It’s the same every winter. As soon as January rolls around and temperatures routinely drop below 0 I simply have to pack my bags and board a plane to somewhere far away, hot and sunny. This year that destination was designated to be Mexico. It was a spontaneous booking, because when you stumble across $200 return flights from Amsterdam to Cancun, you simply can’t say no. I couldn’t, anyway, so on January 21st our plane set flight towards the Riviera Maya, Mexico’s jewel in the eastern peninsula of Yucatan.
I had been here before, so I had a good idea what to expect for my toddler and I. Anywhere in the Yucatan is great for kids, because it has amazing beaches, soft white sand and a thriving tourism industry ensuring you’ll find all you need at the blink of an eye.
The framework for a great holiday to me is always accommodation, our base; because if my kid doesn’t feel comfortable where we stay, he will sleep badly, which will make me sleep badly, and in the end no-one is well-rested or especially happy.
For the first 9 days we had booked an apartment in Playa del Carmen via Booking.com but unfortunately got unlucky (despite rave reviews) and did not enjoy the place much. Later on we had another hotel in Playa del Carmen, again with very good reviews, but one more time we got a dark room with out-dated interior and loud music coming from neighboring bars. Not my idea of a relaxing holiday with my toddler. All in all we stayed in 8 different types of accommodation throughout the 6 weeks we spent in Mexico and the whole experience was a big learning curve for me. Here are 3 types of holiday homes which I found were wonderful with children.
This one is my overall winner, despite the lack of a readymade breakfast and daily room service. We lucked out on an incredibly beautiful house which came with 3 bedrooms, thoughtful interior design and a large garden with a pool. The owner, Margarita, was extremely efficient in responding to our every need. She organized a very affordable babysitter for us, especially purchased a baby seat for the bike she provides along with the property and welcomed us to the house with a tray of fresh fruit and a big list of recommendations for things to do around Tulum.
We loved the place. It instantly felt like home and we truly enjoyed starting our days here, having breakfast on the long wooden table. Because the house was so big I could invite a friend from New York to come down for a few days and together we had an amazing time going out (while Atlas hung out with our Tulum babysitter which he loved!) and trying some of the wonderful restaurants our Airbnb hostess had recommended. Every morning we would all cycle around the neighborhood, exploring local playgrounds and shops. We would bake cupcakes in the kitchen, spend the afternoon being lazy by the pool and when my birthday rolled around on February 27th we had a lovely BBQ party with all the new friends I had made during our time in Mexico. It was one of my best birthdays ever and 3 weeks later Atlas still talks about wanting to go back to that house.
2. All-Inclusive Hotels
This was the first time I tried an all-inclusive place and I must say I was surprised how much I liked it. We stayed in three different all-inc. hotels: the Grand Park Royal in Cozumel, the Grad Sirenis in Akumal and finally the Grand Riviera Princess Resort in Playa del Carmen which was easily my favorite of the bunch. Even though I had some preconceived notions going in, I loved the convenience of not having to worry about pricing and pretty much not spending any additional money, outside the price of the room and some tips. Anyone who’s ever parented a toddler will know this: they say they want something, then change their mind once they have it. It was great not having to order a full plate of food, just to have a certain 2-year old barely touch it. Buffet food meant he could pick what he liked because he saw it before actively choosing it.
I had no expectations about the quality of the food or the drinks, I just assumed that an all inclusive place would not put too much effort into that type of thing. But nothing could be further from the truth. All hotels had decent food, but Princess Resort really stood out in the culinary department. Daily Sushi and tasty Sashimi had me running to lunch every day, fresh ceviche, delectable meat dishes and incredibly tasty desserts made every dinner a highlight of the day.
This is really where the magic happens, as far as all-inclusive hotels are concerned. The obvious advantage first: buffet food means your kiddo can see the food he wants to eat before choosing it, so no especially ordered plates go wasted. All hotels had a kids club, but Princess blew me away with their kids program, they really do roll out the red carpet to their tiniest guests. There is a whole wing only for families, complete with a bubbly colored reception, toy rental cars, an incredible kids’ pool with fun water fountains and slides as well as a large playground and a massive indoor play area where no adults are allowed. Only pitfall: the kids club is only from 4, which is the law in Mexico.
Not every all-inclusive hotel offers this, but many will provide guests with a stellar evening program. Princess would start the evening with something for children, like face painting, a magic show or a kids disco. Around 9pm there was always a show, usually a musical type of thing for everyone to enjoy. We never left the hotel, because there really was no need. In fact, we didn’t even manage to explore all the stuff we wanted to see in the 4 days we had here.
I shouldn’t call it regular hotels, because I will only talk about top notch 5 star hotels here. We tried to book lower than that but were quite unlucky, so with kids especially I would opt for more high-end hotels. There are many along the Riviera Maya. Undoubtedly some of the very best are inside Mayakoba, a resort development surrounded by unspoiled nature. We spent 3 nights at Fairmont Mayakoba and it was magical. It was always a quiet, relaxing atmosphere; you can easily spend half a day just strolling the resorts and always discover something new.
Some of the views, especially the one onto the ocean from their beach front restaurant Las Brisas is a blow to your visual senses and in combination with some perfect food, every minute spent here feels like a celebration. That said, this option is also the most expensive out of the 3 listed here but it really is worth booking at least a few days in a place like this, just to treat yourself to the ultimate holiday experience. You don’t need to stay here for 10 days for a memorable time. Even just as little as 2 or 3 will feel like a real treat and are likely to go down in your memory bank as a very special time. To read in more detail about my time at Mayakoba, click here.