Answer these questions before booking an all-inclusive hotel for you and your children
All-inclusive holidays have never been as popular as they are now in 2018.
Holidaymakers on all-inclusive breaks can relax knowing after paying one price up front, all their meals and drinks have been paid for in advance. But it certainly doesn’t suit everybody.
So should you and your family go all-inclusive or not? The answer depends on you, your budget and where you’re going. Our comprehensive guide can help you decide.
What is all inclusive?
All-inclusive usually means that the accommodation, meals, drinks (soft and alcoholic) and entertainment are included in the cost. Some or all activities can also be added and occasionally also the airfare.
Where are you going?
It is important to take into consideration your destination when deciding whether to go all-inclusive.
In general the more familiar, cheaper and developed the location, the easier self-catering or a non all-inclusive hotel stay, will be.
In places like France and Spain, there are often nearby supermarkets, restaurants and bars, selling food and drink at reasonable prices.
But in destinations such as Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Morocco and Cuba, there may be a lack of self-catering accommodation, limited restaurants and food can be expensive to buy. Also if safety is an issue you may be better off staying at and eating at a big resort.
So, unless you are a seasoned traveller, confident being out and about in less-developed areas with your children, staying at a hotel and eating there can be the more sensible option in some areas.
What do you want from your holiday?
If you want to relax away from the stresses of everyday life, with nothing to plan, everything taken care of for you, food prepared, drinks poured and entertainment for you and your children on the doorstep then all-inclusive could be for you.
But if you are adventurous, keen to explore the area, visit attractions and try out local restaurants, you may be better off self-catering, else you’ll be paying for food and drinks more than once and staying somewhere there is less incentive to leave. Self-catering also suits people who enjoy planning and are good at sticking to a budget while away.
We took a self-catering trip to Italy (read about it here) where we did a mix of cooking and eating out at lunchtime which kept costs lower than an all-in hotel.
How many people are going?
The bigger the group the easier all-inclusive may be. We recently took an all-inclusive trip to Fuerteventura (read about it here).
There were 11 of us, aged three to 70, and for us, all-inclusive was more straightforward.
It meant the children didn’t have to sit for ages waiting in restaurants for food as we ate buffet-style quickly and easily, there was something for all tastes and there were no worries about the bill or paying for drinks.
A villa is another good alternative for a big group. You can split the cost of accommodation, food and drink and take it in turns to cook. You will also have more space than a hotel room with communal spaces to socialise.
How long do you want to stay?
One complaint often levelled at all-inclusives is that it gets a bit samey. Same food, same pool, same activities.
A week suits us but I know people who love two weeks, as they feel they can really relax.
Pick a good all-inclusive like this one in Gran Canaria with three or four restaurants and you might find you have enough variety for 10 to 14 days.
The other way to break things up is to get out on excursions or attractions to keep the scenery fresh.
What is included?
Check what is included before you book an all-inclusive as it varies from resort to resort and some travellers end up paying for things they expected to be covered.
Added extras can include bottled water, snacks, activities, resort fees, hotel safe and Wi-Fi charges (and Wi-Fi is sometimes only available in the hotel reception).
There are usually one or two main buffet restaurants serving similar food.
There can be other restaurants such as Japanese, Thai or Asian eateries, which can be buffet-style or à la carte.
Sometimes only meals in the main buffet area are included in the cost and you have to pay to eat in any other restaurants.
Others allow a restricted number of visits to other restaurants while expensive all-inclusives may have no limit.
Sometimes there may be a cost for items like lobster and steak.
Often you have to reserve tables in all but the main buffet restaurants in advance. Check first as this can be before the holiday or on set days while you are there. Also ask whether there is a dress code.
The food package sometimes includes snacks and ice cream between meals.
For some people the free (well, included) drinks is the biggest draw as bar tabs can get very expensive.
Often it is the local brands of drinks (such as spirits and wine) that are given, with charges for imported brands.
But high-end all-inclusives can include premium brand international drinks. At more expensive resorts, you may also have waiter service on the beach, fetching you drinks and cocktails as you relax on a sun lounger or, more likely, build sandcastles.
Minibars in some all-inclusives include free drinks and snacks but check first. At the same time confirm whether room service is free.
So how much do you drink?
If you are a family of four, we calculate that both adults need to be at least moderate drinkers to save money going all-inclusive.
In a country like France where a decent bottle of wine can cost about £3, you won’t save a lot so assess the destination and be honest about your drinking!
The activities included in the cost vary enormously, so check first. They can include non-motorised water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding, beach games, exercise classes, water aerobics, water sports and scuba diving. So it is a good opportunity to try out new things. There may also be a games room, tennis courts, gym, children’s clubs, water park, playground or mini golf.
Normally you will pay for motorised water sports, spa treatments, excursions and babysitting.
Check the entertainment schedule straight away so that you don’t miss something you may enjoy.
There can be discos, live shows, children’s discos, children’s magic shows, character breakfasts etc. The quality also varies considerably between hotels so check out reviews.
Double check before what happens if you have to cancel your trip, will you lose the whole all-inclusive cost including meals? Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy.
Do you need to tip?
Lots of people like not having to carry cash around but tipping is welcomed at some hotels, find out the resort or culture’s tipping policy in advance.
Tipping is usually appreciated but not required to recognise good service to staff including bartenders, servers and housekeepers.
Will you save money?
Here comes the crunch – is all-inclusive it cheaper? Unsurprisingly the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Let’s do a quick comparison.
We price-tested a week to the Costa del Sol at May half-term for a family of four.
All-inclusive prices (flights, transfer, hotel, food and drink) range from £2,500 to £3,200 for a decent four-star resort.
Now the DIY option. Flights come out at £350 per person for four people (total £1,400). A comparable hotel with breakfast included, ranges from £800 to £1,000. That gives us a total of £2,200-2,400, leaving £800 for a week’s food and drink. That is the true cost of the all-inclusive.
Meals out in the Costa Del Sol at a reasonable restaurant would be around £60 for a family of four. So it comes down to lunch and how much booze you want.
Will you save money going all-inclusive?
An all-inclusive resort can be cheaper if you take advantage of all they have to offer but often the cost is comparable, so it is about choice and what will work best for your family.
We have always thoroughly enjoyed all-inclusives with our young children, in between other more active and adventurous breaks.
I love the huge range of food and beautiful pools and our children like the familiarity of being in one resort and getting to know what to do and where everything is. We still try to get out and about a bit too to explore the area to achieve the perfect balance.
How to find a hotel both you and your children will love
Finding the right hotel is crucial for enjoying your precious family holiday. Once you have children you are likely to spend more time at your hotel, even on a more active holiday. Children can get very tired being out all day and often need time to relax in the room and enjoy the facilities. So what are the important things to look for when choosing a hotel?
People often look at the room, the pool, the grounds, the restaurants, the room service, yet they ignore the most important factor – the location.
Is it on the beach, in the right part of town, opposite a brilliant restaurant or a noisy disco? Decide what is important for your family and choose accordingly and read reviews to check there are no hidden surprises.
Make sure you are near to the attractions or the beach you will be spending time at, else children can be worn out before they even start. And check out the transport options nearby or offered by the hotel.
If it’s a hot summer holiday, you’ll need a swimming pool to help everyone cool off. If the weather is going to be cold or potentially wet – then an indoor pool is a great distraction for a few hours.
For us, a pool is almost essential on a family holiday unless we are doing an all-action city break where we will barely be in the hotel. And a slide or splash area is a big bonus.
Always check the small print to see if an outdoor pool is heated, or if an indoor pool has limited times for families.
A small, cramped room is not much fun with children. Besides all the extra stuff you will have, toddlers and older children need space. And you will all feel on top of each other if the room is tiny.
So aim for a bigger room if possible and obviously you want somewhere that feels clean and fresh. Your children are likely to be crawling on the room floor at some point or may be putting something in their mouth (don’t forget hotel room tv remote controls are among the most contaminated items, yuck)!
Families with three or more children are often forced to book more than one room, which is costly, then everyone ends up sleeping in one room anyway.
Bigger families will have to work harder to find a hotel and destination that will accommodate all the family in one room or suite.
If you’re travelling with young children, you will probably need a kettle and a fridge. And a microwave can make life a lot easier too.
Hotels outside the UK often don’t have a kettle and they are vital for anyone wanting to mix up baby milk or heat food pouches.
If there isn’t one, invest in a travel kettle or contact the hotel to see if they can put one in your room.
Fridges are useful for storing milk and possibly some drinks for mum and dad for after the children are asleep!
We’ve also used hotel fridges to keep supplies like butter and cheese so that we can make picnics to take out.
Eating in or out
Does the hotel have a restaurant? If you check in late or fancy an easier night, a nice restaurant on site is useful.
If you plan to be eating out, research the availability and location of suitable nearby restaurants and read reviews and check out menus to see if they are child-friendly.
A good, included breakfast, can start the day on a high for everyone.
Our children love the familiarity of having breakfast in the same place every day and getting to know where everything is and what they like best. And they enjoy the independence of starting to choose for themselves and even fetching their own food and drinks.
Do the staff make your children feel welcome?
It might be the best hotel in the world, but if you feel constantly on edge, praying your children behave, then you won’t relax.
The vibe needs to be a family one. Check reviews to see if staff make a fuss of children and enjoy having them around.
Most places call themselves child-friendly, not all are friendly to children.
You don’t necessarily need loads of outdoor space but you do need a bit. A dash of green space to run around in, a nature trail or a terrace to explore and sit on, can turn a hotel stay into more of an adventure for children.
We love to explore our hotels, roaming the corridors and outside in the grounds. For example, when we stayed at St Ermin’s Hotel in London, it was great to have a terrace with a bee hive on it.
If you are planning to use children’s clubs or a babysitting service, make sure to investigate what is available in advance.
Some kids’ clubs don’t operate all year plus services can be costly.
A soft play area or other indoor play area will really make life easier for you and more fun for your children.
A playground outside is always welcomed too and gets a big tick from us.
Before you start to look at hotels, draw up a list of criteria that will ensure all adults and children are going to be comfortable, relaxed and happy on holiday.
*Is there anything else important to your family? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.
Our top tips guarantee you always get the best hotel rate
Step 1 – Website search
There are so many sites out there it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s what we do.
Use a multiple search site. We usually use Trivago to benchmark all the prices as we find it the easiest and quickest website to get an idea of the price.
We also think Booking.com has a good range of available accommodation and like Expedia for the quality of its pictures and information. TripAdvisor is obviously a favourite for its customer reviews.
Step 2 – Breakfast
Find the two or three cheapest options and check which include breakfast then compare accordingly. An included breakfast can save you time and money plus can be easier when travelling with children, unless there are nice cafes or bakeries nearby you are keen to try.
Step 3 – Cashback
Check the situation with cashback websites like our favourites TopCashback and Quidco.
You can save up to 12 per cent off the price of a hotel by signing up to a cashback site, clicking its link to the company you are booking through and then booking.
It also works for package holidays, even a two per cent saving on a £3,000 package is worth £60 – enough for a meal out or airport lounge passes.
Step 4 – Direct booking
Check the hotel’s own website and contact them, most want you to book directly through them as they don’t have to pay commission so may match or beat your best online price.
They may have a special deal for those who book direct such as three nights for the price of two. Or you could ask them to include breakfast for you.
Step 5 – Secret hotel
See if the hotel is on a secret deal with Lastminute.com.
It offers top secret hotels at a serious discount – the catch is you don’t know which hotels they are.
However, you can usually work out which hotel is being offered with a bit of research.
Copy and paste the description they use into Google – it often matches the hotel’s own website. Or it may be very similar to the description used on other websites where the hotel is named.
Step 6 – Credit card
Okay this won’t get you money off, but it may just save you a fortune. The recent Monarch demise, of which we were one of the victims, showed the value of using a credit card to pay for travel.
The card gives you protection so that you will get your money back if the airline or hotel goes bust.
Package holidays are generally covered under the ATOL scheme but if you have sorted everything yourself – the DIY route – always use a credit card.
We had for our cancelled Monarch flights and American Express was brilliant, refunding the £350 almost immediately.
One example – how we got a peak season hotel in Florence for £50 a night
We were looking for a hotel in Florence in peak season.
Trivago’s best price was £65 a night, cashback from TopCashback brought that down to £60.
But this hotel was on a Lastminute Top Secret list for £56.75.
We then got 11 per cent back via TopCashback, which made it £50.50 for a family room. Read the review of the hotel here, it was perfectly fine for the money.
For more advice check out this guide from MoneySavingExpert.com.
Have you got any tips to share? We’d love to hear them.
A family-friendly campsite in the Lakes with all types of accommodation from tents to cottages and even hobbit holes
The Quiet Site is about a mile or so above Ullswater on a small road.
This large campsite has views across the fields, with some glimpses of the lake from certain points.
It is laid out around converted farm houses with plenty of land for playing on.
You can choose almost any sort of accommodation here. From pitching your own tent right through to large holiday cottages.
There’s also glamping options with hobbit holes (wooden buildings dug into the side of a fell), pods and bell tents. There are static holiday homes to buy as well.
A hobbit hole
We stayed in one of the two 16th century cottages, which was huge.
It had a large lounge, three good sized bedrooms and a well-equipped kitchen. There was also a decent sized garden shared with the adjoining cottage.
This cottage is one of the options
There is a pub on site, the Quiet Bar, which is deliberately rustic having changed little since 1963.
It is cosy and homely with a log fire and pool table.
Elsewhere the site has cooking facilities, a small shop for food and drinks and there’s often a wagon selling sausage and mash in the evening.
The nearest restaurants are about a mile away.
Little ones are well catered for, our holiday cottage had a brilliant trampoline, which we all tried out!
There was also a playhouse in the garden and plenty of DVDs and games in the house.
The main site has a large playground with swings, climbing equipment, a play fort and space to run around.
Adjoining The Quiet Bar is a soft play area, which is a useful rainy day distraction.
There are plenty of options from an eight-mile trek to Aira Force and back, through to a couple of miles around Little Mell Fell, which sits right above the site.
There are maps and guides on the website and the owners can help you when you arrive to point you in the right direction.
We went far enough with our two children to take in the wonderful scenery and feel like we were in the great outdoors.
There are walks from the site with views of Ullswater
A family-friendly, award-winning option with accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.
For a review of the full holiday, see here.
Visit the Quiet Site website for more information and rates.
(We stayed as guests of the site for the purpose of this review. All views are our own).
Five reasons to book a family-friendly all-inclusive holiday at this hotel on Corralejo beach
The location is the big selling point of this hotel. The Riu Oliva Beach sits on one of the best beaches in the Canary Islands – the Grandes Playas de Corralejo.
The sweeping beach has perfect white sand and the warm sea has rolling waves ideal for playing and a bit of bodyboarding.
It’s a great beach where you can take a camel ride or a stroll. But a word of warning if you do walk – turning right eventually takes you to a naturist section!
The hotel is soon to be refurbished. When we stayed, the rooms were a bit dated but a good size and kept clean.
A family room at Club Hotel Riu Oliva Beach
Our family room had a double bedroom, two single sofa beds in the lounge, a kitchen table and fridge plus a good sized balcony.
The hotel is being refurbished to look like this
The hotel is split in two, the original high rise section and a low rise villa area better suited to families.
The villa area has a lovely pool shaped like a fish, with an island in the middle and varying depths.
The main hotel section has an older, oblong-shaped pool and small toddlers pool.
The pool at the main complex of Club Hotel Riu Oliva Beach
There are four restaurants and it is all-inclusive.
The two main restaurants – one in each area of the hotel – serve the same food.
We preferred the one in the villa section which felt less of a canteen.
There is also a Canarian restaurant which does tasty steaks and an enjoyable Chinese restaurant. You have to book both of these in advance.
The RiuLand club for children wasn’t the best we have seen but the staff were great. There is a small playground, and they do an outdoor show at 5pm every day.
There was an excellent magician who visited and the evening shows for all are good fun.
The only complaint was the lack of a children’s disco around 7pm which we have seen at other Riu hotels.
*For a full review of the holiday, see here.
(We stayed as guests of the hotel for this review. For prices and information visit the Club Hotel Riu Oliva Beach website).
On a beach, with great pools and an amazing breakfast – why this Estepona hotel is a family favourite
Definitely a big draw at the Kempinski Bahia, there are three outdoor pools and a small indoor one.
The largest outdoor pool is heated. It winds its way under bridges and past palm trees and we all thought it was great.
It is perfectly designed for children’s games, large and varied but little ones are never too far from the side.
We spent many happy hours in there pretending to be pirates or explorers.
We had a junior suite for the four of us with one double bed, one single and one sofa bed.
There was also a large bathroom with separate bath and shower. And a lovely balcony with great views over the pool and all the mod cons you need.
A room at Kempinski Hotel Bahia
It had tasteful decor and plenty of space and the twice-a-day housekeeping service kept everything spotless.
Breakfast is included and it is one of the best we have had at a hotel.
A good choice, there is even a children’s area with cereals, tiny pastries and fresh fruit. Our little ones loved choosing from their own area.
There were also fresh juices and on-demand omelettes at the egg station.
If you have any room left after breakfast there are other bars and great restaurants.
Dining at Kempinski Hotel Bahía at the sea front restaurant
If you stay half board, you have a set amount of Euros each day to cover your evening meal and drinks. Children aged 0 to 5 are free and children aged six to 11, receive a 50 per cent discount.
Otherwise, the food here isn’t cheap but it is very tasty. If you want to venture beyond the hotel there is a boardwalk to half a dozen restaurants about 10 minutes walk away.
The hotel is about two miles from the centre of Estepona, a charming town near Marbella.
It’s next to a busy road but also set on a beach with views stretching along the Costa Del Sol. Gibraltar is visible on a clear day.
The beach is a mix of sand and pebbles with sun loungers and sports equipment available.
The beach in front of the hotel
A short wander along the beach and boardwalk brings you to Laguna Village, a small development of shops, bars and restaurants.
The services and the staff
The hotel has a tennis court, a spa with the full range of treatments available, a kids’ club which is open in peak periods and grounds you can explore.
The staff were so friendly, one man on reception even put our son’s drawings of his holiday on the lobby walls to showcase them which made his day.
It’s those little touches that make a holiday.
A high end, luxury hotel in a great location. It’s worth splashing out for the pool and the breakfast.
*For a full review of our holiday, read here.
For more information and rates visit the Kempinski Bahia website.
(We stayed as guests of the Kempinski Bahia, all views are our own.
Near a beach, with modern rooms, we explain why the Barcelo Malaga hotel on the Costa Del Sol is a good family choice
It has a slide
Not just any old slide in a playground, this one is inside the hotel and takes you from the first floor breakfast room down to the lobby.
Our children were beyond excited by this wacky feature and loved whizzing down after breakfast.
Our family room was split in two divided by a door you could pull shut.
The ultra-modern room complete with jacuzzi bath
There was one double bed and a sofa bed with plenty of space around both.
The bathroom was massive with a jacuzzi bath which the children loved using, they spent hours enjoying the noise and bubbles.
There is also a double shower. The decor is ultra-modern with funky wallpaper and moody lighting, there’s even an okay view of the hills beyond Malaga from the huge window.
Cava was available but so too was plenty of fresh fruit, continental and cooked options.
The pastries were fresh, the service good and there was lots of choice. The room where breakfast is served is on the first floor next to the slide – it is fairly bland but spacious.
It is right next to one of Malaga’s main stations, the Maria Zambrano station.
That makes it straightforward if you are catching the train from the airport.
It is a fair walk into the heart of the city but just 10 minutes to the nearest beach, Playa de San Andres, which has a couple of good chiringuitos or beach restaurants and a playground.
The nearest beach is about a 10 minute walk away
Eating and drinking
There is a nice, small bar with some cool booth-style seating next to the lobby, there are also some seats outside but it is not a view to write home about.
You can eat and drink in the funky lobby bar area
The El Anden restaurant serves local food all day long. There is a terrace bar in high season but that was not open when we visited.
Smart, sleek and well-positioned. The Barcelo Malaga hotel has enough wacky touches to be a hit with children and adults.
*For a full review of our holiday, click here.
(We stayed as guests of the hotel for this review. For more information and rates visit Barcelo Malaga).
Will Club Hotel Riu Paraiso prove a success for a family holiday with children?
Club Hotel Riu Paraiso.
Where is it?
Opposite a beach in the resort of Puerto Del Carmen on Lanzarote’s east cost, not far from the airport.
What is it?
A large, all-inclusive resort with 600 rooms, three restaurants and four pools sandwiched between the Playa De Los Pocillos beach and Lanzarote’s volcanic inland area.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, there is a children’s club, plenty of dining options, pools of varying depths and sizes, a small playground, evening mini disco and friendly staff.
The rooms are not ultra modern but are a good size with large beds, TV, bath and shower.
The further you walk from reception the quieter the rooms but the longer the walk to eat – so all options are covered. The hotel is set in lovely gardens.
Food and drink
Riu’s all inclusive means just that, all your food and drinks are free. There were three restaurants to pick from, all buffet style with a large, main restaurant and two other options for dinner – an Asian and a world food restaurant which was our favourite.
There are shops, bars and restaurants within walking distance. There is a good public playground opposite and the sandy, if a little windy, beach has sun loungers for hire.
*Swim-up pool bar. There are four pools here, including a toddlers pool. One of them has a swim-up bar which our son loved as he could order a juice and sit on a bar stool in the water!
*Good range of pools. Our favourite pool in the quieter part of the hotel was a good shape for children to explore with a wide shallow end.
*The children’s staff were great with fun events during the day and a Mini Disco at night, one of the staff in particular kept the adults as entertained as the children.
*Range of facilities. There is a small playground and for older children a range of activities on offer such as tennis and shooting. You can do as much or as little as you want in terms of organised activities.
Club Hotel Riu Paraíso, Calle Suiza, 4 | Playa de los Pocillos, 35519 Puerto Del Carmen, Lanzarote, Spain.
For more details go to the Riu website.
(We received free accommodation, all views are our own).
We enjoy a family holiday at Club Hotel Riu Gran Canaria
Club Hotel Riu Gran Canaria.
Where is it?
In Maspalomas on the southern coast of Gran Canaria.
What is it?
A renovated, all-inclusive family resort with children’s pool area and restaurants, with views over the Atlantic.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, we think all-inclusive is a great option for young children and this hotel has a wonderful children’s pool with slides.
The hotel has 600 modern rooms. Every room has whitewashed interiors with modern furniture and flat screen TVs with most balconies overlooking the sea.
Food and drink
The hotel is all-inclusive and the food is great, it is all buffet-style and the main, large restaurant can’t help but have a school canteen feel.
Fortunately there is also a smaller restaurant which overlooks the sea, this is definitely the best spot for breakfast and dinner.
The hotel is a 10-minute walk to the nearest beach – you can either turn left along a pleasant promenade to Maspalomas, or head right to the smaller but quieter Playa de Las Mujeres.
The hotel is in the heart of the town so if you want restaurants or shops then you won’t have to walk far.
* Sea view restaurant. A great spot to enjoy breakfast and dinner, this smaller restaurant overlooked the ocean and was a lovely spot.
* Children’s pool. One of four pools, the children’s one has been designed to impress little ones. Dragon slides and shallow waters makes is safe and fun.
The only problem if you are travelling in winter is that it isn’t heated.
Thankfully there is a larger heated pool and an adult-only infinity pool with sea views.
The infinity pool is not for children
*Children’s club – there’s a RiuLand Club for children aged four to 12 and, our son wanted to try it out – we stayed with him and he loved it.
Riuland children’s club
*Calu – this giant turtle is the Riu mascot who makes regular appearances through the day and at the evening entertainment. The children can’t get enough of him!
*Children’s evening entertainment – our son also loved the evenings when the energetic entertainers lead music and dancing for the excited children.
Club Hotel Riu Gran Canaria, Urbanización Las Meloneras, Avenida del Mediterraneo, s/n, 35100 Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain.
How to book
For prices and information visit the Club Hotel Riu Gran Canaria website.
(We received free accommodation, all views are our own).