It’s been a number of years since my family has spent a vacation at an all-inclusive resort. But after a hectic fall where hockey and work replaced family fun, we decided to book a vacation at the Mexican-owned resort Xcaret Hotel near Playa del Carmen.
I researched my choice of destinations, chatting at length with blogger Yashy Murphy (who wrote a great article on Xcaret with younger kids) and employing the expertise of travel agent Clara Power (who supplied superior customer service). Both assured me that this was an ideal destination for my very active family. And you know what, they were right.
For starters, the newly opened Xcaret Hotel is stunning. The architecture blends seamlessly into the natural environment and much of the resort incorporates the surrounding limestone. The rooms are beautiful, each with its own balcony. And aside from one hiccup with the concierge, the customer service is excellent. The food is delicious (I think there are 10 restaurants on site) and there are so many pools and beaches scattered throughout, you never feel crowded (we were there with 95% occupancy).
Having had a full experience while there, I want to share with you those little hidden features, the ones that add that extra something.
You will have unlimited access to all the parks (and their buffets where they are available). This includes (but not limited to):
Xenses (the fave of our family), where your mind and body will be put to the test! We went twice as we loved the “town” and mud bath. Both times, we spent about 2 hours at the park and did not feel rushed.
Xplor/Xplor Fuego (Night), we also went here twice! Ziplines, ATVs, hammock swings, and a lazy river. We had so much fun flying through air; especially as dusk settled in and the fires were lit. We did Xplor Fuego both times in the evenings, arriving around 5:30pm and staying until 10pm. We did not do everything, only the activities our kids enjoyed. The ziplines, 10 in total, took the majority of time. If you get there as close to park opening as you can (it closes at 5pm and re-opens at 5:30pm), you will avoid the line ups. Apparently different ATV treks are open at different times of the day. We did it three times and got different routes each time.
Xel-Ha, another family favourite. This all day adventure requires pre-booking (24 hours is adequate). Here you will spend your day snorkeling, cliff jumping, floating and challenging yourself on the water-based obstacle course. Do the waterslide as early as possible as the lines do get long. We enjoyed the slide, but it was not a highlight of our day there. At the end of the day, our son participated in a Mayan ritual. It was great to watch him learn about a new culture.
Xenotes is a full day of exploring different water caves and swimming holes. Our guide was AH-Mazing! And made the adventure all the more fun. This day trip was fantastic, there were kids of all ages in our group – as young as five I think.
Xcaret, while not one of our top adventures we did enjoy the park. Hidden feature – be sure to take the boat to the park – it is slower than the bus but a fun experience. If you are going to the evening performance, the boat lets you off just a few feet from the venue. Be warned, unless you know about this boat, you will not find it! It is near the spa, just past the kiddie pool (when walking from the main building). Thanks Yashy for the tip.
For Xenses, Xplor and Xcaret all you need to do is hop-on the pink canopy bus from the lobby and within 15 minutes you will be enjoying your park of choice. Be prepared, aside from Xel-Ha and Xcaret, everything else is closed on a Sunday and there is no free food option at Xenses.
Scattered along the main walkway of the resort are food carts and you need to eat from them. Fruit and corn stands (yes corn with many options for toppings) during the day and by night was our favourite, the taco cart.
Explore the river at the hotel. Head to the activity centre, grab your life jackets and from there swim through the river that winds its way throughout the property. It is beautiful. Little nooks and seating areas line your way. We saw dozens of iguanas along the limestone walls and could hear the calls of the Macaws. Aside from the lifeguards and fish, we basically had the river to ourselves.
Book a dinner at Las Cuevas. Do not book at the last minute as it may fill up for the night you want. This unique dining experience has you eating alongside the illuminated river, inside the cave! It was truly a highlight.
Explore the resort. There are so many hidden features that you will be upset you didn’t learn about earlier. The gym, the candy bar, the running trail, water slides into the river, and a family games room are just a few.
A final tip – ask questions of the staff or other guests. Whenever I saw something new, I stopped someone and asked. There are so many features and offerings that it is hard to list them all! Only after it was too late did I learn about a special Sunday brunch that is apparently spectacular. Guess I will have to go back!