According to several sources, the average cost per person for a one-week vacation in the U.S. is $1,000-$2,000. For a family of four, you’re looking at spending around $4,000 to $8,000 when all the transport expenses, food, lodging, and activities are tallied up. Go international, and the costs can soar to upwards of $10,000.
And then there’s the planning, the reserving, the booking, and the large amount of time that goes into investigating what to do on a grand escape. When my kids were growing up, those tasks took hours, those hours were steeped in stress, and no matter how much we tried, we always spent far more than we budgeted.
We were not unusual: one 2022 study found that 33 percent of Americans overspent on their vacations.
‘Not a chance,’ I said
If someone had told me when my kids were young, “Try an all-inclusive resort for a week,” I would have laughed out loud. In my mind, the words “all-inclusive” and “resort” meant:
- way too expensive
- a lot of hoity-toity people
- a whole lot of worrying about my kids breaking stuff
- a vacation cop-out rather than an adventure
Well. Shut me up.
A convert is born
This year my partner talked me into going to Club Med’s all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico. He’s been telling me for years how fun and utterly relaxing all-inclusive are. I’ve been telling him for years, “No, thank you.” He caught me in a weak moment.
That I would return from our week in Cancun as a cheerleader for all-inclusive family resorts cracks my whole family up.
Why the conversion? Club Med Cancun is (as are many other all-inclusive resorts) designed for families. And all-inclusive means just that. Everything essential is included in the price — all food, rooms, flights, airport pick-up, kid and adult beverages, shows, and other entertainment and in-sport activities.
While the parents around me enjoyed the time to themselves (snorkeling, sailing, yoga, Fitness Bootcamping, volleyball, kayaking, tennis-playing, pickleball, beach lounging, etc.), their kids aged 4 to 10 spent hours safely playing under the supervision of Uber enthusiastic staff in the Mini Club Med program. Tweens and teens had their own activity program and space, which allowed them to meet, connect and move around the resort within a single cloud of Axe deodorant. Everywhere I looked, no matter when I looked, the bigs and the littles were having a blast.
What I didn’t see
Strangely, I didn’t see a single kid melt down the entire week, although I know they must have happened. Rather than hoity-toity, the feeling was down-to-earth. If things got broken, staff swept in with a smile. And, while vacationing in a resort is definitely not the same thing as seeing the authentic culture of a country, family-friendly excursions (at an added cost) delivered families to a sea turtle sanctuary, the world wonder of Chichen Itza, open air and underground river cenotes, and other sites beyond the resort walls.
Danielle Cumings and her family have gone on several all-inclusive vacations in the last 15 years – including Club Med Cancun. “We’re a very active family,” she said. “We enjoy the fact that we can be active together or go our own ways.”
I went snorkeling with a grandmother enjoying a reunion with her kids and grandkids.
“This is a wonderful place,” she said. “I get to spend quality time with each family member; we gather together for meals and share stories.”
When I asked parents their top reasons for choosing an all-inclusive resort vacation, it came down to four things: Cost, food, activities, and autonomy.
A July cost search for Club Med’s Cancun resort put the price for a family of four at just over $8,000. Club Med and other resorts often do sales and discounts that may lower costs.
One can pull together a week-long vacation for four in another country (including flights, food, activities, alcohol, supervised kid programs, shows, etc.) for under $8,000. Still, a lot of us would be hard-pressed to do it. I cost out flights, transportation, daily snorkeling, sailing, archery, circus school, and other activities, three meals a day and all snacks, adult beverages, accommodations, and entertainment (show, acrobats, musical artists) and came in at just over $10,000.
Not to mention, kids under six stay free at Club Med (added cost for Mini Club Med program). Kids go free at other all-inclusive as well.
I don’t know about you, but figuring out the food everyone would eat on vacation when my kids were young was a form of living hell. At Club Med, every family at every table seemed to glow with a gustatorily-triggered inner light. Why? Because the main eatery is a massive buffet, often with dishes from all around the world and all fresh and beautifully prepared. They had a baby-feeding station with pureed foods. Kid favorites like mac and cheese were always available for the pickiest, least adventurous eaters. Then there was the sea of desserts. Cancun Club Med has two other restaurants for plated dinner experiences. I saw a lot of parents saving those for themselves and using the buffet for kids.
Family vacations are about doing. But any single activity can set a family vacation budget back. For example, the average cost of snorkeling, including equipment, is between $40 and $110. For a family of four that wants to snorkel three times during their vacation week, that would cost between $480 and $1,320. At Club Med, you can do as many activities as you want, as many times as you wish. If your kid loves snorkeling in Cancun’s blue, fish-filled waters, she could snort several times a day every day.
Beyond sporting activities, there’s a whole lot of community-building fun throughout any resort day. The week was filled with family-oriented variety shows, beachside BBQs, and color-themed parties. There were toasts and celebrations around every corner, and the staff did a great job of connecting guests, especially kids. During the festival of colors party on the beach, guests big and small were given powdered pigment to toss in the air — much like Holi celebrations – before rushing into the ocean en masse. Throughout the week, there was enough heart-pounding music to wake the dead, and dancing was encouraged all day, every day. Thankfully rooms were well-padded. Once the door was closed, we heard nothing – critical for young kids needing naps or sleep.
Anna, a mother of three, summed it up: “My kids are safe; I can sit here and sip a mai tai at noon, take a nap, and not worry about them. My husband and I can spend time together, which is hard with three kids. Our daughter (15) can ignore us and be cool with other kids, then join us at dinner and be glad to be there.” Enough said.
If you go: Tips from parents
I asked the parents around me in Cancun for tips on taking kids to an all-inclusive resort. Here’s what they offered:
- Read the all-inclusive fine print. Several families were disappointed that excursions outside the resort were not included in the all-inclusive. So be sure you understand what’s covered before you go to avert disappointment.
- Research with kids. Explain to your kids that while you may be going to a place in another country, you may experience little of the foreign culture. Spend time learning about the land before you go, and if your budget allows, take advantage of one or two excursions during your week.
- Think twice about getting an extensive suite. If you do it right, your family will only spend a little time in your room. They’ll be sleeping there. Going smaller in terms of your room can save money.
- Download your resort’s app as soon as you have registered for your trip. Club Med’s app lets you see what’s on the activities and themes schedule before you arrive so you can pack the color of clothes for color-themed days and figure out how you might want to spend your days.
- Let the kids eat whatever they want. Including extra desserts.
- Bring baggies or other containers — to pack extra snacks from the buffet table or to store wet bathing suits.
- Don’t expect kids to stick to nap or other schedules from home. Different time zones will impact their rhythms. And you are on vacation! Expect kids to stay up late (many of our family evening shows started at 9 p.m.)
- Break your day in half, for example, by sending kids to kid programs in the morning but doing activities as a family in the afternoon. As one mom put it: “We hardly get to spend time with our kids at home, so we want to do things with them.”
- Pack all that you need to avoid the in-resort shops. You are a captive shopper in an all-inclusive resort, and the prices reflect that.
- Consider bringing some games, books, and – I hate to say it – one electronic tablet to keep kids entertained during long, relaxing dinners or downtime. Set boundaries around electronics before you go. Or, conversely, consider a no-electronics-from-home getaway. With so much to do, it’s easy to pull that off.
- Trust the staff with your kids. They are trained and vetted for their enthusiasm around and enjoyment of kids. And be sure you know the kid’s program schedule, not just program hours. You may want to pull your child from some activities.
- Pack more sunscreen or other essentials than you think you need, especially for hot-weather resorts like the ones in Cancun.
- Pack extra prescription medications and bring a written prescription with you.
- Consider traveling with another family or two so kids have friends they already know and you have a ready-made hang-out group.