Friday, December 25, 2015

Riviera Maya....Vacation Wrap Up

Well, it's been a glorious week at home...definitely has given me enough time to reflect on our recent amazing vacation to the Riviera Maya.  Vacation is all about the stories we create...and we definitely made some good ones.



We started less than 24 hours from where I last was...the airport.  I know I mentioned previously that one of my Christmas presents last year was an Alaska Airlines Board Room membership....sadly, Logan now associates the Board Room with the airport and the pancake machine.  He'll be in a for a rude awakening come January, but until then, we ate all the pancakes we could!  The window in the side of the machine is so cool - we can watch them as they get "poured" and move along the oven.



The flight took off and we were feeling a little underplanned for this vacation.  There was one solid tour that Joe had booked - dune buggies on Cozumel.  Everything else was just stirring around in our heads.  We shouldn't have worried...by the end of the trip, we were wishing we had spent more time by the pool..



Our home away from home was the Grand Mayan Riviera Maya - booked as an exchange through our timeshare.  I wasn't sure what to expect, as the places we have stayed have been all over the map in terms of quality and updated amenities.  We knew we had a small kitchen, so with our rented car, we did a Costco run that first night.  This resort was awesome - would definitely re-book in the future.  The facilities were gorgeous - the pools were huge, numerous and filled with a variety of levels, features and locations.  We even had a ginormous tub and small outdoor pool in our room!  The Grand Mayan was centrally located between Cancun and Playa del Carmen....which was great in the long run because of how close it was one of our favorite dinner finds - Puerto Morelos.






Our first day, after an extremely long travel day, definitely called for extended time by the pool...we had a blast exploring all the different options and enjoying some beverages.  Ahem.  The day was made when, just before dinner, we were goofing off in what would later be known as the "seahawk pool" because of the colors at night.  Joe and I were "falling" into the pool with L doing huge jumps from the side.  After one particularly fun moment, Logan turned to me and said "I love this".  Swoon.





Day 2:  Zip Lining.  There aren't a lot of adventure tour type things for three year olds.  Go figure.  I looked long and hard for options and a few rose to the top.  The Extreme Zip Line tour from Selvatica
looked amazing.  It was the only one that allowed kids in the preschool ranks to zip line - they were constantly tethered to one of the guides on the lines.  Logan is a bit of a dare devil - but I wasn't prepared for exactly how fearless he would be.  We had a chat ahead of time that the guides were like his teachers and he needed to listen to what they said.  He did - the entire time.  They never pushed him beyond his comfort zone - not an issue on the lines.  He was all smiles, happy yells and all in all, amazing.  There was some climbing involved - and I think I ended up being more nervous than he was.  It ended up being a fantastic tour....










We finished up with a very bumpy ride on an old Army truck to a cenote - or a fresh water sinkhole -  that is common in this part of Mexico.  We had the option to jump in, zip line in or take the "chicken stairs".  Joe was one of the first to zip line in and, after making sure he had a good life vest on, Logan was quick to follow...he wasn't the most graceful, but wow...he was brave and the entire staff was awesome with reassuring us and him that they were right there.  Huge applause from all the other guests once he dropped in...it was kind of amazing. He ventured up to the zip line another time or two, but wasn't in favor of going again.  I got shamed into zip lining (Mom, your boy just did it...) and it definitely took my breath away at first impact.  But, it was all awesome.  There was an inner tube that we quickly started using that made the rest of the swim awesome.

Day 3:  Dune Buggy Ride in Cozumel.  This was our attempt at re-living the amazing dune buggy trip we had on our very first cruise. 

We jumped on the fast ferry for Cozumel, with the super plus couch, and off we went!


While it didn't quite hit epic proportions, it was a nice tour of the island.  We used Cozumel Cruise Excursions because they were the only one to do private tours.  We were left waiting at the terminal for about 20 minutes until our guide finally showed up.  Our first buggy didn't have a functioning seat belt in the front - a deal breaker. We waited and got the vehicle swapped - we were on our way.  My big gripe was that this tour felt very packaged...from the snorkel stop to the lunch stop - it was all packaged and it was all an attempt to make more money.  Logan didn't snorkel at all - we played in the hammocks while Joe and the guide were out there...one of the coolest things, though, was the lighthouse that we climbed up...wonderful view and Logan was a trooper, again, with a long, narrow staircase.  Logan's highlight was drinking coconut water out of an actual coconut.  None of us enjoyed it all that much, but L put on a good show for his buddy Emmett...










Day 4:  Another pool day.  Whew....much needed.  The kiddo and I got daquiris at the swim up bar while daddy enjoyed his beverage...


Since I have a hard time staying in one spot all day long, I convinced Joe that we needed to head to Puerto Morelos for dinner.  It sounded like a great little town from the books and I was eager to have sine less fussy food...

It was perfect.  We ate at La Sirena the first night...I had a massive bowl of ceviche that was perfect...light, tart and nice spice with the fresh slivers of jalapeƱo peppers.  Pictures? Nah....it was devoured too quickly.  Joe and the kiddo had burgers...we both loved the prices, the town with the large open air market in the town square...it was on our list to come back to another night.

Day 5:  Tulum and Ziggy's Beach. 

One of our decisions for this trip was if we should get a rental car or not.  Cars in Mexico are relatively inexpensive to rent...but the insurance is a definite add on for cost.  However, when we looked at everything we wanted to do, the freedom we like to have, and the ability to do things like go out for dinner, it was a no brainier.  Joe and I both ended up driving...which was an adventure in and of itself.  But, once we learned the general rules of the road...it was fairly easy to get around.  We were definitely happy with the car decision.  

Tulum is one of the major Mayan Ruin sites in the region and it's known for being the most picturesque due to its location right on the ocean.  It isn't the largest, but it's definitely the closest one to the resorts.  Getting there as early as possible to avoid the tour groups is one of the major tips in the guide books...so, off we were, early on vacation yet again.

I wouldn't say we avoided the tour groups, due to a little bit of confusion with the directions....but we were still there before 0930...

It was definitely a lovely site.  The ruins are held back from the groups by ropes...so no climbing on them!  This was my second set of ruins that I had been to.  Ages ago in college, I had the opportunity to go to Belize for a volunteer spring break trip.  One of the touristy things we did was to go to the ruins at Xunantunich.  Those were definitely more impressive and we were able to climb and explore.  But this was also almost 20 years ago before Belize really hit the big times with tourism and it seems like there were likely fewer concerns about preserving the sites.  Next time, I think we'd do the drive and go to Chichen Itza or Coba.  

It was hot as all get out...Logan held strong for a while and then after we came back up from the beach, I carried him for most of the rest of the time...

Joe was off taking pictures...so Logan and I tried to find shade to hide in....we were all much happier in the shade.  



Leaving the ruins, the main route outs you into an area packed with shops...we might have made one purchase....we eyed up a Seahawk luchador mask, but Joe didn't like it because the colors weren't "authentic" enough.  
And, finally...who knew there were Logan cars in Mexico?!  


One of the downsides of our resort was that the beach isn't swimmable. The area south of Fukui has some of those amazingly picturesque beaches and soft soft sand....there are a ton of beach clubs that will let you use their facilities...provided you buy drinks or food.  

Ziggy's Club fit the bill perfectly.  It was pretty far south away from Tulum (I.e., about 3km)...and when we got there, it was empty.  That changed with about an hour, but even when all the loungers and tables filled up, the beach was still inviting.

Red flag waves, so we were definitely cautious with Logan playing....a property or two away, the waves seemed to break a little bit further off the beach and there wasn't quite as much kelp, so he had a good time at that spot.

In our pre kids days, Joe and I could have spent an entire day here...but knowing we had a long drive, plus a kid who needed to nap, limited the time we spent.

The facilities at Ziggy's were great....the food was yummy (shrimp tacos with hualoche!)...Logan slayed his pizza.  Absolutely slayed it.  




Dinner time brought another trip to Puerto Morelos...we went for Al Chimichurri... The empanadas were spectacular....it was nice to have a decent glass of wine and then the steaks were great...Chimichurri sauce as well as a spicy (!) sauce came out as condiments.  I forked up on ordering for L...he grabbed a menu and saw pizza.  I should have stayed with my gut and just gotten him an empanada, but I relented.  After slaying one pizza, another one was too much...but, he loved the empanada.

There was a torrential downpour towards the end of the dinner that drove half the restaurant inside...we quickly paid our bill and got ready for the next day...

Day 6: Xcaret

Whe I was doing the research for this vacation, a few of these Eco-adventure tourism parks showed up everywhere.  Xcaret, Xplor, Xel-ha are the big ones.  Admission is free for kids under 5 at all of them,but only Xcaret really had any major activities that the preschool set could participate in...I imagine in another couple of years, L will be game for the others.

Sigh,  when I booked this one (specific day tickets) a few days prior, the weather was clear.  The night before, it became obvious that wasn't the case.  More huge downpours as we were getting ready to leave the hotel.  I was starting to dread the day...but, we are hearty northwesteners.  We out on our rain jackets and go...so we went.

We headed for the "underground" rivers right away.  We figured that if we were wet, we might as well be totally wet. 


The rivers were a blast.  It took until later in the day to realize how to get to the other two rivers that I knew were there, but we overlooked.  We all wore life jackets and powered through...it was a bit exhausting swimming with Logan on our backs or fronts. Even though he's all about the water, his swimming is limited to about 10 feet max.  

There were lots of other things to see here...sea turtles, spider monkeys...and an absolutely phenomenal aviary that had just opened.  







Joe heading out of his last underground river...the three different rivers all had different routes through the park, all ending at the same location.  The second one we did together sent us through the "Mayan village" and underneath a gorgeous stained glass ceiling.  Really cool...my one wish was that we had brought a waterproof camera with us.


Xcaret definitely wasn't the cheapest of days (we paid $99 for each adult...would have been cheaper if we had reserved earlier), and I didn't expect to be walking out around 4pm.  But we had a very full day and it ended up being decent weather.  I think the intermittent downpours scared a lot of people off and we basically had the park to ourselves by the time we left.

Finally, a few minutes of down time and that means mommy lets the kiddo actually use the iPad.  Star Wars Angry Birds?  Yes, please.  


The vacations are getting easier and easier the more things we can do together...but it's still the small times of playing in the water, splashing and joking, that makes the vacations into wonderful memories.


Next Stop....

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