My friend and client Cheryce recently returned from the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, with her family. I talked to her about their vacation (click here to watch the video, or click here for the podcast version). It was so great to hear about her experiences!
Me: Hi, Cheryce! Let's start with the planning process.
Cheryce: I believe it was in May of this year, we decided we wanted to take a trip with our family over Thanksgiving, assuming that COVID would be so much better. It obviously was not, but that actually made me want to go even more because with the shutdown, I love, love, love to travel. So it has been hard for me not to get to go places. And this was a way I felt that we could go. We took all our six kids and an extra. We also went with a group of friends, a family who has four kids. So there was a group of 15 of us that traveled. And it was just so much fun. We have such a great time with our friends and I feel like we were super safe and everything was very well thought out with COVID, so that you felt very secure wherever you went and whatever you did, which was awesome.
Me: Talk about flights. How early did you get to the airport? Were there restaurants open? What was your airport experience like, especially since you were traveling over the holidays? Normally it would be overcrowded and really busy. Was that how it was this year? Was it pretty mild? What did you find with not just the airport, but also the flights?
Cheryce: We have gone on one other trip during COVID, and this was more crowded than that, but we were a lot earlier on in COVID. It wasn't crowded, it was just more crowded. American Airlines doesn't social distance, the same way as Delta and other airlines do. So there are no empty seats. My family was a group of nine, so it was very easy to just be by each other, but otherwise, everyone is right by each other. There are no empty seats. When we’ve flown Delta, they leave the middle seat open. So you definitely have more space. But American IS very strict about you keeping your mask on. They repeatedly would come over the intercom if they saw someone without their mask on and say, “You have to have it over your nose and your mouth. You may take it off to eat and drink, but then you need to put it right back on.” So they're really strict about their mask rules on the flight, which I feel like Delta was as well.
Me: It’s good that everybody's keeping that same common denominator as far as making sure that masking is done. Did American say anything about how they sanitize things or wipe things down?
Cheryce: Yes. They go through a whole spiel before you take off about their sanitation procedure, how they wiped down everything with hospital grade antibacterial wipes before the flight, and then often they do a micro bacterial spray that they can spray through the whole plane. They talked about how efficient filters are in their air recycling. So everything's really safe.
Me: That’s great. When you landed in Cancun, what was the transportation like to the resort? Was it crowded? Was it hard to find your transportation? What was that like?
Cheryce: This is one of my favorite parts about the trip, having transportation, because it can be a little chaotic in Cancun. Since we have gone a couple of times before we know that. It’s great to already have someone lined up, so you know where you're going. So for us, it was delightful. We just walked outside. We saw our guy with the flowered shirt. We talked to him, we got all 15 of us in two vans and we just headed on our way. So it probably took like 15 minutes once we were all off to get to where we were going and then to get them to work out where, where they were going to put us, but it wasn't bad at all. It was awesome.
Me: I love having the prearranged transportation.
Cheryce: It takes that one thing off my brain so that I know it's already done.
Me: The resort where you stayed is called the Ocean Riviera Paradise. Tell us about the resort. What did you notice about COVID type check-in routines as you check in? And then tell us about the resort.
Cheryce: When we got off our transfer, the very first thing they did was to take our temperatures. We also had to walk through a foot sanitation thing. They also took all our luggage and sprayed it with antibacterial stuff. So they did a lot of pre-cleaning before we even walked into the hotel. And then once we got into the resort, they have plexiglass between us and their check-in staff. Having done Cancun two years ago with our family, there are differences. Like, there aren’t drinks waiting as soon as you walk in. They will come ask you, “Would you like something to drink? We'll bring it to you.” So you still get it, but it's not the same as it was two years ago when you could just do whatever and have whatever all there.
Me: Did they take your luggage to your room, or did you take it?
Cheryce: They brought our luggage. We got there on Thanksgiving night about 7:00 PM and we were all starving. So we said we would like to go right to the buffet.
We went right to the buffet and then once we got to our rooms, after we ate, we called and they brought our luggage up to us, which was great.
Me: I think a lot of resorts right now will not just come and drop your luggage off for you in the room, like they did previously. Now they want you there when they deliver it because the room's been already sanitized and everything.
What things about the resort did you enjoy?
Cheryce: The resort is really awesome. It's really nice that it's not so big that you get lost. Cause we've had resorts like that, where you take a wrong turn and you have no idea where you are. This is basically like one straight line. You’ve got your rooms on one side and then you just walk straight line to get to the beach, which is probably like a seven-minute walk from where we were staying.
Me: Were you staying in the family area?
Cheryce: Yes, we were the closest to the restaurants and things like that. And closest to the kid pool. We were talking about if we would want to stay in a different place next time? We decided we liked where we were because you were halfway between all the things.
Me: I've stayed at the Ocean Riviera Paradise. We were actually in the section further down, closer to the beach, but it, and it was nice. It was really awesome to get to the beach, but it was definitely more of a walk to get back to the restaurants or the main building.
What else did you like about the resort? What did you do?
Cheryce: We loved the buffet, which was good and bad. Because of COVID, it was open on the weekends for dinner, but not on any weekdays. So once the weekdays started, it was never open at dinner time and only the restaurants were open. And sometimes my kids said, well, we don't want to go to a restaurant. We just want to go get what we want. So that was a slight downside, but the restaurants were still fun. Sometimes we as Americans don’t like to sit down and just eat and enjoy our moment. We are more like, let's hurry and eat so we can do something else.
For us that made it a little bit different, because every night dinner took two, two and a half hours instead of just let's grab and go. It was fine. It was just different than what we thought. We would walk by and see that it was closed again.
Me: So that was definitely a change that has happened with Covid, because normally it would be open for all of your meals. With the buffet, were they still allowing you to take your own food, or did they serve you?
Cheryce: At the buffet you had to ask for things: “I would like this,” and they would serve you, so there was good and bad with that as well. I don’t feel like you can overeat the same way you can with a normal buffet, which is a good thing. Also, my kids all speak Spanish, so it works out fine for them. But for me, who is not as fluent in my Spanish, if I don't know how to say something, I just probably won't get that because I have to ask for it.
Me: Did you spend much time at the pools or the beach, or at the bowling alley or places around the resort?
Cheryce: My son and my friend's son, they probably spent their whole time at the bowling alley. As soon as it opened till it closed, they were in the bowling alley all the time. My son’s 11 and my friend's son is 13. The only downside with the bowling is, they have six lanes and they only opened three. So you'd have to put on your name on a list. As soon as they were done bowling they’d put their name on the list so they could bowl again.
But my girls and I spent the majority of our time on the beach. I love that they have the pool right on the beach because you can lay out by the pool and then go right to the ocean if you want. And then come back to the pool. It's, it's just a really nice setup there. Because of COVID they would sometimes serve lunch actually on the beach instead of in the restaurant at the beach.
We ate at all of the other restaurants at the resort. Our favorite was probably the teppanyaki one. It was a lot of fun. The kids think that's the best ever. Even if they won't eat half the food, they entertainment is worth it for them. So fun. So they loved that one. The last night we had seven that were 18 and older. So we went to the Blue Moon Restaurant that is just for adults. The kids ordered room service. The Blue Moon was really good too. Those were probably our two favorites besides the buffet.
Me: Which you didn't get a whole lot of.
Cheryce: Yeah. Only every day for breakfast. We had a waitress in the buffet who was the nicest ever. We had two birthdays while we were down there, my friend and her daughter. We had brought a pinata for my friend, and we asked our waitress if there was a grocery store close by that we could walk to so we could get candy to fill it. And she said, “Why don't I get my husband to go do that?” And he brought back candy and we filled it. That was just so nice. And on my friend's daughter's birthday, which was our very last day, she made sure that she had a little cake that said Happy Birthday, with a candle. They were so nice; they made those birthdays so awesome.
Me: That’s so great. Don't you think that with COVID, because they haven't had as many visitors, they just love that people are coming to see them?
Cheryce: Yes. You feel sad because this is their whole way of life. They have no other way to make money, so this is what they do. And so it helps me to be a lot more generous, I think, just because I know that in a small way, I am helping in that department.
Me: I agree. Did you do any excursions or things off-site?
Cheryce: Yes. On Monday we booked with K tours, a company I’d booked with before. They do tours all through the Cancun area. What I love about K tours is that they will take your pictures for you while you're on your tour. So I don't have to worry about taking photos. They picked us up at 7:45 on Monday morning, and then we went to Tulum with a tour guide with us. When we had done it two years ago, we had a tour guide and a photographer, but due to COVID, they have downsized. Our tour guide was our photographer this time.
She took us on a tour through all the ruins, told us the history, which is what I love, but the next part is what my kids loved. Then we went to like a cenote adventure park. What was wonderful about this is that it's normally closed on Mondays, but because we were a big enough group, they opened it just for us. Wow. So it was just us in a huge park. Yes, it was amazing. So we zip lined into the water, like where you're hanging and flipping into the water. We canoed, and we did regular zip lines. We swam and snorkeled. I think it's called 10 KA and it was so fun. And then after that we were going to do another ruin, but because that's what I wanted to do, but then I could see I was losing my people. So we decided to go right to lunch instead. We went and ate at a delicious restaurant. It was so good. And it's right on the beach in Tulum. This day was best friend's birthday. They came and they sang to her and they gave her a little treat. And so it was just a fun day, all around.
Me: Very fun. So did you do any others besides that day?
Cheryce: Our friends went on Saturday; they did a catamaran trip in Puerto Morales, I believe. There’s a beach there, which is supposed to be super They went to the beach and did snorkeling and things like that. We didn’t, because my kids said they just wanted to sit on a beach and I was like, well, a beach there and a beach here is just as good. So we didn't go, but they had a great time. They said it was super fun.
Me: That sounds awesome. We’re getting to the end of our conversation, but would you want to tell me anything about highlights overall? Were you glad you went now?
Cheryce: I'm so, so glad we went now because I have a daughter leaving on a church service mission for a year and a half in January. And this was our last time to have everyone together. And it was so fun to just almost forget about the COVID for a minute. We were still wearing masks, especially if you ever went off the resort.
On Sunday we took a taxi into Playa del Carmen and we just walked around and got poured on and enjoyed the shopping and fun in the town. The weather was actually fantastic except for one that day on the first Sunday. That's fine because we don't do a whole lot of water sports and things on Sundays, so it actually worked out fine. So we just went and did Playa and enjoyed the atmosphere there. So it was fun.
Me: That's great. So you were glad you went. Do you have any recommendations for anybody going, either to that resort or to Cancun in general?
Cheryce: If you stay at the Ocean Riviera Paradise, you have to get your reservation for the teppanyaki restaurant, at nine in the morning is when they open. We got one of our two reservations, right at nine. And then in the two minutes it took us to get the other one, the time we wanted was gone. So even the fact that there are not that many people at the resort, which is delightful, but also it still made it like that part still a little crazy for reservations. You don't need reservations anywhere else, because they are at such low capacity right now, but you do need it for the Japanese restaurant. And they went fast.
Our transfers back to the airport were fantastic. He had the nicest van; he had a whole monitor screen in there that showed music videos the whole way back. So my kids were like all carsick because they were all watching.
But it was super fun. I would just say that it was awesome. And there you're I bet you're safer than you are here because they take such extra . They have sanitizing stations everywhere that you can use hand sanitizer. They wrap everything, all your utensils in plastic. So no one's touching them. They’re just really good. It's very safe feeling.
Me: that is awesome. And it's been so great to talk to you today! Thank you so much for talking to me the day after you get back. I can't believe you've even dug yourself out from under your pile of laundry!
Cheryce: That's because our luggage is still stuck in Dallas. So we're waiting for that. So I can't do laundry.
Me: So that’s why we’re talking now. What happened? Any word on your luggage?
Cheryce: This was a fun story. When we landed in Dallas from Cancun, we had an hour and a half, which should be plenty of time to get your luggage and get to your next flight. Our luggage did not come for probably 45 minutes, maybe even longer. So going through customs was no big deal. We were all just sitting there waiting for our luggage and we don't know what happened, but then by the time we got it, it was 6:30 and our flight left at 6:50. So we sent half our kids without luggage and just said, “Go get on the plane. At least you guys go home, because there's no reason for all of us to sit here.” We were pretty sure were going to miss our flight, but we got really lucky. And once we got our stuff, we had to go recheck it again. Then we just took off running, and rode the train to our terminal. It worked. My daughter had told them that there were a whole group of people still coming, and they luckily waited till we got there and walked on. We all made it. Not our luggage, but we did.
Me: That’s great! Cheryce, thank you so much for talking to me and giving me the update on your trip. It sounds like you had such a great time and I'm so glad that everything worked out. Hopefully we'll be able to talk again after another fun trip sometime!