We’re big on travel in our family, and we want to give our kids great, diverse experiences, even from a young age, even though travelling with young ones can be very stressful. So far, we've been going South in even-numbered years (it was Turks & Caicos for 2012) and ski vacations in odd years (Mt. Ste. Anne for 2011 and 2013). I'm glad this year wasn't a ski year, because after the Polar Vortex(es) of this winter, I couldn't take more cold and really needed some sun and warmth. We all did.
The Beaches resort in Turks and Caicos really spoiled us in terms of what was possible for an all inclusive with child care, but it was too expensive to repeat this year. My wife did some great research and we booked a Sunwing holiday through Corinne at Have Baby Will Travel. We were going to the Grand Palladium in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico. I’d been looking forward to it for a while but as the days before the trip trickled down to single digits, I got worried. I’d had bad experiences with charter airlines in the past, getting tripped up on baggage weight restrictions and being crammed (me=5’11.5”) into small seats. I've got to say, though, combined with our using their online check-in, Sunwing made it really fast and efficient, which is very important, because I find it hardest to manage the kids when standing in line. Having got through baggage drop-off and security quickly, we had time to kill before boarding but I find the gate area a lot better space for managing kids, the Lightning Kid’s disagreement with an escalator about direction of travel notwithstanding.
The flight went well too; the kids are too energetic to be easy on the plane, but they’re experienced enough flyers that they weather most of the challenges well. We were warned of keeping track of our immigration papers on the flight, and briefed about the customs procedure (where you push a button to determine whether you’re going to have your luggage searched) by the flight crew. Exiting the terminal, we bought snacks for the long bus ride to the resort - 15USD for a beer, a water and a can of Pringles. Ouch. The kids slept a little on the bus ride, which made things a little easier.
Grand Palladium in the Mayan Riviera is a resort with 4 different lobbies: Riviera, White Sands, Kantenah and Colonial. We were booked in the latter, which I liked, because as far as I could tell from the map, it was closest to one of the biggest pools, the kids water park, the beach, and definitely closest to the “Mini-Club” (child care). The Colonial lobby is next to a Flamingo lagoon, which made a strong first impression for our arrival.
Our room was ready with a crib, and the couch had been pulled out and made with sheets, so both kids would have a place to sleep. We've struggled with this in other hotels - we’ll request a crib, be assured that one will be there, and come up empty when we check in.
Once we were ready to explore, we found we had a neighbour: a rather large iguana; I asked Shark Boy to give him a name and he picked “Max”. At first we were astounded not only by how tame he seemed, but how nobody else seemed to notice him (or us staring at him). It turns out, these things are everywhere on the resort, and if you’re grossed out by lizards, I have to tell you that there was a startling absence of bugs, and maybe that’s a coincidence, and maybe it isn't. The entire resort is peppered with mangroves, which not only protect the landscape from erosion and give the local fauna a place to live (while making little visits to the inhabited sections of the resort) but also provide extra shade. As a melanoma survivor, it’s not always easy to enjoy sunny destinations and the shade provided by the mangroves as well as some sheltered paths was really welcome.
Cooling off became our first priority. We found the big pool (or one of them) and started in the shallow end. Shark Boy has gotten the hang of swimming (thanks to his grandfather) and he splashed around in the water as comfortably as his namesake. We didn't really get to sample the rest of the pool much; in spite of an on-site daycare, we spent most of the time with the kids... more on this in a bit. I would have liked to use it to swim a few lengths in the mornings before things got busy, or spend some time at the pool-side bar, but I was able to fetch drinks from it once or twice.
After the pool, we showed the kids the new water park. I took the Lightning Kid with me on a water slide and was chided by the life-guard who directed me to the rules board... where we couldn't find what rule I had broken. Finally he pointed out “Always obey the life-guard” which would have to do. No big slides for the Lightning Kid, and he was hesitant on the smaller ones, but fun in the water is still a favourite for both kids.
The other thing that had made me apprehensive before the trip besides the flights was that we’d all be in the same room. The Lightning Kid was waking up 2-3 times a night still, I snore, and Shark Boy sometimes gets nightmares if he’d overtired or overstimulated (both of which were likely while on vacation), so I thought we’d all end up waking each other up and come back from vacation less rested than when we left. That couldn't have been further from what actually happened. The kids were so tuckered out from walking and swimming in the sun that both nap-time and night-times were a breeze to get them down and keep them down. It’s almost upsetting to me, because we strive to keep them active and outdoors every day, but the Canadian suburbs simply can’t compete with living by the beach in Mexico. As for me, I think the sea air helped my sinuses or something, because snoring was lessened.
Speaking of the beach and sea, I think this was the best part of every day we spent there. Shark Boy could really show his stuff (and make his parents’ teeth sweat) being thrown around in the surf, and the Lightning Kid loved running into the water repeatedly after a (mispronounced) “1-2-3-GO!”, not to mention running up to people on beach chairs and socializing. I'm really happy that the boys were able to get so much out of being on the ocean.
The resort had activities that I would have liked to try including kayaks, catamarans and stand-up paddle boarding at the beach, not to mention archery on their sports field. It was for this kind of thing and the potential for date dinners/lunches that the 'Mini-Club' (for Shark Boy, age 4) and 'Baby-Club' (for the Lightning Kid aged 2) were supposed to come in handy. I think the Mini-Club would have been fine (especially once Shark Boy's initial resistance was overcome and we got into a routine) for longer stays since they would take them to the water park or beach. The Baby Club, however, gave us a walky-talky to reach us at a moment's notice (which you want in a way, just in case), but apparently had very limited range, as they specified we couldn't go further than the beach or pool area. This, combined with picking the kids up at lunch time made for limited opportunities. More than anything else, we used our kid free time to research what on-site restaurants to try and other logistical details. I did manage to fit in one scuba dive, though. The dive shop was right at the beach and the dive site was only 5 minutes by boat, so I managed a single tank dive in something under 90 minutes; perfect when you have kids to get back to. The weather had been kind of windy all week, so visibility was not so great and we didn't manage to spot any big ticket items like sharks or turtles, but I did see some lionfish, pufferfish and a seahorse (not pictured).
The resort had both buffet-style and a la carte restaurants. I was surprised by how good the quality at the buffets (La Hacienda, Tikal and Grand Azul) were with plenty of healthy things like fruits and smoothies, local dishes like antojitos, international cuisine including paella and run of the mill stuff like chicken fingers for the kids. By contrast, the a la carte places didn't seem as good, with the Italian place (Portofino) being the biggest disappointment (slow service, bland food), the Japanese being mediocre (interesting Mexican twists on the sushi, but not high quality fish, I think). The Mexican a la carte (Adelita), on the other hand, was mouth wateringly good, and we had a nice, if rushed due to Baby-Club hours, date night dinner.
While we did get around the resort mostly on foot, there was the opportunity to take little trains (on wheels, not tracks) from one lobby to another and the boys got a kick out of the ride. Shark Boy and I used this to attend a 'Surf Party' with animal mascots (known as Raggs and Friends - side note: Raggs has a friend who is differently abled - hooray for inclusion!) run by the Kids' Club staff. There were plenty of evening entertainment options for the kids (if they weren't too tired from the days activities) including a Pinata party one night too.
I have to confess that there were times I wish we had taken a holiday without the kids; the funny thing is that now I have trouble remembering the specifics of what made it so difficult. I guess it just got frustrating trying to take the kids to places like the pool and the beach while they actively worked against making it easier to do so (e.g. resisting getting dressed), even though the destination was where they wanted to be. What I do remember, is all the smiles and fun we had. Grand Palladium not only gave us a taste of sun and sea (as a family), but a good sampling of both Mexican cuisine and the local ecology too.
|The resort has a crocodile lagoon in addition to the flamingo lagoons|
|Coati and raccoons were occasionally visible around the resort. We saw a monkey once too.|
Labels: family, swim, travel, vacation