Late last night, I returned from a much needed spring break with my husband (O) and four kids. My husband and I, along with my three step-children teenagers (13-, 14-, and 15- year olds) and four-year old son, spent seven days (3/22/19-3/29/19) along the Caribbean sea in the towns/islands of:
• Playa del Carmen
We traveled by air, bus, sea, and car, and discovered along the way that my four-year old is prone to sea sickness. 😃
AIR TRAVEL: O set up price alerts on Google flight and Kayak to notify him of cheap flights to Mexico City (CDMX). We found $360 flights into Mexico City and then took another flight to Cancun ($100). (We usually aim to pay $270 for flights from Chicago to CDMX). All flights were through Aeromexico. My in-laws joined us later in the trip, however, they took a direct flight from Chicago’s O’Hare into the Cozumel airport on American Airlines. Aeromexico provided lunch/supper on the longer flight and snacks on the shorter flight, which we appreciated with insatiably hungry teenagers. In addition, each seat had their own individual movie screen with a wide choice of movies/TV. We arrived in Mexico City Friday night and stayed nearby in the airport’s Marriot hotel. Free breakfast was included (always a must for us). Saturday morning we woke up early for the breakfast and our morning flight to Cancun, and we were pleasantly surprised when Aeromexico offered us $1500 to take the earlier 9 am flight due to the 11 am plane being overbooked. It was fortunate that we stayed close to the airport because we quickly took the complimentary Marriot shuttle to the airport and paid for our next spring break trip in advance. 😀
GROUND TRAVEL: After we took the earlier flight and landed in Cancun, we walked briefly to the bus depot at Terminal 2 in Cancun airport to take the Ado bus for $10/person to Playa del Carmen. O bought Ado tickets on-line. Since we arrived early, he asked if we could take the earlier bus, and they had no problem with it. The buses seem to drive the 45-minutes out to Playa del Carmen every 30 minutes or every hour. Very comfortable spacious buses made for happy kids. Saving money with two flights made for happy parents.
SEA TRAVEL: The Ado bus dropped us a few blocks from the Playa del Carmen ferry stop. We had an hour before our 4 pm ferry ride so we spent time at the little park near the beach. There were two ferry choices; Ultrajet and Winjet. We bought roundtrip tickets through Winjet and rode on the top deck (however on our return trip, discovered the bottom deck to be more comfortable).
TAXI / RENTAL CAR TRAVEL: We arrived in Cozumel after the 45-minute ferry ride. While it was a bumpy ride and we had a few complaints of sea sickness, no one needed the aid of dramamine. Our condo for the three nights on the island was slightly past the cruise ship port, but in the 80 degree weather and with all of our luggage, we chose to pay for an overpriced $7 five-minute taxi ride to El Cantil Condos. This helped us decide to rent a car for the day that we would be exploring since taxis were a little pricey. The next day we paid $100 for the day for an eight-passenger minivan. We had to put in $10 in gas, but drove half-way around the island (past Punta Sur to El Pescador restaurant).
ACTIVITIES WE ARE RECOMMENDING at COZUMEL:
• The Money Bar: great food, live music, snorkeling at their beach while you wait for your food to arrive and during sunset. Best time I have had with my step-children.
• La Pescadora restaurant and beach: isolated restaurant (we ordered fried fish to be on the safe side) with a beautiful beach for swimming and snorkeling. We chose this free activity over paying $16/adult and $8/child for entrance to Punta Sur. We brought our own swim shoes and snorkel gear. My daughter was tired, so instead of swimming, she took a nap on the beach chair outside the restaurant. Perfect place for swimming or napping.
ACTIVITIES NOT RECOMMENDED at COZUMEL:
• Chankanaab: nothing special. When we paid for our entrance fee, we were told it included dolphins for the kids, but found out it was an additional $99/person to swim with dolphins. While our teens enjoyed the snorkeling, it was similar to the free snorkeling we did at the Money Bar. I saw no reason to pay an entrance fee as nothing was exceptionally different. We made an amateur mistake by paying for an exclusive beach when there are many free beaches on the island to dive into, or better yet, get lunch at a beach-side restaurant and use their beach to snorkel. We brought our own snorkel gear and swim shoes with us.
SEA TRAVEL to CAR RENTAL: The guy who rented us the minivan offered to give us a ride to the ferry, so we saved on another taxi and tipped him instead. We sat at the bottom of the Winjet ferry and arrived in Playa del Carmen. We took lunch at one of the many restaurants and then walked the small pedestrian streets to the car rental company, America. We rented a Surburban and were pleasantly surprised with the low cost of the car rental insurance ($80 for three days). We drove to our next reservation at Bahia Principe residences in Akumal. All of our drives were about 30 minutes apart. When we arrived at the four-bedroom house we rented in Bahia, we were given a three-bedroom by mistake due to technical problems with the air conditioning. When they offered a credit, we asked if they would consider offering the day pass at the Bahia Akumal resort instead. They gave us eight free day-passes ($60/person), which included three meals and access to the resort’s two of three locations (Bahia Coba and Bahia Tulum). They also offered 10% off our total booking price. It was fortunate that the air conditioning broke because we were able to access all of the resort perks while also enjoying the larger house we reserved and its private pool. Because we booked through hotels.com, we also received two free hotel nights from this vacation.
ACTIVITIES WE ARE RECOMMENDING at AKUMAL:
• Dos Ojos Cenote: $15/person (but our four-year old was free) and worth every peso. It’s an incredible value. We brought our snorkel gear and while this was our first time cave snorkeling, we saw incredible things, especially in the second eye. Although it is intimidating, you must swim past the rock in the back of the second eye and dive to see the underwater cavern. It helped that the scuba diving tour was happening as we were in the water and their lights shed more clarity on the submerged underworld. Incredible beyond words. Highly recommended for teens and adults. Grandma and grandpa watched our four-year old as the water was too cold for him. There were many cenotes to choose from, but we recommend Dos Ojos.
ACTIVITIES WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING at AKUMAL:
• Playa del Akumal: O and I snorkeled at this once public beach seven years ago, and we were fortunate to see many sea turtles feeding on the sea grass. It was the best snorkeling I had ever done. We took the kids with this expectation in mind and found out the beach had been privatized. Turtle snorkeling tours were being offered at $35/person in addition to the $5/person entrance fee to the beach. I understand how it can conserve and protect the turtles, but we had not budgeted to spend an additional $175 for turtle tours, so we had to pass this one up. It took forever to park and walk to the beach. People were constantly trying to sell us life jackets and tours. In hindsight, we wished we had skipped Playa del Akumal all together.
CAR RENTAL to BUS RIDE to FINAL STAY: We drove our Surburban rental back to America car rental in Playa del Carmen, but stopped for gas along the way first. The gas lines are long in Playa del Carmen. We then dropped off the grandparents at their ferry going to Cozumel. We drove to America car rental and the guy was so kind and offered us a ride back to the bus depot. Highly recommend this car rental place. We then rode the comfortable Ado bus back to the Cancun airport at $10/person (bought on-line). Our hotel in Cancun did not have a free shuttle, so O booked through a shuttle company, who was there 20 minutes after we arrived by bus. No bathrooms in the bus depot area of Cancun airport, so make sure your toddler uses the Ado bus bathroom. The shuttle took us to our Cancun hotel, The Royal Carribean, which was were we spent our last night of the trip swimming and playing at the beach.