Are Cruises Cheaper Than Resorts?

Are cruises cheaper than resorts? This is actually a popular question because many of the destinations a cruise will visit are the same islands where resorts are located. In addition to answering the question of whether cruises are cheaper than resorts, we’re going to look into the advantages of going to a resort instead of a cruise. 

So, are cruises cheaper than resorts? The answer is Yes, cruises are cheaper than resorts. The cost for an all-inclusive resort for the same time period as a cruise of the same duration will be higher. Airfare will also have to be factored into the equation. It’s possible to drive to a cruise port depending on where you live. An all-inclusive resort on an island the cruise ship will be visiting requires every person traveling with you pay for airfare.  

On the surface, this might look like a cruise is a no-brainer. But notice our question was “are cruises cheaper than resorts”? From a dollar-for-dollar angle, it’s a definite, Yes. But cheaper doesn’t always mean better value.  

Just to give you some perspective, I priced going on a 7-night MSC Cruise Line cruise to the Caribbean and a 7-night stay at Sandals Negril, Jamaica. The cost (not including port fees and taxes) for the cruise came to $1,222 for an oceanview cabin (a cabin with a window and the cheapest cabin category). The cost of staying at Sandals in the lowest priced room was $3,626, not including resort fees and taxes. 

The dollar figure doesn’t always mean “better value”. As well discuss down below, there are other factors to consider when decided on whether a resort is a “better value” than a cruise.

Spoiler alert: Not everyone will have the same answer.

For the record, I’ve been to resorts and on cruises and I enjoyed them both. It also gives what I think is a balanced perspective. So, there won’t be any cruise-shaming or cruise-bashing here. But I will point out some of the differences why even an experienced cruiser might want to consider going to an all-inclusive resort despite the higher price tag. 

Things That Cost Extra on a Cruise 

One of the main attractions for cruising is that, like an all-inclusive resort, just about everything is paid for when you come onboard. However, there are things that are not always included in your fare. 

Cruise Line Drink Packages  

3 drinks on table

When it comes to beverages on a cruise, some things are included. It varies by cruise line and sometimes it varies from ship to ship in the same cruise line. But generally, the drinks that are included are: water, tea, lemonade, and sweet drinks in the buffet. If you want something beyond that, you have to get the drink package. 

Cruise line drink package prices are not created equal. One cruise line has something called The Drink Package and The Ultimate Drink Package. The main difference is The Ultimate Drink Package allows for top-shelf liquor to be included. Beyond that, both packages provide the same options. All soda is included. So are fruit drink (like fresh squeezed orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice, etc) and coffee. And there is no limit on how many drinks you can obtain during your vacation. 

On another cruise line that promotes themselves as being “fun”, the beverages are broken down even further. There’s a soda package that offers what the name implies. To get alcoholic beverages, you’d have to move up to a different drink package that limits how many alcoholic drinks you can have per day. 

Many all-inclusive resorts will require that you pay for your alcoholic beverages. But there is no need at a resort to pay extra for soda, tea, coffee, and juices. It’s something to take into consideration when considering the value of an all-inclusive resort. 

Cruise Ship Specialty Restaurants 

Dinner plate with steak and tomatoes

Cruise ship specialty restaurants are always an upcharge. What are cruise ship specialty restaurants? Basically, they’re the same type of high-end restaurants you’ll find in any major city. They range from steak houses, Italian, Asian, Brazilian steakhouses…. The list goes on.  

The thing is, you aren’t losing out on anything by not eating at one of these places on a cruise. The main dining room has a variety of delicious food at your disposal. Plus, there are other places to pick up a bite all over the ship that don’t cost extra.  

At many all-inclusive resorts – particularly in Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic – the same type of restaurants a vacationer would pay extra for on a cruise are included at no additional cost. For example, Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Jamaica has 16 different restaurants including 4 seafood restaurants (each with a different take on seafood), 2 Jamaican, 2 Asian, 3 Italian (that includes 2 pizza establishments), 1 French, and a tapas restaurant. And it’s all included in the cost of your stay. 

What Are the Advantages of an All-Inclusive Resort Over a Cruise? 

I started off talking about what’s on a cruise to show that there are some hidden costs of going on a cruise vs an all-inclusive resort. Now, I want to get into why it might be worth the extra money to stay at an all-inclusive resort instead of going on a cruise. 

Rooms Are Considerably Larger 

Guest room with private balcony The Ocean Club Paradise Island Bahamas
The Ocean Club, Paradise Island, Bahamas

One of the first differences you’ll notice about an all-inclusive resort over a cruise is that the rooms are substantially larger. Rooms at an all-inclusive resort will be larger than many master bedrooms in the United States. And that’s without paying for an upgraded room. 

Another big selling feature of resorts is that every room has a window. This may not sound like a big deal. But on a cruise, the cheapest cabins are those without windows, better known as “inside cabins”. At a resort, the only question is whether you’ll be facing the courtyard, the pool, or the ocean. Either way, no view is a bad view.  

How Long You Can Take an Excursion 

3 people hiking on mountain

One of the great things about cruising is also its downside. A cruise will take you to a number of different locations on one trip. This is a great way to see a lot of different places in a very short time.  

The catch is, if you don’t come back to the ship at the scheduled all-aboard time, there is a very real possibility the ship will leave you. If you book the excursion through the cruise line, the ship must wait no matter how long the delay. On the other hand, if you book the excursion through a 3rd party and you are delayed, the ship has no obligation to wait for you. Oh, and you’ll have to find your way to the next port or home at your expense. 

At a resort, your excursion can last as long as you want. Your room and dinner aren’t going to sail away just because you were stuck in a traffic jam or your vehicle got a flat tire. It also means that you soak in your experience without feeling rushed.  

Another advantage of taking an excursion while staying at a resort is that if there are multiple places you want to go or things to do, it’s no problem. Do one thing one day. The next day, have another excursion scheduled. To answer the question, how long are excursions when staying at a resort? The answer is: As long as you want them to be. You can even go on multiple excursions in one day. I highly suggest you don’t do that on a cruise. 

Meal Times Are Not Fixed 

Couple dining in Le Bistro
Couple Dining in Le Bistro

Another thing about cruises that may or may not appeal to you is that most cruise lines have assigned dining. Sure, some will argue that their preferred cruise line has “anytime dining”. The truth is, only one cruise line has true anytime dining. That’s Norwegian Cruise Line or NCL. It’s called “Freestyle Dining”. That means once the restaurant is open and ready to serve guests, you show up, wait in line and you’re seated. The other cruise lines that claim to have the same thing require that you request anytime dining. 

What’s good about a resort is that all the time is anytime dining. As long as the restaurant is open, you simply walk in, wait to be seated and start ordering.  

There’s also no “late seating” and “early seating”. On a cruise you have to pick one or the other. If you pick early seating, you have to eat dinner somewhere between 5PM and 7PM (exact times vary by cruise line and cruise ship). Late seating is generally from 7PM to 9PM. If you miss your time, you will not be allowed into the dining room. You’ll have to get your meal somewhere else on the ship. 

At a resort, it doesn’t matter when you come to the restaurant. Just do it while the restaurant is open and all is good. The only cruise line that gives you this type of freedom is NCL. 

Better Chance to Enjoy the Pool 

If you’re ever been on a cruise, you know that it’s virtually impossible to get into the pool during certain periods of the day. It’s crowded and loud. And there’s no way you’ll be doing laps. 

At large resorts, you might find the same situation. But you’d have to go to a really big and popular resort. Most resorts have a couple of hundred guest at most. This means the pool area will generally not be crowded. In fact, some resorts have multiple pools. And if you pick one with a beach, you have the biggest pool of all to splash in without feeling crowded. 

Cost vs Value 

The title of this post is, are cruises cheaper than resorts. The answer is Yes. Cruises are cheaper than resorts. Does that mean cruises are a better value than resorts? Not necessarily.

Why? 

Because value isn’t always determined by cost. It’s decided by what’s important to you. If saving a dollar is paramount, then spending as little as possible on your vacation is what is valuable. So a cruise would be the better option. 

If being able to take excursions and not worrying about your room floating away is important, staying at a resort, despite the additional cost, is the better value. 

If you’re ready to book a resort, here are some that we think have reasonable costs and a good value

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