The best vacations are the easy ones. You leave early; get a direct flight; when you reach your destination, you are a short drive from your hotel, and then you’re able to hit the beach by early afternoon. To me, that’s paradise.
That’s just what I found in Cancun, where I went with a group on an intergenerational trip. I opted for the 8am flight out of JFK. It’s never easy to get up at the crack of dawn to head to the airport, but with the Gatorade-turquoise seas and ocean breezes beckoning me, I knew I made the right choice.
After an easy 3.5 hour flight from New York, I was sitting in the warm sand with a frozen mojito. Perfect! Only a 20-minute drive from the airport, Cancun’s hotel zone is home to dozens of large and small places to stay.
Stay & Play
We called the Marriott Cancun Resort home for four days and couldn’t have been happier. With beautiful beach views from our balcony and a spacious bathroom, it was quite comfortable for my son and me. It’s a great location for an inter-generational trip with something to do for all ages. Both the Marriott and its connecting sister property J.W. Marriott Resort and Spa offer massages, mani-pedis, and more. For the price of a massage, you also get access to all the indoor fitness facilities at the J.W., including their large, warm lap pool, jacuzzi, juice bar, and fitness area. It’s a great way to pass the time on a rainy day…or any day for that matter.
The resort offers life-size chess, checkers, and Jenga sets near the pool as well as a full-size basketball court and volleyball on the beach. Every night there’s also a huge inflatable screen set up for outdoor kids’ movies. There’s a small, warm kiddie pool and tons of room to play—just stay away from those sitting at the swim-up bar! The welcoming Caribbean, of course, offers miles of sun, sand, and surf for castle-building and body surfing.
The kids’ club has an enclosed playground and matted play area if you and your kids need a break from the sun, or you want to hit the spa for the afternoon. And don’t forget to take your photo with the colorful “CANCUN” sign poolside for your social media.
If you’re there from June to November your kids can get a great wildlife education when the mama sea turtles make their annual migration to the area’s white sands for nesting season. In an effort to protect and preserve this endangered species, the Cancun Marriott has a protection and release program that saves thousands of babies each year. Once hatched, guests are invited to help release them into the ocean.
Explore & Learn
Mexico is not just gorgeous weather and beautiful beaches; while there, you have to see the sights. We hit the very cool underwater museum, Museo Subacuático de Arte, a very cool experience for kids who are old enough to snorkel.
A short boat ride away, you can swim around and explore hundreds of permanent sculptures that sit on the ocean’s bottom. Snorkel (or scuba) around and see the life size sculptures that include a Volkswagen Beetle, groups of praying people, and more, covered by seaweed and coral and surrounded by schools of fish. It’s something you have to see to truly appreciate (underwater cameras are a must for this part of the trip).
Go beyond the beach. Learning about the rich local history and culture is key to making your Mexican vacation meaningful. Just minutes down the road (a short walk or a quick bus or taxi ride away) is the sleek, modern—and air-conditioned—Museo Maya de Cancun museum. It houses one of the area’s most important collections of Mayan archeological artifacts including sculptures, ceramics, and jewelry.
Don’t miss the adjoining San Miguelito archaeological site. It’s down an almost hidden path that takes you past ruins of ancient homes and temples and a small pyramid. Kids will enjoy spotting the lizards, butterflies, and birds and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the jungle, though you are steps away from a major road and dozens of modern resorts (note: It’s closed Monday and pesos are required for admission; no dollars).
The Marriott resort and the adjacent J.W. Marriott offer dozens of restaurants to try including La Capilla Argentinian Steakhouse, Sasi Thai (excellent pad Thai), and Mikado Japanese Teppan Yaki. Be sure to get some local fare at the Sedona Grill where some nights they have a Mexican buffet, complete with fresh taco stations, and local cuisine from various areas of the country. Traveling with a group or extended family? Ask about organizing a guacamole-making lesson or ceviche contest. We chose the latter and they supplied all the ingredients, taught us how to make it, and then judged ours on taste, creativity, and presentation (apparently, all those hours watching “Master Chef Junior” paid off).