of extras we wanted to spend money on.

Alcohol and tips account for our biggest spend on a cruise and neither came into play at Beaches. Other than butlers in the designated butler suites, the Beaches staff is not permitted to accept tips. End-of-cruise gratuities are customary for dining room staff and stateroom hosts, the people who take care of cleaning your cabins and making those awesome towel animals. 

I loved my all-inclusive experience at Beaches, and I’ll always love a good cruise. While I can’t see permanently forgoing one style of vacation in favor of the other, I felt like I had more of a restful vacation staying in one resort.

There was plenty to explore at a relaxed pace, and my kids had just as many, if not more, choices for activities to keep them entertained. I also liked that Beaches was less video game-focused than some of the cruise ship teen clubs. Both types of vacations have allowed my kids to meet other kids from all over the world, but on board a cruise ship, it’s usually over a game of Mario Kart. 

If I were going on vacation next week and had to choose right this very minute, it would choose Beaches or another similar all-inclusive resort catering to families. Hands down. That said, if someone told me I was booked on a seven-night Caribbean cruise and I had two hours to pack, I wouldn’t be mad about that, either.

Jill Robbins is a freelance writer covering lifestyle, travel, health, and commerce. Her writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsavvy, Insider, AARP, Matador Network, and other publications. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she’s usually somewhere else.

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