The Challenge: Getting twelve family members (grandparents, children and grandchildren) from Canada to Mexico and keeping everyone happily occupied and well fed for a full week.
The Solution: The Mayan Riviera on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and the all-inclusive Now Sapphire Resort.
It took a lot of planning and co-ordination to find a week and location suitable for our three adult children, their spouses and our five grandchildren aged 5 to 15. Agreement was reached on Mexico, our group airfare was booked on United (the Air Canada group rate was much higher) and we arrived at the modern Cancun Airport ready for a week of relaxation and family fun.
Our choice of the Now Sapphire Riviera Cancun was an inspired one. That area of Mexico has become a favourite destination over the years and we wanted a beachside resort big enough to have plenty of activities for the young ones plus a reputation for excellent cuisine. A string of AAA Four Diamond awards for the Now Sapphire was the clincher.
It was very hot on arrival (30+ degrees) but no one seemed to mind as we surveyed the lush, beautifully landscaped property with huge swimming pools surrounded by thatched Bali beds, imaginative and airy public areas and a series of low rise hotel buildings (almost 500 rooms), many of which faced the sea. The adjoining rooms of our Fredericton daughter and her family proved to be too musty for the asthma of our son-in-law but the resort went out of its way to provide suitable accommodation.
Our room was a spacious, well-appointed suite with a large Jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean. Unlike mid-winter, the very warm water brings a lot of seaweed near the shore the rest of the year (it’s scooped up daily) but the sea was clear and free of seaweed a few metres out so a number of guests were enjoying the very buoyant and very salty experience.
The Now Sapphire has six excellent specialty restaurants and we were determined to try them all but our first choice was Mexican. For our welcome dinner the first night the resort set up a table for 12 on the terrace of the seaside Fresco Mexican restaurant. Waiters offered traditional sombreros to all of us and a menu featuring authentic regional cuisine and an endless supply of homemade tortilla chips accompanied by salsa and guacamole. Each adult got a delicious mango margarita to start and the kids had their own versions of the drink. One of our sons-in-law had never been to an all-inclusive and couldn’t believe there was no bill to pay at the end of the elegant dinner.
Over the course of the week we did sample all the culinary offerings and were very impressed. Bluewater Grill is also on a beachside terrace and offers excellent fish tacos as well as other treats from the sea. Cibu is the Mediterranean specialty restaurant while Lemongrass offers excellent sushi plus several teppenaki tables where chefs put on a fiery show while grilling tableside beef, fish or chicken. The kids, in particular, loved the juggling and entertainment and wanted to go back a second night. There is one adults only restaurant, Paramour, with fancy and tasty French cuisine presented formally with domed covers that are removed in unison. The main buffet restaurant is the Market Cafe where we enjoyed most breakfasts (traditional American fare plus a number of Mexican specialties) and some lunches. Room service is also available 24 hours a day and the kids loved the chance to eat in their suites. The service can be slow (up to an hour) but the food is excellent.
The resort has an active children’s program with a staff to supervise activities for both youngsters and teens. One highlight was the bungee trampoline where kids were strapped into a harness between two poles and able to bounce on a trampoline many metres into the air. But the pools and the beach were so tempting that our group of youngsters spent most of their time in the water. The resort also had kayaks and sailboats available at no extra cost plus opportunities to snorkel or SCUBA dive on the world’s second longest reef, just offshore.
Some in our family group kept busy on the resort the whole week but a few of us wanted to explore more of the Yucatan Peninsula, especially ancient Mayan ruins. We rented a car (there’s an Avis rep at the resort) and drove to Chichen Itza, the remarkably preserved city built by the Mayans about 1000 AD and now one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The massive and dominant El Castillo (Kukulkan Pyramid) was built as an observatory and calendar with a total of 365 steps. The property also has the largest ball court in the Americas and unusual carvings like the Wall of Skulls. A totally fascinating experience into an ancient culture.
Some in our group also drove to Tulum, another Mayan ruin that’s unique because it was built by the sea rather than far inland. The pristine beach at the site helps cool off the many visitors.
Two other attractions we enjoyed during the week were the new Xenotes tour with swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, rappelling and zip lining in four different cenotes (underground, water-filled caverns) and the nearby Crococun Zoo where a knowledgeable guide took us on a trail filled with crocodiles (guests can pick up smaller ones), deer, monkeys and birds. A fun-filled hour.
On our last day at the Now Sapphire, we asked if we could celebrate again with a traditional Mexican feast. The resort set up our table for 12 on the deck at Bluewater Grill and we feasted on an appetizer of octopus and shrimp with cucumber “noodles” and tortilla soup with cheese, avocado and shrimp. The splendid entrée was tender beef filet covered in a dark and tasty molé sauce made with chocolate. Everyone loved it.
After a week, no one wanted to leave (a good sign we thought) but we did get organized enough for the 20 minute trip back to the Cancun Airport (a good layout, but with very pricy food, drinks and snacks) and flights home. All in all, a multi-generational family trip to savour and remember.
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax.