Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Our Awesome Family Holiday to Mexico

I took some convincing to book a family holiday to Mexico.

I’d been to the Riviera Maya around 15 years ago, and had a rotter of a holiday.

Uncomfortable cramped flight, hurricane esq weather, greasy food, upset stomach and possibly the worst horse ride that’s ever been inflicted on man, and, er, tiny, tiny, horse.

After getting married last summer, we’d had our mind set on a proper two-week holiday and honeymoon.  Easter 2015 looked like being the best time to fit this in, with Max and my wife, Helen, both needing any holiday to fit with school terms.

We did some serious holiday browsing, we looked at combining Sri Lanka with the Maldives, we also considered Mauritius, St Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, California, Florida and Thailand.  We looked at cruises too.

Mexico never really featured on my radar, mainly due to my foolproof logic of:


Then I saw some very cool pictures on Instagram.  I’m not saying seeing Matt Logelin’s pictures from around Tulum compelled me solely to consider Mexico again, but I’d be lying if they didn’t offer some reassurance.

Getting to Mexico in comfort

For longhaul holidays, flights are important.  My last holiday to Mexico was ruined, in large part, by a cramped aircraft flying me uncomfortably across the Atlantic Ocean.

After much research we ended up happy booking with Thomson and their Dreamliner aircraft.  34ish” of legroom as standard on most seats (you just need to avoid Dreamliner rows 34 to 38 apparently) with reduced noise, improved cabin air quality and decent on-demand seat back entertainment.

Not going to say I enjoyed the flights, but as they go it was very pleasant, albeit while Thomson now offer a complimentary drinks service on the Dreamliner, the actual service isn’t up to that of other longhaul airlines.

We had a very combative air steward.  He was fine serving Stella Artois after Stella Artois to the flyer across the aisle to me, but apparently asking for a water and an orange juice just isn’t on.

View of Bermuda from the Dreamliner

A Big Belting Hotel

We stayed at the Luxury Gran Bahai Principe Akumal.

I had my concerns, my personality and general discomfort at being around other human beings, especially in large number, led to more than mild trepidation.

However, this place almost instantly became my favourite large hotel in the world.

It had everything.  Quality restaurants, a beautiful beach, helpful staff, very pleasant bars, a spa, snorkelling off the beach and pools to suit everybody.

As it was Easter it was full, but never really unpleasant anywhere, with only an occasional two minute queue for the buffet restaurants or at the bars.

It’s actually part of a four-hotel complex, making it quite vast.  However guests get around easily via an interesting collective of road trains, golf carts and buggies.

That was fun.

We learned before we booked that we would be able to use facilities at all the hotels, with the exception of the adult only hotel.  But that guests booked into other hotels within the complex would not enjoy the same privileges.

This meant our hotel was the perfect retreat, and had a very relaxing vibe and atmosphere, I was very at home back at our hotel, and enjoyed returning to it for a quiet drink and game of cards before bed.

The drink selection was ridonkulous.  All-inclusive really meaning all-inclusive in this place.  Max was in heaven with his virgin cocktails, Mickey Mouse here, Shirley Temple there.  One of my favourite moments of the holiday was overhearing Max and one of his holiday chums discussing which bar and barman served the best ‘Punch Tropical’.

Food quality was also very good.  Despite catering in massive number, they managed to keep the quality, and the variety, very high in the buffets.  We spent approximately half our evenings in speciality restaurants, that all had their merits.

Our favourites were the Italian, Brazilian and Tepanyaki restaurants.

The three tiny complaints I’d have of the hotel, would be sunlounger reserving, the bedroom decor being a little tired, and the watersports advertised being limited in reality due to the normal sea conditions.

Out and About on the Riviera Maya, Akumal, Tulum & Playa del Carmen

We did a little research on places to visit while we were staying near Akumal.  And like I mentioned, I’d seen the coolest person I follow on Instagram hanging out in the cenotes of Tulum.

So we had some ideas.

The Riviera Maya seems to be dominated by eco-parks and adventure centres all starting with the letter X.

Xplor, Xcaret, Xel-ha, Xoximilco, Excaliber* and Exponential*
(I may have made some of them up).

If you into that sort of thing, and don’t think a lot of spending around £100 a head, then I’m sure they are a fantastic day, or evening, out.

We avoided them all.

As we did the Mayan ruins.  Having been to see them on previous trips to Mexico.

The most expensive trip we took, unsurprisingly the only one we booked through our tour operator, Thomson, was a catamaran trip.

My wife had her mind set on a boat trip, and snorkelling excursion, and it was very good.  We got to see turtles, barracuda, sting-rays, eels and all sorts of colourful water livers.

I also got to drink beer floating in the Atlantic.

Thomson use Fat Cat Sailing but you could also consider Catamaya and book yourselves onto a tour.  They all seem to go to the same reef, and offer a variance on essentially the same thing.

We found out about some local cenotes, and as a failed rock-monkey geology student, it was great to take a taxi and check out some underwater caves.

It was quite odd negotiating taxi rides.  Our driver was insistent on a price about £2 more than we were offering, but then offered to stay and wait for a couple of hours while we snorkelled.

But you don’t have to take taxis.  If you have a good idea of where you are going the collectivo buses that run up and down the highway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen are really easy and comfortable to use.

We took them for a shopping trip to Playa del Carmen, and could also have used them for a trip we took to Akumal beach.

That was something that will stay with me a long time.   Snorkeling with turtles.

I love snorkelling, adding my son and wife, it is even more enjoyable, then adding turtles and that's like putting strawberry sauce on top of an already cherried cake.

There were loads of options on Akumal beach.  You could take your own kit, join a tour of varying size, or even book an all-round trip from your hotel.

There were tourists coming from Cancun all the way down to Akumal (about 90 minutes), and it was easy to see why.

Visiting Mexico again?

In that part of the world, I’ve now visited St Lucia, Jamaica, Miami, Mexico and the Bahamas and previously I’d concluded that the relative cheapness of Mexico was down to the quality of the experience and holiday offering.

Not so anymore.  I just think I picked the wrong place, at the wrong time of year previously.

The Quintana Roo region of Mexico really does represent value for money, if you take your time, pick the right location and go at the right time of year.

We had white sandy beaches, beautifully clear water, wonderfully receptive Mexicans, 5* service for a fraction of what the same holiday would cost anywhere in the West Indies.

Not saying we won’t consider the West Indies in the future, but I won’t be discounting Mexico again, that’s for sure.

Drop me a line for more info

If you're considering Mexico and the Riveria Maya for your family, I'd be happy to share more of our experience in greater detail.  Just drop me an email or message via Twitter or my Single Parent Dad Facebook page