HOLA MEXICO!!

Join us as we head out on our first trip since COVID began!

Well, I don’t know what to say. It sure has been a long time since I’ve done a blog, and I do apologize for that. In the spring of 2020, who would have thought the world would have spun the way it did have the events that occurred. Politics aside, COVID was a time and opportunity for me and the family to rethink who we are and the direction in which we wanted to go. With that, I announced in my December 2020 blog that we had relocated to Southern Vancouver Island. We have loved the beautiful tranquility of living in a much smaller community in the South Island, but close enough to work in nice-sized Victoria. Moving into Spring 2021, we bought a beautiful home in the Westshore, and it’s within a 15 minute walk to the beach, this has been a complete lifestyle change for us. If you want me to write about our experience of a mid-pandemic move, have a breeze through my last blog in December 2020.

Well now, let’s fast forward to Spring 2022. So much has changed! The world is reopening, travel is starting up again, vaccines are in arms (mostly), and we are slowly beating COVID to an endemic disease. So what exciting things has 2022 brought us! Well, this is technically from 2021, but we’ve been hosting a grade 11 student in our home from Germany who has just been an amazing experience for Alyssa and I, and the kids. As I type this and realize there’s only 4 weeks of school left, I can’t help but think how hard the good-byes will be at the end of June and she heads home to Germany. It has been such an amazing experience for us and the kids, and hopefully Amelie as well, to have her living with us and join our family for the year. The kids will truly miss her when she returns home.

So in January 2022, Alyssa and I decided to book our first COVID trip, planning 7 days at the all-inclusive Sandos Playacar Resort in Cancun, Mexico! 2 adults and 3 kids were going to fly south-east across the continent and finally enjoy some R&R for the first time in two-and-a-half years. Of course, we booked the trip with trip protection in case we HAD to cancel, but we were intent on doing this trip almost no matter what. Mexico had long ago relaxed its pre-entry requirements, so long as you’re fully vaccinated. Not a problem for us, or most Canadians as the requirement still exists to be fully vaccinated in order to board a plane to, well, anywhere.

The next hurdle we had was staying healthy, or catching COVID long enough before travel that we could be considered clear of isolation to travel. Once in country, the next concern would be “what happens if we contract COVID in Mexico?” Well, that’s where researching proper travel insurance and booking at the right resort comes in.

You see, Sandos, to promote travel, had a COVID plan in place, and for those who tested positive and had to isolate for x days prior to flying home, they would cover your first 2 days of in-room isolation at no cost, including all your nutrition and non-alcoholic fluids. From there, we had COVID-specific travel insurance that would cover accommodations about to $450/day for the family including meals which would take us to the flight home.

However, in mid-March 2022, the Public Health Agency of Canada and CBSA announced that as of April 1, 2022, no pre-entry testing would be required for fully vaccinated travellers and those not eligible to receive it (ie. Those under 5). Well, we were flying home on April 2, 2022. Talk about perfect timing! Not to mention this announcement was quite the surprise, as our much more COVID weary neighbours to the south still require pre-entry testing if you’re flying into the United States.

So how was Mexico during the Omicron-era of COVID? Pretty awesome. For starters, they really take to heart that preventing spread is important to keeping tourism dollars flowing. That being said, masks were required indoors and at the buffet, only to be removed in open air spaces. So going anywhere, masks were close at hand. Staff were diligently watching and informing guests to don their masks in areas where it is still required. Aside from the mask requirement, there were hand cleaning and washing stations available all over the resort, otherwise, it was such a relief to get back to some normalacy.

The resort itself was awe-inspiring in terms of its size, we’ve never stayed at a resort so large! The staff were amazing and for the most part quite attentive. They staff were also great with the kids which is so important to us. The frustrating part of this resort though was its size. Sandos Playacar is long and narrow; the family suites and zones are closer to the check in building. The next zone are the Haciendas, an upgraded suite that come in small blocks of 8 suites, and each block has its own pool and hot tub. Interestingly however, we had considered booking a Hacienda, but the suites are smaller than the family suites, not as ideal when travelling with 5 of us. The Sandos name also allowed us access to Sandos Caracol Eco Resort about a 20-minute taxi away, but we opted to stay within Playacar. Within the resort itself, you could walk anywhere in about 15-minutes, there was also a shuttle that ran every 10-15 minutes, but its capacity was often inadequate and many didn’t understand the idea of allowing those who couldn’t walk the distance or had young kids onto the shuttle first.

Room card attached to our wrist bands.

Typical of an all-inclusive resort that has upgraded zones, we had to wear a wristband for the week, with a separate one for the kids. What I found really cool about this though was that our keycard was located within the wristband inside a little chip. This meant no stressing about where our keycard was and it went everywhere we were!

The room was comfortable overall. We had a king-sized bed and a twin-over-double bunk for sleeping arrangement. Maddy had top bunk, Amelie below her, and Jacob slept in the king with us. We had a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom which wasn’t used once, and apparently wasn’t used by anyone as we turned it on one day to rinse off a beach toy and brown water emerged for the first 30-seconds or so. The bathroom also had a separated toilet and double sink which allowed us to more efficiently use the bathroom. The mini-fridge was well stocked, we had coffee and a coffee maker as well. These were all restocked as we consumed them. The pillows however were quite thick and rock solid. Housekeeping also had a tendency to replace towels even if we had them hung up, this despite Sandos own message that they would replace only towels left in a pile on the floor to indicate our desire to swap. The amount of towels we had also varied day-to-day. Finally, the WiFi was good when working as well, there were sometimes some difficulties with how connecting to it works, but when connected was fast enough for high-def video streaming.

The food was nothing to scream about, it was far from bad, but didn’t scream amazing either. The nearest place to eat lunch and supper is actually quite far, about a 15 minute-walk away at the main buffet restaurant. For breakfast, one of the specialty restaurants is closer, located on the bottom floor of where you check in. We felt that this breakfast experience wasn’t nearly as good as the main buffet though. Speaking of specialty restaurants, they book up fast, and if you’re there for a week, go to the guest services desk and book your desired restaurant on day 1 for during your stay or you likely won’t get a spot. We had really wanted to try Asiana but could not get a reservation, alas, we did get one at the steakhouse one evening though.

There was definitely no problem getting us through our days. Swimming options galore including a family pool located almost outside our room. This pool was large, never crowded, and offered us a swim up bar. While the resort was steady, it didn’t seem anywhere near capacity for guests, or staff. Waits could be long as there was often only one bartender, but they always did their best to keep up. There were two waterparks available to guests, yes, two! Both were relatively new, one was all the way down by the beach, this main waterpark was quite big and offered the kids a huge variety of slides and apparatus.  The second waterpark was right by our family pool, this was much newer and it was nice to have a much quieter option for our kids so close to our room. The kids club was an instant hit with our kids, located roughly mid-resort by the main buffet, it offered drop in fun for the kids, and after the first visit there, the kids kept asking to return.

Next is the mini-golf, this 10, or was it 12-hole mini course was loads of fun. However, we did have to skip a couple holes due to infrastructure not being intact, it definitely would benefit from some TLC from maintenance crews. The beach was pretty decent, one thing we loved about this trip was we were never, not once, struggling to find lounge chairs. The amount of seaweed that washed ashore would make any sushi-lover envious though. The water otherwise was clean and warm and safe for swimming.

There was also nightly concerts in the outdoor theatre as well, and Sandos put on some pretty amazing show! The first night we got there, a nod to Led Zeppelin was on stage. However, the two we really wanted to see, well, actually, the one Amelie really wanted to see was Shakira and the kids really wanted to see Cocoa. Both were great shows and it was so satisfying to see their faces light up during the performances and dancing and singing along.

A couple evenings that we were there, there was also a night market setup just outside the main buffet. There were also free bikes to sign out and go for a ride through the secure resort area that the Sandos was located in, the main road took you around past many other resorts such as several Riu brands and the Hard Rock Café. Not surprisingly, one of the markets you ride past has the same products and merchants that go into the resort and sell items for easily double the pesos. While the market in the resort area is by no means cheap, it does support local merchants and I do like the feeling and game of haggling what I feel is an okay deal. Yes! I know I’m often still ripped off, but it does support local owners who have otherwise been decimated by COVID lately as well.

All-in-all it was an amazing first post-COVID trip. We relaxed, drank, had fun, and most importantly, the kids had fun and were occupied the whole time. We enjoyed all the foods and desserts we wanted, forgot about work, and enjoyed our first experience in Cancun. The one thing I personally would prefer in Puerto Vallarta is the ability to enjoy and watch the sunset over the ocean. Being in the family zone, we were no where near ocean view so watching a sunrise was out of the question unless I wanted to get up really early and go for a walk. I think overall we’d give Sandos Playacar a 4 star rating. Everything was good, but nothing had a wow factor to it. Alyssa and I agreed we all enjoyed the trip but will likely not return to this resort if we came back to Cancun for a resort trip.

Thank you for reading about our latest trip! Travelled during COVID? Please share your experience in the comments.

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