All-inclusive Resort vs DIY Vacation—What’s the Best Deal in 2023?

You desperately want an affordable and memorable vacation—but vacation planning stresses you out!

It can be even more nerve-wracking when planning a destination wedding and honeymoon. We specialize in all-inclusive resorts for the most blessed events in your life, and we know what wedding couples go through to get there.

We have comprehensive reviews and guides for all-inclusive honeymoon resort packages or the best all-inclusive resorts for adults only, but what we’re talking about today should help anyone making that crucial decision about a special getaway…

All-Inclusive Resort vs DIY Vacation—What’s the Best Deal for You?

To make this (relatively!) easy, we’ll break down some categories that show whether an all-inclusive or luxury-included resort is the best deal for you or if a DIY vacation will end up being your most affordable option.

Who Goes to an All-Inclusive Resort

The typical image you might get of an all-inclusive resort is all-day parties by the pool and beach.

Sandals Ochi beach
Image Credit: Sandals

If you’re looking for nonstop fun, food, and drinks at an affordable price, we can confirm that Sandals Ochi in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, could be your best deal.

Check out our Sandals Ochi review for a dreamy Jamaican “wedding-moon.”

Our point is an all-inclusive resort can be for anyone. Here’s what we’re talking about:

Wedding Pioneer Travel Tip: Always check the types of restaurants and the quality of wines and spirits that are included in the cost of an all-inclusive, and check out our guide to the Hidden Costs of All-Inclusive Resorts too.

All-Inclusive Resorts Are Just Buffets for Every Meal… Right?

Italian Restaurant at Sandals Royal Curacao
Image Credit: Sandals

People who aren’t fans of a buffet-type restaurant situation might assume that all-inclusive resorts should be avoided—but is that the right (and most affordable) assumption?

Some of the best and most diverse sit-down restaurants in the Caribbean are located at all-inclusive resorts, including Sandals Royal Curacao, with eight gourmet restaurants, including Butch’s Island Chop House and three ocean-view food trucks.

Food Truck at Sandals Royal Curacao
Image Credit: Sandals

If you’re excited to “travel the world” at an all-inclusive—at least when it comes to specialty dining—then an all-inclusive could be the best deal for you.

Check out the Best Sandals Resorts for Foodies!

When a DIY Vacation Could Be Better

If you’re a non-drinker or more comfortable in an environment without free-flowing drinks, you may also think an all-inclusive will be too costly or uncomfortable.

Image Credit: Sandals

In that case, consider the best all-inclusive resorts’ amenities, including water sports, land sports, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and private offshore islands, to explore or exchange programs between resorts that provide even more delicious dining options.

There’s a lot more to a great all-inclusive than just drinks—check out our review of Sandals Grande St. Lucian vs. Sandals Regency La Toc to compare two of the best all-inclusive experiences in Saint Lucia, where you can actually enjoy 3X the Fun at three Sandals resorts!

Here Is When DIY Vacations Can Be the Best Deal

This category describes vacationers who might find a DIY vacation more affordable and the most convenient vacation experience.

Koko Rondoval Bedroom
Image Credit: Sandals

There’s no right or wrong here, and your vacation habits could change in the future, so keep an open mind!

DIY vacations work best for:

  • Adventure tourists like cyclists or hikers who want to visit multiple sights during their vacation
  • People who prefer discovering “off the beaten track” places to eat or stay and prefer not having a scheduled itinerary
  • People who like to cook their own meals on vacation (although the best all-inclusive resorts should offer to cater to any dietary restrictions or preferences you might have).

The benefit of DIY vacations is that you have complete control over when you eat, tour, get really active, or sit back and take a break.

That said, the work of planning DIY vacations and ensuring the vacation runs smoothly is also your responsibility.

Our best advice is to be prepared to be more flexible in finding the right restaurants (reservations or no reservations), accommodations (try to book well in advance), and transfers between the airport and resorts or vacations rentals you book (a quality all-inclusive resort usually includes airport transfers). 

Rolls-Royce at Sandals
Image Credit: Sandals

Wedding Pioneer Travel Tip: It’s easier to budget any vacation when you know the costs ahead of time, and sometimes, an all-inclusive resort presents specials and promotions worth considering. Check out Specials by Resort, Last Minute Deals, Best Value Rooms, and Service Personnel Discounts

Tips for Getting the Best Vacation Deal

couple snorkeling in the caribbean
Image Credit: Canva.

We know the most about resorts on the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Antigua, The Bahamas, Grenada, Barbados, and Curacao.

Each island is unique and offers specific charms and things to see. The best way to get the best deal is by knowing what you want from your vacation and choosing a place that will satisfy most, if not everything, on your vacation dream list.

You don’t necessarily have to book an all-inclusive to get money-saving tips, either!

Check out this Sandals travel blog with a search engine. You can input a search term like “best restaurants in Montego Bay” and receive an expert’s article (like on the attached link) with a gold mine of quality information that can save you money and potential hassles.

Consider a Vacation Hybrid

Image Credit: Canva.

Trust us. We know that the prices for all-inclusive resorts, particularly in the high season, can seem mighty high.

That is until you decide on a DIY vacation to a lovely island like Provo in the Turks and Caicos… and you realize when you get there that the prices of food and drinks at any Mom and Pop restaurant are so much more expensive than on the US mainland.

That’s why we’ve started going hybrid with our vacation getaways.

There are three ways that you can do this:

1. Book a Vacation Rental With Kitchen Close to an All-Inclusive Resort

Couple enjoys their luxury vacation by the pool
Image Credit: Canva.

But only if the all-inclusive resort offers a day pass!

This way, you get to choose when you want to be pampered or enjoy a whole host of amenities, food, and drink at one cost per day. After you’re done enjoying yourself, head back to your vacation rental for the night!

On other days you want to explore the island on your own or visit those special Mom and Pop businesses that truly benefit from your vacation dollars, you have the complete freedom to do that.

2. Book a Hotel That Offers a Semi-Inclusive Program

This really works for people who know they won’t be taking advantage of the “all you can drink” feature at an all-inclusive resort.

buffet table at the resort
Image Credit: Canva.

Many established resorts in Mexico or Latin America now offer “semi-inclusive” programs with meals but no alcoholic beverages. It’s a great way to save.

3. Bookmark Your DIY Vacation With an All-Inclusive Resort

We’ve done this several times and can confirm it’s an outstanding way to experience the perfect blend of independence and pampering on your hard-earned vacation.

Sandals Royal Bahamian
Image Credit: Sandals

Fly into a resort destination like Nassau in The Bahamas, and spend a few precious days at an all-inclusive resort like Sandals Royal Bahamian. Click the link for our review and some cool historical facts about this legendary resort property!

After you’re rested and rejuvenated at a fantastic all-inclusive, fly on a local Bahamian airline to one of the Out Islands or Turks and Caicos like we did. From there, book your vacation rental with a kitchen, and let the DIY part of your vacation adventure begin!

Final Word: Never Sacrifice Safety to Get a Good Deal

One benefit to an all-inclusive resort that isn’t always talked about as much is your health and safety.

We know that there are plenty of fantastic places to visit in the world that aren’t large or well-known resort brands.

But when you’re hunting for a great deal, don’t disregard the importance of your personal safety when booking a property, heading out on a local tour, or even eating in an unfamiliar area or at a restaurant that’s not as highly publicized.

Wedding Pioneer Travel Tip: Check out this Safety and Security bulletin and use it as a benchmark when you’re booking any property. Also, always consult the US State Department website for any travel advisories issued for the country or continent you want to visit.

Happy Travels!

More From Blog

7 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Turks and Caicos—A Review

Cruise vs All-Inclusive Resort for Honeymoon Bliss: A Guide

What Is a Honeymoon Shower? (+ How to Plan It)

Thank you!

This feature will be available shortly, we’ll notify you when it’s ready. For now, please take a look at our hand-selected vendors.

Free Printable Wedding Planner

Enter your email for instant access: