What We Learned From Our First All Inclusive Vacation in Mexico with Kids
When our son was born my wife and I made the critical mistake of thinking we wouldn’t go to Mexico because “it’s no different than being at home with a baby except its warmer and there’s a beach.”
I know, we were nuts, I blame this crazy thinking on lack of sleep, getting into a new routine, the fact that I’m a male and our gender historically is bad at decision making etc.
Of course it’s the EXACT same thing as being at home with the following differences:
Its warm – we live in Edmonton so when I say its warm I mean to say that I’m trading instant frostbite for instant sunburn
Your room is cleaned for you – after years of living together I have finally figured out that the “laundry fairy” doesn’t actually exist, spoiler alert neither does the “cleaning fairy”.
Buffet Dinners – as my son so eloquently puts it “dad you’re never going to give up on eating are you?”
Beach, Ocean, Exotic animals, fish, pool, poolside drinks and on and on.
My wife and I both said we should have taken advantage of the free airfare for under 2’s so when our daughter came along I knew we had to get out for an adventure.
What We Learned From Our First All Inclusive Vacation in Mexico with Kids
Planning the All Inclusive Vacation
I took charge of planning the trip. Now usually my wife plans our vacations, so I was definitely feeling the pressure to make sure I didn’t forget a thing. My worst nightmare would be to arrive at a resort that was less than what it seemed online (pools out of order, bad food, etc). I looked at everything and everywhere from Mexico to Jamaica, the Bahamas, and everywhere else.
We finally settled on the Occidental Grand Xcaret in the Mayan Riviera. The hotel was amazing for families , but more on that later.
The day before we were supposed to leave on our trip our son got sick. Not just a little sick, more like hey guys I’m gonna run a bit of a fever, maybe hint at an exorcist impression on the plane. As a guy, and Im sure most can relate, I don’t usually go to the doctor unless it’s super serious. My wife pointed out that if it got super serious while we were in Mexico we would need to rely on the Mexican medial system. So we took him to the medicentre where we knew he would leave with a prescription of antibiotics we could keep on hand just incase.
The flight left at a reasonable 11:45 meaning we didn’t have to get up super early, could leisurly make our way to the airport. It didn’t land until 7:00 Mexican time and by the time we cleared customs and went looking for our shuttle we did have some hungry kids on our hands. We got to the resort and eventually fed our son some authentic Mexican food around 10:00 PM. That food was you guessed it, Pizza. Our son who could live on tacos at home decided while he was in Mexico he would eat Pizza 24/7. To be honest he did eat other foods, but at dinner time he would take some money, find a friendly waiter and ask if they could get him a pizza from upstairs, which they gladly obliged each time.
We got up the next morning and our son was feeling better but had passed his sickness onto my wife, who then passed it onto me, who then I passed it onto our 9 month old. At any point in this vacation one family member was in the throes of sickness and one was just getting over it. Being a man I handled the sickness with dignity and definitely didn’t whine….
The Occidental Grand Xcaret
The room was nice, nothing fancy but we weren’t really expecting anything too fancy. There was a concierge at each building and ours was no different, the concierge was nice (too nice in retrospect) offered us some welcome gifts of a Mayan Calendar, and invited us to a welcome seminar to introduce the resort. We later accepted after being promised a free trip back to the hotel, swimming with the dolphins, and some other miscellaneous goodies. We got a tour of the deluxe rooms and then witnessed the most outlandish sales pitch I have ever sat through. To their credit they attempt to create an amazing visual painting a picture of opulence usually reserved for royalty and Hollywood stars, but when they asked if I could envision our next family vacation aboard a private yacht…. With two kids a mortgage and a job that doesn’t pay $100,000 per month probably not. Regardless that didn’t stop them from making the pitch and asking us to sign on for an immediate payment of $40,000 US. We politely declined numerous times until the fellow had to accept that we would prefer to send our kids to college instead.
The resort itself was amazing, tons of pools to swim in, and our hands down favorite was the pool with the swim up bar. Our son loved going with us to get kids mojits and thought it was a blast to be drinking them in the pool. The resort didn’t limit you’re a-la-carte dining and if you wanted you could eat at the “fancy” restaurants every night. We only made it to one, the Italian restaurant, and the food was tasty and presented beautifully. The buffet was themed each night and you really could not go wrong with the food offerings, the wait staff always had a smile, and even when my son asked them for Pizza from the restaurant upstairs they gladly obliged, bringing it down especially for him.
With a definite jungle feeling to the resort there were tons of animals all around us, including the popular coatis (Mexican racoon) that I got so close to I would almost touch until my wife reminded me that Steve Irwin I am not, and my son was right beside me. I figured I might get in a bit of hot water if he got scratched or bit so I backed off. The trees were filled with Spider Monkeys, though I felt a bit let down because no matter how hard I tried they would not come take a banana out of my hands. I just wanted to make friends with the little critters, but alas they were too suspicious of my intentions and chose to stay in the trees, and occasionally hurl their poop at passers by.
Another highlight of the trip was the beach area, which I was a bit nervous of. I had seen tons of review that said it was too small, we found it perfect. The beach is actually a man made alcove that breaks the ocean surf coming in. That translates to calm water for kids to swim in without the fear of a rip tide dragging us out to sea. My sons quickly got used to the snorkel set we got him and he had a blast floating in the water face down looking at the fish. There were fish all around us and we eventually noticed a large school of fish swimming in a circle surrounding us.
Tours and Leaving the Resort
The resort is so massive we really didn’t need to venture outside it, however one day we decided to partake in the free tour offered by our tour company. We were told this would be a tour of a Jewelry Factory where they make jewelry, a tequila factory and then into town to walk down the famous Fifth Ave in Playa Del Carmen. We were supposed to be gone from 1:00 and getting back at 5:00 just in time for supper. The shuttle left on time and took us to the Jewelry factory which turned out to be nothing more than just a large store. Slightly disappointing. When we got there each person is paired up with a representative who follows you around the store and asks what kind of jewelry you like, what stones you like, and tries to find something they can convince you to purchase. We finished there quite quickly as my wife was not wanting to purchase any new jewelry and then a golf cart took us over to the tequila factory (spoiler alert it was yet another large store.) There my wife tried some tequila and purchased a couple of bottles, I bought some cigars from the lady that was rolling fresh ones in the store. I haven’t tried them yet and hope they were not made with banana leaves.
The highlight of the tours was a roving fellow with a monkey on a leash named Timmy. For a donation Timmy would sit on our shoulder for a picture, I have always wanted to hold a monkey so quickly paid the donation. Not quite as magical as I imagined but still a bucket list item checked off. We then waited, and waited, and waited for the people from Quebec to finish in the jewelry store! Eventually we boarded a shuttle off to town, we were then informed that the shuttle picking us up wouldn’t arrive until closer to 5:30. With a baby under 1 who was not feeling good we decided that we should make it back to the hotel. It was exactly at this point I realized there are two forms of Spanish in Mexico.
The first I like to call resort Spanish. It consists of words like Hola, Gracias, Donde esta el bano, Quando, si, no, Bueno, Bueno dias, Bueno noches and that’s about it. The rest of the resort Spanish language is a combination of broken English and pantomime gestures. The second form of Spanish is Mexico is Spanish. That’s it, its fluent, I can speak and understand at least to a sixth grade level. After a few days on the resort using resort Spanish I figured I had reached fluency. It wasn’t until I realized we were stuck in Playa Del Carmen, unsure of how far from our hotel, with a sick child that reality set in. I tried to ask the driver to take us back to the hotel, but he looked at me as if I had just appeared in front of him and asked to be taken to his leader. Luckily with the help of a nice couple from Chicago we worked everything out and were able to get back to the hotel very vamanos.
The only other “tour” we did was the swimming with dolphins and then Xcaret Park. Swimming with dolphins in my opinion is highly overated. Especially since our son couldn’t really swim he spent most of the time clinging to me while the trainer got the dolphin to swim infront of us creating different poses for the workers to snap pictures of. It was hard to really enjoy the experience when you were being told to look at the camera and smile the whole time. In the end it was kind of cool, we got to pet dolphins in the water, however I wouldn’t call it swimming since we were just standing on a platform the entire time.
After we found out why they didn’t allow us to take our own cameras in with us. Each picture would cost us $80 US and a DVD close to $200. We decided that the memories were enough and opted to not purchase any of the other pictures.
We then headed off to Xcaret park, one of the highlights of the trip for our son. Since we arrived all he wanted was to see the turtle park, and finally we were taking him there. With animals galore there was tons for him to see and do, we even took a break from walking to snorkel in their lagoon with a vast array of colorful fish to see. Prior to leaving on vacation we decided that a waterproof camera would be a good idea so we purchased the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-870 from Costco. It was the best purchase we have ever made. We were able to capture all our memories, and didn’t have to worry about lugging along our large Cannon Rebel. It took great pictures in and out of the water and has since become our go to camera for vacations. Anyways eventually we decided we would float along the underground river so we packaged everything up for the staff to take to the end of the float and headed on in. One of the staff mentioned that it might be a bit chilly for our daughter but I thought we could try it anyways. Yikes it was very chilly so we decided that I would take our daughter and walk to the end of the river to meet Aiden and Sarah. Off they went and I went to collect our stuff to start walking. Unfortunately our stuff already started its trek to the other side of the massive park on its own so there I was holding an infant, walking barefoot on the sometimes gravelly, sometimes scorching ground across the entire park to meet the stroller. I got there just in time to pick up our stuff, get my clothes back on, including my sandals, and sit for a bit waiting for my wife and son. Eventually we decided to head on back to the resort for dinner and after walking for the day we were all spent.
All in all this vacation was easily one of our favorites and we would definitely go back to the same resort without hesitation. Travelling with kids to Mexico was easier than we thought and more relaxing too.
What would we do different Next Time
First off I would maybe look into the Rosetta Stone. But other than that I would take advantage of the kids club. Our son stayed with us 24/7 and while we treasure doing things as a family sometimes the parents need a break too so we would encourage him to spend some time with other kids.
Cam lives in Edmonton, is a father of two, traveler and has been known to rap out a rad version of Ice Ice Baby.