When I sat behind my computer screen tearfully typing out why parents need vacations, I was the one who needed the reminder. I was beside myself at the thought of leaving my toddler but I knew that we needed this vacation together. Never could I have fathomed the experience of a lifetime that this vacation gave to us and I will be eternally grateful for this.
To begin with, we had a lot of trouble finding a babysitter. With five children, people aren’t exactly banging down your door to babysit. Our first two babysitters had their own life struggles that caused them to have to back out of the position but only after the tickets had already been purchased. As you can imagine, we panicked and scrambled. You can’t just entrust anyone with your children and you hope not to back out on thousands of dollars worth of trip. Sure, we purchased the trip insurance but I’ve heard and read that it basically takes the President signing off on your excuse before they’ll refund you. I wasn’t comfortable with anything further than a friend of a friend who could do an interview/play date once a week with us until we were to leave. It might sound extensive but I think a lot of you moms will understand where I’m coming from with that!
Finally, a friend with kids of her own (whom I adore) and daycare experience offered and it was a dream. We coordinated our meal plan ideas and I gave her a notebook full of facts about my kids, like how the little one likes to be rocked to sleep. She gave them a three-ring circus and sent me frequent picture texts to reassure me that everyone was well and happy. My mom relieved her on the weekend for a lovely Grandma visit! It worked out like an absolute dream and I didn’t cry once…also, the baby didn’t either. 😉
When you’re a mom and you feel like your kids are okay, you can give yourself permission to be happy and that’s exactly what I did. We let loose and soaked in the beauty that Mexico (and each other!) had to offer. Our all-inclusive resort was called Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun and it’s located in Playa del Carmen which is a very reasonable distance away from tons of spectacular attractions.
We booked through Expedia, which we had mixed feelings about (but ultimately would use again and I’ll cover that later!) so we had transport to our hotel set up. As soon as we walked into the resort, we were greeted at the door with champagne and cold towels. I felt like a queen! We settled in and immediately after unpacking, we headed to check out one of the many restaurants available within our all-inclusive resort. Without surprise, the food was fantastic but let me paint you a picture of the moment I realized how needed this all was: Here we are, holding hands over dinner while watching the breeze flow through these tall green palm trees with the ocean and a pool in view. It felt so romantic, I felt my heart floating and I held back tears as I told him how glad I was that he insisted on taking me away for an early birthday gift.
At sunset that evening, we went swimming in the clear ocean and did nothing but laugh and relax. I’m going to meditate back to that moment every time my kids yell, “She hit me!” “No, she hit me first!” When we got back inside the resort, there was live music playing and the entire lobby was filled with a delicious dessert free-for-all.
We ordered a smorgasbord breakfast from room service and ate at a little table inside. We thought we’d eat out on the deck by that lovely ocean view but the crows circled immediately, just like the seagulls back at home. What a shoobie move, am I right?!
We decided to reserve this day for relaxation, for the most part. We headed over to the marketplace in Playa del Carmen to do a bit of shopping. There were a lot of wonderful handmade items and my husband treated me to the most beautiful ring with a gem that changes color.
Upon returning to the hotel, our Expedia “local expert” helped us to pack our schedule with excursions. The “local expert” is a friendly, sweet local who hooks you up with all kinds of deals and information on to your options for activities and other things in the area. The perk of having a knowledgeable assistant for this is ultimately why we would use Expedia for booking in the future.
We spent the rest of this day enjoying our resort’s pool and swim-up bar. Turns out, the only non-alcoholic drinks people really know how to make are piña coladas and virgin strawberry daiquiris, haha! Still tasty!
Our first excursion was with Mexxtremo Adventures and we passed a mountain lion crossing sign on the way in. That created a bunch of wild images in my mind, that’s for sure! We were given a quick lesson as to how to ride an ATV and we were on our way! They offered up bandannas (for a small fee) and protective eyewear to cover from all of the dirt that kicks up. I ended up in the back of our row of ATVs, which ended up being pretty awesome because if I lagged for a second, I was able to speed up to catch up. We basically went back and forth through paths but it was really good for a beginner ATV rider like myself. By the end, we were going in between thick spots of jungle and through massive mud puddles. I was thrilled but my husband, who’s a bit more experienced with riding ATVs, would have liked more of an intricate ride.
After we got back, we were given hard hats with head lamps to go on our first cenote tour. Our guide showed us through a cenote (underground river) which they directly used for all of their own drinking water. There were tiny fish the size of minnows, as well as bats in nests on the ceiling. There were a few tight spots that you had to squeeze through which freaked me out because one of the first things we saw was a spider or insect whose official name escapes me. He warned us that there were tons of those inside there even though they won’t harm you unless you messed with them (as with most creatures!).
We’ve been caving before so a lot of the things we learned, we already knew. Like, the fact that the oils on your skin can stop the formation of the stalactites and stalagmites. I think the most unique thing about this experience was that our tour guide was basically giving us a glimpse of his life and culture. We played with their dogs and watched them play basketball. We purchased our picture package afterward, which includes a bunch of pictures that the photographer has taken on his own in that area before. Had I seen that picture roll, I’m not sure I would have gone through! He had photos of tarantulas, snakes, and also some pretty creatures that wouldn’t terrify me to run into in the wild.
Power naps are practically essential when you’re packing your schedule with excursions so we took a nap when we got back to the resort. Then, we prepped for a nightly excursion!
Xplor is an adventure amusement park. There you’ll find ziplines, amphibious vehicles, underground rivers to swim and take a raft through, plus more long and twisty caves. One part of Xplor is open during the day and the other is at night, called Fuego (meaning “fire”). Initially, we planned to go to both but we were told that they are pretty similar so we opted to just stick with Fuego.
Xplor Fuego opens at 5:30pm, which is great because you’ve still got some daylight to see far across all of the trees at these great heights. Then at nightfall is when it really lights up, literally! There are torches, lights, and fire everywhere, it’s amazing! There’s a lot of walking involved to go up to all of the ziplines but it’s well worth it. One of the ziplines takes you through a ring of fire, a couple of them crash you into the water!
The amphibious vehicles were really cool, going in and out of caves in the dark, in water, surrounded by fire. You drive them yourself and there are a bunch of photo sites throughout the ride. I highly recommend the photo packages because there are tons of spots where the camera will automatically take your picture and we ended up with over a hundred really awesome, once-in-a-lifetime photos.
My husband didn’t really appreciate the underground raft experience. You’re given two paddles for your hands that look like flip-flops and it involves a lot of team effort to get to where you’re going through the cave. I thought it was hilarious, people all crashing into each other, getting stuck, and going the wrong way…but he did not. You can’t tell from the gorgeous picture we got though, it’s actually one of my favorites! He cracks me up sometimes!
The underground river swim might have actually been one of my favorite things because of the adrenaline rush. They give you a life vest and advise you that there are two different paths: the short route which will take about 10 minutes, or the long route which will take about 30 minutes. We decided what the heck, this is the last thing we’re doing anyway (almost closing time) so let’s take the long route! It’s nearly pitch black in this underground river, especially as late as it was. At one point, we almost took a wrong turn and I wondered if a wrong turn would leave us lost forever. I wasn’t terrified as much as I was pumped!
The darkness also meant that nocturnal creatures were awake. Hello bat friends! We passed a section where there were hundreds of bats and bat nests and these guys were extremely active. I’m not kidding when I say that one flew about a foot and a half above my head. I’ve never been afraid of bats before but I definitely swam a little faster at that point! When we found another photo spot, I mocked the situation by pointing at the active bats…even though I was a bit afraid that the flash on the camera was going to make them crazy!
The river swim ends with a red-lit waterfall that was both beautiful and creepy. I didn’t expect to love that attraction as much as I did but we were alone and laughing together for likely more than a half hour and it was kind of romantic!
I almost forgot to mention that admission to Xplor includes free food and drink. I mixed some lemonade with hibiscus flower water that was tasty and then there was a full, delicious buffet also. If there was a place like this close to home, I’d have a season pass. I loved Xplor!
I had a strong desire to check out some of the local sea life so my husband signed us up for a trip on a catamaran boat via Cancun Adventures. We sailed out to the coral reef on a catamaran. There was music playing and the sun was blaring down on us but the breeze felt so good and the view was just outstanding. Once we got to the coral reef, we jumped in the water and went snorkeling! I’ve never been snorkeling but I’d say it takes a lot of work, especially when they don’t want you to put your feet down because you might kick the reef or the animals. This is the only time on this trip where I felt like I was vastly out of shape! Still yet, I was able to see a humongous sting ray, many pretty fish, and an adorable sea turtle.
I didn’t expect the return boat ride to be as fun as it was! We stopped in the lagoon and played a volleyball-esque game together. I also got to try a paddle board for the first time ever and I was told that I’m pretty good at it! We had to buy this picture package too because I knew that the photographer would have some perfect pictures of that little sea turtle!
When we returned to the resort, we prepared ourselves in somewhat fancy clothing for our Hibachi reservation downstairs! Then we went to watch a hilarious newlywed game show. The resort has so many ways to keep you from getting bored!
We couldn’t visit Mexico and not check out some of the ancient Mayan ruins so we decided on a Tulum tour with Alltournative which began with activities at Jungla Maya Native Park. We took this huge 4×4 truck that was like a rollercoaster flying over all of the bumps in the dirt road path! Before beginning with the activities,everyone participates in a Mayan blessing ceremony with one of the local Mayans.
The paths up to these ziplines are a bit scary and you have to actually hook yourself onto them as you are walking up, how’s that for adventure?! We agreed that the ziplines here were even cooler than Xplor because of the nature surrounding. I also liked that they let me spread out my arms where as, for safety reasons, Xplor makes you hold on to your harness.
This was my first experience with rappelling, which is using a double rope to lower yourself down and in this case, down through the cave and into the cenote. I was apparently really good at it because all of the other people in our tour were shouting praise at me and one guy said, “Tiffany, you should sign up for the SWAT team after this!”
We did another zipline, this time into a cenote, and then we went snorkeling through one. The water is blue and dark but with the help of the flashlights they brought along, you could see all of the fish and cave formations underneath. This cenote fresh water was so refreshing and beautiful, I can’t even describe it.
We enjoyed a genuine Mexican buffet before heading off to the ancient ruins of Tulum. We’d been warned that Tulum was blazing hot but we wanted to see all there was to see, to including some outstanding views of the ocean! You can’t go inside the ruins but you can learn all about them and see a million iguanas all over the place. Afterward, there is plenty of shopping. I spotted a man with a monkey and I absolutely had to take a picture with him! The toucan was trying to eat my hair. The whole situation was hilarious and also unreal. I’m in a foreign country, a monkey is hitting me and a toucan is trying to eat me. It was the best. Haha!
When we got back to the resort, we decided to check out the price of a cabana on our last day. There were hammocks inside and they’re right by the ocean, it seemed like the best way to relax. As it turned out, they weren’t renting more out for the day but because they had extra space, they let us use one for free for a few hours! So there we were, listening to waves crashing, just napping together by the ocean. Another unforgettable moment and a fabulous way to end our vacation!