When Tom met Sally. Illustration for The Club by Miles Donovan


All-inclusive vs DIY travel: which is best?

Would you rather gorge on a ready flow of all-inclusive fare or choose where and what you eat and drink with toothpick precision? Our debatees weigh in…

Gushing over something it’s cool to hate? My speciality

Says who:
Tom Capon, travel editor

Ahh, all-inclusives. Yes, even the name alone fills me with glee. They might get a bad rep from travellers looking for a more high-brow holidaying experience, but that’s like asking why your blender is so bad at sautéeing your potatoes. That’s not what it’s there for.

All-inclusives are for people who need to decompress. And, after a year of the entire world curling into a ball and crying, figuratively if not literally, couldn’t we all do with that bit of all-inclusive indulgence?

This is what I received at the Leonardo Plaza Cypria Maris Beach Hotel in Paphos. My friends and I lay like rosé-coloured blobs on the sunbeds, letting our skin soak up every ray of the golden Cypriot sun as a steady stream of cocktails from the pool bar toddled their way toward us. In a tipsy stupor, we’d get ready for the night and then get treated to a feast of different restaurants, each waging a war for our affection, which could range from Cypriot to pan-Asian to European. Try telling a 13th-century peasant that’s something you could do with an average London wage. Their heads would explode.

“Life is more beautiful when everything around you is beautiful – and what’s more stunning than not having to pay any extra for food and drink?”

Of course, the ‘conveyor belt of consumption’ holiday is not for everyone. But here’s what you need to remember: all-inclusives are incredibly versatile – some are even romantic, just ask Crystal Cove in Barbados. Sure, the Caribbean island does a lot of the heavy lifting, but that doesn’t mean the complex isn’t carefully considered and crafted for upscale enjoyment, with elegant rock pools, trickling waterfalls and the calming sea just a few steps away.

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Isolation in paradise is made all the more special, not less, by never having to leave the hotel. Life is more beautiful when everything around you is beautiful – and what’s more stunning than not having to pay extra for food and drink?

The all-inclusive is a British holiday juggernaut. There are practical benefits – expenses taken care of, zero faff, budget-friendly options – but it speaks to a deeper need in all of us. The need to detach from this high-pressure world and finally, finally exhale. So, stop stressing about all-inclusives, grab a cocktail and come and enjoy the view.

I’ll choose local flavour over bland buffets every time

Says who:
travel writer, Sally Coffey

You can tell a lot about a person not just by what they eat but how they eat. As a teenager, the first time I sat down for dinner at an Italian schoolfriend’s house I carefully twiddled my spaghetti on to my fork as my friend and her family tucked in with vigour, tomato sauce flying everywhere, hunks of bread torn at will. I needn’t have worried, as I did, about committing any foodie faux pas – everyone else was far too busy enjoying themselves to notice.

Since then, I’ve realised our cultural identity is inextricably woven into how we break bread with each other. In the right setting, it can be enlightening, joyful and even transformative. It is, however, not one that can be shared wholly with other British holidaymakers. And that, right there, is where all-inclusives lose any charm they could possibly hope to possess.

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I’ve stayed on agritourism farms where the owner has presented us with a homemade meal on arrival (and, later, cooking tips that have steered me well ever since). My husband and I did a home stay in rural Peru, the whole time not quite sure what we were eating, while one family in the Amazon jungle killed and cooked a chicken in our honour. Would it meet corporate-buffet standards? No. But is it a memorable, bonding experience? Always.

“Do you really want to eat Asian food on the Norwegian fjords?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have tried an all-inclusive holiday – a cruise through Norway and Denmark with my mum. By the end, we’d both come to the same verdict. The food was either flavourless, baffling (do you really want to eat Asian food on the Norwegian fjords?) or there was just too much of it, the excess leaving a bad taste in our mouths.

Over lunch at sea one day, we told some fellow passengers we were disembarking for dinner in Copenhagen. Our new friends were incredulous. “But there is so much food on board that’s free?” When I explained we wanted to try something authentic, I was met with sheer bafflement. Reader, it was the best meal we had on the whole trip, and that’s the only argument I need: outside the all-inclusive confines, the best bits of your holiday await.

This article has been tagged Opinion, Hotels