By Leah Faye Cooper
Just two days before I was invited to Cancun, I poked fun at a few friends who told me they planned to travel to Mexico for Spring Break. “Um … aren’t we a little too old for Girls Gone Wild-esque vacations?” I teased. But when I was invited to the all-inclusive Palace Resorts in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, I forgot my snide comment and wasted no time accepting.
After a two-hour jaunt over the Gulf of Mexico via Continental, I landed in Cancun where a jovial driver from USA Transfers whisked me to the famous Hotel Zone. As we coasted down the winding highway, road signs displaying the speed in kilometers were the only indication I was no longer in Texas. Domino’s, McDonald’s, and Starbucks are just a few of the familiar names I caught a glimpse of on my way to our destination. The quiet 20-minute trip to the hotel was akin to the calm before a storm—or in this case, the calm before an unforgettable getaway.
My first home away from home was Sun Palace—an adults-only retreat nestled towards the end of the city’s long stretch of hotels. At check-in, I was briefed on the amenities I would be privy to during my stay—food, drinks, and a slew of recreational activities are granted at any Palace resort with a flash of one’s wristband.
Beds that make you want to sleep forever, luxurious Jacuzzis, and mini-bars stocked with beer, liquor, wine, and juices are trademarks of this upscale hotel chain. Still, each resort has its own unique qualities.
Beach Palace’s modern décor and sleek sports bar give it a youthful vibe. An enormous outdoor movie screen airs major sporting and encourages Nintendo Wii competitions by the pool.
Playacar Palace in Playa del Carmen has an open-air front desk and nearby golfing retreat. It feels like an outdoor lovers paradise. Moments from the local port, Playacar’s prime location make ferry rides to Cozumel easily accessible. The day my travel buddies and I ferried over to Cozumel, we were treated to live music on board. The band’s high-energy performances of Maroon 5 and Carlos Santana distracted me from the rocky waters.
In true vacation fashion, I abandoned all dieting during my Mexican getaway and opted to enjoy every meal and delicious cocktail I was offered. Fresh ceviche, chicken mole, and slow-cooked pork were among my faves.
During an afternoon at the festive Cancun Palace, our server Victor whipped up a delicious batch of guacamole and let us in on his special ingredient—two shots of tequila! He ensures it’s kid-friendly by cooking most of the alcohol out over an open flame; but trust me, when combined with finely chopped hot peppers, it still has quite the kick.
The best meal of the trip was at Yaxche Maya Cuisine Restaurant in Playa del Carmen. Broiled lobster accompanied by flambéed exotic fruits and Yucatan style fajitas marinated in indigenous spices were the standout dishes. For desert, I devoured a plate of codzitos—deep-fried and glazed flour rolls filled with chocolate and placed on a mound of vanilla ice cream. After one bite, I was booking my next trip back.
While I never tired of spa treatments and swim-up bars, there is plenty more to keep one busy in Southern Mexico. Moon Palace combines golfing and modern customer service. All golf carts have a touch-screen menu allowing you to order drinks from anywhere on the course. When the staff receives your order, they locate your GPS-equipped cart and deliver your beverage right to you.
At Cozumel Palace my travel crew and I boarded a glass-bottom boat for a snorkeling excursion. After swimming amongst tropical fish and beautiful coral reefs, I spotted a barracuda. The rest of the group raced to see it; I raced back to the boat. Though time did not permit, Cozumel Palace has an enclave for swimming with dolphins.
Playa del Camen’s bustling 5th Avenue may not have a Saks or Bergdorfs, but the energy easily rivals any metropolitan hub. Restaurants, bars, and clothing stores line the pedestrian-only promenade. Ideal for picking up souvenirs, 5th Avenue is also at the epicenter of Playa’s electrifying nightlife scene.
Seven curious souls and I spent three hours participating in an ancient Temazcal ritual during our trip to Aventura Spa Palace. Led by a Shaman, the ceremony has been done for centuries to rid the body of disease and ailments. Performed in a sweat lodge heated by volcanic rocks, it is a ceremonial cleansing of the mind, body, and spirit. After coating our bodies in clay and burning tobacco leaves as a symbol of relinquishing negativity, we entered the sweat lodge where flaming hot rocks were placed in the center and doused with a potent mixture of water and herbs. In the pitch-black lodge, we took turns recounting past memories—both pleasant and painful—as a nearly unbearable cloud of steam blanketed us. Our Shaman, Raphael, facilitated the discussion as we each shared bits and pieces about our lives. After what seemed like an eternity, we exited the lodge and shocked our bodies by plunging into an ice-cold pool. The next morning I felt strong, invigorated, and most noticeably, at peace.
Though increased violence along the US-Mexico border has garnered much attention in recent months, my trip to Southern Mexico went as smooth as a shot of top shelf tequila. From couples seeking seclusion to families playing Marco Polo, the scene at the Palace Resorts was calm and carefree. There was no sign of a country in turmoil, just sun, sand, and serenity.