By Mike O’Shea
As an Orbitz employee, it is my solemn duty to travel somewhere warm and beach-infested with the family every holiday season. Last year it was Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach. But with the economy in tatters, we felt prudence was in order. So part of our search criteria was for a destination easier on the wallet. A Mexico vacation was still extremely reasonable due to the swine flu fallout, so we threw medical caution to the wind and decided 2009 would be a Cancun Christmas!
We are a family of 3: me, my wife, and our 2-year-old daughter. To help with our toddler, we talked her grandparents into coming along as super-sitters. Selecting a hotel involved the group poring over hundreds of guest reviews and hotel photos to find the most luxurious, kid-friendly, budget-friendly accommodations in the northern hemisphere. We settled on the Barcelo Maya Palace All Inclusive Complex, along Cancun’s Riviera Maya.
Transportation and lodging were booked via a 2-room Orbitz Flight + Hotel vacation package, which saved some serious cash from booking both items separately. The trip was for 6 days/5 nights, with a return flight on Christmas Eve so we’d be home for presents on the big day. I also booked a private van through Orbitz, as the price per person worked out better with 5 travelers than a shared van.
All flights and ground transportation went off without a hitch, something I appreciate ten times more now that I fly with a toddler. The hotel was an 90 minutes from the airport. I made a mental note to schedule our return trip early in case the lone road down the Mayan coast wasn’t as free-flowing as on the way in.
When we arrived, we were impressed. The grounds were absolutely enormous. The Barcelo Maya Palace is one of several Barcelo hotels of varying degrees of luxury, all sharing the same stretch of beach. I’d read numerous reviews mentioning long walks between rooms / dining / pools / beach. They likely stayed in the rear of the resort as we did, which required a good ¼ mile walk to reach anything. Surprisingly that didn’t bother us. If you’ve got multiple kids and can’t put everyone in strollers or on your shoulders, I’d suggest calling the hotel beforehand and requesting a room closer to the action. But in our case, it helped work off the hundreds (thousands?) of unnecessary calories piled on at the various buffets throughout the day. As my mother-in-law keenly observed, “All we do is lie around waiting to eat.” Contrast that with our normal time demands back home: We were definitely in the Twilight Vacation Zone.
Some highlights from our stay:
Mini-disco every night at 8 p.m. (before the adult entertainment later): Dozens of pint-sized guests dancing to games on the big stage as Mexican club music plays.
Beach: Very nice, with a good variety of uninterrupted powdery sand mixed with areas with coral and rock that made for good snorkeling.
The kiddie pool: Phenomenal waterslide/fountain extravaganza suitable for 3-and-up, but great zero-depth water surrounding it and miniature slides for even the smallest of water babies.
Food: And lots of it … including some reservation-only restaurants. And remember to wear pants (I was sent back to my room the first night for showing up in *gasp* shorts)
Playa Del Carmen: We asked the grandparents to babysit one night and took a $25 cab north to downtown Playa Del Carmen. Even in a steady drizzle, it was worth it to step outside of the resort for a few hours (kid-free) and stroll the main boulevard of shops, bars, and restaurants.
Sailing: I co-captained a schooner out into the Barcelo Bay with my intrepid father-in-law, and had a blast. It was free and well worth the scheduling .
A few things we would have done differently:
More excursions: Xplor, a nearby adventure park, looked massive and we heard from several guests that it was worth a day trip. Another night in Playa Del Carmen would have been fun too, and a good break from the buffet.
Request a closer room: The long walks were OK, but we could have done without them.
Take more video: It’s a pain to do, but having the footage and memories afterwards are always worth it. Really should have brought our Flip Video camera.
Our return trip was uneventful, and we arrived on time even as the snow was flying in Chicago. Breaking it down afterward, the group agreed overall it was a good trip. We’re looking forward to exploring a new resort or hotel next December, in a sunny destination, of course. Maybe that’s renting a house near Disney World, or a trip to the mega-hotel Atlantis in the Bahamas? We shall see …