It's December, which means we mid-westerners are feeling festive...and chilly. So when the fall farming season came to a close and my husband and I decided to pull the trigger on the last-minute beach vacay we'd been dreaming about, I knew we were on to something good--so good, in fact, that I'm here to humbly entreat you to take your own warm winter getaway. It will do wonders for your mood, your Vitamin D deficiency, and your soul. Let's talk details.
We decided to use the KISS method of vacation planning (Keep It Simple, Stupid), having had such a fabulous experience with the one-stop-shop booking we did for our trip to Ireland. For this trip we used Vacation Express and played around with several beach destinations before settling on Riviera Maya, Mexico. We picked this area because we realized it would give us the most bang for our buck in terms of playing in the ocean while taking advantage of our brief, four-night stay. And, well, we're addicted to Mexican food. Sorry, Jamaica. Through Vacation Express we reserved our flights, all-inclusive hotel, transfer to and from the airport, and a morning snorkeling excursion.
We flew out of Kansas rather early, made one connecting flight, and then landed in sunny Cancun in the early afternoon. We found our shuttle operator and began the hour-long drive south to the Riviera Maya region. I'd been to this area before, and I love to look out the window at the magnificent resort entrances along the way. We'd decided to stay at the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort because of its numerous amenities and lengthy 1.2 miles of beachfront.
When we arrived at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort where we had a reservation, we were informed that we'd been given an upgrade to the Barcelo Maya Palace!--how exciting! As we drove away from the Beach Resort and towards the Palace, I felt like the master of the feast had said to us, "Friend, move up to a better place." (Luke 14:7-11) Ha!
We checked in and made our way to our room, which was very nice with lots of space, a balcony, comfy bed, and beautiful stone bathroom--I love my creature comforts on vacation!
We couldn't wait to get into the ocean, so we headed there ASAP! The beach wasn't very crowded, and over the next few days we'd speculate that only 30% of the resort's lounge chairs were occupied at the busiest time of day. The beach was very clean, and the white sand was interrupted only occasionally by rocks or seaweed as our toes took us out to deeper water. The turquoise waves were gentle, and we were amused by several schools of fish circling us in the clear water. I was pleasantly surprised that the water was only a teensy bit cooler than I would have preferred.
We warmed up and escaped into our books beneath rustling palm leaves, and thus began a routine which occupied most of our time on vacation--float in ocean, sunbathe on beach, visit pool bar, repeat.
Our next favorite pastime on this aventura mexicana was eating! Like most all-inclusive resorts, each of the complex's five hotels offered several buffets and several a la carte restaurants. If you haven't experienced a giant buffet like this before, you simply must. There are tables and tables of made-to-order tacos, fajitas, fresh fruit, elaborate pastries, grilled veggies, guacamole, queso, and ice cream. These pork tacos were delicious!
At one meal I ordered a limonada and was brought a limeade instead of the lemonade I was expecting as limes are more abundant in Mexico than lemons--which was fortuitous because that limeade was heavenly, and thereafter I ordered one at every meal.
Breakfast was a delight as well. I impressed my husband by adding chilaquiles (Mexican version of lasagna) and refried beans to my plate of more traditional breakfast foods--bacon, eggs, and fruit--without batting an eye. We topped off each breakfast with pan dulce--sweet bread--and a frothy cappuccino.
For our fancier evening meals we ate at a Mexican, Italian, and Spanish restaurant on the resort complex. These were included as well but required advance reservation. We enjoyed the slower pace of these three-course meals. We were particularly pleased with the flavorful fajitas we ate at the Mexican restaurant, and the bacon-wrapped steak with blue cheese sauce we were served at the Spanish restaurant. (Does bacon and blue cheese say Spain to you?) We weren't too impressed with the pizza and calzone we tried at the Italian restaurant--perhaps it's a good rule of thumb to stick close to the national cuisine of the country you are visiting. You won't catch me complaining about that, at least not in Mexico!
As we explored we noticed that each of the five hotels in the beautiful Barcelo complex had its own personality, and most of the buildings were connected with grand covered walkways surrounded by palm trees or gazing pools and fountains. One could stay at Barcelo for a week and not take advantage of all it has to offer--mini golf, a shopping mall, a spa, dance lessons, a traditional Mexican market, scuba lessons, and nightly live shows at several theaters.
We made it to one of the evening shows and were amused to see a Michael Jackson impersonator singing "Beat It," figuring we'd happened upon a variety show-type of program. But the next number featured MJ as well, and we realized we were in for an entire night of him! I'm sure this would have been a pleasant surprise to some, but I was rather hoping for a mariachi band and a rousing rendition of "La Cucaracha."
We lounged a bit at this swimming pool, one of many available. There were kiddie pools with giant slides and adults-only pools with swim-up bars, and none of them felt overcrowded.
We did take full advantage of the included water sports offered at our resort. We rented snorkeling equipment several days. I couldn't keep up with my husband's beginner's zeal and eventually abandoned him to his happy flipping and discovering, but we did see a rather large fish--the size of a hula hoop!--together before I headed back to the beach. We tried the funny-looking water trikes, which were essentially ocean paddle boats, and we decided that they were overrated--too much peddling for not enough forward movement! But I always love kayaking and particularly at the ocean, and this was no exception. We could see purple and green coral beneath us in the clear water, and I love the feel of the ocean swelling beneath my little boat.
Perhaps the highlight of our trip was our morning snorkeling excursion through Alltournative. This would be an ideal adventure for someone staying in Cancun, as it took over an hour for our transfer to drive us and several people staying at other resorts to Puerto Morelos, where we were fitted with snorkel gear and given a light breakfast. Our enthusiastic guide, Juan, entertained us and gave us some snorkeling tips as we sailed a short ways out into the ocean with the twenty other people on our tour. We spent about 45 minutes snorkeling at two different sites at the Puerto Morelos Coral Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world!
The reef was truly amazing. We saw brain coral and fan coral and a variety of colorful fish. Towards the end of our time in the water we saw several large schools of fish swimming along as if through an invisible corridor. There's a whole underwater world out there of which I've experienced very little, but it is mysterious and gorgeous, and I want to see more of it!
In true Mexican tourism fashion a photographer accompanied us on our snorkeling trip, taking photos of each group of travelers on the beach, the boat, and even underwater! The price for these photos was outrageous, but they were quite fabulous...so we bought them...and tourisma Mexicana thrives. You're welcome, Mexico.
In short our Mayan vacay was dreamy and just what we needed amid hard work and holiday stress. We're still firm believers that all-inclusive resorts and one-stop-shop booking are great ways to maximize relaxation in the vacation planning and execution process.
I hope you start planning your next adventure. Be it Mexico or elsewhere, do your very best to enjoy this amazing world that we live in and to take a load off--it's hard work being a human, and you deserve it!