Although I much prefer private rentals, over all-inclusive resorts, I can understand the benefits of both. In fact, last week I visited Playa del Carmen with my family, and for the first five days I stayed at our place - Oasis Sol, and the last five days we decided to join our family from Winnipeg at an all-inclusive resort.
For the first part of the trip, I loved all the things I normally do at our place. For the most part - an empty pool with loads of space and ample lounge chairs to choose from. No getting up at 6 a.m. here to put your towel down to save your spot at the pool. No thank you! I also enjoyed making coffee in my condo, first thing in the morning, as I do at home, sipping on coffee, while I flip through emails, or magazines. In contrast, many all-inclusives do not have a coffee maker in the room and so you have to get up, get dressed, get your kids up and have them get ready (not an easy feat with tweens or teenagers) walk to your breakfast place and wait for a coffee (often weak coffee I might add). Yes, yes I realize this is a first-world problem and maybe a little trivial, but if you're like me and head straight for the coffee maker when you get up - in zombie-mode - then you'll understand the java craving and how weird it feels to do so many things in the a.m. before you get your first cup of black gold. While at our condo, I enjoyed the restaurants in town, going out only when we felt like it, and the private space of our rooftop just for my family and I.
After these first glorious five days, we headed to the resort to see our family. The first day, the things that bug me about all-inclusive resorts were pretty prominent and I felt myself getting annoyed at the crowds, our need to rush to a late lunch before the buffet closed, the so-so food and discussions in our group about getting up early to secure a chair at the pool (another guest told us they attempted to go at 6:30 a.m. that morning to get a good chair without any luck. UGH.) I won't even get into the details that when we did finally find a small group of 2 chairs around the pool, late on our second morning, one of them had a dirty diaper on it. Gross. Who does that? I have to say some people at resorts, tend to behave badly. Not sure if it's an entitlement thing or too much alchohol, but I have a few doozy stories - but I will spare you.
But as the days went on, I realized that I enjoyed a few important aspects of this all-inclusive resort. First, I didn't have to cook! That was pretty amazing, to a busy mom of two ravenous boys and a husband. I'll admit that when we are at our place or renting an airbnb elsewhere, we tend to keep meals very simple, with low to moderate effort - heck I'll admit that I've been known to give my boys nachos and salsa around the pool and called it "lunch" lol. Still, I loved that I didn't have to lift a finger while at this resort to feed my brood. And my kids were giddy with excitement that they could just go to the bar and get virgin pina coloda and virgin strawberry diaquiri and the 'free' popcorn. They were over the moon for these simple pleasures and so was I, because I didn't have to do a thing - and that I truly appreciated.
I also made the smart choice to try and avoid the things I didn't like - such as busy pools with loud aerobic instructors, or the kids club swimming group. This time, I hung out at the beach more, and although my husband did have to get up earlier than normal to save a lounger at the beach - at 8 a.m. he could usually snag one of the last couple of chairs in a so-so location, (sorry folks, no way around that), I did really love the gorgeous beach with a bar only 40 steps away, where I could get a refreshing drink, or cerveza. That, I must admit, was so nice. I also decided NOT to hang out and watch karaoke in the lobby bar after the first two nights, lest my head would explode. I find that in previous trips to all-inclusives it feels a bit obligatory to meet your group at the lobby and watch whatever ridiculous festivities are going on - including really bad karaoke, but this time after the first two nights, my older son and I said NO WAY! Regardless of what others were doing, we agreed we'd find a spot in the lobby, play cards and have some drinks. And speaking of drinks, my husband and I brought a few bottles of wine from our place, to the resort, so that before dinner, we could have a nice glass of wine that we like - not cheap wine that gives you a headache. I know this is a bit counter-intuitive at an "all-inclusive resort" but on vacation I want a nice glass of wine. We also upgraded our wine at some of the dinners opting for a higher-end wine by the bottle which incurs extra costs, but at least we enjoyed what we were drinking to go along with our nicer, no-buffet meal. And, I have to say... I don't care what resort you stay in, (this most recent one is listed as a 5-star), I think the basic alcohol they use is sub-par.
I also really loved the manicured gardens at the resort, and nice paved walking paths. There were peacocks and pink flamingos and loads of flowers and palms. They put great effort into the grounds at resorts and I appreciate that and tried to get a walk in everyday.
So the point it, as simple and as obvious as it sounds, I relished in the things that were lovely about the resort - and this time, unlike previous stays, I avoided the things that I find annoying about resorts, as much as I could, and that really made for a pleasant stay!
On more tip, as soon as you check in, make sure you go to the concierge who books your allotted nights at one of the elevated restaurants (a-la-carte) because if you wait even half a day, there won't be time slots available, or strange times that are too early, like 5 p.m. or too late, like 9:30 p.m.
So there you have it - no need for a great debate. If you have the time, say at least a week or longer, you can enjoy both. Book a comfortable airbnb to cost save for your family or group without skimping on luxury, and then maybe top it off with a few days at an all-inclusive in slightly different area, or at a resort that offers something special, like Xel-Ha hotel in the Mayan Riviera, for example, gives you access to their various waterparks (although do be prepared for the price tag - nightly rates are $1,000 in high season but this does save you on the waterparks which are also very expensive). So in the Mayan Riviera, you could stay at an airbnb in Playa del Carmen, or Tulum and then top it off with a stay at one of the many all-inclusives in Cancun area, or Puerto Adventuras and get to see a slightly different part of the area. Mix it up and enjoy the best of both worlds!