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Who offers better food, Caribbean cruise or all inclusive resort?

Every year my family takes a vacation together in June. We are 3 generations ranging from 4-67 y/o. The last two years we've cruised on Royal Caribbean out of Florida.I am lobbying heavily for a vacation @ an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. I've never been to one but the idea of having a beach and a pool you can actually cool off in is appealing, pluss there's more to do.It was so hot on our cruise last year that I couldn't stay outdoor for long and the 3' deep pool was wall to wall people and like bath water. My bother and his wife went to an all incluse many years ago and said the food was "cafteria style" and "lousy". Do family oriented all inclusives serve better food than Royal Carribbean which we all agreed was just OK? Pricewise we're looking in the middle of the pack and it has to have kids activities, separate dining for them when they want it. If you can reccomend any properies it would be much appreciated.

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  1. Impossible to generalize. There's some truth in the "you get what you pay for" adage. I've been to good and bad all-inclusives, and price was a factor. Ditto cruises.

    Some non-inclusive resorts will structure an all-inclusive price. That's typically a better experience because you're dining in restaurants that cater to (a la carte) paying customers also.

    1. Disclaimer: I'm not much of a beach vacation person, so my personal experience is limited. However, I do follow several travel blogs and like to price things out when occasionally my mood flips and I think "Gee, I'd like to travel in a big metal tube where it's hot and humid" and then the mood passes and I start pricing flights to Prague instead. One of the blogs I follow is of a very experienced cruiser though. So here's a bit that I have gleaned:

      Food-wise, if that really is a driving force, you're better off on Celebrity or Carnival than on Royal Caribbean. So if you're positively tied to Royal Caribbean for some reason and not wanting to branch out to other lines, then I'd probably opt for resort instead. Carnival is probably also going to offer better kid and family activities.

      I have a friend who loves Punta Cana, but tends to stay at an adults-only resort there. Dreams Punta Cana would probably offer your best mix of above-average food with a decent range of kids activities (it can be hit or miss with some resorts offering a wide-range or activities, and others pretty much offering a kids pool, maybe an indoor playground and some babysitting).

      But you can get decent food or bad food at pretty much any place. So really, I think it would be better to evaluate what type of a vacation you would like to have instead. Cruises tend to be more active/hectic and can make you feel like you need a vacation to recuperate from your vacation, but you'll probably never be bored. They can also nickel and dime you for the extras if you aren't careful and you never get to spend an in depth amount of time at any one place. Resorts tend to be less scheduled, more relaxed and if your crowd is more of the relax at the beach type and the kids are good at keeping themselves entertained and/or don't need constant stimulation then it might be your better bet.

      If you haven't been to these sites yet, I recommend checking out cruisecritic.com, familyvacationcritic.com (which, incidentally, recommends Iberostar in Punta Cana), and oyster.com - they'll probably be more useful to you than CH.

      20 Replies
      1. re: amishangst

        No more cruises for us!
        Got all them T-shirts.
        I don't care to spend a couple of weeks being lined up and filed into any more life boats. Or stand for an hour with a red seat cushion tied to my neck waiting for that last passenger who the ship's company can't get to come out of their state room to "join the fun" of pretending any of us would survive when the ship sinks.
        The food is never really that great.
        Usually the very best meal you'll get is on the first night and the last night. After the first night by the time you realize how fast the food quality/service has deteriorated it's time for the last dinner which is always the meal the cruise line wants you to remember.
        Too many strangers rubbing shoulders with each other day after day. "Oh my God! Here comes that weirdo couple who always wants us to have a drink with them while they show us photos of their precious twenty five year old "baby-boy" who can't seem to find a job and do we know any one who is hiring?".
        Little swimming pools packed with more strangers with dubious hygiene habits.
        Drunk ship's officiers (no kidding).
        HOT! rooms with inadequate AC. (Ship originally built for 'northern waters').
        Bored entertainers. Boring entertainers. Bored guests with raging cases of 'buyer's remorse.
        'Splits' of cheap wine costing $40.00.
        If I want to visit ten tourist traps in ten days I'll watch the Travel Channel from my living room couch.
        Terra firma for me thanks.

        1. re: Puffin3

          I'm with you Puffin! All you mentioned and diareah too!

          1. re: zackly

            I didn't mention the 'D'. I assumed that was a 'given'. LOL

          2. re: Puffin3

            I agree with a lot of what you said. The forced interaction amongst strangers can test your patience.

            I am gaga for some things. One of them is solar eclipses. I saved up my money for a single supplement (read double room rate) for a week long "eclipse" cruise because the speakers included Buzz Aldrin and any monies the cruise made helped benefit the Planetary Society. Come on! Fun, right? I loved everything BUT the meals. The one assigned seating dinner I attended was torturous.

            I opted for the last seating. I showed up at my table and sat there alone for a good half hour. I looked up to see the maître d' having a rather tense conversation with a beleaguered dad, his family standing nearby. His wife was giving me the stinkeye. Actual shouting occurred, whereupon I hear that they had arranged a table to themselves and "That lady needs to be seated somewhere else." Meaning me. I paid double the usual fee to have a room to myself. And this was my bonus!

            I attended the Captain's Dinner as his guest, but otherwise I had dinner sent to my cabin the rest of the cruise. Since I had a few bottles of wine (I'd intended to share with the table), I was fine. And it was interesting to see the family members turn red and back away as if I were a bomb every time we happened upon each other. I sympathized with what they wanted, even expected that first night. The finesse in execution to get what they wanted was... lacking.

            This was at least 15 years ago. The food was duller than dull for a vegetarian. The midnight buffets however were glorious. Actually all the buffets rocked. Otherwise, what was supposed to be the shining crown, dinner, lacked imagination and was aimed at people who think filet mignon and prime rib are the height of delightful cuisine.

            1. re: MplsM ary

              Cruising has changed a lot since then, especially with regard to dining. The old system of an early and a late seating has been partially replaced on most lines by a combination of "anytime dining" in the main dining room plus a wide variety of "specialty" restaurants, where you pay a supplemental fee and make a reservation to dine whenever you like.

              Different cruise lines cater to different demographics, and unfortunately, the lines that cater most to kids aren't the ones with the best dining options. Of the mass market lines, Celebrity and Princess are known for having somewhat better food, but cater to a more adult crowd. My husband and I have cruised a couple of times with Celebrity and we really enjoy it, especially when we sail in their "spa class" cabins, which have a dedicated restaurant only for spa class passengers (with great lower carb options).

              Royal Caribbean and Carnival are much more family oriented, with lots of activities like waterslides, rock climbing walls, wave riders, etc. I have sailed on Carnival and found the food better than I expected, but you do have to be a bit choosy. Just remember, they WANT to please you, so if you ever order something that isn't to your liking, don't feel obligated to eat it - just send it back and order something else.

              I haven't been to an all-inclusive land resort yet but I think they vary widely in terms of food quality (and amenities, etc.), depending on how much you're willing to pay.

              1. re: biondanonima

                Thanks for the information.

                People can ding cruising all they want but as a single woman traveler, cruising offers a modicum of protection to visit places I'd feel otherwise uncomfortable to explore on my own. There are a couple things I really like about cruises: time to read while perched near great expanses of water or other great scenery (yes, just the ocean is great scenery to me), and drinking one crazy cocktail every day while on board.

                Plus on eclipse cruises I get to meet experts in things that interest me.

                This is great news. There's a 2015 eclipse over Iceland that I'd been thinking about.

                In the intervening years I've learned to ask questions my younger self would have been too shy to ask. Still, I'd pretty much written off taking another cruise thanks to the wonky arrangements on my last excursion (which actually was on a Celebrity ship). So... hopefully another eclipse next year.

                1. re: MplsM ary

                  Some solo cruisers complain about the "anytime" system because they enjoy getting to know their tablemates during the cruise, but I think far more really like it - it makes it very easy for you to dine on a whim, with any other solo cruiser or group of people you may have met during the day.

            2. re: Puffin3

              You are going on the wrong cruises. Just like anything in life you can choose to dine at Denny's or dine at Noma. But to generalize all restaurants after your trip to Denny's is a mistake.

              I suggest you try the following cruise lines, they will change your mind.

              http://www.seabourn.com/main/Main.action
              http://www.silversea.com
              http://www.rssc.com
              http://www.seadream.com

              Cheers

              1. re: RetiredChef

                These look great but we have little kids in tow. And just by the picture they look much more expensive than the other options we are considering.

            3. re: amishangst

              "Disclaimer: I'm not much of a beach vacation person, so my personal experience is limited. However, I do follow several travel blogs and like to price things out when occasionally my mood flips and I think "Gee, I'd like to travel in a big metal tube where it's hot and humid" and then the mood passes and I start pricing flights to Prague instead."
              It is so nice to meet a kindred spirit! Sometimes I feel like there is something wrong with us for always planning European vacations and mostly in the fall and winter while all my coworkers and family do the Caribbean or some such beach vacation. Glad to know there's at least one other person who is not a beach vacationer!

              1. re: ttoommyy

                I so want to be a beach person. I just hate the heat and sun. And crowds. If the water was warm and the skies were overcast, I'd be in heaven.

                1. re: Hobbert

                  As a fair-skinned former redhead (going pink, tending to grey, now) I am basically a vampire with sunscreen in her bag in case the moon gets too bright :) Or maybe I'm a mushroom. Anyway, not a lot of sun for me, thanks.

                  1. re: MplsM ary

                    I use a minimum of 50 SPF sunscreen :) The day I discovered sun protective clothing was very exciting!

                2. re: ttoommyy

                  You feel alone in your preference because Europe is such an unpopular tourist destination?

                  1. re: LeoLioness

                    No, because as I stated "all my coworkers and family do the Caribbean or some such beach vacation."

                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      Glad you found out that other people travel to Europe in the fall, then!

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        But not as many as in the summer! Winter in Rome, Florence and Venice is the best. It's like you have the cities to yourself as compared to what it is like in July, say!

                    2. re: LeoLioness

                      I don't think it's that Europe is "unpopular" (because it's not, clearly), but that depending on where you live and your personal and professional circle, you can seem like the odd one out for preferring Prague and Rothenburg ob der Tauber (or heck, the northern US and Canada) when everyone around you heads to Puerto Rico, and Mexican all-inclusives, and the Dominican Republic (or even Arizona or Vegas) and then they give you a little bit of the side-eye when you say you just don't care for the beach or heat or feel the need to "escape the cold".

                        1. re: ferret

                          You can, but when vacation time from work and $$ have a cap on them, you are forced to choose at some point. I get 4 weeks vacation time, 2 of which are usually alotted to our "big" vacation for the year. The other two are used for personal days, long weekend getaways and emergency days off.
                          Luckily, I don't have to choose since my husband and I are not beach vacationers. My brother, who has never been to Europe, can't understand why I don't spend my vacations in hotter, beach environments. That's his only idea of a vacation. Different strokes...

                3. Anytime you want you can leave the resort and get any food you want on the island. You are not stuck eating the resort food.

                  1. Not sure what part of the DR you are looking at...if it's Punta Cana note that there really isn't that much of interest off-resort. Of course, there are plenty of activities at the resort. As someone else said, it's hard to generalize which is why it pays to go to a knowledgeable travel agent. Food at resorts as well as on ships can vary during any given week though Royal Caribbean is considered to be middle of the pack in terms of quality of food and accommodations. For a resort, look at the Iberostar chain for favorable family-oriented resorts. Also, time of year you are going is important.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: gourmanda

                      Yes, probably looking @ Punta Cana for bang for the buck. because we have young kids we won't be doing much outside of the resort. I've seen Iberostar mentioned several times. I will check them out. My SIL who generally arranges these trips is asking us if we want to take a Disney Cruise. She's been told the food is "so much better"
                      Anyone been?

                      1. re: zackly

                        Disney cruises are great fun, but take a look at prices--much higher than Royal Caribbean. If you are talking this June you would be lucky to find available cabins.

                      2. re: gourmanda

                        "if it's Punta Cana note that there really isn't that much of interest off-resort"

                        Lonely Planet mentions 11 different sites of interest in the Punta Cana region. I have not been, but I am surprised to learn there would be no food of interest there since there are many towns and or villages near these sites. Are you sure?

                      3. I've been to an all-inclusive resort in the DR once, for a wedding and found the food utterly unremarkable.

                        Granted, this is not my kind of leisure trip (love the beach, just not resorts and not cruises) and I do understand its appeal for others, but I wouldn't say you are going for the food.

                        1. I definitely prefer all inclusive and don't really get the cruise thing. Don't see the point of being hot without a beach! If your relatives prefer cruise type dining look for an AI that has a la carte restaurants. Then they get the menu, table service experience. Avoid the Asian etc themed ones, they're about as good as you might imagine. Have to admit I have not heard anyone rave about DR AI food and I personally would be looking at Mexico, but that's just preference.
                          Finally, if they have kids, offer to look after them one night so bro and SIL can go out - to town or to the resort restaurant and night club. It's a bribe. I'd do anything to avoid a cruise personally ;)

                          1. I've never been to a resort where meal packages are included but I've been on three cruises w/ Holland America, Princess and Celebrity. I liked the food just fine but I think you have to study the menu and pick wisely. The Princess cruise was years ago and I was still in my teens. I had my first taste of caviar on that cruise. It was an appetizer dish I wound up ordering almost every night for dinner, a taste of Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga and some cheap red large pearl roe.

                            Knowing the cost but not knowing the taste, I just had to because whenever would I come across the chance to order luxury items so freely with additional requests if I wanted?

                            Anyone who has been on Princess, do you remember this dish? And the dessert cheese plate? One night I asked for a pile of blue cheese and got it with a pile of walnuts. :)

                            Good times.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mushroomaffairs

                              Yes one tip I got on my cruise was that you can order all the lobsters you want on lobster night.

                            2. My family used to cruise but when we discovered AI resorts we didn't look back. On a cruise I always felt like I was being herded. At an AI everything is at your own pace and you generally don't have to line up for ANYTHING. Plus, if you like to drink you are not stuck with an insane bar bill at the end of your vacation.

                              One thing to consider when looking at AI properties is what time of year you are going. If it's July-October, you may want to pick a resort that has a lot of air conditioned areas. If you are looking at other, more moderate temperature times of year, go for the ones with open air restaurants and bars.

                              My husband and I stick to adults only properties now, but we have been to a few family properties and in the DR I can recommend the Iberostar Bavaro. Gorgeous beach, lots to do, separate splash pad/pool for kids, decent food (Iberostar has good food across the board and it's consistent--even in Cuba, which is definitely saying something). The buffet and the lobby bar here are open air.

                              Even better than the IB Bavaro is the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico. This property allows unlimited a la cartes (most resorts allow just 3 or 4 a la carte bookings per week and the rest of the time you are at the buffet). It also has a taco restaurant included in the price, as well as a creperie and ice cream place. There's a lazy river, wave pool, sports pool and of course a great beach. I would go back there in a heartbeat. The other nice thing is that all the restaurants are air conditioned as well as the lobby bar. Not so necessary in December or January, but much appreciated in the warmer months.

                              Good luck wherever you end up!