Tuesday, November 22, 2016

King Kong MEX-CO!

That's where we are! Playa del Carmen, Mexico, south of Cancun to be exact. But Claire called Cancun, "King Kong" the whole time we were traveling on Sunday, and Cora joyfully announced to everyone that "We goin' to MEX-CO!" over and over again, while Landon just rolled his eyes at his sisters, pronounced everything perfectly, and asked 65,000 questions about the flora and fauna, so King Kong Mexco it became.

But we're here! The travel went really well. No bottles, diapers, strollers, or baby gear- each kid just brought a backpack, kindle, and some snacks and we were good to go. I feel like the whole world is our oyster.

We had to layover in Mexico City, where you go through customs and then loop back back in through security, but direct flights to Cancun were running $800/each and I got ours for $229/each, so times that difference by 5 and I didn't mind the stop so much. Each flight was exactly 2 hours and customs was very quick and efficient. We had a private shuttle to transfer us to the hotel (again, with 5 people it was $10 cheaper to get our own shuttle than pay per person on a group one- it's like we have our own tour group) and we arrived to the very beautiful lobby full of fountains and streams and koi and turtles about 10:00 p.m.

We're staying at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen- La Esmerelda. I picked this resort because it won Travel & Leisure's Top 5 Family Resorts of the Year last year and Tripadvisor backed up T&L's review. Then, while randomly price checking the idea of heading to Mexico for Thanksgiving last Christmas break (yep, 11 months ago; I do things early), I got such a ridiculously low price quote that, after checking to make sure it was refundable (yes!), and knowing my job rarely interferes with vacations, and James's pool would be closed and all three kids off school/daycare for the whole week of Thanksgiving, I pressed "book it" and have enjoyed knowing a beach vacation was ready and waiting for us ever since.

And now we're here! And it's spectacular.

We're normally not big resort people. We are completely anti-social vacationers; we hate crowds and you would have to literally threaten me with death to get me in an organized adult activity, but we figured with the kids' ages- old enough to enjoy all the activities but young enough not to be bored (and not yet quite old enough to go explore river rapids and jungles somewhere else), we should just go for it.

I've lived in Texas for 26 years and never been to Mexico, so it's a first for all of us and for a final, easy, end-of-year vacay, an all-inclusive fun-filled resort seemed just the thing.

And it's been fabulous. Just enough for everyone to do without feeling like an overrun cruise ship or the nagging feeling that we should be doing more than we are.

By far the best decision we (I) made was opting for the swim-up suite. I do a lot of research on our rooms when we vacation. I'm a terrible sleeper and room layout is vitally important to me. My two ironclad rules are (1) I sleep in the same bed as my husband and (2) I don't sleep in the same room with my children. Our room must be completely separate, with a closing door, and my room needs to be able to be pitch black. And despite some very unclear website descriptions, this one fits the bill!

James and I have our own room that connects to the bathroom. Our room and the bathroom also each connect to the main room with kitchenette, pull out queen sofa bed, and crib. Both the main room and our bedroom open out to the swim-up patio, so at night we can completely close off the kids and still have full access to the patio and bathroom. When your kids go to bed at 8 p.m. and you do not, this is perfect. I'm sitting outside on the patio with my feet up right now while James swims laps. It's lovely.

But the "swim-up" is the best part of the suite. Our patio has steps right down the pool, with our own little lounge chair and tables built in the water, so that means we never have to pack up anything to get to the pool. No getting up early to reserve cabanas or chairs. No forgetting something back in the room. We just wake up, lounge on the patio, and watch the kids jump in and play in the water.

Our room is very central which has been awesome with our kids' ages - we can see them on the pirate ship and slides, the blow-up octopus slide, the swim-up bar, and basically everything else without moving from our patio or lounge chair, and Cora can nap without affecting anything else we're doing. It's like we brought our own private villa to a big resort. And the patio has a giant jacuzzi where I live with my mojitos and cucumber margaritas.

The water is the pools is pretty cold (freezing, really, I have yet to put much more than a toe in because it makes my jacuzzi jealous), but the kids are LOVING it. They're never been to a resort like this, so they're still freaking out over the slides and pools and swim-up bars with unlimited strawberry mango smoothies. Someday we'll take them to Disney World and their heads will explode.

Cora is just as intrepid. She dives right in the water every morning and goes down every slide and swims every minute the big kids do. She is having the best time, even if she still thinks fruit is gross and turns her nose up at all the smoothie offers.

There's a kids' camp that starts at age 1 (big kids ages 5+ are in their own club) and it runs until 10 p.m. each day. A lot of resorts start at age 5 so the younger age range was part of why I picked this one, but though the camp is really nice and full of toys and the activity schedule is amazing, we've actually only used it once so far so James and I could go out to dinner last night. I love that it's there, but we like having the kids with us and the swim-up room makes it so easy that even with Cora's naps we haven't really wanted to take them back. But they had a blast last night - there was bracelet making, a dinner buffet, and a dance party (for Cora's age they fed the turtles in the lobby ponds, ate dinner, and then had a mini dance party of their own), so they've been asking to go back. I'm sure we'll oblige them before we go.

We've also spent a lot of time on the beach. A bunch of protected mangrove trees block the view from the hotel to the beach, but it's a quick walk over a bridge to get on the sand and the pool is so fun and pretty we haven't minded the bit of forced separation.

Cora, after rejecting sand the whole time we were in Jamaica, has now decided it is her FAVORITE and wants to play in it for hours. Sort of like her dramatic love story with cake.

"Mama, I LOVE our beach and our I LOVE our NEW house!" she has exclaimed over and over again.

Today we took a short walk down the beach to find the cenote our concierge told us about. It's a freshwater spring that bubbles up from the ground creating a little pool that winds its way into the ocean. And sure enough, a few minutes of walking in the surf and we came across the most beautiful, clear, totally salt-free swimming hole.

It was gorgeous and perfect and Cora's favorite thing so far. "Mama I LOVE this!" she exclaimed.

We even made time for a little swim lesson.

You'd never know, but the ocean is just in front of us, separated by a few yards of sand. So beautiful, and so quiet.

We'll be back.

After a room service lunch on the patio, that I had to drag the kids out of the water to eat, we decided to head into town. Playa del Carmen is pretty small and by all my research and review-reading, quite safe, so we took a taxi a few blocks down 5th Avenue to do some strolling and shopping. It was pretty and bustling and good fun.

The kids were fascinated by all the shops and REALLY fascinated by the idea of a changing price (after we barely got them to grasp the concept of two currencies). Landon got a personalized name bracelet that started out at $15 but he paid $5 because he kept walking away (we told each kid they could have $5 to spend, so for every item over $5 he just cheerfully said "I can't" and walked off), and he was more fascinated by the price difference than the bracelet itself, though it is a very nice souvenir.

Cora picked out a fine pair of maracas. Purple and pink, obviously, she shook them non-stop for the whole 45-minute stroll and still has $3 remaining.

Claire bought a little woven wallet. James and I bought the taxi rides. Everyone's items were very them and very packable and everyone is very happy.

We finished off with more swimming, the best meal we've had so far, and an early bedtime because we head out early for our snorkel and cave swimming excursion tomorrow!


  1. Your trip looks amazing! Did you book directly through the hotel? I'm looking for spring break trips :)

    1. Thanks Vicki! I booked it through the hotel website (or rather, the hotel's parent website- Melia). It had the best rate when I checked around and I like working directly with the hotels when possible!

  2. Hello! We are looking at this hotel for one of our summer vacations. Did you get a one bedroom swim up or the one bedroom swim up master? Thank you!!

    1. One bedroom swim up. It was plenty big and still had a separate bedroom, but the bedroom had two full size beds instead of one king like the swim up master. It was significantly cheaper and we just cuddled and used the other bed for storage 😊

    2. Thank you so much!!