As many know I dabble in entering competitions every now and again. Gareth started to enter some alongside me a couple of years ago and now like me, enters a few every month when something takes our fancy. Last year he entered a photo competition with heart radio to win a family holiday to Mexico. To our surprise he won it! I almost had a heart attack when he received the phone to call to inform him of his prize.
At first I had reservations. I am not a beach person. I see no point wasting money to sit by a pool or on a beach all day, plus me and the sun do not mix. I turn into a lobster at the slightest bit of heat. Second was the expense. Whilst all inclusive, an included the flights and transfers, we needed to pay to get to London gatwick, arrange the kids passports, provide spending money and with jeans and t shirts likely to kill us in that heat, buy a whole new set of clothes for 4 people. We received some help on that front a couple of weeks before we were due to fly out which removed some stress.
Lots have asked about how the holiday was so I thought I would double it up and give up my opinion on the holiday while I was at it.
We flew with Thomas Cook airlines. I have to admit the flight there was 10 hours and we were crammed into seats like sardines. The seats did not go back very far at all and the arm rest did not go up all the way so it was very uncomfortable for me. I put that down to being on the larger side but other people said the same thing. It reminded me of one of those planes that travel short distances, it wasn't really roomy enough for a long haul flight. We did manage to get a little sleep though in between watching the in flight entertainment which cost us £3.50 a person to unlock the full set of programmers. I did however decide that way too expensive and only purchased 2. I had brought a double headphone jack which I plugged into the iPad screen on the back of the chair, I then plugged 2 sets of headphones into it (headphones cost £2 a set if buying while on the flight - I took my own) and me and hubby shared one TV while the kids shared another. Meals were provided and we got to see Hawaii as we passed it.
Upon arrival customs was awful to work round. There was huge ques in all different directions with the short supply of staff directing us all over the place. Once we had passed through we were greeted by a man who knew our flight and offered to direct us to our transfer. We had already been told that there is people not associated with Thomas Cook who offer to take you bags for a tip. Before we could say anything he had taken our suitcase and walked the 2 mins to our bus then held his hand out for money! By this point I was too tired to even care and hubby ended up giving him 50 pesos as that was the smallest we had.
Where we stayed
The hotel we stayed at was the crown paradise club hotel. Upon arrival, the heat hit us like a smack in the face! It was boiling, so hot that fanning made no difference, and our attempts at trying to blow air on our face proved to be a silly mistake as our internal body temperature felt like it was beyond melting and our breath made us even hotter! Once inside the hotel though we were offered ice cold damp towels to cool us down and ice cold cocktails while we joined the que to get our room and sort out the paperwork. Whilst our room was being prepared, we enjoyed a couple of non alcoholic cocktails and had a wander onto the beach.
Our room was quite basic, it disappointed me if I am honest. We were staying in the second tower in a family room and whilst we had the ocean view (which was gorgeous) the hotel say all rooms have, it felt dated and unkept. The floor tiles were cracked, the room smelt musty and the toilet leaked. It was livable though and our lovely maid come daily to make it spotless. The shower stopped working on the second day and the staff were quick to come fix it as well as tightening the pipe causing the leak around the toilet.
We didn't want to venture too far from the hotel. We were advised that in the morning, the sun was at the front near the beach and during the afternoon it was towards the back, so we spent a lot of time negotiating that and keeping out the sun as much as possible. At around 11am, the sun was at its hottest so we would grab a drink, then some lunch and head up to our room to chill out for a couple of hours. Whilst we did go out a couple of days, there was plenty to do on site which kept us there for the most part. The burger bar was open all the time as was the bar. The buffet opened for most of the day (apart from an hour or so before they switched between breakfast, lunch and dinner) so we could grab a drink or an ice cream. There was a games room for the kids as well as daycare services, a spa section, tennis courts, rock climbing and the hotel invited the locals to set up a market on site to sell some of their wares. There was plenty of shops dotted around the site for us to buy bottled water, souvenirs and cigarettes. Each had totally different prices though so we found it best to look at them all before buying.
Venturing out of the hotel
The couple of times we did go off the hotel site, we stuck to the hotel zone. I am not good with strange places and everything needs to be planned before i am comfortable. We decide that instead of the stress of doing this, we would just stay nearby so i could get back if i felt i was going to panic. A 5 min walk from the hotel was the El Rey Ruins, a small open archaeological area with a few Mayan ruins and some plagues in both English and Spanish to give some information.
The staff were friendly and informal, which i personally liked, Whilst small, it was nice to see something outside the hotel walls and walk around at our own pace. Tours are offered but honestly was not worth the money, we spent an hour there tops. You wont find pyramids there to climb but you could walk around and on the ruins, which we found nice. The area is swarming with iguanas, of all sizes who are not afraid of humans. We were able to get quite close to them before them before they darted into their holes! The downside of this is there was iguana poo everywhere, so we were quite careful where we put our hands!
We did take the bus down to La Isla Plaza. We wanted to bring home some gifts but buying on site would have cost a fortune! The bus fare itself was around 40 pesos each so was a cheap way to get around. The buses drive quite fast and just flag people off the street so I would advise sitting! The drivers spoke good English so was able to tell us where to get off, making the journey quite an easy one.
La Isla was gorgeous! Lots of scenery and plenty of shops to walk around, including a couple of flea market type stores. While we were there, we grabbed a nice cream from macdonalds and a coffee from the Starbucks just so hubby could say he had tried them in Mexico! Must admit the coffee was much nicer.
We managed to complete the majority of our gift buying in this one plaza. We added a few extras such as key rings and magnets and postcards which we purchased from the Walmart in down town Cancun. Hubby managed to get himself a authentic sombrero for 270 pesos (£10) after a little bit of haggling with the market seller. And I brought some nice throw blankets for under 80 pesos each (around £3 each)
One of the best things about this holiday was the food. When we go out we usually have to budget for it, plus budget for 'what if they want a dessert?' Or 'what if they want more than 1 drink?' I hate that, I feel horrible telling them no, or asking them to choose something a little cheaper. Food and drink was served throughout most of the day including alcoholic drinks. For the first time ever I was able to tell the kids to order what they wanted (obviously no alcohol!), if they wanted seconds, they could go get it. By the end of the day we were well and truly stuffed! And had sampled near enough every Mexican dish the hotel had to offer.
The buffet which was open 3 times a day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, had a wide range of foods. Many which I have never thought to try before or had the chance too. Being a fruit lover I really did think I had died and gone too heaven! I had fresh papaya, melon and pineapple with my breakfast each morning and filled myself up on the huge amount of salad choices they had available for lunch. Dinner usually involved a cactus based pasta or rice with chicken or pork and if I had room, I'd go and get a taco prepared for me. Hubby stuffed himself silly with meat! Pork chops for breakfast, alongside chicken and beef, refried beans and various other bits and pieces. Luckily it was all cooked healthily but he made sure he ate so much that he was ready for his siesta at 11am :) the kids though found it the most enjoyable. Each meal time was a whole unit full of cakes and biscuits, waffles with peanut butter, syrup or chocolate sauce. They found the Mexican biscuits to be nice, so nice in fact that Big K would go down to the buffet just to grab some for when they were watching TV in the room!
The majority of the food was nice. As little K found out though, sour lollies really do mean sour lollies in Mexico!
Drinks wise, we had a choice between, cocktails (both alcoholic or non alcoholic) alcoholic drinks, tea, coffee, bottled water or Pepsi. In the mini fridge in our room, we were given 2 bottles of water, 2 corona cans and 2 cans of Pepsi daily plus 2 packets of coffee for the coffee machine. The tap is water is not drinkable in Mexico but if we ran out, the hotel would give us more water or we could buy Litre bottles in the shop for around 20p. We were adamant we would not be drinking anything alcoholic whilst we were away because we had the kids with us. The bar however was the coolest part of the hotel. The cocktails were made to order and were ice cold! We sweat so much the alcohol didn't effect us in the slightest. I must admit, I'm not a drinking at all but I do miss sipping a cocktail with a beach view in front of us!
Like any holiday resorts, pre determined entertainment is available each night. The entertainment is family friendly and we found it very enjoyable. However we were all crammed into a small room that was not air conditioned very well. It was boiling! It was chance that you got a seat. If you did great but if you were late or at the back of the line, you would be standing for the hour the entertainment was on.
We missed the entertainment on day 3. They threw a beach party and had fire dancers on the beach. Unfortunately a storm decided to sweep through that night so we sat on our balcony watching the storm. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. With hardly any clouds in the sky and an ocean that stretched for miles and miles, you could just see this huge storm cloud creeping up towards the hotel. The thunder was louder than normal and flashed shades of purple and yellow. The storm was needed though, it broke the heat a little making the next 4 days much more manageable.
All in all I am glad we went. I know I had reservations but I did enjoy myself. It was nice to not have to worry about anything and just chill out. Everything is a lot cheaper over there than here so I picked up lots of things, I would consider bargains had I found them in the uk. The people were friendly and welcoming with a smile always on their face and despite the little niggles with the room and the flight, I would be tempted to go back again... If I can ever raise enough money to fly over there :)