I sat and thought about it with a tear running down my face-we only have 3 more years of “family vacations” until Mallory graduates and it becomes harder to plan! Hell, by then, maybe she won’t even WANT to go on vacations with us! That’s enough to make my Momma heart hurt! But truthfully, I know that we have limited time as a family since the age gap between my kids is 11 years. That means, I’ll have one kid going off to college and one just starting their elementary career! I’ll be treasuring these next several years a little more!
Because of the age gap, it does make planning a family vacation a little difficult. For example, we have to find things that both a teenager and a toddler would be interested in. This year, we picked Mexico! Mallory wanted the ocean, Greg wanted the sun, Levi loves to swim and I’m obsessed with tacos…haha! It was a no brainer. Actually, it was mostly because we always book our vacations last minute and we found an all inclusive that fit our schedule AND….sun, sand, ocean and tacos! In my opinion, as a family vacation, all inclusive resorts are just easier. It’s not our first rodeo, we have been to well over 10-12 over the past 10 or so years so we knew what to look for and the one we picked seemed to be the best compromise for all of us!
Occidental at Xcaret, Playa del Carmen
We chose the Occidental at Xcaret which is near Playa del Carmen and right next door to Xcaret. The biggest deciding factor was that it had a little lagoon which meant calm water. Last year when we all went to Punta Cana, Levi was terrified of the waves. Sure, he’s another year older, but I wanted to spend more time at the beach that we did last year so I chose this specific resort because of that! The water was calm, there were no scary waves and the water was crystal clear so you could see your feet…but also the fish swimming all around you! So we picked the dates that worked best for us and off we went.
We had a fantastic week and I have the tan to prove it. I had so many questions about what resort we stayed at from everyone seeing it on Instagram (@jenmcken) stories and photos. Lots of you wanted to know if I would recommend it because you want to plan your own vacation and in some cases, your honeymoon, so I thought I would include that here for everyone! Also for those who asked, we almost always use Angel at Aztec Travel because they have always been good to us.
Would I Recommend It?
So would I recommend it?? Well, it depends! I have found over the years and after talking to couples from all over the world, it really depends on how you’re used to vacationing. I’ve talked with couples who came from the inner city who absolutely LOOOOVE the nature aspect of it. Then we’ve talked to other couples who come from more rural areas and they said that there were too many trees around the pools and not enough sun! My point is, no resort you pick will check every single box but it is what you make of it once you’re there! There were things about this one that I loved and others I didn’t and I really think it boils down to where you come from, how you’re used to vacationing and your expectations. I’ll share those with you below! Scroll a little bit further and I’ll share with you the “pros”, the “cons” and a few tips that might make your trip a little more enjoyable-no matter what resort you settle on!
I should mention, I didn’t take my big girl camera this year because I just didn’t want to have to keep track of it. So I used my iphone the entire time. All of the images you see are with my phone!
- All inclusive: this means all of your food, alcohol, and non-motorized water activities are included. They also say tips are included but we always take tip money anyways because we’re not jerks! haha! If you have several family members who are picky eaters, this is great because there is usually something for everyone.
- I mentioned the lagoon area where the water was calm. Again, for families with small children, this is fantastic. Levi wasn’t scared of the water which meant I got to hang out near the ocean a lot longer than last year.
- The resort was located right next door to Xcaret Park which was fantastic. Xcaret is a water, theme, amusement, eco-archaeological park and more, in one place and because we were guests at the resort next door, we were just a few moments walk to the park and also had the opportunity to discount ticktets for the entire duration of your stay which meant that you could go back and forth as many times during your entire day for that price. Typically it’s around $99 per day but as a guest there, you got unlimited access for $200 per person for the duration of your stay (in our case 7 days). We were able to access the park before the crowds got there with the tour buses from other resorts AND we could come and go as we wanted throughout the day. This place is full of culture and I think it had lots of stuff for both of the kiddos and the adults!
- The wildlife: this was also a huge deciding factor for us choosing this resort. I thought that Levi would love being able to see all the animals and we had read lots of reviews about the fact it’s an eco-archeological location so they have lots of wildlife. During our stay we saw monkeys, Caoti, deer, tons of lizards, birds, lots of fish, turtles, flamingos and right next door in Xcaret there is a whole other area for sharks, jaguars and tons of others. We got to hang out with the Monkeys almost every morning..and if you’re wandering, both the teenager and the toddler enjoyed that!
- You’re in the middle of the jungle! It was like a tropical oasis.Our room was on the 3rd floor and our balcony overlooked the jungle. We could hear the ocean, feel the breeze and have access to the wildlife right from our room.
- The ruins: the property itself is home to lots of the Mayan ruins. You’re able to explore, climb and hangout at your own leisure. The kids love it and it made for things to do in the evening after spending all day in the water.
- You don’t need dinner reservations (which could also be a con). You just show up after they’ve opened and wait until a table is open. This means you don’t have to plan what restaurant you’re going to eat at days ahead of time. If you’re in the mood for Italian, you just go! But don’t forget, men you must wear long pants or they won’t let you inside!
- Kids Club: I’ll be 100% transparent here, we didn’t use it but it was one of the deciding factors for us that it was available. Mallory used to go all the time and loved it but the timing didn’t match up for our schedules during the day. They are typically open a few hours in the morning and then a few in the afternoon and they have their own little pool area and activities for the kids. It’s nice if you want to take them for a few hours to have some adult time at the pool.
- They don’t have enough chairs. I’ve stayed at LOTS of resorts as I mentioned, and this was by far the hardest place to find an available chair. Not because it was crowded but because they literally don’t put out enough chairs. Also, because of this reason, lots of people will save chairs when they aren’t using them so that they have one to come back to. It was the same for around the pool AND around the lagoon area.
- The lagoon: above I mentioned it as a pro because it absolutely is…but it’s also a con because it’s not very big. At a typical beach, you can walk miles from one side to the next but because of how this lagoon is located/created, it’s not a huge space which means it can get crowded-hence probably the reason they don’t put out more chairs. There are other areas you can hang out in if you’re not interested in the beach area. They have hammocks, beds, and little areas tucked around different private places….but again, sometimes it’s hard to find one that’s available.
- Not sure that this is necessarily a “con” but the resort is HUGE. Be ready to do lots of walking. There is a tram that takes you around the resort but honestly, it’s so sparse that we almost always just walked where we needed to go. Because it’s set in the middle of the jungle, it’s hard to learn your way around. The first few days we roamed around aimlessly until some awesome man who visits every year sent us in the correct direction. We eventually got acclimated with the place the day before we left! haha!
- Internet: I know what you’re thinking…who cares about the internet while you’re on vacation! The self-employed, that’s who! haha! If this is something that is important to you, just know upfront that you will have to pay for your wifi which can get pricy. Luckily for us, we had the international travel plan with Verizon but even so, you only get half of a gig at full speed and then the rest is very slow. Keeping up with emails, etc. was a little difficult because of that but we were able to access social media. Just mentioning that incase it’s a deal breaker for anyone. But honestly, most resorts will be the same with the wifi unless you upgrade to the most expensive package, it will be included but again-it won’t be as fast as you’re used to here in the states.
- Timeshare people. Listen, I consider myself well traveled and can usually spot them a mile away and a simple “no gracias” typically does the job. But this time they have them in the lobby of each building and they claim to be a concierge there for whatever you need except, when you need something, they begin their sales pitch and they don’t take no for an answer. I had to be pretty stern with one of them to the point that I felt rude but he just wouldn’t stop. As a side note: they usually promise that it takes 1.5 hours fo them to show you the resort and do their sales pitch but it NEVER takes 1.5 hours…always longer AND it’s super high pressure sales. Just say no and mean it otherwise you’ll be bitter that you agreed and then mad that they wasted so much of your time. Just an FYI: it’s usually around 20+K buy in to be part of their exclusive timeshare club. Practice this with me “NO GRACIAS”!
- There are several pools…however, unless you upgrade to the next level (Royal I believe), you are only permitted to use the 3. They are large so that’s not an issue but it’s something to keep in mind because the resort is huge so having access to the 3 are only on one side of the property.
Tips to make your stay enjoyable!
- Take your own insulated cup so your drinks don’t melt as fast.
- Take lots of bug spray and more sunscreen than you think you might need-it’s expensive there-like $30 for a 6 oz bottle expensive.
- Request a room that has jungle facing views so that you can get visits from the monkeys.
- Take time to explore because there are cool things around each nook and cranny.
- Take your own snorkels because you only have so much time if you use the resorts and it was so awesome to just jump in and snorkle at our own leisure.
- Take a plug extender so that you can get up a charging station for all of your things. The rooms don’t have very many plugs so this worked out perfect for us and all of our electronics.
- If you have small children with little legs, take an umbrella stroller-unless you want to hold them every time they get tired! haha!
- Do your research and find a facebook group of people who have already gone or go regularly. It will be a wealth of information for you! I always search for a group before booking a resort and I look up the hashtags on social media to see real images that real people posted. Resorts hire photographers to make the place look its best but you want to see what REAL people’s photos look like!
- Take water shoes especially if you plan to snorkle.
- Download the”mobile passport” app to make your entry into the US go smoother.
- Take pens-it seems silly but you will be required to fill out lots of immigration papers on the flight and the airlines almost never have extra pens so be sure to take lots with you!
- Find out the entertainment schedule when you get there. Sometimes they have fun stuff like foam parties in the pool or other events that only happen on certain days.
Happy + Safe Travels!! I hope you bring back an amazing tan!!