Thursday, March 22

March Break at Sandos Caracol, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Before I get into the fantastic story that was last week's trip to Mexico, I'd like to explain why you were treated to "flashback" posts the week before.

There was a loss in our family, as after 85 years on the farm, 49 years of marriage, 9 children and 17 grandchildren (not to mention a hand amputated in a farming accident, which he certainly didn't) we laid my father-in-law to rest on March 9th.

I'm sure I have already said too much for my very private husband, so I will leave it at that.

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Rather than making this a long and prose-y post, I'm going to attempt to do this in bulleted (no Mexico pun intended, Mom!) highlights:

The basics:
  • 5 days and 4 nights at Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort and Spa, Playa del Carmen
  • Went with friends who have three kids close in age to ours (One is in my class. Which really wasn't too weird.)
The prepwork:
  • Got Hepatitis shots and hubby and kids took Dukoral to prevent travellers' diarrhea. After one sip my brain told me that Dukoral was not right for human consumption, so I did the "Pepto Bismol pills at every meal" preventative trick. None of our family got sick.
  • This is, of course, in addition to the packing and extensive personal prepwork involved in being seen in a swimsuit in mid-March.
The flight:
  • Girls' first time on a plane. No issues at all, likely because I have trained them well to sit and watch TV
  • Had never flown WestJet before, but found the plane roomy and comfortable, and enjoyed the personalities of the flight attendants (one even made an ex-boyfriend joke when giving the required pre-flight safety spiel, and coming back we got "Welcome to Toronto, home of the 1967 Stanley Cup Champion Maple Leafs"!)
  • Bought little rolling suitcases for girls which they carried on, with books, Frannie's MP3 player (it's a Hello Kitty version and although she calls it an iPod, I refuse to).
  • Gave them children's Gravol before flight just in case.
  • Neither seemed to suffer the ear pain and popping of the ascent/descent that their father unfortunately did.
  • Hard to know what to wear when travelling between two climates, so went with layers, and added/removed as necessary.
Hotel:
  • Booked through WestJet vacations, and we were very impressed by the service (they had reps waiting at the airport, stationed at the resort, etc.)
  • Had been warned on Trip Advisor that we would be invited on a "tour of the resort" (i.e. time-share presentation), and while we were offered massages, etc. as an incentive we still didn't want to give up the 90 minutes. (Our WestJet rep said "Remember, 90 minutes in Mexico is more like four hours!") 
  • Weather was in the high 20's, humidex mid 30's. Though I am aware that it was mild around here that week, I'm still pretty sure my neighbours at home weren't walking around in bikinis every day.
  • Our room was amazing: each family booked a "Junior Suite", with king size bed, sitting room with pull-out couch (where girls slept), lots of storage areas, beautiful bathroom with huge tiled shower.
  • Hotel promotes itself as being extremely natural (it is built right into beautiful surroundings, like a cenote and tons of treed areas) and eco-friendly. I was concerned when there was no recycling bin in our room, but then I realized that housekeeping sorts the trash!
  • Being so "natural", there is wildlife around (think cats, raccoons, and ugly raccoon-like creatures) which may be a novelty to city folk, but not the kind of thing I want wandering around my feet when at the snack bar.
  • The food: you get to book a specific number of a la carte dinners (Mexican, Italian, Brazilian, etc.) depending on how many nights you're there. We went with the Steakhouse which was great, except that the 'medium rare' I asked for came out well done.
  • All other meals are buffet (a few to choose from) which were huge and there was lots for all of us to eat, although the spots all seemed to blend together and have many of the same offerings.
  • A couple of great family pools. My husband preferred the busier large main pool where music was playing and activities were taking place. I liked the smaller one right behind our building as I could allow the kids to splash freely while also enjoying my book!
  • Photographers cruise the pool area taking shots of kids with exotic animals. They start at 12 bucks American for a 6 x 8, but when is the next time I will see my girls cuddling so closely to an iguana?


  • There are kids' movies and shows, and grown-up entertainment in the evenings (I had written "adult entertainment" but that has a bit of a different connotation).
  • Safes in the rooms for valuables (passports, electronics).
  • 24 hour snack bar (kids loved that you could eat sitting in swings).
  • Some rooms have flatscreens with satellite and wifi. Ours didn't. Had to give the TV a whack just to get the few Spanish channels to appear.
  • Had a minibar stocked with free beer, soft drinks and bottles of water.
This was our balcony (note the Jacuzzi!)



This is what we looked out at (the perfect pool, and of course a bar beside it)




Kids' Aqua Park:





Main pool:


  • Also had  a Kids' Club (think indoor playground, crafts, movies, on-resort excursions), where you could drop the little ones off (they need socks, btw) ...which we swore in advance we wouldn't do. The first couple of times we visited, we let them play and just sat and watched, the other two times we sat at snack bar table in clear view of the front doors and enjoyed a drink.
  • On the subject of the all-you-can-drink offerings: apparently the selection was fantastic, and apparently I am a freak of nature for not indulging. Picky taste buds, sensitive stomach, control issues, who can say? But a drinker I am not.
  •  Beautiful beach. A bit rocky for walking in, but our kids were more interested in playing in the sand than swimming in the Gulf.


Extras:
  • We were treated to a romantic boat ride, but I felt uncomfortable being rowed around by a Mexican dressed in native (and I do mean native) garb. (Think speedo, loincloth and body paint). Hubby reminded me that I felt the same when the pedicab driver from Harlem toured us around Central Park. Middle-class guilt, I guess.
  • There are lovely Mayan ruins just a short walk away at the back of the resort. Can you make out Frannie waving at the top of the photo?



Bottom line:

  • Fantastic trip, and would highly recommend resort, especially for families.
  • Service was amazing. Friendly, helpful staff everywhere.
  • Uncertainty about tipping: supposed to be included, but some people did it anyway...which makes you feel like you should...
  • Couples trying to avoid children have lots of options (adults-only residences, pools, spa area and designated adults-only nights at a la carte restaurants) but you certainly can't go through the main area (main pool/restaurants/snack bar/shopping) without spotting lots of kids and families.
  • Back to Trip Advisor: we were scared by some of the reviews (the more recent ones seem much more positive than some older ones), but came away from the trip agreeing that some people are just whiners. Could we find things to nitpick? Of course, as I could in my own home or school, even though those are the happiest places in the world for me. My advice would be to bring issues to the attention of staff right away (which doesn't just apply at this resort, but anywhere you go).
  • There were tons of things we could have seen/done in Playa del Carmen and/or Cancun but with the time we had (and a total of five kids) sticking to the resort was our best bet this time around.
Thank goodness we returned home to nice mild weather this week and don't have to be too nostalgic about the heat that was. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Disclosure: This was no blog perk; we paid for it ourselves! When I e-mailed in advance to request rooms close together, etc. I did throw in the fact that I was a blogger, which perhaps accounts for the gold wristbands and romantic boat ride coupon!

3 comments:

Kerry said...

It looks like you had a great trip! 5 days sound like a good length of time especially with kids. Nice pictures.

Allison said...

That resort looks lovely! I bet the kids had a blast on those waterslides.

Colleen said...

What a beautiful resort! The children's play area looks like it would be a lot of fun for kids, while the Mayan ruins provide an excellent history lesson for kids of all ages!