All-Inclusive vs B&B vs Self-catering - what’s the best option for families
When you’re choosing a place to go on vacation, there’s lots to consider: which country should I go to? When is the best time of year to go? Are there family-friendly activities? What’s the food like? How much food and drink will there be?
When you’ve got kids, the food in a foreign country is important. They might be fussy-eaters, they might have special dietary requirements, or you might just want to be able to relax on your holiday without worrying about what everyone is going to eat for dinner. All-inclusive, with all food and drink included in the price, might be your go-to; in the US, 62% of parents said they would take their children to an all-inclusive resort, but it isn’t necessarily right for everyone.
You have plenty of boarding options, so it’s important to consider them all. Discover the pros and cons for all-inclusive, B&B and self-catering food choices to find out what is right for you and your family.
All-Inclusive board options
Advantages of all-inclusive:
“All-inclusive” and “family resort” seem to go hand-in-hand on most booking sites. These types of holidays are designed with kids in mind, with entertainment, swimming pools and easy access to food options. Most of the time, there will be a wide range of options to choose from, and lots of resorts will have themed dining nights, like Mexican or Chinese. No need to worry that the food will be too different for the kids, or too simple for you as there is something for everyone.
It’s not just what you eat, but how much you eat. Spending time out in the sun can make you less hungry, and taking part in lots of activities can give you an appetite. You’ve paid for all your food already, meaning you and your kids are able to have a light snack or go up for seconds.
One of the joys of an all-inclusive boarding option is that someone is cooking for you and someone is cleaning up after you. Your days are filled with fun and relaxation, no food shopping, no making dinner, no washing dishes… Sipping a piña colada poolside sounds much more inviting. If only you could have a personal chef at home too!
Disadvantages of all-inclusive:
Having the world’s cuisine available to you at every meal and every day of your trip might be overwhelming. You’ve paid extra for it, so you feel guilty about wasting your money by going outside your resort for dinner. Whilst you’re making the most of the food you’ve paid for, you could be missing out on the local cuisine. Part of the experience of travelling to a new country is trying the traditional food. The hotel or complex where you’re staying might offer a more authentic dining experience, but more often than not, it’s similar to the food you’ll get at home. Great for kids or picky-eaters, not so great for foodies.
Also, you will need to do a bit of research before booking as some all-inclusive buffets taste more like school canteen food than a luxury culinary service. Criticism for the unhealthy nature of some dining options has encouraged many resorts to make health-conscious changes to their menus, but this is something you will want to know before you spend your money. Another factor you need to consider is that there may be additional charges for snack bars or alcoholic drinks, on top of the package you pay for. Whilst some people won’t need to buy these extras, it can make a significant difference to the overall costs. So it’s always worth checking if all these little extras are included as part of your ‘all-inclusive’ deal. As Megan from Mapping Megan writes in her blog post, “all-inclusive doesn’t always mean all-inclusive.”
Bed & Breakfast board options
Advantages of bed & breakfast:
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? So by paying for it in advance, you know that fresh food, coffee and juices will be waiting for you when you wake up. Fill up and head out for the day with lots of energy. If you’re in self-catered accommodation, finding a cafe or breakfast spot that doesn’t just sell coffee can be difficult and expensive. Plus, when the kids wake up, they’d rather get out and explore than wait for breakfast first. It’s just one less thing to worry about when planning your days out.
B&B boarding isn’t just reserved for big resorts or hotels; lots of B&Bs are owned by locals who will be able to tell you about the area, such as where to visit and where to eat. It’s a great way to dive into a different culture with your kids and meet new people.
Disadvantages of the bed and breakfast option:
If you book a hotel room with breakfast, most of the time you’ll be staying in a bedroom within a guesthouse or hotel with a communal dining room, so you won’t have a fridge or cooking space for yourself. This means that, other than breakfast, you’ll need money to eat out. When your kids are tired after a long day of exploring, the last thing you want to do is try to find somewhere for dinner that will suit everyone’s tastes.
You also need to bear in mind that there will be set breakfast times which might not fit into your day. Early starts before the dining room is open and lie-ins that leave you snoozing way past the set time could mean you have to seek out other food options, even if you have already paid for breakfast. Not feeling hungry in the morning? You either end up missing out on your only pre-paid meal or eating it anyway because you feel guilty about wasting money.
Self-Catered board options
Advantages of self-catered:
Self-catered accommodation is the polar opposite of all-inclusive dining. Biggest advantage? Eat what you want, when you want. If you want to pack a picnic for a day out exploring with your family, or discover a new restaurant for dinner, you don’t have to worry about the money you’ve already spent on your food.
Budgeting is an important factor, especially when you have to think about feeding several mouths. Buying from local supermarkets and cooking for yourself will usually work out cheaper than paying the extra fee for all-inclusive. In addition to that, a bottle of wine from the supermarket will be more wallet-savvy than paying the resort’s prices if alcohol is seen as an extra. The flexibility to experience authentic cuisine whilst also managing your food budget is a huge benefit to opting for self-catering. For more advice, check out these self-catering tips and tricks from Travelling With Our Kids.
Disadvantages of self-catered:
So this all sounds great – less money, more choice. However, you do have to shop, cook and wash up yourself, which may seem obvious but the last thing you want to be thinking about when you’re lying on the beach or visiting the local sights is what to buy and make for dinner later. Your other option is to dip into the holiday budget and find a restaurant that will suit everyone, which might be challenging if you have tired little ones.
So you’ve decided the type of family holiday and board option you want, but you’re not sure on where to go? Check out our guides to family holidays in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia for inspiration.