We have taken a lot of great vacations with our kids over the years, but our trips to Mexico to escape the Minnesota winters rate very high on our favorite’s list. On prior vacations we had been out of the country, but only to Canada. Mexico was our first big trip flying out of the country and it required that everyone in the family have a passport. The kids were young at the time as our first visit was in 2004. We were all very excited about it. Joe booked an all inclusive resort in Playa Del Carmen just south of Cancun. All inclusive resorts are the best deal when you are traveling with kids. The food, drinks and fun are included, so as parents you do not have to keep pulling out your wallet every time the kids need a soda or a meal. The food was amazing. Endless buffets of fresh fruits, veggies, fish, meats and always lots of fresh salsa and chips.
Our resort had informal buffets by the pools, all day long, in case you did not want to miss any of the ocean and pool fun. The pools all had a view of the ocean and the resort staff stood ready at the ocean to lend you fins and snorkels or give you lessons on the sailboats for use by the guests. There was an endless amount of activities to participate in and when you all had too much sun, you could go shopping in the villages or on tours.
There were more formal buffets in two different dining rooms in the main lodge, for evenings,
and vendors sold jewelry under the night sky, perfect to look at while strolling with a glass of wine. Family friendly movies played on the beach at night, and other nights they had magic shows and dancers of all kinds to entertain the guests. We always said it was like being on a cruise, but without the boat. These were fun times with the kids. I had to bring along a lot of sunscreen and big T-shirts so that the hot Mexican sun did not burn their white, winter Minnesota skin. Everyone got too much sun anyway, but we did our best.
On our first trip to Mexico, with our new fresh passports in hand, we decided to go through customs in an order where Joe went through first, and then the kids between us, and me last. So we were book ending our kids to make sure everyone stayed together. After we landed, we gave each of the kids their passports to hold under our watchful eye, and Joe proceeded forward as planned. His passport got a quick stamp and so did Sara and Ben as they went through. When it came to Jenny, just in front of me, the agent looked at her and her passport and looked at me. He looked at a fellow agent beside him and conversed in Spanish, a language I had not mastered enough to follow other than to clumsily order food or a drink, or exchange simple greetings. He was not stamping her passport and continued to discuss something with his coworker and even pointed at her passport. I exchanged a glance with Joe, as he stood just beyond the red ropes after passing through customs and he kind of shrugged. The Mexican customs agent stopped talking and looked at her passport again. I mustered up my best lawyer, authoritative, but respectful, no nonsense voice and said “Is there a problem?” He looked at me and said “no” and stamped her passport and mine and we were through. After we were out of earshot I expressed my concern to Joe and his response was “they were probably just talking about what they wanted for lunch.” That was a good laugh and ended our concern.
We moved on to our awaiting resort van with our tour guides dressed in matching flowery shirts, and we were off for fun and sun! We went sailing and snorkeled with every kind of fish possible. One day we decided to go to a natural water park of sorts called Xcarat. It was a short bus ride away and offered a full day of family fun. It had manatees and birds of every kind. It had bell helmet diving for the entire family. We tried everything. Jenny was the youngest and so on these adventures she had to in some ways be the bravest. She was so small but she put on her heavy bell helmet and she snorkeled with us and she never complained. I sometimes think it is why she is so adventurous now in her twenties because she was required to participate in a lot of things at a very young age.
Xcarat also had snorkeling on a river through caves and it offered swimming with the dolphins. Even though this was a little pricy, I viewed it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy the dolphins when the kids were most excited about the allure and beauty of dolphins and the ocean. They had seen movies about dolphins and read about dolphins, but to touch and swim with them was magical. The looks on their faces was worth the price. It was the highlight of the trip and something they still talk about as adults.
The kids loved the people in Mexico and interacted with them with ease. The young adults working at the resort worked on teaching the kids Spanish. When they came to get towels at the pool they used the Spanish word they had learned to ask for them and said please and thank you in Spanish. Sara studied a little Spanish in school and actually helped us out when we were a little lost at the Xcarat resort. We had gotten into an area that was more remote in the park while looking for the restaurant. The workers at the resort in that particular area were working on a construction project and not the workers trained to work with guests. They spoke no English so Sara stepped in and tried her best to use her Spanish to find our way to the area for lunch. She was successful and they understood enough of what she was saying to direct us to where we needed to be. The kids even learned enough Spanish on our vacations to negotiate purchases at the little stores and to order at restaurants.
We also went to Mexico and an all inclusive in 2007 when the kids were a little older, and that time we went to the island of Cozumel. That was an entirely different experience because they were older and we did different things. The girls went parasailing and Ben and I went scuba diving. That Ben has always been a lot better than me at diving. He is a natural. Calm and cool on the dive and he was the best dive buddy ever. He watched after me and we saw sharks and barracuda together. It was a mother and son bonding event.
One day on Cozumel we rented a van and a local driver to take us slowly around the entire island. We stopped at beaches and the Mayan ruins and the shops and local restaurants. We saw sights and tried to enjoy the local food, culture and the people, in the warm Mexican sunshine. We had good times together and filled each day with activities, and then at the end of each busy day, when we were all tired from too much sun and fun, we had great food together while listening to the live music and shows provided by the resort.
I am so thankful we took the time to do these adventures together. We will always have those memories. Once the kids started college and worked on creating their own lives, making those family memories was a lot harder. We took the time away from our jobs and the kid’s busy sports, band and school schedules to make family time that they will remember forever. We notr only had a great time, but the kids learned to interact with and respect people from other countries and cultures, and they learned to be brave in the big blue ocean and in trying new and exciting and sometimes scary things, like snorkeling in caves. They learned how to go through customs and navigate through airports together. They ate unfamiliar food and learned to love it. They swam with dolphins and they laughed and played together in the warm sunshine. There is nothing more important than family and family adventures. In hindsight, we had a really good time together as a family, but our kids also learned life lessons and now have fond memories of our time together. It made us all closer and stronger. Time is irreplaceable. Use it well.