If you're traveling with kids, an all-inclusive resort may be an easier---and even cheaper---option than an Airbnb vacation rental. Here's why.

In my 20s and 30s, I prided myself on taking off-the-beaten path vacations to places like Guanajuato, Mexico and the jungles of Costa Rica. My husband and I never stayed in hotels—we always chose small bed and breakfasts where we ate eggs with the owners in the mornings.

When Airbnb came on the scene in 2008, I figured renting apartments or homes during vacations was even better. Now I wouldn’t have to eat breakfast with anyone but my husband.

For a while, Airbnb was usually a lot cheaper than hotel rooms too. When I visited to New York City a few years ago, I was able to rent an entire apartment in Chelsea for $175 per night. Tiny hotel rooms were going for $300 per night.

I couldn’t even get a better deal through Priceline’s “Name Your Price” option.

It all depends on where you’re visiting of course. A study of 222,000 Airbnb listings and average hotel rates in the same cities found that vacation rentals are usually cheaper in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Hotels in the South, especially in Austin, Texas, are usually cheaper than the Airbnb options, however.

My expectations for vacation changed when I had children

Two and a half years ago, I had a kid. While I was pregnant, my husband and I were positive that we’d still travel the way we were used to, especially once she started walking.

We were positive we’d never be uncool parents who take their kids to resorts or hotels that had—god forbid—kiddie pools or water slides.

But then we had her.

For the first six months, the last thing on our minds was vacation. We were scared to give her bath much less take her on an airplane.

When she was about nine months old, we started thinking about taking her on an airplane. After all, kids under two can fly for free if you hold them on your lap.

But like most things in life, when something is “free” it’s because it’s not worth anything.

A coworker told me about how he’d been recently been on a plane and sat across the aisle from two parents who spent hours passing a crying baby between them. That wasn’t the worst part—when the plane hit turbulence, the baby flew out of the dad’s hands. My coworker happened to catch the baby mid-air.

My husband and I decided that before we tried planes, we’d start vacationing by renting small summer homes or cabins for a few days here and there.

Airbnbs aren’t always kid-friendly or kid-proof

I always examined the photos on Airbnb to make sure the places were fairly baby-friendly. But I was new to traveling with a kid, and missed a few things.

One cabin had a giant hole in the floor with a descending spiral staircase that led to the basement. A chain surrounded it so no adult would stumble in and fall, but it wouldn’t stop a just-learning-to-crawl baby.

On another Airbnb trip, my daughter decided there was no way she was sleeping in her Pack and Play. So my husband and I had to share a queen-sized bed with her, and spent most of the night terrified we’d roll over on her (she also snores really loud).

Last month, we decided we were ready to take her a plane somewhere. We decided to go to South Carolina because it’s a short plane ride from Chicago. We checked out some Airbnb listings, did some calculations (both financial and mental), and ultimately decided to do the one thing we promised ourselves we’d never do—stay at a kid-friendly resort with pools and a water slide.

At first, we were worried we’d be deathly bored or annoyed by screaming kids and their parents. But our trip to the Crown Reef Resort, a beachside resort and waterpark in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was one of the best financial and parenting decisions I’ve ever made. Here’s why:

Family resorts have built-in value rentals may not

Vacation rentals aren’t necessarily cheaper than hotels, especially when you factor in costs for kid-friendly activities that resorts give guests for free.

One of my favorite parts of vacation rentals is that you don’t have to deal with any loud, sweaty tourists in lobbies or on elevators.

But when you travel with kids, once they start moving around and want to be entertained, you’re going to deal with other tourists.

At resorts, you at least won’t have to pay anything extra for kid-friendly stuff.

Our ocean-view suite at the Crown Reef included a bedroom with two cozy queen beds, a living room with a murphy bed, an ocean view balcony, and a complete kitchen.

During the peak season, this room costs around $150 per night.

Similarly-sized nearby Airbnb rentals were going for $140 per night (that includes the Airbnb fee and cleaning fee).

Rentals further away from the beach were going for around $120 per night.

Technically, Airbnb was a little cheaper.

But like most resorts, the Crown Reef allows guests to use their pools, water slides, lawn chairs, and fitness center for free.

If I’d rented those condos and my daughter wanted to swim in a pool (like many toddlers, she’s scared of the ocean), I’d have to pay for access to a water park. In Myrtle Beach, full day passes to the Family Kingdom water park cost $27.35 per person.

Staying at a vacation rental would have actually ended up costing me more.

Just like vacation rentals, many resorts offer suites with kitchens, so you can cook instead of eating out all of the time

Obviously, I like to eat out when I’m on vacation. But I do hate waiting around in restaurants, especially three times a day.

Like vacation rentals, resorts like the Crown Reef offer suites with fully equipped kitchens so that you don’t need to spend time and money eating out three times per day.

I particularly enjoyed this for breakfast, when I’m not particularly in the mood to chat with anyone, even a waitress bringing me coffee.

Suites with kitchens don’t necessarily cost a ton more than regular rooms. At the Crown Reef, rooms without kitchens start at $94 per night.

Resorts have free perks included in their prices that make traveling with kids a thousand times better

My daughter thinks throwing a handful of goldfish crackers into the air and watching them fly all over is the funniest thing in the world.

When I rent through Airbnb, I always end up sweeping and sometimes vacuuming before I leave so the owners don’t take anything out of our security deposit. Other Airbnb properties automatically charge renters a cleaning fee.

But at the Crown Reef, I never had to clean up.

A housecleaner came daily to vacuum, do our dishes, and even make the beds.

Another perk resorts offer that most vacation rentals don’t? Cribs.

I’m still amazed by the amount of crap I have to lug around for our daughter, even when we go on short road trips. She can walk, but not very fast, so we always need to bring a stroller.

She goes through about four outfits per day because she’s so messy, and diapers take up an enormous amount of room in our luggage. The last thing we ever want to bring along is a pack n play or crib. At resorts, you don’t have to.

Rooms at resorts are designed with kids in mind

At the Crown Reef, the hotel door is in the same room as the beds. The kitchen is in the middle of the suite, along with the bathroom. The living area is on the opposite side as the bedroom, near the balcony.

Translation? We could put our kid to bed and still grab wine and beer from the refrigerator while hanging out on the balcony.

Some Airbnbs we’ve stayed in have been so small that we’ve had to go to bed whenever our daughter did.

The furniture at kid-friendly resorts is chosen with children in mind. For example, none of the furniture had sharp corners. There wasn’t any space between the bed frame and the floor, meaning that my daughter couldn’t “hide” anything important there like my cell phone. The doorknobs are high enough so that toddlers can’t reach them and escape.

The biggest danger was the drawers, which my daughter loves to open and close.

Even that ended up being a help. One night, when my daughter decided she wanted to keep partying instead of sleeping, I woke up at 1am to find her sitting on the floor, reading a Bible she’d pulled from the nightstand.


  • Resorts like the Crown Reef are often a better deal financially than vacation rentals, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
  • There are hidden costs in some Airbnb rentals, like cleaning fees and security deposits.
  • Studies have shown Airbnb is cheaper in some cities, but not in others.
  • Resorts include free perks like daily housekeeping and pools—two key ingredients to traveling with kids.

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About the author

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Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at www.pattylamberti.com. And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at [email protected]