Club Med, Cancun Yucatan: Have Kids, Must Travel

Club Med

Saar Harel – International Traveller, Father, Lover of Global Cuisine, and Water Sports

Saar Harel, international traveller, amateur chef, IT consultant extraordinaire, and father of Little Zeus, takes our readers on his first no-nonsense trip to all inclusive resort.

If you have kids and want to travel, an all-inclusive resort might be the right ticket for you.

My wife, one and a half year old son, and I travelled to Club Med Cancun Yucatan for our first all inclusive family trip to see if all-inclusive (and Club Med) was as easy and fun as it’s made out to be.

Getting There

Getting to Cancun is likely one of the biggest draws. Almost every city has a direct flight and it’s often only 3-4 hours away, no matter where you’re located in the United States. That’s fantastic. From Chicago, our flight was direct, 3.5 hours, and smooth as fresh jar of Jiffy.

You come out of immigration, look for the Club Med sign, and a coordinator and a driver will be waiting to take you to the resort. The ride is only 10-15 minutes so that, too, was incredibly easy. In fact, my wife was such a huge fan of how convenient the travel was with a baby that she’s hesitant to take another connecting flight, or a flight over 3.5 hours, with the baby again!

Club Med Cancun

A view from our 2 bedroom family room at Aquamarine

Picking Your Accommodations

Option 1: Jade – Jade is an exclusive 18 suites, 37 deluxe rooms with a lounge and their own infinity pool. They also have their own concierges which only Jade residents have access.

Option 2: Main Area – These are the original buildings and they have a beautiful view of the lagoon and main beach.

Option 3: “Family” Area – On the other side of the property where the tennis courts are located, this area is less “happening” so families can have a little more space. The beach in this area is less luxurious.

Option 4: Under renovation when we arrived. It is basically between Jade and the main beach.

We stayed Option 3, the “Family” area, particularly in the Aguamarina rooms. To be honest, they are all the same for me as you can reach anywhere within a 5 minute brisk walk and they have golf carts to drive you from one side to the other, if you don’t feel like walking. You just need to wait 5-10 minutes.

Rooms
We had a fridge and everything inside was well laid out. We were also on ground floor, so we had a small ocean front yard. You won’t be spending much time in your room anyway.

club med cancun map

Club Med Cancun Yucatan Map I revised so that you can cross-reference alongside this review

Beaches

Main Beach – This beach has the best view of Cancun’s strip and was, very likely, the best beach for those with children in all of Cancun. Highly recommend. A+

This beach is also next to the bar and there are servers who walk around refilling your never-ending drinks. As new parents, this was one of the best features. Also, in Club Med you don’t tip, so, you can leverage them all day and avoid the annoyance of tipping each time. The water is crystal clear and turquoise, and fish will swim all around you. The waves are non-existent {at least for us}, so it was very safe with our toddler and enjoyable, no waves breaking on your head. The beach is also fine nice sand and there are no rocks.

Snorkeling Beach – On the east side of the resort, there is a protected park where you can dive. No need to bring gear as they will give it to you. This was a big highlight for me as I saw barracudas, plenty of colorful fish, and even a stingray and turtle. They have some chairs laid out for your partner so they can get a tan while you catch the sights.

Las Cazuelas Beach – I call it that because it is next to Las Cazuelas restaurant. It is somewhat rocky. However, it’s far from the crowd, so, if you want to relax without seeing many people, it’s perfect. As it’s next to Las Cazuelas, you have the added bonus of being close to the restaurant buffet (which is also less crowded than the main buffet) and it feels like a ‘real’ restaurant.

Sailing Beach – I call this sailing beach since the sailing is done in this area. The beach is ok for tanning. You can also watch your partner sailing away. There is an underwater weed in the water, so this won’t be much fun to be in. However you can swim to your heart’s content and tan to a crisp. There is no bar here. So prep in advance.

Las Cazulas View Club Med

The view from Las Cazuelas while dining

Classes

At Club Med, you can take classes. This is great for kids and some adults. For example, you haven’t played tennis. Well, take the 10 AM class and a pro will teach you. This is like getting a free lesson and people were definitely taking advantage of this.

Sailing – Unfortunately, we came when there was no wind, so we didn’t get to sail. A bummer for us, but that’s not Club Med’s fault and we still loved the idea that it was so conveniently located next to Cazuelas and our room.

Water Skiing – Water ski runs all year round inside the lagoon. You come in, wait a turn. Then start performing. If you don’t know how, then the beginner lessons are easily available.

Trapeze – They have trapeze lessons, they are not too daunting. You basically work on being able to use your muscles and core to swing and keep swinging. Easy peasy just make sure you arrive dry and clothed. My wife thought being in a wet bathing suit wouldn’t be an issue and didn’t want to have to go all the way back to the room so just a small detail to know.

There are many other classes, from gym to sports like beach volleyball, which all offer you an opportunity to perform an activity with others and a chance to bond about it and hopefully create an enduring friendship or just have fun while on the resort.

Club Med Children

Little Zeus knows how to chillax

Excursions
Day Trips – Every day, Club Med organizes and you can join a different trip. The trips change daily and are an excellent way to see Mexico in a safe, organized fashion. You wake up, you board a bus, it takes you to a site, for example the Pyramids, then it stops for food, another site, and you’re back. This is excellent when you have children or want a break from being on a break and can’t take another cocktail on the beach with the sun beating on your head #firstworldproblems. This sure beats getting a rental, getting lost, planning, drama, etc.

Diving – Club Med is famous for being a resort that caters to divers, they have a diving office and can easily arrange excellent, safe trips with vetted instructors who are proficient in your language. They can also match the trip to your experience level, so you enjoy yourself and not struggle against the current the whole time. They also can arrange classes if you want to get going and intro dives if you’ve never done it before.

Kids, kids

This place is perfect for kids. When they are small, they’re clingy. By the time they hit 5-10, they can barely stand you, and when they hit the teen years, they are too cool to be with you. So, this place is perfect. Safe, as this is a compound, plenty of activities for them, they can go play soccer, swim, hang, sit at the teen bar, and sip some juice, etc.

If they are 2 and above there is also “Petit Club Med” where incredibly kid-friendly instructors will take care of them for you. Trust me, at the end of the day, they will be exhausted and, during the day, they won’t ask you to build sand castles. So, you and your partner can enjoy “vacation” and not feel like scout instructors.

If they are less than 2, you can ask for a vetted baby sitter who can watch your baby while you charge your batteries.

Food at Club Med Cancun Yucatan

Gotta love the carved fruit

Food

Club Med has some set hours:

  • La Hacienda

A Baby corner is available during regular open hours.

  • Breakfast                                        7:00-10:30
  • Lunch                                             12:00-14:15
  • Dinner                                            19:00-22:00
  • Las Cazuelas
    • Breakfast                              7:00-10:30
    • Lunch                                   13:00-16:00
    • Dinner                                  19:00-21:30
  • La Estancia (Steak house at night)
    • Late Breakfast                     10:30-12:00
    • Snack                                    16:00-18:30
    • Dinner (Steak House)       19:00-21:30
    • Snack                                    22:00-00:30

Note: these hours are note set in stone and may vary. However, they also offer you the ability to eat outside those hours. You can simply head over to the La Estancia during  “Snack” hours and they will give you a menu and you can order like a restaurant.

Most meals are a huge buffet with a very wide selection including local cuisine and international one. So, you won’t be stuck eating Mexican rice and beans and can have your pasta, if so inclined.

Dinners are the best, there are two locations. La Estancia which is now an Argentinian grill and La Cazuela which is a Mexican themed restaurant. Both require a booking and then you can eat in them like a regular restaurant with your selection in the menu. If you don’t care for that, you can go to the Main restaurant and eat buffet for dinner.

Club Med Food

If you’re hungry and looking for a nibble in between drinks, they often serve appetizers like this near the main bar. Score.

All in all, there is a lot of fish near Cancun, so the selection mirrors that and you can get extremely good fish dishes.  The chicken is also very good. You won’t find lamb and the steaks won’t be Texas grade but everything was good and we would take seconds and thirds.

As a word of warning, sometimes in buffets some things can be a miss. For example, on Day 2 the rice was undercooked. However, there is such a huge selection you can just pick something else. So I recommend putting “mini” tasters on your plate in round one. Then come back for what you liked in round two.

Wine/beer

If you love wine but don’t know exactly how to describe a pinot grigio vs a pinot gris  then they offer a good basic red or white. If you are more discerning, try the Rosato {rose wine}. It was better than the standard free house red or white, I would rate it as a C. If you are very picky, ask for the wine menu, it’s an extra cost, but the prices are the same as you would pay at a resort. Their selection is quite good.

For beer, the tap was Dos Equis which was fine by me.

For cocktails, they are excellently done and not strong, but just strong enough. So, you can glue the cocktail glass to your hand and have them all day without passing out or embarrassing your kids. My wife recommends the caipirinha and was happy that they tasted good, had a decent amount of alcohol, but weren’t so strong to give her a hangover. I had never been to an inclusive and pretty much swore myself off of ever going this route, but once I had a baby, I was open to trying anything that was easy.

All in all, Club Med was an excellent way to vacation, without breaking the bank.  It is also extremely safe and well laid out so you can enjoy your time and your kids can enjoy their time without you hovering above them.

This place offers a lot of options. Coordinate with another family and enjoy a joint vacation, go out and see Mexico, take some diving, polish your tennis, try that water ski you always see on TV, relax with some bocce ball, try some trapeze, you get to choose and the staff was excellent.

Club Med Yucatan

A storm looked like it was moving in, but after a nighttime drizzle, the sky was clear and the weather was perfect. Beautiful colored canopies and ambient lightening make parents feel like they’re in a more hip version of a family establishment.

Big Positives

  1. No Tipping allowed – so no need to lug cash!
  2. Safe – this place is a compound, you can pretty much leave your phone on the chair and no one will steal it.
  3. Nice – staff are the nicest, they are recruited from all over the world, so they can speak French, Italian, Spanish, German, and English. We found them to be friendly genuine people. They are especially good with the kids as kids can tell a phony from 100 yards away.

Things to Know

  1. Make sure you bring Deet bug spray. The resort is surrounded by a mangrove and, at night, the mosquitos can be annoying. They don’t sell Deet, they only sell Citronella, which did not work for us.
    So, bring your Deet and you will have a perfect vacation.
  2. If you plan on learning to dive, there are pre-requisites. Like a medical exam, etc. So call them and make sure you bring all the paper work. Like I said, they are methodical and safe and won’t let you go without the requirements being met. I can respect that.

Grade: A-/B+

Club Med Cancun Yucatan

A Chic Pop Up Caribbean Cabana Camp? You betcha.

A Pop Up Cabana Camp!

Design Hotels strikes again! Papaya Playa, a Design Hotels Project, has developed a genius idea. For several months, they’ve been working with a small team on realizing an idea: a temporary “pop up” camp with 99 rustic cabanas on a 900 meter stretch of pristine Caribbean coastline in Tulum, Mexico!

Taking inspiration from the pop-up phenomenon happening around the world in the form of retail, art and gastronomy, they cleverly felt that now was the time to translate it into hospitality. So from December 6, 2011 – May 5, 2012, the Papaya Playa Project welcomes adventure seekers and creative souls to join them in shaping a temporary, and they think, extraordinary environment.

Simply. Chic.

Their idea was to create a transitory, yet culturally-rooted experienceCapitalizing on the natural environment and multicultural character of Tulum, they’ve put together an international team of real visionaries, each enriching the experience with their own food, music, design or wellness concept. They’ve got KaterHolzig of Berlin’s Bar 25 fame, 42°Raw, Mampapacola, as well as a spa incorporating Mayan shamanism. A playful communal concept is at the fore here – whether it’s spontaneous creativity at the amphitheater, beach jam sessions or inviting innovative companies to explore the ultimate green workspace.

The project may come as a surprise for those who associate Design Hotels™ with bold architecture and striking design. Fear not, that will continue to hold true, yet equally important are the intangible qualities – like the sense of community, connection and belonging, as well as the personality and vision – which make each hotel so one-of-a-kind. With this project they’re peeling off a few layers to expose the heart and soul of great hospitality experiences. Their ultimate goal?

To give guests a deeper understanding of what Design Hotels™ stands for, and why their Made by Originals core message rings true in so many shapes, places and forms.

http://www.papayaplayaproject.com

Exotic Valentine’s Day Getaways!

We’re so unbelievably romantic… if you saw us you’d say, “Get a room.” So, little angels, it’s time to start thinking about Valentine’s Day.  I know, I know… it’s one of those semi-dreaded holidays. If it makes you feel any better, even when you have a mate you still feel a little uneasy about what to do. Well, stop stressing, we have some ideas for you.  For those who don’t have a lover, next week we have some ideas for you too. Life is a collection of experiences and, as we always like to say, “You can’t take ’em with you, so you might as well live it up now!” (by throwing in a few yacht excursions, a tryst with some guy named Filippo, and hell, go scuba diving while you’re at it, too)

What? It’s only money.

Naladhu, The Maldives

Run away to: The Maldives

Stay at: Naladhu

What:  The romance begins when you step out of the airport and onto the speedboat that will take you directly to this Maldivian island resort. A House Master will lead you to your private house, where Champagne cocktails and fruit are waiting. Spend the day by the pool or snorkeling in the reef then relax with a complimentary coconut milk bath for two.

As if that wasn’t enough: Chocolate cake to share is included!

How much: The “Island Romance” package starts at start at $1474 for an Ocean House.

Visit http://naladhu.anantara.com/Island-Romance/default.aspx for more information.

Rosewood Mayakoba, Riviera Maya

Run away to: The Mayan Riviera

Stay at: Rosewood Mayakobá

What:  The five-night “Mayan Romance” package is all about relaxation. Take a Tantric Yoga class and enjoy a Moonlight Massage for two on your suite terrace. Then soothe your muscles in an Aroma Bath with champagne and chocolate and you’ll be on your way to rekindling that fire all day, and night, long. 

As if that wasn’t enough: You’ll also get a Couple’s Massage instruction session with 30 minutes of “alone time.”

How much: Package rates start at $810 per day, minimum 5-nights. Visit http://www.rosewoodmayakoba.com/en/specialoffers.cfm for details.

Run away to: Moscow

Stay at: Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

What:  For the lovebirds who are itching to get out of the nest, this city was made for you to explore together.  Visit Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Squareand the Kremlin in the old city center. For a classically romantic evening go ice skating on Gorky Park ponds, transformed into rinks for the winter.

As if that wasn’t enough: The “Romance at the Park” package allows a 4PM checkout, so spend the afternoon in bed!

How much: Check http://moscow.park.hyatt.com for best available rates.

Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos

Run away to: Turks and Caicos

Stay at: Parrot Cay

What: Leave your boots behind and grab your swimsuits! After an afternoon of white sand beaches and turquoise waters, rent out the COMO Shambhala Cottage for your Valentine’s Day dinner. This screened-in cottage overlooks the nearby wetlands and is decorated with candles and tropical flowers.

As if that wasn’t enough: The resort lets you set the mood with your own music!

How much: Rental cost including service is $400 (excluding food and beverage) and rates start at $775 per night for a Garden View Room. Visit http://www.parrotcay.como.bz/rates for booking details.

Run away to: Geneva

Stay at: La Réserve Genève Hotel and Spa

What:  Fashioned along the lines of an African Lodge by renowned designer Jacques Garcia, La Réserve Genève is sophisticated yet playful. Withten acres of private gardens and beaches on the shores of Lake Geneva, you’ll find everything you need including two excellent restaurants, a stylish bar with live DJ, a full-service spa, and even its own vineyard.  For added romance, arrive to the hotel by Venetian motorboat – a complimentary service that whisks guests to and from Geneva.

As if that wasn’t enough: Reluctant to leave the little ones behind? Bring the kids to La Petite Réserve, where they can play in an open-air playground, a magical tree house, or the indoor childcare center.

How much: Rates start at $450.

Visit http://www.lareserve.ch/english/ for more details.

Riviera Maya: Mandarin Oriental’s Wellness Yoga Retreat

Face it. You need a quick escape. Recharge that battered spirit. Elevate that funky mood. Take the OM out of ominous. We can feel it. We’re there too. These days, everywhere we turn and everything we see is doom and gloom. Aside from trekking in the Andes and eating hot noodles in Saigon (which takes a bit more than four days), the Yoga Wellness Retreat at the Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya is a surefire way to relax and feel good about spending your hard-earned cash. When you give to your spirit, the Universe gives back. Did we mention that the honorable Rishi Bharadwaj of India is teaching? Well, he is… and he’s 15 years of yogic magic.
Alas…

Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya presents its 2009 Wellness Yoga Retreat, a four-day holistic program featuring guided meditations, yoga classes, yogic diet and nutrition sessions from:

March 26 to 29
May 28 to 31
June 25 to 28

A relaxing weekend break at an award-winning spa and resort located on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula? Si senorita. Eso es la vida perfecta. Yoga Instructor Rishi Bharadwaj, leads the stellar program for a long weekend sure to recharge the senses.
The retreat begins on Thursday evening with a welcome group dinner and opportunity to meet with Rishi and fellow guests. Throughout the weekend, guests will experience Asana and Pranayama yoga sessions, diet and nutrition classes, quiet time for meditations, group discussions and bask in the luxurious accommodation at Mexico’s most sophisticated resort.

A naturalist’s paradise, Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya is nestled in mangrove reserves and tranquil lagoons highlighted by a spectacular cenote, a deep, freshwater reservoir sacred to the ancient Mayan.

The resort is only 10 minutes north of the always happening Playa del Carmen with dining, entertainment, and boutiques, just a 30-minute drive from Cancun International Airport.

The “Wellness Yoga Retreat” includes:

· Three-night stay at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya
· Yogic breakfast daily and one group dinner
· Choice of one spa treatment
· Morning and evening yoga sessions
· Daily meditations
· Diet and nutrition classes
· Participation in daily fitness activities
· Complimentary use of Heat and Water Therapies
· Round-trip airport transfers

Now how’s that for OM-nificent?

Rates from $2465 (single occupancy) and $3340 (double occupancy)

http://www.mandarinoriental.com

Mexico: Yo Quiero Conchinita y El Caribe


Playa del Carmen, Mayan Riviera

When most people think of Mexico they might think of loud Americans with fanny packs heading to Cabo for a cold Corona, but the real Mexico… she’s somethin’ else entirely. Yes, I am enamored with Mexico. Aside from the fact that I’ve fallen in love there on more than one occasion, she’s still, in so many wonderful ways, undiscovered country. Sure, she can dangerous, untrustworthy, and macho, but she’s full of riches. Sometimes I wonder why she suffers so… this wild country of margaritas, ruins, rugged hills, tumbling waves, crystal waters, and more chiles than you can handle. Then I remember… she can’t really be trusted, and if a people can’t really trust themselves, then who can they trust? Ah, yes… other countries may capture my soul, but Mexico, she has mi corazon (y mi Chichen Itza).

This Jaunt will take you to Mexico’s caribe, but stay tuned as we break down Mexico into the breathtaking regions that give the country her rich history and her renegade spirit.

Locals have been known to ask the secret aid of Mayan curanderos (healers) to mend a broken heart or cure a pesky ailment, but visitors flock to the Riviera Maya for the healing properties found in the sweet Caribbean lobster, electric blue waters, ancient ruins, and nightlife teeming with sleek European and South American tourists seeking out the relaxed bohemian vibe.

Situated on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s a land of ancient tradition stretching from Punta Brava to Tulum. Tropical mangroves, exotic chiles, and achiote lend wild flavor to an already lively region of locals and ex-pats. In addition to the cozy port town of Playa del Carmen where Ula Gula (5th Avenue and Calle 10) traps guests with their fresh fish entrees, there are countless Caribbean gems that offer travelers a chance to find seclusion and sophistication away from the throngs of Cancun party-goers.

When to Go:

The best time to visit is during the winter, spring and summer months. Hurricane season is typically summer into fall.

What to Do:

Take in the ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza, relax with unique spa offerings, snorkel/scuba in the second largest coral reef in the world, and visit hidden cenotes (sinkholes) or the caves of Aktun Ha with a local guide. Don’t miss dinner at John Gray’s Kitchen in Puerto Morelos (Av Niños Heroes, Lote 6 Puerto Morelos Tel: 998-871-0449) and cocktails in Playa at Fly (5th Avenue), Hotel Deseo, and Om. For brunch, I’m a fan of 100% Natural.

Where to Stay:
Paraiso de la Bonita $$$$$

One word. Gorgeous. One more… DELUXE. Translated from Spanish, “Paradise of a Beautiful Woman” is the ultimate sexy retreat for the hotel connoisseur. The definition of privacy and sophistication, it’s located in Puerto Morelos twelve miles south of the Cancun Airport. From airport pickup in Lincoln Navigators to piano concerts and culinary afternoons with the chef, there are ninety ocean view suites on fourteen acres of beach, mangrove, and gardens. Open courtyards lead to private plunge pools, Bulgari amenities, and fountain filled paths. Reflecting pools make it designed to feel like a five-star private residence rather than a hotel. Mediterranean, Indian, and Balinese artifacts create a decidedly island chic getaway.

http://www.paraisodelabonita.com

Maroma Resort
Located ten minutes from Playa del Carmen, Maroma is a favorite among my Hollywood friends. A sophisticated, yet rustic hideaway located on a beach front portion of a coconut plantation, it’s among the finest resorts in Mexico. Built in the tradition of a Mexican hacienda, this sixty-four room resort boasts a powder soft white-sand beach named “Top Beach of the World’s 10 Best Beaches” by the Travel Channel and Forbes. Beautiful unspoiled beaches and over a hundred cenotes offer an eco-adventure or exotic escape. Don’t leave without trying the Goddess/God Ritual, two hours of relaxation which begins with the burning of copal, the sacred resin of the Burrsera tree, and ends with chamomile tea poured over your body and a two person Lomi-Lomi massage.

http://www.maromahotel.com

For those who want to get their groove on with the likes of old Italian movie projections set to the beat of local house DJ’s, head to Playa del Carmen and try:

Hotel Deseo (www.hoteldeseo.com) and fellow Habita property, Hotel Basico (www.hotelbasico.com).

I’m a fan of Deseo for drinks, but it could get a bit loud if you’re staying there as well. The bar is right outside the rooms. I stayed at the Blue Mosquito in Playa as well, but wasn’t that impressed. For a fraction of the price, you can stay at any number of spots on Fifth Avenue.

PS. For the true diehard Jauntophile who would rather be in the quaint town of Playa, but doesn’t want to break the bank, I have a list of what I lovingly refer to as ‘secret’ hotels… we’re talking $45-$75/night gems that I have personally scouted out and stayed, but guess what… you’ll have to send an email expressing your genuine interest, otherwise, they’ll become entirely too popular and you know what’ll happen next, don’t you? That’s right… they’ll raise the prices. We simply can’t have that now, can we?

Now Vaya Con Dios!