For the first time since we had our four children, we all got on a plane together, and took a real vacation.
Why did it take us 14 years? Have you traveled with toddlers? You end up spending more time packing/unpacking/lugging baby seats around, making sure your kids are with five feet of you, and trying to entertain them every minute they’re sitting still.
At 7-14, our kids are behaved well enough to sit on a plane for several hours. They’re responsible enough to pack their own bags (for the most part). And they are obedient enough to do what they’re told (especially if you threaten them with turning the plane around and heading home).
My wife spent a lot of time investigating options. I had a pretty firm budget in mind (I was, after all, unemployed at the time and living off savings….). But I also knew that I might not get the chance to take so much time together with them all, at a time when they will really enjoy a memory-making vacation.
It was spring, so somewhere warm sounded awesome. It had to include a beach, some snorkeling, and lots of age-appropriate activities. Eventually, Jeri ended up at BookIt.com. Turns out, there were some good deals going on during Spring Break in Mexico, and we found a deal at an All-Inclusive resort that was perfect.
We ended up at Crown Paradise Cancun, in a “Family Suite” on the main floor. It was a perfect room for us, with a split-level stairway at the entrance that went to the parent’s room upstairs (King bed, master bath), and kids space downstairs (bunk beds and queen bed, plus a pullout bed under the bunk bed, and their own bathroom). The space was open, there wasn’t tons of privacy, but it was really great to have everyone in one room.
Now for the fun stuff. All-inclusive is THE WAY TO GO. Great food, drinks, desserts, even room service, all completely no charge. There was enough variety to keep the picky eaters happy, there was lots of fruit/veggies/meat/and other healthy choices for my wife and me, who were just finishing up P90X and Slim in Sixrespectively. And there were pools, and water slides, and zip lines, and a game room, and lots of places just to hang out and get some sun. And the beach was AWESOME.
Things we loved:
- Family suite
- Buffet-good food breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all-night
- French and Seafood restaurant, the others were okay too.
- The cheesy shows at night, funner than you might think they'd be
- Hanging out by the pool allllllll day (did I mention free drinks all day, too)
- Losing shoes and sunglass
- Expensive car rental, but do it anyway
- Waiting until last day to find some friends, wish we'd made friends for the kids earlier in the week, they had fun once they warmed up
- Sunburns--despite all the sunscreen, we had a few days of sunburn.
- The day it rained--thankfully the last day.
- Upset tummies on the last few days, but not too bad.
Things we’re glad we did:
- Snorkeling at Isla Mujeres--$40 for a 3-hour tour for us all. WORTH THE MONEY. They also had all the gear you needed, and went to the fun places to dive.
- Take the bus to the city, Market 28, Plaza Festiva
- Chichen Itza, but not the toll road. Toll road is safe, straight drive, but nothing to see along the way. The "back road" goes through lots of local towns, where you get a feel for the people who live there.
- Playing soccer with local kids at one of the stops along the road. We saw a soccer field, and wanted to kick the ball while the women shopped. Within minutes, there were 20 kids there, all playing with us. We had just bought a "Mexico" world cup ball at Walmart, and we left it for them. Made my kids day to know they'd use it when we were gone.
- Hidden Worlds, diving in Cenotes, Zip line over jungle, sky bikes. Loved this place, lots to do, and half the price of the other similar Cenotes parks.
Things we wish we didn’t bring:
- Life jackets we got at Costco before we left (everywhere we needed them, they had them)
- Snorkel gear (if we had more time, maybe we’d go out on our own)
- No need to spend time finding biodegradable sunblock in the US, they have it where you need it for about $5-7 a bottle.
Our favorite products:
- Spray Coppertone sunblock--so much easier to put on the kids
- Bull Frog Bug spray (only used once or twice), but it was good to have.
- Panama Jack Lip balm
- Ray Ban sunglasses (that I lost!)
- Sunblock swim shirts
- HO swim trunks
- Lumix DMZ-ZS5 Camera(LOVE THAT CAMERA--awesome lens, 12X optical zoom, HD movies. No need to lug around my Canon D30.
- Casio Exilim EX-G1 Underwater camera. (I wish I had an extra battery)
- One laptop to back up pictures, plus DVD burner
- Extra 8GB flashcard (we gave to our friend, theirs was full and not backed up!)
- Backpack/tote bags—each kid had their own, it worked great!
- A power strip—lots of hotels only have one or two plugs available, it was good to have everything plugged into one thing.
- Stuff from Dr, pre-filled prescription in case we got really sick. He was happy to fill it for all six of us, and insurance was happy to pay for it, saving us international hospital/doctor visits. We didn't have to use it. :)
- Tide to Go and Tide travel packs--they were AWESOME in the tub.
- Empty water bottles for plane, fill in drinking fountain once past security
Things we wish we had:
- Boogy board, but we got one at Walmart locally
- Cell phone that had coverage, we kinda missed connecting our iPhone, afraid of roaming data rates!
- Aloe Vera gel. Why is it so expensive right where they grow it? It ended up being hard to find.
- More Advil.
Things we’d do again:
- All inclusive rocked. Loved not worrying about costs for meals, buffet was super-convenient, kids loved getting virgin “Miami Vice” drinks.
- More snorkeling. Kids LOVED that, and it’s something that’s so surreal and memorable.
- I would have liked to do a one-day volunteer project. Any suggestions?
- Take more videos, I didn’t do many cause it’s kind of a pain.
- Chichen Itza was awesome, even though we were only there for about two hours (enough for the kids)
- Alyssa got a pedicure/massage
Ways to save a little money:
- No phones
- Bus instead of Taxi
- Shop at Plaza Fiesta FIRST--prices are all marked for every souvenir you'll find the vendors selling at the market.
- Isla de Mujeres instead of Cozumel. No need to drive, the launch is a short cab ride ($10) from the hotel. The ferry was about $5 per person.
- Rental car vs. Bus (for family of 6)--rental car was $120 a day with insurance (a minivan), but bus to Chicanitza would have been $50 each person.
- Shop in advance, Outlet Malls for nice swim suits and other beach clothing
- Six checked bags, six carry on bags. Plenty for 10 days, and we didn't have to pay for bags, since you get one free bag per person on international flights.
- Off airport parking, or bum a ride from a friend (or take a train/bus/subway if you have that option)
- “Souvenir” allowance, dolled out to the kids at each excursion.
- Make souvenir allowance small when at Market 28 or Chichen Itza, and teach kids to say no early
- Consider cost-per-memory, don’t skimp on cool stuff (Hidden Worlds was memorable and FUN)
- Don’t go for easiest, on-hotel souvenirs and excursions, they cost 3X where they are elsewhere
- Big bottle of bottled water in hotel room, so nobody worried about drinking the water
- Tide travel, wash clothes in bathtub--did that a few times.
- Get passports early. Rush charges are $60 per passport. Four passports, with rush charges, was $700 or so. Yikes!
- Make sure prescriptions are filled, and prepacked. Keep in carry-on luggage so they don't get lost.
- Check all liquids in checked-in bags, makes security a lot easier.