The hotel zone in Cancun truly has a place for everyone. There are low-cost places for spring breakers, adult-only sanctuaries for those without kids, and incredible choices for families.
If you are traveling with an infant, the Ritz-Carlton is the place to be. This hotel recently pioneered The Itzy, Bitzy, Ritz Kids Room, which basically sets up a nursery for a family with a baby. There is a crib, with special bedding, set in an alcove with a canopy, so the little one can sleep quietly. The bell and phone don’t ring; they are connected to a light so the noise won’t disturb baby. There a changing table, with diaper Genie, baby bath towel and bath products; you don’t have to worry about toting — and paying for — extra luggage.
The Ritz, of course, prides itself on service to all its guests. There is a special children’s menu at the restaurants, the Ritz Kids Mayan Adventures program for kids 5-12, and a Turtle Camp nighttime program where families can help rescue turtle eggs. A parent and teen can spend a few hours bonding over sharp knives and new recipes at the newly renovated Culinary Center.
The Ritz just opened a beach club, where you can rent a palapa, a sort of outdoor living room, for $150 a day. It has a hammock and as many lounges as can fit (up to five). Beach attendants bring you chilled bottled water and dry towels throughout the day, plus little treats like frozen mango popsicles and fresh fruit.
If you have kids 4-10 year olds, the Club Med Cancun Yucatan offers a plethora of activities. These range from tennis and snorkeling to the famous circus classes, where kids can try out the trapeze or jump on a trampoline. Parents can play tennis, take classes at the sparkling new fitness center, do outdoor yoga, or just climb into a hammock and read a book. Club Med has the most spectacular spot in Cancun; it’s at the end of the hotel zone, so one beach has waves, one is in a gentle cove, and the lagoon is used for waterskiing.
This Club Med has a tween/teen area called the Carwash, but most teens are too cool to sit in the cars that overlook the lagoon (they will deign to enter the Carwash to check email and update their Facebook accounts). Teens can also water-ski (there is daily instruction) or go sailing.
There is a concierge level at Club Med where the service rivals The Ritz. You check in directly with a concierge, so there is no wait or walk to your room. The concierge is in a room stocked with water, espresso and a full bar, along with daily newspapers. Our ocean-view room came with a computer with Internet access, a day bed and a glass shower and separate tub. Our kids’ room, across the hall, overlooked the lagoon; there was no computer. Concierge-level rooms offer free room service, and –— mirabla dictu! — free laundry. Just to test it out, we sent a few things to the laundry, and the clothes came back within 24 hours, as promised, expertly done.
The food quality at Club Med is always impeccable, but here, it was unparalleled. There was a “healthy” section with cold skim milk, soymilk and yogurt, as well as a kosher corner, and the Mexican and international selections were perfectly prepared.
If you are not a joiner, or your kids are too old to go to the mini club, the family-friendly CasaMagna is for you. It s just a couple of hotels over from the Ritz Carlton, and it has open-air halls that catch ocean breezes. Every room is at an angle so there is an ocean view, and it was the only hotel we stayed at with the kid-popular swim-up bar. It also has a huge hot tub, a wading pool and five different restaurants. Mikado offers the Benihana experience of tableside cooking, and Sasi Tai has Thai food. During the day, the steakhouse offers an elaborate breakfast buffet.
The four-star CasaMagna is next door to the five-star JW Marriott, which has a huge, multilevel spa. Although children are forbidden from some parts of the spa, like the relaxation room, they can get treatments and a mother-daughter spa day is a great respite from the sun. There are special treatments for kids as young as 6, and ones geared towards teens.
Ages 4-12 at either resort can sign up for the Marriott Kids Club, $25 for 6 hours. The CasaMagna has Kids Cocina, one-hour cooking classes for kids in the Kids Club on Mondays and Fridays, where they make — and eat — Mexican food.
Of course, you aren’t going to Cancun just to stay in your hotel. We spent a day at Xel-Ha, which my 17-year-old said was one of her new favorite places worldwide. You can snorkel, jump off the “cliff of courage,” float in an inner tube, swing out into a cold river with a rope, and walk a tightrope over water. We did it all, and there’s an all-inclusive deal with food and drinks. The only slight disappointment was the bike riding; there are plenty of bikes in kid through adult sizes, but there is only one short bike path, which takes you to the beginning of the tubing area (you can also ride a shuttle bus). But hey, we can bike ride anywhere; we can’t always swim in a grotto. There is also a playground for the youngest travelers.
The all-inclusive doesn’t include a couple of extras — swimming with the dolphins, scuba Sea Trek or a massage — but it is a full day of activities. We actually started out extremely early in the day, spending about an hour and a half at Tulum, the ancient Mayan city, only 10 minutes away. You can spend the whole day at Tulum, swimming at the beach after exploring the ruins, but you can get a quick tour before the heat of the day, or, new this summer, see Tulum at night.
We also spent a day at Xcaret, an ecological park that has snorkeling and a dolphin swim. We swam in underground rivers, through caves called cenotes (warning: there are bats in the cave), floated in inner tubes at the beach, and got soaked by waves in the natural pools. The highlights here are the shows and the animals. We watched the “bird men” spin from a pole about 90 feet high, and a parade of musicians. There is also a Mayan village and a cemetery to explore.
We saw colorful butterflies in the Butterfly Pavilion, flamingos, crocodiles and pumas throughout the park, and giant sea turtles and manatees. There is a small aquarium where you can pretend to be a turtle and touch different sea creatures.
Throughout the park, you are reminded of its ecological mission: you have to use biodegradable sunscreen only; there are recycling containers; and you see rare and endangered species of plants and animals. My kids were struck by the fact that you have to put toilet paper in a basket.
Almost anywhere you go in Cancun, you can enjoy the clear, blue water, gentle white sand and perfect weather. Even in August, one of the hottest months, there is no humidity, and evenings cooled off nicely. There is an inexpensive bus that takes you into downtown Cancun, or to one of the restaurants or shopping centers along the strip (we paid different prices each time, I guess according to the whimsy of the bus driver, but the most was about $3 for five of us).
At La Isla Shopping Center, there are restaurants, an aquarium, and my 10-year-old’s favorite, 20 minutes harnessed up on a bungee cord over a trampoline, where you jumped and did forward and backward rolls in the air. My teenaged daughters found plenty to buy. My husband and I had a drink and watched the sunset over the lagoon. Once again, everyone was happy.
For more information:
Club Med: www.clubmed.com