To understand why I might consider an all-inclusive resort in a popular tourist area in Mexico a "hidden gem," one must first understand my travel history. I am fluent in Spanish. I have lived in South America and backpacked through Peru, Argentina, and Chile. I have stayed in hostels, camped, cooked my own food, lived on very little money. And I have been to the Mayan Riviera four times, staying in modest vacation rentals in a small fishing village on each visit. I scoffed at all-inclusive resorts and wrote them off as not being an "authentic" travel experiences or as too insular.
That was all before kids.
Now I realize - after having discovered the magical place that is Paradisus - La Esmerelda in Playa del Carmen - that an all-inclusive resort can be an amazing haven of recreation and relaxation and family-friendly accommodations. Were it not for our recent #SCAgetaway, I would never have discovered Paradisus, a place where they provided anything and everything we as a family with two young kids might want.
On the day of our departure, Andrew and I awoke to a 3:45 a.m. alarm, threw on our clothes and woke the kids - Julian (5) and Nora (2.5) - for our 4:15 a.m. taxi pick-up. The plane lifted off under cover of darkness at 6:00 in the morning, the kids sitting wide-eyed in their seats, still in their jammies. Both had flown before, but when they were infants, and neither one remembered the experience. They were mesmerized, terrified, and fascinated all at once. At one point, Julian asked me, "are you sure this is safe?" (something I wonder to myself every time I fly). As the sun began to rise - a spectacular sight from an airplane window - any anxiety melted away to pure excitement.
We were met at the Cancun International Airport by a friendly driver from Olympus Tours who fulfilled my lifelong dream of being greeted at an airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it. We sprang for the private transfer to the hotel which was worth every penny - the kids dozed just long enough in their carseats to take the edge off of their tiredness and Andrew and I took full advantage of the wifi in the van to catch up on work emails (Andrew) and post to Snapchat and Instagram Stories (me).
The VIP treatment continued ten-fold when we arrived at Paradisus - a huge resort situated on the beach near Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera, yet not at all visible from the main road. We were whisked to the family concierge desk via golf cart, where we were fed champagne, outfitted with stylish wristbands, and introduced to our family butler Paulina, who gave us a tour of the myriad amenities available: several swimming pools, a rock climbing wall, babysitting services, tons of restaurants, a private beach, and beautiful grounds nestled among a mangrove forest.
We checked out our amazing room, where sand toys awaited the kids, and we discovered that we even had a jacuzzi on our balcony that looked out over the Caribbean Sea. We immediately donned swimsuits. It was then that getting up so early in the morning paid off: the kids were splashing in the pool and Andrew and I were enjoying margaritas by noon.
The rest of our first day in paradise was spent going from the pool to the beach and back. We had a delicious dinner at the resort's Brazilian steakhouse, and we were all sound asleep by 8pm.
Here are some of my favorite images from that first wonderful day.
Huge thanks to Sun Country Airlines, Paradisus - La Esmerelda, and Olympus Tours for this amazing opportunity.