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Carnival vs. All Inclusive - A Review


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In January of 2020 you guys didn't get my normal "Winter Escape" cruise review, as my family decided to try an all inclusive resort instead.  We went to the Occidental at Xcaret All inclusive resort in Mexico.  In planning our next family trip for the winter of 2022, our family had quite a bit to say about the resort vs the cruise, that I thought many of you would find useful.  Sorry this info is about a year late.

 

I know that some of this stuff is going to apply only to Carnival vs Xcaret, and some of it will apply more broadly to cruising vs AI.  My "Winter Escape" reviews are more of a fun narrative detailing our journey.  This will be a little shorter and more to the point. I'll be breaking entries down into four sections:

 

1) Food & Entertainment

2) Things to do & the "Experience"

3) Staff & Service

4) Price & Conclusion

 

**We traveled in January of 2020, when the current pandemic was not a known concern and no real restrictions were in place.

 

1) Food & Entertainment-

 

Food-

The Xcaret mostly had buffet items available for breakfast and lunch.  While the buffets were usually generous in size and selection, the quality of the food was usual mediocre.  Some foods, especially any form of steak or beef were quite good.  Others weren't so good, including mushy fish and undercooked chicken.  Dinner at Xcaret was either buffet or a selection of specialty restaurants that included a Steakhouse, Italian, Japanese and Authentic Mexican foods.  All food and drink was included in the price.

 

Our thoughts- while Carnival obviously isn't all-inclusive, we thought the food with Carnival was better.  The specialty restaurants at Xcaret were good, but not up to the quality of the Carnival Steakhouse.  Carnival's buffet is usually better quality as well.  The big difference though, is Carnival's breakfast and lunch options, including Brunch in the dining room, Guys Burgers and Blue Iguana.  I will never take those options for granted again.

 

Entertainment-

Xcaret really tries to make you feel like something is always happening on the resort grounds. However, their stage show every night was low budget and more like a high school talent show than any real entertainment venue.  While there were plenty of places to drink and lounge around, there was very little to actually do except shop once the sun set.  They really want you to spend more money to go to the accompanying eco-park next door.  We did choose to go to the Xcaret park next door one night, and the show in the evening was very, very good.  But again, this was additional fee and technically not on the resort grounds.

 

Our thoughts- Again Carnival wins hands down.  Whatever your thoughts are on "Playlist" shows, they are head and shoulders better than the shows at Xcaret.  The Comedy Club, Piano Bar and various places with live music or activities make a cruise ship a far more entertaining place.  

 

Next Post: Part Two - Things to Do and the "Experience"

 

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2) Things to do & the "Experience"

 

Things to do-

 

At the all inclusive we found the grounds themselves to be huge.  The resort is spread out amongst Mayan ruins that can be visited and photographed.  Monkeys and deer roam the forested areas between paths, and adult oriented activities like sand volleyball, archery and basketball were going on.  There was a phenomenal adult only pool that was actually a carved out tide pool full of fish that actually connected to the ocean.

 

Our thoughts- Carnival ships have always lacked daytime adult activities in our opinion.  Most of the "sport" areas are dedicated to kids, and little goes on except light music, a few CD activities and trivia.  The sheer size of the resort vs a cruise ship also makes things more spaced out and more relaxed.  This is one of the places that an All-Inclusive wins out for us.  There's just more to do vs. a sea day on Carnival.

 

The "Experience"

 

The constant access to a large beach, historic grounds and a lot more space makes an All-Inclusive very attractive.  We enjoyed beach sunsets and even early mornings watching wildlife.  The setting was relaxing, but also very, very beautiful.

 

Our thoughts- From a visual perspective, little can beat a large beachside resort with sand always between your toes.  However, access to cell phone service and being land based didn't create the "escape" that you have on a cruise ship.  Beach sunsets are great, but sitting in a lounge chair seeing nothing but open ocean all around you is pretty cool too.  In the end, this is a draw.  

 

Next up- 

3) Staff & Service

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3) Staff & Service

 

Staff- We found the staff we interacted with to be friendly and kind.  They often tried to teach us Spanish words, and seemed appreciative when we used them.  Most staff were very nice and were happy to interact with us.

 

Our thoughts- While the staff was friendly, each one had their own job, and none went out of their way to be sure we were having a great time (as has often happened on Carnival).  Whatever the reason, Carnival Staff are just more motivated and energetic.  The staff at Xcaret wasn't bad by any means, but while they did their jobs, they just didn't go that extra step.  Carnival has a slight edge here.

 

Service- This was somewhat of an issue throughout.  While staff was friendly... they were not attentive.  Many a drink order went unfulfilled after an hour or more.  At one point we ordered a drink from a server, and after 45 minutes we went to the bar and got our own.  2 hours after we'd ordered the first drink, it finally arrived.  At the buffet, servers would introduce themselves, then disappear.  it was strange.

 

Our thoughts- Clearly Carnival has the edge.  In all of our cruises we've only had a single instance of service at that level.  Dining room service on Carnival is attentive and fantastic, and drink orders come quickly.  

 

Final thoughts and price up next!

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Price-

 

We paid about $950 each for airfare and 5 nights at the resort.  This would be the same that we'd usually spend for a balcony, airfare and our drink bill on a 5 night cruise.  Overal, very similar

 

Final thoughts- An all-inclusive is relaxing and much slower.  It was nice to not wake up to a CD or feel like we had to be somewhere.  The trip itself was mostly lazy, and a very good time.  At the same time, there was little sense of adventure or discovery after the first day.  

 

I did appreciate the all-inclusive pricing and I also appreciated the adult daytime activities.  In the future, we'd probably try an AI again, although the food and service at this particular resort would cause us to try a different one.  

 

In the end, the night time entertainment, the "escape" and the overall value of the food and shows vs the All inclusive does make us prefer cruising.  I am glad we tried it, and we may very well do it again, but our preference will still be to cruise.  

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Thank you.

I appreciate your comparison...and it's nice to read some 'normal' stuff 🙂

We've been wondering about an AI....but always have felt we get a great value from Carnival, especially if we drive to our embarkment port.

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Thanks for doing this interesting comparison. You didn't mention it, but I suspect the room accommodations might have been an edge for Xcaret, if for no other reason than size.

 

But, like a cruise, you probably mostly only went to your room to sleep so it may not be a large factor.

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4 minutes ago, Earthworm Jim said:

Thanks for doing this interesting comparison. You didn't mention it, but I suspect the room accommodations might have been an edge for Xcaret, if for no other reason than size.

 

But, like a cruise, you probably mostly only went to your room to sleep so it may not be a large factor.

 

That's actually a very good section that I left out. The rooms at the AI were actually quite large and comfortable, with a small jungle facing balcony. 

 

The issue was we never had hot water... Not once despite 3 calls to the front desk. 

 

So again... The room was better at the AI, but the service on Carnival keeps it more functional. 

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40 minutes ago, ARcruisin2 said:

Thank you.

I appreciate your comparison...and it's nice to read some 'normal' stuff 🙂

We've been wondering about an AI....but always have felt we get a great value from Carnival, especially if we drive to our embarkment port.

 

I am happy to post something more normal as well. We've got two upcoming bookings and our minds are starting to turn toward traveling again, even if it's quite a few months out. 

 

The AI is far more relaxed, which can be a nice change up. But the value on Carnival is there with better shows and food than a comparably priced AI. 

 

I also just really like alternating relaxed sea days with more adventurous port days. 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Indytraveler83 said:

 

Food-

 Others weren't so good, including mushy fish and undercooked chicken.  Dinner at Xcaret was either buffet or a selection of specialty restaurants that included a Steakhouse, Italian, Japanese and Authentic Mexican foods.  All food and drink was included in the price.


That’s scary right there.

 

Edited by Saint Greg
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1 hour ago, Saint Greg said:


That’s scary right there.

 

Oh it was!  I bit into a piece of chicken that was bloody and abandon chicken for the rest of the trip. Both my mother and husband ended up very sick for a few days, and we believe it was because they both ate chicken. I'll never understand how people can have chicken "medium rare!!"

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2 minutes ago, Indytraveler83 said:

Oh it was!  I bit into a piece of chicken that was bloody and abandon chicken for the rest of the trip. Both my mother and husband ended up very sick for a few days, and we believe it was because they both ate chicken. I'll never understand how people can have chicken "medium rare!!"


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Great comparative review!  We did AI's before we discovered cruising - around 12 of them on all different islands. (Aruba, Jamaica, DR, Mexico, Antigua, Nassau, etc.).  Then we realized we loved waking up in a different place every day or two, and haven't been to an AI in 10 years!   I agree with all you wrote, especially the hot water - lol.  

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When I first started cruising (April 2001), the idea was to see some sunny places and then go back for an AI vacation.  Every time I priced them, though, the cruise was cheaper (I typically book inside cabins).

 

Plus, my main reason for cruising, still, after 20 years and about 40 cruises, is to see the different ports. If I were to do an AI, I'd still want to get out there and see things.  For me, that's what travel (especially to foreign places) is all about.  So, that would jack up the price of a land vacation, too.

 

I'm also a little leery about tainted alcohol in Mexico.  

 

But, if the inability to cruise continues for much longer (I have 9 sailings booked between April 2021 and May 2023 on MSC, Carnival, HAL, X & NCL), once I have been vaccinated, I might consider an AI just so I can go somewhere!  Anywhere warm and sunny (other than my patio in the summer).

 

Thanks for posting your thoughts.

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13 minutes ago, NCTribeFan said:

When I first started cruising (April 2001), the idea was to see some sunny places and then go back for an AI vacation.  Every time I priced them, though, the cruise was cheaper (I typically book inside cabins).

 

Plus, my main reason for cruising, still, after 20 years and about 40 cruises, is to see the different ports. If I were to do an AI, I'd still want to get out there and see things.  For me, that's what travel (especially to foreign places) is all about.  So, that would jack up the price of a land vacation, too.

 

I'm also a little leery about tainted alcohol in Mexico.  

 

But, if the inability to cruise continues for much longer (I have 9 sailings booked between April 2021 and May 2023 on MSC, Carnival, HAL, X & NCL), once I have been vaccinated, I might consider an AI just so I can go somewhere!  Anywhere warm and sunny (other than my patio in the summer).

 

Thanks for posting your thoughts.

Once our kids hit the ages where AI's started charging them as adults we also found cruising cheaper - even with 2 balcony cabins for the 4 of us.

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Thank you for this review. I have not and never will go on an AI !  Not because I don't want to but because if we did I'd be home in 3 days!!  My husband gets extremely anxious and wants to leave. 

 

On a cruise he has to stay and I get to enjoy a week, and sometimes more, of rest and relaxation!!!

 

Thanks again for giving me the chance to experience an AI !!

 

Hugs

Nicki

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I’ve been to 3 different AIs so would say that some of what you experienced is common to AIs and some was Xcaret specific. For us cruises win in terms of both daytime and evening entertainment. We haven’t been to an all Inclusive that had the same quality production shows or entertainers. But all inclusives do make more of an effort to bring in local entertainers which we appreciate. For example, a steel Drum band in jamaica or fire dancers in Mexico.

 

the first AI we stayed at was a larger one and we had a similar experience that the food was not great and the service was underwhelming. But we have stayed at two smaller AIs and the food was good to phenomenal and the service was often outstanding. So I think that is very dependent on where you stay. 
 

we enjoy both cruises and AIs at this point for different reasons. On a cruise we look forward to having lots to do, good entertainment, good to sometimes great food, more upscale bar/lounge experiences, and waking up in a new place each day

 

On an AI we look forward to having a larger room, great service, going for a beach walk every morning, being able to walk out of our room to the beach at any time of day, much larger pools, being able to plan all day activities without worrying about timing, getting drinks without having them rung up and signing slips, good to great food, and local entertainment.

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24 minutes ago, sanger727 said:

I’ve been to 3 different AIs so would say that some of what you experienced is common to AIs and some was Xcaret specific. For us cruises win in terms of both daytime and evening entertainment. We haven’t been to an all Inclusive that had the same quality production shows or entertainers. But all inclusives do make more of an effort to bring in local entertainers which we appreciate. For example, a steel Drum band in jamaica or fire dancers in Mexico.

 

the first AI we stayed at was a larger one and we had a similar experience that the food was not great and the service was underwhelming. But we have stayed at two smaller AIs and the food was good to phenomenal and the service was often outstanding. So I think that is very dependent on where you stay. 
 

we enjoy both cruises and AIs at this point for different reasons. On a cruise we look forward to having lots to do, good entertainment, good to sometimes great food, more upscale bar/lounge experiences, and waking up in a new place each day

 

On an AI we look forward to having a larger room, great service, going for a beach walk every morning, being able to walk out of our room to the beach at any time of day, much larger pools, being able to plan all day activities without worrying about timing, getting drinks without having them rung up and signing slips, good to great food, and local entertainment.

I really appreciate the note about smaller AI's. I'm sure we will try one again, but certainly not the one we went to. My mother in law talked about a very nice experience with much better service at a smaller AI as well. 

 

I think the other advantage to an AI is that you can go on the exact days you want, rather than adhering to the ship's schedule. That's part of what drove us to go a year ago. We have a few govt employees in our family (myself included) that like to use paid holidays for vacations rather than using limited PTO. 

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I am currently looking at trips in Cancun. Most people's first thought is an AI resort, because of the obsession over unlimited food and drink. That's not the only option, and many hotels are affordable. Most AIs were 2-3x more than even the Ritz Carlton was. 

 

Some hotels, can come with breakfast. Grab me a bottle of whiskey and a pack of beer. Maybe $50? That will cover the majority of my alcohol at the resort. Then I can go to a restaurant with awesome tacos for dinner. Why would I want to spend 2-3x for weak cocktails and buffet food?

 

 

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35 minutes ago, Joebucks said:

I am currently looking at trips in Cancun. Most people's first thought is an AI resort, because of the obsession over unlimited food and drink. That's not the only option, and many hotels are affordable. Most AIs were 2-3x more than even the Ritz Carlton was. 

 

Some hotels, can come with breakfast. Grab me a bottle of whiskey and a pack of beer. Maybe $50? That will cover the majority of my alcohol at the resort. Then I can go to a restaurant with awesome tacos for dinner. Why would I want to spend 2-3x for weak cocktails and buffet food?

 

 

That's actually something we've thought of too. We would really like to take a trip that focuses on exploring Mayan ruins and culture, and we would certainly just use a hotel, rather than an AI. 

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I kinda wanted to go to Xcaret back when i cruised on the Valor, but me, my mom and my youngest sister stayed in port, however, we did go to a (mostly) all-inclusive place. Good ol' Playa Mia.

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Thanks for taking the time to review your experience! 

 

My experience with All-inclusive resorts is somewhat limited. But the one thing that I've learned is that smaller and more upscale is definitely better when it comes to AI's. The last time we went to one (summer 2019) it was a smaller, brand new, luxury all inclusive in Puerto Morelos. Much more personal and refined service, far superior food and drink quality, breathtaking accommodations, and no crowds.Truly a wonderful experience. But even then, I get bored after 3 nights at an AI. 

 

My worst AI experience was actually on a business trip. The company that I work for placed me at an older, family oriented RIU in Montego Bay and it absolutely sucked (dirty, run down property in disrepair, hordes of people everywhere, poor food, drink and service quality, etc). It somewhat reminded me of a cheap cruise on an old ship. 

 

I wasn't paying for it so I wasn't going to complain. After all, I was still at an AI on a beach,  but I'f I'd taken my family on vacation tot his property and paid for it myself, I'd been beyond pissed. I wonder how many people go to places like this one expecting a luxury vacation only to learn that its far from it. 

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Thank you for taking the time to share your AI experience with us!  Much appreciated. I have always thought about trying an AI, but I like history more than just a beach experience.  

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