Ava got her passport when she was three months old. It is possibly the cutest passport photo ever taken. But what use could a three-month-old have with a passport? Not much, but it turns out that a certain six-month-old has plenty of use for one. Ava had been bugging us about Mexico ever since the Cinco de Mayo party, so she collected her first passport stamp on September 2nd after we got off the plane at the Cancun airport.
Tam found a great deal on a travel package to the Grand Sunset Princess Resort near Playa Del Carmen back in April. She did a little research, checked our schedules, checked with our pediatrician to make sure it was okay, and then booked a trip for four of us - me, Tam, Ava, and our nanny.
We used to travel light. Very light. No-checked-bags kind of light, and then sometimes only one carry-on between the two of us. There is no such thing as traveling light anymore. Two carry-ons, two checked bags, one camera bag, one diaper bag, and then Tam's purse. Oh yeah - AND a stroller AND Ava's carseat and base for the transfer from the airport to the hotel. Throw in the nanny's duffel and checked bag, and you've got a few people toting a lot of stuff through the airport. Maybe we'll refine the travel take-alongs as we get more experience traveling with Ava. But this being our first trip with her, and to a destination where we did not know if we would be able to buy anything that we forgot, we ended up packing on the heavy side.
Our trip started Wednesday with a drive down to Tampa, where we stayed at possibly the sketchiest hotel imaginable. At least it was close to the airport, though. Too bad we didn't find out there was a hotel in the Tampa airport until we arrived at the terminal the next day. The flight left at 7:45, and Ava handled her first flight perfectly. She had a little snack and took a nap, waking up just as we landed in Miami. A short layover, and then a repeat nap/flight over to Cancun. She even got compliments on how well-behaved she was.
Our transportation was waiting for us after we filed a missing-bag claim (which ended up on the next flight), and we had a very friendly driver chauffer us the 30 miles or so to the resort. He helped us with our Spanish, and really appreciated that we were making an effort to speak the local language. That is an attitude that everybody seemed to share, much like in Italy and completely unlike Paris.
When you book a hotel or a resort online, you have to assume that the pictures they show you are the only four or five pretty spots they have, so we were delighted when we stepped off the van into the lobby of absolute paradise. The pictures we saw paled in comparison to the beauty of the Grand Sunset Princess. It was far more beautiful than we anticipated, with lush landscaping, a grand entryway, at least a dozen pools (many with swim-up bars), and a nice expanse of white sandy beach. We left our bags with the botones, as our room was not yet ready, and found lunch and did some exploring of the grounds. By the time we got in our (upgraded) rooms, our missing bag had found its way to the resort, and we were able to settle into the rooms. The rooms were very nice, though they had a twinge of mildew smell about them, which I suppose is inevitable when you air-condition a place at nearly 100% humidity.
We enjoyed a visit to the beach and to one of the pools before we hit one of the buffet restaurants for dinner and a show. The show was not provided by the resort, but by our nanny who found out that her calling card did not work from Mexico and she would be unable to phone her boyfriend. She stormed off in what would not be the last bit of unacceptable diva behavior during the trip. We will be selecting our traveling companions much more carefully from here on, as it turns out that Tam and I would have been able to handle the whole trip, minus a couple of excursions, on our own with a lot less expense and hassle.
I’m not going to focus on the negatives, so I’ll mention our two sans-baby excursions. First, Tam and I booked a morning trip to swim with dolphins at a nearby facility. It was not anything we had planned to do, but decided on a whim, and it was awesome. I’ve seen dolphins at a distance, but never close enough to touch them and certainly not interact with them in the water. It’s amazing to see just how intelligent and cooperative these animals are. Our experience included petting the dolphins, a flipper handshake with them, a dolphin “kiss,” and our choice of either a double foot-push or a dorsal fin ride from Sidney and Plata (our dolphins’ names). I chose the push and Tam opted for the dorsal fin. We haggled for a great deal on photos and video footage of the whole thing, and then got back to the resort in time for more lunch and pool/beach lounging.
By this time, we also had reservations at some of the themed restaurants at the resort. We ended up eating at the Asian restaurant twice, the fondue restaurant once, and the Italian restaurant once.
Our second sans-baby outing was a visit to the spa on the resort property for a couples massage. The spa was very modern and dimly lit, with calm music playing and a wonderful clean fragrance in the air. It was instant tranquility. Our spa treatment included a 50-minute hot oil massage, which felt wonderful even on my sunburned shoulders, a bottle of wine, a dip in the private room’s hot tub, a menthol steam room, and an incredible chocolate cake.
We took one more excursion – a trip 30 miles south to see the beachside Mayan ruins at Tulum - and this time Ava got to come and play too. We told her not to get used to it, but she got to experience passenger van travel without the confines of a carseat, as there were no carseat anchors or seatbelts available to use. We drove through some of the sketchier-looking parts of Playa del Carmen en route to pick up passengers from other resorts, and it was odd to see fairly modern looking buildings juxtaposed with shacks built from corrugated sheet metal scraps. Of course it was hot when we got to Tulum, and we did our best to keep little Ava in the shade the whole time as our guide told us all about how the temple complex was constructed on precise lines corresponding to the vernal and autumnal equinoxes – so precisely that the sun would shine through a tiny window in one temple for precisely five minutes on one day out of the year. The ruins were magnificent, though we did not get to swim in the ocean there as we planned. It was a narrow gap of beach surrounded by cliffs and rocks, and it was way too rough to take Ava out with us even waist-deep. Ava summed up the muggy and hot weather as we stepped through the tunnel to head back to the van – she let out a sigh/whimper that sounded EXACTLY like “oh my God.” If we had video rolling for that, we could have easily sent it in for a prize to AFV. If you check facebook close enough, you’re bound to find pics of our nanny posing ever-so-cutely for self-taken snapshots around the ruins, and that's about all she contributed to our trip to Tulum because the bag was too heavy, the ground was too rocky to push the stroller, and apparently the baby was too hot and sweaty to carry. Yep.
Those were all of our excursions, and the rest of the time was spent at the resort: food, drinks, pools, the beach, large iguanas, crashing a Bollywood wedding reception, buying a few souvenirs, followed by losing all our luggage on the way back, Ava bonking her head at the airport, and a massive diaper blowout that was changed in the airplane bathroom (not recommended).
All in all, it was a great time. I can say that we felt perfectly safe the entire time we were there, even when we were not on the resort property, and we will definitely be returning to the Grand Sunset Princess. Anybody else care to join us next time?