Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How does all-inclusive compare to a cruise? We investigated from @BeachesResorts

If you took a glance at BalancingMama on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook this weekend, you probably already know how I spent the weekend with my husband and daughter: meandering along wooden plank boardwalks nestled within tropical foliage, sinking my toes in the softness of white sand while admiring a water color that, surpisingly, can actually be found in nature. Part of my weekend was spent with energetic people who all have a passion for family experiences and writing all about it. And also with some of the most accommodating, friendly resort employees I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

Yes, our weekend was truly grand. Our weekend was... #BeachesMoms! We attended the Social Media on the Sand conference hosted by Beaches Resorts Turks and Caicos.

Beaches Resorts are family-friendly and all-inclusive. As any employee will tell you, the only 'no' you will hear is 'nooo problem' (insert Caribbean accent). As a fan of cruising, I found myself continually comparing a cruise vacation with the experiences we were having at Beaches. Repeatedly, I said to my husband "this is like a cruise" or "wow, this is better than a cruise!".

So, how does an all-inclusive resort compare to a cruise?
My response: You definitely need to put it in your list of options when planning family travel. It may be very well worth it.

Initially, an all-inclusive resort feels very expensive. However, you have to take into account the things that are included at the resort vs. an extra cost on a cruise:
  • At Beaches Resorts, all drinks are included. No "this event only" or "well drinks only" policies; top shelf liquors are all included. You can get your rum and Coke with Appleton Jamaican rum or any other top brand that you desire. We were lucky to meet a man whom I now consider the most accommodating bartender on earth, Bishop at Beaches Turks and Caicos. Bishop can concoct a drink to match your swimsuit and pour it while the glass is on his head. On a cruise vacation, you have to pay for alcoholic drinks - and even sodas. I personally drink Coca-Cola products as my daily caffeine boost and I must always purchase the soda card when taking a cruise. Because let's face it, the cruise lines' included (instant) iced tea? Is not up to this southern girl's refreshment standards.  
  • At Beaches Resorts, all restaurants are included. Many cruises have mediocre buffets or standard dining and offer a few other restaurants at an additional cost. Not the case at Beaches. They have 19 restaurants at Beaches Turks and Caicos and any guest may eat at any of them without incurring extra fees. We enjoyed Beaches Discovery Dining on Saturday evening at Schooner's; the scallops appetizer and the jerk mahi were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. No gratuity, no cost. All included.  
  • Additionally, all watersports are included at Beaches. Cruises charge for excursions, even when it's a simple "beach break" next to the port. Cruises will charge you $30 per person to have a chair, a float, and some bottled water. Beaches Resorts includes many different kinds of water sports like paddle boarding, Hobie Cat sailing, snorkeling, and even SCUBA diving in the Caribbean. Towels and chairs are plentiful too, and they come with cheerful attendants who will set up your spot in paradise so you can lounge for the day in blissful relaxation.
  • There are no gratuities allowed at Beaches Resorts. On a cruise, you are expected to tip several members of your service staff on the last day. Often, many cruise lines now post an automatic charge to your shipboard account of about $12 per person, per day. So just when you think you are finished being charged (for every drink, special food, and a beach chair), your account goes cha-ching once again.
  • Not included -- shopping, spa treatments, and lengthy or half-day special excursions. These have an additional cost on both a cruise and at all-inclusive resorts.  

If you have not been on a cruise, let me tell you: the rooms are tiny. We usually insist on a balcony room in order to get that bit of breathing space and private outdoor area. Beaches Resorts offer a wide variety of accommodations from those similar to a hotel room, to suites, to multi-level villas, to butler service homes that include a private swimming pool.

We were placed in a family suite in the Key West village, which included a full kitchen (the fridge is already stocked with soda, juice, and wine), living area with couch bed and trundle bed, a king bedroom, bathroom, and additional sink area. Plus a balcony. No bumping of elbows!

I call it a tie here. Cruises and all-inclusive resorts both include evening events, poolside games, children's activities, music, and special events. Our favorite at Beaches Turks and Caicos? The Friday night beach party BBQ with a Sesame Street characters show, limbo, dancing, and fireworks to celebrate Sesame Street's 10th anniversary at Beaches. During the day, Beaches had balloon pop by the pool, baking cookies with Cookie Monster, nightly entertainment, and lots more.

Beaches Turks and Caicos is spread on almost 100 acres with four distinct villages that have their own ambience and architecture. Multiple pools and miles of soft, sandy beach sit next to jaw-dropping turquoise water. My family never had any issue finding a beach or pool chair or getting into any restaurant at any given time. Cruises have those infamous at-sea days... over one thousand people, on a ship, with absolutely nowhere to go. Therefore, each sweaty body jockeys for position and clings on to poolside chairs as if they were made of gold. Buffet lines get very long and the children in those lines become fidgety and frustrated (some of the adults too). Beaches' reinvented buffet set-up means no long and frustrating lines with ravenous children afoot.

This may be a personal preference. My husband loves the fact that a cruise can take us to three or four different islands. I like this as well; it is always exciting to wake up in the morning at a new port and head out to explore somewhere you have never before set foot. But on the other hand, cruises usually do not offer more than 6-8 hours at any port. So we often feel rushed and we do not truly get the feel of the island. I am a worrier by nature so I am always watching the time to ensure we do not get left behind when the ship sails away. So for this reason, it can be much more calming to stay in one place. We were able to check out many aspects of Beaches Resort without having a deadline (other than the flight home) looming over us. Life at home is full of enough clock-watching and deadlines, isn't it?

If you are trying to come up with that next family vacation plan and considering a cruise, also look into a Beaches Resort vacation. You might find that it is agreeable to your wallet after all. And trust me, you will feel like royalty at Beaches, where every desire is "nooo problem" (Caribbean accent inserted here). The service was impeccable. From the moment you arrive, they greet you with a big smile and a "welcome home".

We were at home for sure.

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Note: Not all inclusive resorts are the same. We put our cruise comparison to the test specifically at this Beaches location. Beware other "all inclusives" that actually limit what is really included. Also, I received a discount on a Beaches vacation as part of #BeachesMoms and the Social Media on the Sand conference. However, all opinions are 100% mine and swayed in no way by Beaches.
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