To go the all-inclusive resort route or not, that is the ultimate vacation question. All-inclusive hotels are known to cut down on expenses by allowing guests to eat and drink to their hearts content, without worrying about the final bill. However, some travelers argue that unless you're buying multiple rounds of fruity drinks and eating substantial meals at the resort, it's not worth purchasing an all-inclusive package. To find out which camp is right, we're putting two popular luxury hotels in the Cancun area -- one all-inclusive and one not -- head to head for an accurate account on which is truly the best value.
Looking for all-inclusive resorts that offer the most bang for your buck? We've got them!
The Base Rate
First things first, we selected Excellence Playa Mujeres as the all-inclusive resort option, and the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun for the non all-inclusive hotel. Both of these properties are luxury beachfront options, though the former is adults-only while the latter accepts children. Both resorts offer an array of similar features, including several pools, a full-service spa, multiple restaurants and bars, and daily activities and nighttime entertainment.
We plugged in the dates: Thursday, May 14 to Sunday, May 17, 2020 for a three-night/four-day stay. For two adults staying in the cheapest available room, the cost was $1,590 at the Excellence Playa Mujeres and $794 at the Grand Fiesta Americana.
What’s Included at an All-Inclusive Resort vs. A Regular Hotel
The Excellence Playa Mujeres’ all-inclusive rate covers 10 buffet and a la carte restaurants, 11 bars serving premium liquor and non-alcoholic beverages, and a beach grill, plus 24-hour room service. Also covered are in-room minibars filled with domestic beer, juices, soft drinks, water, and snacks; in-room premium liquor and wine bottle selection; non-motorized water sports; and exercise classes.
The Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun rate covers the room, access to facilities (except for the spa), and Wi-Fi. On top of this, guests are charged a daily resort fee ($25 during our visit), which covers a few free fitness classes such as beach yoga, as well as access to the fitness center, kids’ club visits, and beach loungers. Travelers can upgrade to the Grand Club (an extra $180/night) for private check-in, access to an exclusive lounge with all-day snacks and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (which some past guests have said can be made into a meal), free use of non-motorized water sports, and a two-hour Hydrotherapy Ritual at GEM Spa. For three nights, that would add $540 and bring a new total of $1,409.
Average Food and Drink Costs at A Regular Hotel
Visitors at the Grand Fiesta Americana can choose to dine and drink cheaply or splurge. Though prices vary, beers like Corona are $4 and a margarita costs $8. Unfortunately, anything beyond the provided two bottles of water is not free (but necessary!), so staying hydrated will also add to the cost. If each person has three drinks per day, that will add between roughly $24 to $48 to the grand total.
Food-wise, if guests choose to eat on-site, they can choose from buffet and a la carte restaurants and a cafe. The buffet costs $25 to $35/person depending on if it’s breakfast or dinner, while a la carte dishes range from approximately $8 to $20 depending on the meal and restaurant choice. Past guests reported spending in the range of $350 to $750 on food and drinks for a three-night stay. Without the Grand Club upgrade, that would bring the total to between $1,219 and $1,619, making the latter slightly more expensive than the Excellence Playa Mujeres base rate. And, you’re getting a lot more choice at Excellence’s multiple restaurants and bars. It’s hard to put a value on the vacation freedom of having pre-dinner cocktails, an appetizer, entree, wine, dessert, and coffee—without having to crunch the bill numbers. On the other hand, if you’re staying at a non all-inclusive and decide to have a day or night out away from the resort, you won’t feel like you’re wasting money by skipping the all-inclusive buffet.
Tipping at All-Inclusive Resorts vs. Regular Hotels
Tipping at all-inclusive resorts is generally expected, unless you’re staying at one of the properties that expressly prohibits tips. Both Couples and Sandals resorts have a strict no-tipping policy, with exceptions made for personal butlers and spa services. Although it’s not necessarily expected at some properties, and the Excellence Playa Mujeres states that all taxes and gratuities are included, most past guests report that staff very much appreciates the gesture and often receive extra attention as a result of tipping. Expect to tip between $1 through $10 to bartenders, waiters, room attendants, etc. for a grand tipping total of around $15-20/day. This brings the total for a three-night stay at Excellence to $1,650.
Tipping at the Grand Fiesta Americana is more clearly expected, so travelers should be sure to give at least a couple dollars for each drink order, housekeeping visit, and luggage porter service, and more for restaurant meals. The amount guests spend on tips will vary by how much they eat and drink on-site, but budget for around $20-30/day. This brings the new total cost at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun to between $1,309 and $1,709.
A huge perk of booking at an all-inclusive resort is that you likely never have to leave the property thanks to all the provided entertainment. That’s certainly true at Excellence Playa Mujeres, where guests can spend their days using free Hobie Cats, paddleboards, kayaks, and snorkel gear. And taking advantage of scheduled activities such as Spanish and cooking lessons, archery and fitness classes, and pool fun such as water polo and aqua aerobics. Entertainment continues into the evening, with performances such as Michael Jackson tributes, magic shows, and stand-up comedy.
The Grand Fiesta American Coral Beach Cancun doesn’t offer nearly as much in the way of entertainment or activities. A DJ sometimes plays music at night, but that’s about it in terms of evening entertainment. During the day, guests can participate in limited free fitness classes such as beach yoga or make use of the non-motorized water sports that are part of the daily resort fee. Most room rates also include kids’ club access for children ages 3 to 12. Travelers seeking a relaxing vacation will likely find the lack of poolside activities and evening shows at non all-inclusive resorts a pro, but tourists wanting to add a bit of lively entertainment to their vacation may be happier at an all-inclusive hotel.
The Better Value
Travelers who expect to spend time outside of the resort and don’t plan on drinking more than three drinks/day will likely find the non all-inclusive resort the better value. These travelers can also save money by purchasing bottled water, snacks, and alcohol at nearby grocery stores (though be aware of the hotel’s policy on outside food and beverages). In the case of Grand Fiesta Americana, the nearby Súper Chedraui Selecto offers a plethora of fresh produce and supermarket goods, plus an inexpensive food court and extensive alcohol selection.
Visitors who don’t intend on spending much time outside of the resort, or who don’t want to worry about the cost of each mixed drink and meal will undoubtedly prefer the all-inclusive hotel. Excellence Playa Mujeres’ all-inclusive rate makes it easy to budget and allows guests to put their wallets away.
Editor’s Note: All prices are approximations and subject to change.
Don’t forget to pack these resort essentials:
Mens Beach Resort Essentials
Best-Selling Women’s Beach Look
Caribbean Rookie Mistakes Outfit
Men’s Summertime Daywear
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