Six Unexpected Highlights of our Family Vacation in the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Hacienda Tres Rios, Riviera MayaMexico’s Riviera Maya has long been a favorite family vacation destination; we’ve traveled to the Yucatan coast on the Caribbean Sea several times over the past decade. We knew this year’s spring break family trip to Playa del Carmen and Tulum would be extraordinary.

After all, we had some day excursions planned that we knew would be a big hit with the kids (hello, Xplor!). Plus, we had plenty of down time to kick back in chaise lounges at our oceanfront, family-friendly all-inclusive resorts. In all, it was a perfect mix of outdoor activity and chill time — just how we like our family vacations.

What was extra fabulous about this trip were the small (and big) pleasures on this trip that I wasn’t totally expecting. Here’s a peek:

1. Adults-only time. My children are now old enough that I can comfortably leave them in a resort hotel room by themselves, while my husband Quent and I dine alone on property. Three times on this trip, they got hot dogs, chicken fingers or pizza via room service, while Quent and I enjoyed quiet nights out alone — lingering over multi-course meals. The kiddos got to lie in bed and watch cartoons, while we took our time over plates of pasta and red wine or guacamole and ice-cold Coronas by the beach. Everyone’s happy!

oscar chef's dinner Hacienda Tres Rios2. Chef’s Table at Hacienda Tres Rios. During our stay at the eco-friendly Hacienda Tres Rios resort near Playa del Carmen, one of our “kid-free” meals was a 7-course Chef’s Table tasting dinner. This took place right in the middle of the main kitchen at the resort — a back-of-the-house area not typically seen by most hotel guests.

Although the Chef’s Table isn’t included in the all-inclusive room rate at Hacienda Tres Rios, I’d highly recommend paying the additional $115 per couple fee for a very special meal prepared and served by talented Chef Oscar Orbe. The unique experience is offered 6 nights a week, with seatings at 6:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

First, it’s very cool to sit amidst the hustle and bustle of the line cooks, the servers and the dishwashers. Tables are set up in a little nook near Chef Oscar’s office, the walk-in freezer and the dishwashing area — but much of the restaurants’ staff seems to pass through at one time or another. Second, the meal was excellent; Chef Oscar changes the special menu nightly and uses many fresh herbs from his on-property garden. My favorite course was the black corn and poblano chile creamy soup with chorizo; Chef Oscar brought it to our table and set it aflame with tequila, adding a festive element to this course. Third, the traveling mariachi band came into the kitchen — to the applause of kitchen workers — and serenaded us at our table.

Mariachi band Hacienda Tres Rios

It is a little strange to be eating such a fine meal underneath fluorescent lights, amid the clatter of dishes and food orders… but a very fun night and special event!

SenseAdventure Experience Hacienda Tres Rios3. SenseAdventure Experience at Hacienda Tres Rios. The concierge staff is intentionally tight-lipped about the SenseAdventure Experience at Hacienda Tres Rios — and after having experienced it myself, I understand why. It’s best to go into the entire activity without any expectations or knowledge of what’s going to happen. Prior to my SenseAdventure, I thought we’d stick our hands into different boxes, trying to guess what I was feeling. (A shell? A coconut?) Or, I thought we might have to close our eyes and guess the sounds of different bird calls.

Yeah, it’s nothing like that.

Indeed, we were blindfolded and led into a small section of the Tres Rios Nature Park, but we were also led on this incredible multi-sensory experience — there was chanting, hand-holding, hugging, sniffing, swaying, tasting and clapping. It was at times sensual and spiritual. Holistic guide Gerardo Carrera Saucedo explained afterward that he tailors each SenseAdventure to the group. In fact, my husband and I were guided through a slightly different experience than two other older couples with us who had a hard time sitting cross legged on the ground.

I was so taken with the SenseAdventure that I brought my 11-year-old daughter to see Gerardo the next day. As expected, the journey that my daughter and I were led through was a little different than what I’d experienced with my husband. But, still very cool. How often do you just put your trust into someone you don’t know — while blindfolded, in a foreign country! For 45 minutes we were asked simply to hear, feel, touch and taste… no technology, no to-do lists. I appreciated the moments I shared with my husband and daughter; I think, since this activity is included in the price of a Hacienda Tres Rios stay, it’s well worth an hour of your vacation. The experience is like nothing I’d tried before — and I’d recommend getting out of your comfort zone to try it, too, if you are vacationing at the resort.

4. Snorkeling at Hacienda Tres Rios. Isn’t it always so awesome when your kids master a skill? This trip, my son really got snorkeling. He absolutely loved spotting fish in one of the rivers in the 326-acre Tres Rios Nature Park — snorkeling is one of the guided activities that is included in the price of an all-inclusive vacation here. We also biked along dirt paths through the rainforest and kayaked 20 minutes down a river until it met the ocean, but snorkeling was the biggest hit among my children. I look forward to snorkeling more often on our vacations in the future.

Snorkeling Hacienda Tres Rios

Rappel into cenote Coba Maya Encounter5. Watching my son rappel into a cenote. On our Coba Maya Encounter Expedition with AllTournative’s “off track adventures,” we not only toured the Maya ruins of Coba (which entailed riding a bike to Nohoch Mul to climb 120 steep, uneven steps to the top of Coba’s biggest uncovered temple), but we also visited an authentic Maya village for lunch and some awesome outdoor adventures: canoeing, hiking, ziplining and, our favorite, rappeling about 40 feet underground to swim in a cenote (underground river).

My son, who just turned 9, was given the opportunity to take the “Maya elevator” into the cenote, where he would have been lowered down via a rope, carabiner and harness. But he chose to rappel, which meant he had to control the rope himself — letting it out slowly to avoid dropping into the water. This mama was quite proud.

6. Bungee trampoline at Dreams Tulum. The kids’ Explorer’s Club at Dreams Tulum is excellent; it’s a Maya-themed center with a huge arts-and-crafts room, basketball court, playground, treehouse, video games, board games and more. While my kids much preferred to hang out with us (!) during the day at Dreams Tulum, they did join the fun when the Explorer’s Club staff brought “campers” down to the beach for a stint on the bungee trampoline each afternoon. We’ve been known to pay upwards of $15 a ride for bungee trampoline experience, so it was nice to just have that kind of fun activity included in our resort vacation. The kids loved it!

dreams tulum bungee

Thanks to the Riviera Maya Tourism Board for hosting our family spring break vacation; we’ll be back!

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4 Comments on "Six Unexpected Highlights of our Family Vacation in the Riviera Maya, Mexico"

  1. This looks like an amazing vacation! I love it when you can please everyone, no matter what age. And any vacation where you can keep the kids happy while getting a little alone time is perfect! Great photos, too!

  2. I love that pic of Ben going into the cenote. 🙂

  3. Christy @ Technosyncratic | April 7, 2011 at 10:47 am |

    Wow, the SenseAdventure experience sounds amazing. What a unique thing to do on a trip!

  4. The chef’s table sounds like a neat experience. I’m always hearing great things about Hacienda Tres Rios, and the Yucatán region is so beautiful!

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