Hotels vs. Resorts: What’s The Difference, Anyway?

October 13, 2022

Resort for families with all amenities

You’re planning a Caribbean vacation, and you’ve compiled a list of lodging option.  Some are called hotels. Others bill themselves as resorts. You’re stuck. Is hotel vs. resort an important choice?  

These two different words must mean something, right?  

Is one better than the other for a trip with kids?

At the end of the day, if you and your family enjoy where you are staying, it doesn’t really matter what the place is called. But the name of a place can send some pretty strong clues about what you should expect. So it’s worth exploring the distinction between hotels vs. resorts to help guide your way.

And of course, we can’t help but share some of our favorites of each as we go!

Table of Contents

Caribbean Family Travel Resources

Before we dive in, let’s be sure you have our best Caribbean family travel resources at your fingertips. First, did you know we have a whole collection of recommended family hotels and resorts in the Caribbean? I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s sort of our pride and joy.

We’ve made it easier for busy parents like you to find the right Caribbean hotel (or resort) for your family, with space for everyone. Explore our collection using search filters (like room size) that we designed just for parents. 

Wishing someone else would just handle the logistics for a change? We’re here for that too. We offer bespoke Caribbean family travel planning services. Our specialty? Helping parents narrow down the choices to identify the best Caribbean island and hotel for a top-notch family trip. 

And finally, want more Caribbean travel inspiration in your life? Sign up for our weekly newsletter, where we feature a Caribbean destination each month and highlight our favorite hotels and family travel tips. We also share our best Caribbean destination guides for families, and keep you up-to-date on our family travel blog. 

Now, pour yourself a rum punch and start thinking about whether a resort or hotel is the right choice for your next trip… 

Hotels vs. Resorts: The Basics

While there is no bright line that distinguishes between the two, generally speaking, a hotel is anywhere that provides a place to stay for travelers.

A resort hotel, on the other hand, focuses on the amenities and experience.  While resorts are a type of hotel, resorts conjure up different images: bigger grounds and facilities, a destination in-and-of-itself with more amenities, and more entertainment for guests of all ages. They may be more geared toward longer-term stays, relaxation, and a more self-contained experience.

The easiest way to explain the difference between a hotel and resort is by way of example. Below, we give you our take on what hotels and resorts each have to offer families.  We also give you some examples of our favorites in each category, to highlight the distinction.

Hotels vs. Resorts? Hopping beach front hotel

Hotels or Resorts: Which Is Better For a Family With Trip?

Why resorts are great for families

This may be obvious, but having everything you need at your fingertips, especially on a family vacation, gives you a chance to focus on enjoying your time with your kids.

That’s what resorts set out to accomplish.

Resorts can offer various dining options, a kids club or kids programming, waterslides, pools and grounds where smaller vacationers can run around, and activities for adults. The goal is to give you everything you need, while taking away all logistical hurdles.

Staying a resort doesn’t mean you can’t leave the property—but you may not want to.  If what you need is relaxation, minimal planning, and entertainment, a resort may be the one for you.

An important caveat though: When you hear the word resort, you may think of a mediocre, all-inclusive property lacking in charm. The kind of place where you could be on ‘any beach, anywhere, with no local or culturally rich experience to be had.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Some of our favorite resorts – even though they have a self-contained vibe – give you a special experience that you cannot find just anywhere, and that is tied to their location.

Resort or Hotels? City-Center Hotel

Why hotels are great for families too

Sometimes, the whole point of your trip may be to spend time outside your lodgings and exploring your surroundings. These adventures are a big part of why we travel with kids, and no matter where you choose to rest your head at night, we highly recommend renting a car and getting out and about to show your kids the world.  

Often, it seems that large resorts get more attention for Caribbean trips – families associate them with a relaxing, easy, and safe tropical beach vacation.  But we love boutique hotels for travel with kids. And some of our favorites are hillside or in-town Caribbean hotels – especially on islands that have lots of beaches, rivers, and activities to see!

If you have the energy for a little more adventure on your family trip, you may not want to pay the premium for the amenities of a resort. Instead, you can think about a “hotel” as a better fit – even in the Caribbean. There may still be a restaurant, a pool, and great staff – but perhaps not the same level of programming and entertainment. 

But that’s OK. You’re just looking for a comfortable home base from which to connect with the place around you.

Mango Tree’s Recommended Resorts and Hotels For Family Travel

Nearly every Caribbean island has a resort experience to offer.  Some islands – like Jamaica and Dominican Republic – are known for their large, all-inclusive resorts.  But other, less frequented islands offer their take on resorts as well, creating a relaxing experience from start to finish.

In addition, if you’re more inclined to explore an island beyond a resort’s walls, you’ll find that in the Caribbean too.  

Whatever experience you are looking for – the relaxation of a “resort,” the immersion of a “hotel,” or some combination of the two – Mango Tree has got you covered.  Don’t miss our top tips for finding the best hotel for your family. And if you want us to find it for you, it’s sort of our favorite thing to do! 

If you’re not quite ready to plan, and just need a little inspiration, keep reading for some of our favorite resorts or hotels around the region! 

All-inclusive, small luxury resort for families

Baoase Luxury Resort – Curacao

Baoase Luxury Resort in Curacao, a recent discovery of ours, is truly an oasis. With a sheltered lagoon, soft sand with a tinge of pink, restaurant tables right on the sand, and the most comfortable sun loungers we’ve ever sat in, it was near impossible to leave the beach.  

There are lots of reasons to pick Curacao for a family vacation but experiencing this luxury boutique hotel as its own destination is one of them.  (And if you want to shave a little off the price tag, remember that Curacao is a top island to visit in Caribbean off-season, being outside the hurricane belt.)  

‘While you can leave the resort to explore, you don’t have to, and may not want to.

All-inclusive resort for families

Spice Island Beach Resort – Grenada

Another resort that stands out is Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada.  This 64-room, boutique-style hotel has a near-perfect location on Grenada’s best beach, spacious beachfront family suites, two beachfront restaurants, welcoming staff, colorful kids’ club, and rave reviews.

This is a luxury choice for a resort, with a high price tag to match, but a worthwhile one if what you’re seeking is true tropical relaxation. Your biggest adventure may be to walk down the beach to a beach bar.

Small resort for families

XBalanque Resort – Roatan

Resorts can come in small sizes too. Xbalanque Resort in Roatan, Honduras, has only 12 spacious hotel rooms – hardly an expansive all-inclusive. But that doesn’t mean it is not a stunningly decorated, relaxing spot for families of all ages. There is a beautiful and delicious open-air restaurant located on-site, and a private jetty for snorkeling.

We love Roatan as a destination for a family trip. From XBalanque, you can leave the property to explore — and we think you should to hit Roatan’s top family-friendly sites.  But there will be days where you may not want to, and XBalanque Resort makes it easy to stay put.  

Las Islas resort in Baru Colombia

Hotel Las Islas – Baru, Colombia

Sometimes names can be misleading, and the traditional distinctions between hotels vs. resorts may no longer apply.

Take Hotel Las Islas in Baru Colombia, for example. It’s a lush, private property where you can stay in a bungalow right on the Caribbean Sea, enjoy a private beach with calm, crystal-clear waters, have sunset cocktails in the forest canopy, and then enjoy fantastic local cuisine. You’re a long way from the sights and sounds of neighboring Cartagena, but that is the point!  

While it doesn’t call itself a resort, it offers a self-contained, magical experience.

Hotels vs. Resorts? All-inclusive hotel

Sublime Samana Hotel & Residence – Dominican Republic

Another of our recommended hotels seems not to fit its name. Sublime Samana Hotel and Residences in the Dominican Republic may call itself a hotel, but with a network of interlinked pools, two restaurants, and an all-inclusive package that cover meals, and tons of activities, this absolutely offers more a resort vibe.

The hotel offers an exceptional deal for non-refundable rooms so, if you’re willing to commit, the multi-bedroom suites are among the most affordable you’ll find for a luxury Caribbean stay.

Hotels vs. Resorts? All-inclusive resort

Finest Playa Mujeres – Mexico

And then of course there are the traditional “all-inclusives,” which don’t have to be blandly overwhelming. The Finest Playa Mujeres offers an upscale all-inclusive experience with great design, surprisingly good food, and a kids’ club, among other touches. It also has rooms with private pools, for a luxurious touch. It’s everything you could like about a resort experience, while still having a sense of place.

These options would all give you and your kids space to explore and play while also providing ample opportunity to relax. And because everything is on property, and right at your fingertips, they may also take some of the planning out of your trip, which we know can sometimes be a huge relief.  

Hotels or Resorts for families? City Hotels

The Boutique Hotels of Cartagena

Let’s say you’ve made it to Las Islas in Baru, and spent a few days relaxing at a waterfront bungalow. Rather than spend your whole time at a self-contained resort by the beach, you could split it with one of the luxurious boutique hotels in the charming old city of Cartagena.

Kids will love touring Cartagena in horse-drawn carriages, hearing guitar players in the squares, and stopping for handmade popsicles right around the corner. You can’t go wrong with any of the hotels we recommend in the city center.

S Hotel Jamaica Resort

S Hotel Jamaica

For something a little different, the S Hotel in Jamaica is as straightforward as they come – one chic pool, one hip restaurant, and all the vibes you can handle. But this is definitely a base for exploring the local beach scene and the rest of this island’s natural beauty and vibrant culture, not a self-contained experience. 

And if swimming with horses is on your Caribbean bucket list, Montego Bay is a great place to do it! 

Hotels or Resorts? Hillside Hotel

Hotel L’Esplanade – St Martin

Hotel L’Esplanade in St. Martin is a top example of a Caribbean hotel – not resort – that offers a relaxing experience while still taking you outside the resort walls.  It sits on a hill walking distance from the fishing village of Grand Case, which also happens to be the culinary capital of French St. Martin.  The hotel does not have it’s own restaurant for dinner, but you’re just a 5 minute walk from some of the island’s best food.

French St. Martin has a lot to see and do, and dozens of amazing beaches. It’s the kind of island where you’ll want to rent a car to explore — and the ease of getting around is why we think St Martin is one of the best Caribbean islands for families

Hotel L’Esplanade is well-placed for exploring the island’s gorgeous beaches and other sights, with great balcony views to come home to each evening, and a welcoming staff that makes you feel right at home.

I hope these examples help you see that the Caribbean offers something for everyone, with resorts and hotels of all shapes and sizes.  

Whatever experience you are looking for – the relaxation of a “resort,” the immersion of a “hotel,” or some combination of the two – Mango Tree has got you covered.

Reach out let us help you find the right one!

Parents often joke that we take “trips” with little kids, not “vacations.”

Not with Mango Tree. Everyone's on vacation with us.

Get our weekly newsletter for tips and tricks on family travel that’s actually fun for everyone.