When planning a vacation, the terms ‘European Plan’ and ‘All-Inclusive’ will often come into play and will cause inexperienced travelers to question what they mean and which option is right for them. But the question is not easily answered until several more questions are addressed. So, let’s deal with all the factors that will affect your decision.
In the simplest of terms, European Plan refers to an à la carte situation, where the price of the travel package refers only to the flight and accommodations — no meals, snacks, alcohol, or entertainment are included. It is up to the travelers to arrange and pay for these things on their own, therefore allowing them to set their own budget and itinerary. All-inclusive is mostly self-explanatory in the sense that the price of the travel package covers most or all the above. However, it is to be noted that not all resorts are created equal and the term might mean different things to different locations. For example, many resorts, particularly in the Caribbean and Mexico, are made up of several different types of properties all at one location but each one catering to a different price point. If this is the case, guests staying at lower-end accommodations might experience an all-inclusive package with a limited number of restaurants at which they can dine, and unlimited alcohol but lower-end brands. There might also be a situation where the resort only allows for a select number of meals at designated restaurants while expecting guests to eat at the buffet throughout the rest of their stay. Conversely, guests paying for the higher-end accommodations, usually indicated by the words: ‘luxury’ or ‘adults only’ will enjoy a much different all-inclusive package that consists of access to any restaurant on the entire property, access to more amenities, higher-end brands of alcohol, better views, nicer and sometimes larger rooms, and possibly even butler service.
Most all-inclusive resorts also list entertainment and water sports as part of the package, but this is usually limited in scope. For example, Karaoke nights, dance lessons, and poolside shows are included, whereas specialty shows, and casinos are not. Same with water sports — things like paddleboards and kayaks are included, motorized or specialized water sports (jet skis, parasailing, etc.) are not. Taking all of this into account, it is important to know what your all-inclusive package will encompass before you book your vacation, so you don’t end up confused or disappointed when you arrive. Booking online often does not clarify such things, so this is just one area of tourism where getting the advice and guidance of an actual travel agent is vital.
Now that we have defined the differences between European Plan and All-Inclusive, some necessary questions to ponder are ‘who are traveling with?’; ‘are they younger or older, or both, and how will they be affected by your decision?’; ‘where are you going?’; and ‘how remote and/or safe is the region?’
If you are headed to the Caribbean or Mexico, indeed there are European Plan hotels and resorts, and the price of the ticket is likely more appealing to most people. However, as we have discussed, the all-inclusive plan is offered at a wide variety of resorts and is likely the best choice due to convenience and safety. These resorts tend to offer an assortment of restaurants and cuisines along with an international buffet, so there is something to please most everyone. The hours of operation of each restaurant might be limited but the handiness of being pre-paid and close at hand makes up for it. If you are traveling with young children or are taking a multi-generational vacation, having this type of all-inclusive option is a plus.
The location of your resort is also a big factor in your decision. It might be miles from the nearest city or town and therefore miles from available restaurants, and it might be difficult to get transportation on and off the resort. And finally, as is the case with the many Caribbean and Mexican locations, it might be unsafe to leave the resort unless on a guided tour to an activity or attraction. All these factors are also applicable to resorts in Central America and Spain, so opting for an all-inclusive in Belize or Costa Rica, or somewhere like Ibiza, is the wisest choice.
Despite that all-inclusive destinations are not nearly as common in North America they certainly do exist. The most popular are in southern Florida, with some wellness retreats located in Arizona and California, and dude ranches in the mid-west. If your destination is Florida, it’s safe to assume there will be plenty of dining options nearby so choosing a European Plan likely would be cheaper and would not present too many problems. However, if your destination is a wellness retreat or a dude ranch, the idea is to immerse yourself in the ‘experience’ and that includes the food.
When it comes to group travel, sometimes known as adventure travel, it depends on the supplier you book with as to whether meals are supplied or whether you have the option to strike out on your own for some or all meals. This is usually dependent on the destination and how remote or safe it is. Destinations in this category include Machu Picchu, The Galapagos Islands, Egypt, Antarctica, and other exploratory ventures offered by companies such as G Adventures, Intrepid, Contiki, and TopDeck.
Into this classification of adventure travel, we can add African Safaris, but much like resorts, not all safaris are created equal. Some experiences are very grassroots where visitors stay in huts, while other travel suppliers offer a big step up with glamping-type situations where meals are provided. More expensive options include high-end resorts with luxuries such as swim-out suites, culinary experiences, and seasoned guides that take guests on day and night safaris. In scenarios such as these exploration ventures, it is usually the safest bet to take an all-inclusive trip, and in many cases for obvious reasons, it is the only option available.
Travel to Europe; however, is an entirely different story. All-inclusive destinations are scarce across the EU but there’s a reason for that — most travelers don’t go on a European vacation with the intention of lazing by a pool all day as they might in the Caribbean. They go sightseeing and visit historical locations, walk through museums, enjoy the beautiful countryside, and experience the local cuisine. This allows travelers to set their own budget and vacation on their own terms while dining in a variety of restaurants and ‘tasting Europe’.
In the end, whether you opt for a European Plan or an All-Inclusive vacation comes down to your destination, who you are traveling with, and how your decision will affect them. It is also a matter of convenience, safety, and budget. In some cases, you simply do not have a choice. But when you do, the choice will become clearer after you have considered all of the above.