Category Archives: Mexico

Are All-Inclusive Resorts a Sellout?

We like to think of ourselves, perhaps somewhat haughtily, as travelers rather than tourists. Travelers immerse themselves in the local culture, living, eating, speaking and getting around as much as possible as locals do. Tourism is isolating, making a trip as comfortable as possible at the expense of authentic interactions with local people and their ways of everyday life. So we say with our noses in the air.

We love all-inclusives when we need hassle-free travel

All-inclusive resorts seem to fit easily into my cynical definition of tourism. You can stay at one without ever speaking a word of the local language, or eating regional food, or bumping shoulders on a crowded bus with someone who actually lives in that locale. You and your children can be entertained all day long by activities staff without ever knowing what people in that country do for fun.  You can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch and pizza for dinner.  You never have to make decisions about where to stay, how to get to a destination, or where to eat. The decision-making thrill (or burden, depending on your perspective) of travel is removed for you as you’re plunked down in a microcosm full of staff who cater to your every desire.

So what was this traveling family doing spending our last two family vacations at an all inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya, Mexico? We were having wonderfully relaxing, culturally-rich vacations, that’s what. Oh yeah, and revising our misconceptions of all-inclusives as well.

The original motivating factor for an all-inclusive vacation was our desire to travel soon after the birth of our second child, Anna. We knew roughing it was out with a 3-month old but we still wanted some sun and a bit of an escape so we booked ourselves and the grandparents into Marina El Cid in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, just south of Cancun. We thought it would be a one-time thing we could justify because hey, we had a small baby and hey, weren’t we brave to go ANYWHERE with a baby?

Upon arrival at Marina El Cid we found ourselves in a little piece of heaven. Powdery soft sand beach, warm turquoise blue ocean water, a gigantic swimming pool complex, spacious suites, attentive pool-side waiters, 3 delicious meals every day, it was all around amazing. Our first trip was September 2010 which is the start of the low-season so the resort was also fairly empty, meaning we had plenty of attention from staff for our every need and never ran into lines or crowds. Never. We all relaxed, slept, swam, dozed, ate, rested  and had a marvelous time. We enjoyed a meal in the sleepy town center of Puerto Morelos and visited a small local zoo, but other than that reveled in the quiet isolation of this beautiful resort. For that phase of life with a newborn and an energetic 3 1/2 year old it was exactly what our family needed.

Fast forward to March 2011, 6 months after our first trip, when we returned to Marina El Cid, this time

Enjoying homemade paletas (popsicles) in the local little town near the resort

with grandparents from the other side plus Steve’s brother and his family.  Yet again we found ourselves in paradise. With Anna now 9 months old we had more freedom to leave the resort so we enjoyed a fabulous combination of relaxing beach and pooltime with excursions out of the complex (more on recommendations in an upcoming post).

As for tourism vs. traveling, while much of our vacation was spent in “cultural isolation,” our particular resort served authentic regional Mexican food which we enjoyed at every meal.  The resort staff appreciated our attempts to converse with them in Spanish. Plus we left the resort multiple times, exploring the region as well as the local small town. Another plus for us was we chose a resort off the beaten tourism path so we did not encounter large touristy crowds, which can dilute any sort of authentic experience.

Playing on the playground in town with local kids

We won’t always stay at all-inclusive resorts. We thrive on eating local, talking local, staying local and love the thrill (and yes, the stress!) of travel logistics. But for our family we’ve discovered there are (at least) two specific times in life that make all-inclusives perfect. The first is when we want to travel with very little children. The predictability and comfort of an all-inclusive makes travel a possibility at a time when we otherwise would probably stay close to home. The other is traveling with extended family. Our extended family enjoys each other the most when there are minimum decisions to be made or schedules to keep.

To those of you who already knew how great all-inclusive resorts are, we apologize for our past snobbery.  We’ve been won over and we are already planning next year’s stress-free getaway!

Welcome Baby Anna and plans for Mexico

We welcomed Anna Clara Sethi into our family on June 22nd. She’s a beautiful baby girl and we’re loving getting to know her. Now at almost 3 months we’re getting lots of smiles, longer stretches of sleep (hallelujah!) and are about to embark on our first international adventure with 2 kids.

We’ve chosen a low-key vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Morelos, on the Mexican Yucatan peninsula. It’s near Cancun but quieter and less touristy than Cancun, so we’ve heard. My parents are joining us, making the prospect of traveling with two little ones far less daunting.

In the meantime, our three-year old, Grace, is getting excited about our Mexican adventure. This is the first trip she’s actually asked questions about beforehand. Tonight as I laid in bed with her she wanted to know every detail about our travel: what time she’ll be woken up, what we’ll do when we get to the airport, where Daddy will park the car, how he will find us in the terminal, etc. etc. It dawned on me – she’s actually old enough to care!  This little girl has six stamps in her passport but she has never really known that she was in some of the most incredible places in the world, let alone asked questions about how travel logistics work. How exciting that she now anticipates travel, perhaps even more than I do any more!

After she was tucked in bed I got in a bit of a tizzy about making this trip “culturally meaningful” for Grace. She’s going to Mexico, a place she knows a little about from Mexican friends. She knows a few token Spanish words (gato and adios, in particular).  In my quest to make this trip more than a week playing in the sand for my little preschooler, I went on amazon.com and discovered this great booklist of bilingual Spanish-English books. Of course I reserved them ALL at our library (where oh where will they fit in our luggage?).

In my zeal I may find myself overloaded with library books. Still what a discovery to realize we are now a family of travelers, no longer a traveling couple with a child or two in tow. While Anna may just be along for the ride this year, Grace will be able to absorb new people, new words, new foods, new sights, new smells. Our job as parents is to find creative ways to enhance those discoveries.  Way #1: a trip to the library to pick up that pile of books I reserved.

Try Cabo With Your Toddler

The following post is written by our blogging buddy, Melissa Moog, of Itsa-Belly. Her toddler, Isabella, is just a few months older than our Grace and they recently traveled with her to Cabo, Mexico. The following are Melissa’s tips for feeding your baby there and managing the tricky car seat dilemma.

Cabo is an Americanized and modern town due to tons of tourism with lots of options for feeding your baby. We fed Isabella milk which we bought on site at our resort in their general market. We also ate at credible restaurants that offered rice, beans, chicken etc. We even shopped at the local market and bought veggies and fruit which were fine. Drinking bottled water with an American label or a local label that is credible (ask your hotel receptionist) is usually fine. We had no problem.

We had a shuttle pick us up at the airport called Transcabo and they offer car seats for an extra charge. Our car seat straps weren’t working properly though so beware and if you’re paranoid about this then bring your own and be prepared to carry it! There were no laws enforcing car seats there and drivers didn’t seem to care. We did share a shuttle to avoid the expensive cost and it was a bit of a bumpy ride sitting in the back of the van. Note that there are two terminals in the Cabo airport which are about 1-2 miles away fr each other and walking with luggage and kids if you get dropped off at the wrong one is totally inconvenient – this happened to us! So, make sure you ask the taxi or shuttle driver if the terminal you are dropped off at has your airline!

Thanks Melissa! Have you traveled to Cabo with your child? If you liked it, let us know plus any tips you may have!

Climbing Zapotec Pyramids While Pregnant

Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to stay home, at least not in the first two trimesters and you have your midwife or doctor’s OK. When I was pregnant with Grace I worked for an international development organization and travel was a big part of my job. I probably could have bowed out if I’d asked nicely but the my scheduled travel was to Oaxaca, one of my favorite places in Mexico, and I didn’t want to miss out, especially knowing I’d be staying closer to home for a while after Grace was born.

I was five months pregnant and had just climbed to the top of a steep pyramid when the above photo was taken at Monte Alban in Oaxaca. Steve took the photo because, thankfully, he joined me for the trip.  This brings me to one of our recommendations for traveling while pregnant: Don’t travel alone. You don’t have to travel with your spouse necessarily, but even having a co-worker or friend along makes for a more comfortable trip (who’s going to put your suitcase in the overhead bin or help you find tortilla soup when nothing else sounds good?). In the unlikely event that anything goes wrong, having your spouse, co-worker or friend along also makes it easier to get to medical care.

A few other recommendations:

  1. Talk to your midwife or doctor before you go. Let her or him know where you’ll be and for how long. They will let you know if there are any concerns.
  2. Don’t travel in the third trimester. Not only will you be big and uncomfortable, most medical professionals will advise against it and some airlines won’t even let you fly. Even driving long distances at this point is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
  3. Bring a small pillow. Airplane and car seats are not comfortable for anyone; add 20 extra pounds to your belly and you are asking for a backache. A small pillow tucked behind your lower back helps to ease discomfort on the plane or in the car and an extra pillow comes in handy in the hotel room when you’re trying to get comfortable as well.
  4. Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a serious issue when pregnant. Be sure to drink lots of water while you fly or drive but also at your destination, especially if you are traveling to a warm climate.
  5. Walk. A lot. Walking helps ease the fatigue of extra weight on your body, especially after long periods of sitting. Take short, regular walks during travel, both on the plane or when you stop the car and at your destination, especially if long meetings are a part of your itinerary
  6. Bring plenty of your favorite snacks. I was still experiencing nausea during my second trimester while we were in Mexico. As much as I love the food in Mexico, most of the time on this trip the only thing I could eat was tortilla soup. All meat sounded bad as did much of my favorite spicy food, so I was pretty limited. Nutritional bars were a great thing to have tucked away.
  7. Know where you’ll go for medical care if you need it. If your midwife or doctor has given you the OK to travel, it’s unlikely there are concerns that will need medical attention while you’re gone. Still find out before you go through the web or someone you know in your destination where to go for quality medical care if it’s needed. Talk to your insurance company ahead of time as well to find out what their policies are for medical care away from home.
  8. Enjoy yourself. You will soon be spending most of your time at home, at least for a few months. Enjoy this chance to be out in the world. Even while pregnant you are introducing your baby to new sounds so consider this your baby’s first adventure!