TurksCaicos741I love the holiday season:  the decorations, the time spent with family and especially the first snow.  But come January 2nd, I dislike everything about winter and I am ready to plan a family vacation that involves sun, sand and water.

During our last escape, we chose a resort in Cancun, Mexico that provided a non-inclusive option.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience and no-hassle of the all-inclusive.  You pay up front and then don’t worry about a budget once you are there.  Sometimes, however, it is nice to have more dining options and to not feel as if you can’t leave the property because you need to get your money’s worth.  So we thought we would give it a try to see if we could stay within a budget of what we would have spent for the all-inclusive option (which was easy to calculate since the hotel provided an all-inclusive option as well).

As our destination, we chose the Omni Cancun Hotel and Villas, which is a small resort hotel located about two thirds down the strip of the island known as the Hotel Zone in Cancun.

Hotel & Amenities

The hotel grounds at this hotel were well kept and there was a great view of the ocean from the pools.  There were three pool areas, a whirlpool and a swim up bar (is heated and no kids allowed).  My daughter is not a big fan of the ocean (sharks, you know) so a good pool selection is always appreciated.

Each night after dinner there was some sort of show including flamenco dancers with Vegas-like costumes.  On the Friday night show, all the kids were allowed to go on stage for a dance party.

There was also a ceramic painting activity set up by one of the pools.  I have seen this at other resorts at twice the price.  This bargain was appreciated since my daughter broke her ceramic cat about ten minutes after it returned from the kiln.  The hotel also provided a screening of a children’s movie each day in the late afternoon.

The staff was very nice and helpful without being obsequious. The hotel had games and contests for the kids but it wasn’t like some hotels that blare “party” music all through the day. Note:  The hotel has time-share villas.  We were approached for the time-share but after saying no once—no one bothered us again.

Food Options

We ate breakfast every day at the hotel’s Pina Colada restaurant, located down near the beach. We also visited the dinner buffet restaurant, La Paloma, which was good but not gourmet. The Da Vinci restaurant I regret to say was just ok.  In fact I have yet to eat a great Italian meal in Mexico or the Caribbean.  I always feel that hotel restaurants should focus on making really great food that is native to the country while providing some options for those fussy tourists who like to stick with pizza, hamburgers and pasta.

The Omni poolside snack bar offered a tasty and inexpensive lunch.  Even though it not particularly healthy, at least you did not have to leave the comfort of your deck chair. One night we ventured across the street to a restaurant called the Captains Cove. It had a view of the bay and an unobstructed sunset. The food was good (especially if you love seafood) and the prices reasonable but not cheap. The best part of dinner was the resident alligator who would swim up alongside  the outdoor tables to beg for scraps— all the kids loved this.  Note:  this is why you notice there is not a lot of swimming or water sports going on in the Laguna Nichupte.

Another night we went to Harry’s Steakhouse, a little further down the road from the hotel.  We took a short ride on a public bus (cost nothing) and walked back as it was a beautiful night.  This was a high end restaurant but the prices were not outrageous. The staff was
courteous, the food good, the wine great and the sunset was awesome.sunset 400

Room

We had a basic room facing the Laguna Nichupte.  It had a nice view, a hammock, and balcony but air conditioner fans are on that side of the hotel—so there was somewhat of a hum.  I would splurge for the ocean side but if you are traveling on the cheap—this factor did not reduce the pleasure of our stay.  The rooms were clean and fairly updated and had a flat screen TV. The beds were comfortable enough but they did not have luxurious linens or pillow top mattresses here.

Tip: Join the Omni hotels rewards club before or when you get there. You get wireless internet throughout the whole hotel and morning coffee, a newspaper and beverages everyday for free!

Day Trip:  Chichen Itza

We booked a day trip to the ruins at Chichen Itza through the travel agency in the hotel.  Don’t let the staff at the travel office fool you—it was a 3 hour bus ride there and 2.5 on the way back. It was fun but it could be a bit much for young children.

On the way to the ruins there is a short stop at a natural sink hole.  The drawback to this was that the bus stopped for only 45 minutes and by the time you get changed and down there, it is time to go.   We received some looks from passengers when we arrived back at the bus 15 minutes late.

sinkhole 400
TIP:  Make this trip but rent a car so you can stay longer at the sink hole and take your time at the ruins.  Go there AFTER Chichen Itza because it is extremely hot at the ruins as there is little shade between them and the cold water in the sink hole will feel so refreshing.  I would also recommend you grab a life jacket at the registration desk even if you can swim well.  There is nothing to hang on to so you can’t rest and get tired quickly.

Cancun

We mainly stayed close to the businesses and restaurants near our hotel but we did take one trip to the downtown area of Cancun.  The main tourist area has luxury hotels, restaurants and shops if you want to do a little splurging.

All in all, we would certainly try the small resort/non-inclusive option again. We had a great family vaction and were able to stay on budget but did not feel like we had to penny pinch.  At the end of the trip we made our calculations.  If you eat primarily at your hotel, the all-inclusive is definitely more economical if you have a full breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday in addition to snacks.

Reading List:

It is great to prepare kids for travel even if you are not going to be venturing far from your hotel.   Even a fiction book can get your children more interested in the history and culture of where they are visiting.

Children’s Books

The Secret at Chichen Itza!: Landis Adventures by Casey Grace and Landis Grace (tween/teen) –this book is written by an American living in Mexico with her daughter (Landis).
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br />Soccer World: Mexico: Explore the World Through Soccer by Ethan Zohn (7+) –hey, just throw the word soccer in front and most boys will read anything.

Off We Go to Mexico by Laurie Krebs (5+)

Look What Came from Mexico by Miles Harvey (7+) — great for 2nd grade non-fiction reading component.

Books for Mom & Dad

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Frida Kahlo, Carlos Fuentes  –warning:  you will want to visit Mexico City and Frida Kahlo’s house after reading this book.

The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz