All-inclusive vs self-catering family summer holidays

If you’re like me, summer holidays are a big deal and you want to make sure that the whole family enjoys a nice time together.

Last year, Lion, Apple and I went on a self-catering holiday in Tuscany. This year, the 4 of us went to an all-inclusive resort in Portugal. What was best and for what ? Keep reading for the results of the match of the year (no, not football), all-inclusive vs self-catering family holidays !

Meals :

All-inclusive : no food shopping, no meal prep, no Trip Advisor to find an OK local restaurant. You know where you are going to eat, at what time and there is usually good options for kids. All-inclusives have bad rep when it comes to food but that is not always the case (certainly wasn’t where we went, the food was amazing) and in any case, tourist restaurants are seldom great either. Only issue with all-inclusive : if your kids go to bed early or if they nap at midday, you will need to eat very early…

Self-catering : this means trips to the supermarket, meal planning, dishwashing and other chores. Only advantages : it is cheaper (usually) and you can choose what you are cooking (and not gain 5 pounds in a week like I did having chocolate eclairs at every lunch)

Result : AI : 1 / SF : 0

Sports and other activities :

All-inclusive : Nothing to plan, usually there is good choice of things for adults and children. Ours had a creche where both girls spent a few hours every day so we could enjoy the facilities. We played tennis, ran and swam.

Self-catering : You can certainly plan some activities but it will require an extra effort and also an extra cost. The very fact that you need to pay extra might drive you to limit what you do. Also, unless you are super-rich and can take a nanny with you (or Grandma…), you probably won’t have respite from childcare.

Result : AI : 1 / SF : 0

Comfort of accomodation :

All-inclusive: Widely dependent on your budget and the resort. The one we went to had good sized bedroom, all recently renovated, with a balcony and a connecting room for the girls. Room was also cleaned everyday and all kids equipment was supplied, including a pushchair !

Self-catering : Also dependent on your budget. Equipments for kids can be a bit uncertain (potty ? travel cot ? changing mat ?). It is nice however not to sleep in a hotel with hundreds of other people…

Result : AI : 1 / SF : 1

Experience of local culture :

All-inclusive : Unless you go out of your way to go out of the resort (unlikely if the resort is very comfortable), your experience of local culture may be limited to speaking with a few local staff and maybe sampling a few dishes.

Self-catering : You are thrown into the daily life of the city ! Beyond sightseeing, experiencing life as a local is the real immersion : food shopping, parking, walking, taking public transportation, eating out… It is a bit scary but you will come home richer in experience. It is a good example for the children too, as it will help them grow in curiosity and empathy.

Result : AI : 0 / SF : 1


All-inclusive : You can find AI at a lot of different prices… But, I am tempted to think that a cheap AI may be the worst solution : cheap food, probably limited comfort and activities, no childcare, overcrowded with limited options to escape… Probably better to save up and go for a higher end one. The starting price is usually scary but remember that you won’t need to spend anything else !

Self-catering : If you are on a budget, definitely the way to go ! Our holidasys in Tuscany last year for 2 weeks worked out at the same price as our AI holidays for only 1 week…

Result : AI : 0 / SF : 1

Final Result : AI : 3 / SF : 2

The words “all-inclusive holidays” used to send shivers of disgust down my spine : fly to a foreign country only to spend a week holed up in a resort, without experiencing local culture and experiences ? No no no ! Give me authenticity, give me Myanmar on a bicycle, a donkey ride in the desert of Morocco, the Indian trains, a 10 day walking hike in Burgundy… I did all these things and used to make fun of the Thomas Cook charter flights to Benidorm whilst I was flying to Kuala Lumpur, with no money and an old backpack.

And then, I had children and an exhausting job… And fortunately a bit more money. And I finally saw the appeal of stress-free and chore-free holidays, especially with young kids. We had such a great time, with a few hours to ourselves every day and plenty of time and energy to play with Apple and Peanut. Will definitely consider it again next year !

PS : the resort we went to was Club Med Da Balaia in Portugal !


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