By Eileen Ogintz
RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico (Day Three) — Jessica Hunter never figured herself the all-gourmet resort type.
“Not at all,” the Brooklyn NY mom of two young kids laughed. But there she was ensconced on a cozy beach bed eating freshly made guacamole and tacos with her husband while her in-laws were watching the kids at the beachfront playground.
“This is pretty perfect,” she acknowledged.
Welcome to Azul Beach Resort Riviera Maya by Karisma, just 20 minutes from Cancun Airport and just 148 recently renovated rooms with everything—pools, including one for kids, 5 restaurants, white sand beach (love the two-story beach beds!), kids’ club, spa (yes there are “Perfectly Pink Spa” treatments for kids as young as five too) and Scoops for ice cream just steps apart.
The resort goes to great pains to ease the stress of traveling with little ones — everything from changing tables and baby baths to cribs and strollers, tiny bathrobes and slippers, kids’ steps in the bathroom, even a lending library of Nickelodeon toys all available on a complimentary basis and family evening activities.
Last year, the resort began partnering with Nickelodeon to offer the Nickelodeon Experience so kids can interact with favorite characters like Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When kids check in, they get a slime smoothie.
Beach butlers have everything you need from sunscreen to magazines and come around with snacks.
“Fabulous,” declared Allen Morris, here with his wife and grandkids — 15, including nine kids aged 1-12 from Chicago. “You get value for your money.”
Not that this is inexpensive (rack rates roughly $250 per person per night, with kids under four free and those 4-12 half price, though there are often deals available).
Certainly you could rent a house on the beach for a lot less but then, the parents opined, it wouldn’t feel like a vacation if they were cooking, cleaning and trying to figure out the logistics of where to go for dinner, getting cranky kids in and out of the car.
“Here we don’t have to worry about anything. You just show up and enjoy yourself,” said Peter Dodson, here with his wife and six-year-old daughter Avery and year-old son Alexander from Saskatoon, Canada.
“It’s just a couple of minutes to everything,” said Michelle Dodson, adding with young kids that’s important.
Avery was especially taken with their swim-up suite while her parents appreciated the baby monitor so they could be just outside swimming with Avery while Alexander napped.
“It wouldn’t be a problem if we lived in the pool,” said Avery.
Parents didn’t seem upset that babysitting was so pricey ($20 per child per hour) or that the kids’ club activities started at age four, though parents with younger kids were welcome to play with them in the well appointed center.
“Honestly, by 8 p.m. after a day in the sun on the beach in the water, we’re ready for bed too.”
The families who chose this resort did so in part because it is small—they weren’t interested in a large all-inclusive resort, they said, where partying might go on late into the night. “Our style is relaxing and quiet,” explained Chrissy Goodchild, here with her husband and two young kids from Massachusetts.
There were plenty of beach activities — kayaks, yoga, Hobie Cats but most kids and parents were content to build sand sculptures, laze on the shaded beach beds and alternate between the ocean and the pool.
They also didn’t necessarily need condo-type accommodations available at other Karisma resorts. Here they had a choice of rooms or suites with sliding doors between the bedroom and living area where the couches would be made into beds for the kids.
There was a fish BBQ for lunch, with the chefs cooking up shrimp kabobs and Mahi Mahi along with an assortment of ceviche and salads. Lobsters were available at an extra price.
For dinner, there were gourmet but kid-friendly restaurants including one showcasing the flavors of South America. The kids’ menus featured the typical grilled cheese and chicken nuggets but also grilled chicken breast, pasta and soup.
Even those without kids were enjoying themselves. “We usually go to an adults only resort,” said Peter Cassidy, traveling with his wife from near Vancouver. “This is a nice change. Definitely the kids add energy.”