Everyone likes to save money when traveling, but there are some things you just need to spend a pretty penny on. Certainly when our family travels, we know not every vacation will put us in the lap of luxury. Still, we try to find at least one splurge on each trip to make it feel even more special. Whether it’s a delicious meal, an exciting excursion, or a place to stay, there are plenty of things to splurge on during your next vacation. Sometime we let the kids choose one thing each.
Boating in tropical places like Aruba tend to go with snorkeling adventures and colorful fish.
Ava might choose an excursion, and Triton might go for a fancy meal. Sophia will want to go clothes shopping, and you can pretty much find Jon getting a massage. Whatever floats your boat doesn’t have to break the bank.
Things To Splurge on During Your Next Vacation
Grocery shopping and food trucks are acceptable during your journey, but when you travel pick one meal that showcases the local flavors. We’re not talking the tourist traps. Ask residents where they eat that really showcases what their city is all about. In Omaha, Nebraska, it’s absolutely V. Mertz, where the chef uses fresh, local ingredients to create a spectacular menus in this hidden Midwestern gem. In Midtown Manhattan, there are several places within walking distance of most hotels, including Joe’s Shanghai for dim sum. Ask a local in New Orleans for the best place to find Creole or Cajun cuisine, and it most likely will not be the famous ones.
Ordering a decadent and delicious dessert is a great way to splurge.
Your meal may be moderately priced or on the higher end, depending on the city you’re visiting and what the locals suggest. Go for broke if you must, in order to experience the best and most delicious meal on your vacation.
There are always those once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experiences you simply cannot put a price tag on. Going rafting in New Mexico down the Rio Grande or sailing in Kauai are two amazing, authentic local experiences perfect for our family. We always try to do a boating trip on visits where there is water. It’s such an incredible way to experience sea life and the oceans when you travel. Double points if there is snorkeling or kayaking as part of the day!
Vacation adventures like white water rafting may be pricey, but they deliver memories to last a life time!
If you’d rather experience the scenery by air, try a helicopter tour. There are many places that take you above the city to see a different view of your vacation destination. We loved our experience in Las Vegas, where we buzzed above the Grand Canyon, Colorado River, and the Las Vegas Strip! Even small towns may have helicopter tours available. Don’t hesitate to ask the locals or a concierge at your hotel.
Sightseeing in helicopters is like nothing else – the views are incredible.
Where to Stay
When you decide to splurge on your hotel stay, your experience is bound to be unique and flawless. We’ve stayed at many fantastics hotels, and the very best give you a vacation-worthy experience without ever leaving the hotel. Resort hotels often offer photo-worthy architecture, activities for the whole family, and dining experiences. Check out hotels that include breakfast, have complimentary happy hour, and concierge services. You may even consider a resort that includes food or spa accommodations on site, an all-inclusive hotel where meals and drinks are included.
Expansive buffets like this one at the Tamarijn Resort in Aruba make all-inclusive resorts a wonderful splurge.
Even if you have a strict budget for your vacation, there are places in your financial plan where you can stretch a bit. Try that one local meal that tickles your taste buds, or add a little bit of adventure to your trip with an outdoorsy escapade. Don’t forget that a great hotel can make a vacation perfect. These things to splurge on during your next vacation have made our trips memorable and exciting.
*This experience was sponsored by the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba and MariturDMC, and as always, the opinions expressed here are our own.
As global travelers, our family has always dreamed of visiting all 7 Wonders of the World and now we can cross one off the list. On our recent visit to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, we set out to visit Chichen Itza with kids in tow. These Mayan ruins have withstood the test of time and still remain magnificent in their history and grandeur. It’s an easy and interesting destination with kids.
Chichen Itza was originated on this land in around 600 A.D., and is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. From our luxurious resort accommodations and family vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, we hopped into a tour group organized by our very capable Maritur guide, Sergio. We were so glad to take a guided tour to learn much more about this historic site. I think if we tried to visit it ourselves, we would never have come away with so many amazing stories. Besides, the pressure of trying to parent and play tour guide at the same time is just too much for most of us. We prefer to let the professionals handle the guiding!
Chichen Itza with kids is a fun adventure for the whole family.
We wondered if we could visit Chichen Itza with kids and avoid them getting bored or cranky. The resulting experience was quite enjoyable for all, so the short answer is YES.
(Even if the girls did keep calling it Chicken Pizza.)
Tips to Visit Chichen Itza With Kids
The drive from the Riviera Maya to Chichen Itza was a little more than two hours. Traveling in a shiny black SUV with AC and phone chargers, our family was a bunch of happy campers. Sergio told us about what we would be seeing, giving us the backstory and history of the site along the way. (The girls had their headphones on the whole time listening to music). Those of us that listened to Sergio learned a ton!
Here are some highlights and tips from our visit to Chichen Itza with kids:
Two reasons: crowds and heat. Like many places around the world, Chichen Itza is a popular tourist destination that draws more than 1.5 million people a year. Getting there early will afford you some spectacular photo opportunities before some silly yahoo gets in the way of your perfect shot. Given the right position, we were actually able to get photos with nearly no one in the photos.
If you get to Chichen Itza early enough, you can capture photos like this with no people.
There are not a lot of trees on the enormous 1280-acre grounds at Chichen Itza. In fact, during its reign the facilities had absolutely no trees at all – all the trees onsite now have grown after the fall of the Mayan civilization. Because of this sunny disposition, it is usually pretty warm here (as in HOT). Bring shade and water with you. I drank two whole bottles of water while we were there, and never needed to pee. The girls actually poured cold bottled water over their heads.
Chichen Itza is literally crawling with iguanas.
Do Your Business at the Park Entrance
If your kids are anything like ours, they never say they have to visit the bathroom when you ask them. Then, after you’ve already started your excursion, they announce that they have to pee. Take our advice, visit the restrooms at the park entrance – there are none inside the park and you will be in there a long time. There are also snacks and drinks if anyone is feeling a little peckish after the drive.
Go Directly to the Temple
Best to walk directly to the Temple first and get your photos. We managed to get several shots before people walked into the frame, and were happy with the results. Also, listen to you tour guide because he/she will give you a rundown on the significance of what you are seeing.
Yes, those are skeleton heads carved in this wall at Chichen Itza to honor the ancient Mayan tradition of human sacrifice.
For example, when looking at the temple you see steep stairs on all four sides of the pyramid. Except those are not stairs. They were built as part of the human sacrifice rituals that took place at the top of the temple. When the priests would behead the people being sacrificed, they would roll their heads down those “stairs” to the waiting masses below. Fun times!
Allow Time to Wander
The entire campus at Chichen Itza is enormous, with so many interesting buildings and architectural monuments to see. Plan for your visit to last about three hours at least. With so many buildings and places of significance, it may seem easy to become overwhelmed. Actually with a tour guide the layout all made sense, and we knew what we were looking at. Sergio narrated while we walked, and we got a crash course in Mayan history, culture and people.
The serpent was worshipped as an important cultural symbol at Chichen Itza.
Avoid Sunday Visits
On Sundays the residents of Mexico are allowed to visit Chichen Itza for free, and many do. This is a great way to experience this Wonder with families and many kids running around. If you prefer your visit to be a little less busy, you may choose to go on another day of the week. (Hint Hint!)
This columns are what remains of Chichen Itza’s version of a shopping mall. The kids were automatically drawn to it.
Visit a Cenote Afterwards for a Swim
After our tour, Sergio took us to the nearby Sa’amal Cenote near the town of Valladolid. This is an ancient cave now filled with fresh water, complete with fern covered walls and tropical fish. We were so happy to cool down in the clear, fresh water and splash under the waterfall. I even got brave and jumped off a platform some 25+ feet into the water – it was a blast. There was something very special about this swimming hole, knowing it has been here for thousands of years.
After our tour of Chichen Itza with kids, we swam in the incredible Sa’amal Cenote nearby.
Our family highly recommends this excursion while you are visiting the Riviera Maya. If you are staying at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, they can arrange the tour for you so you can visit Chichen Itza with kids and enjoy the entire experience!
The fresh, cool water of Sa’amal Cenote was so delicious that Triton had to float under the waterfall sprinkles.
*This experience was sponsored by the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, and as always, the opinions expressed here are our own.
When we told the kids we were going back to Playa del Carmen in Mexico, they nearly jumped up and down with excitement. We were there a couple of years ago with two other families, and had so much fun exploring the Caribbean side of Mexico near Cancún. However, this recent visit promised to be even more spectacular. After all, we would be enjoying our family vacation at the 5-Star Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba on Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Beach palapas with comfy lounge chairs await guests at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba.
We’ve loved our stays at other Fairmont Hotels in the past, including the Fairmont Hotel Claremont in Berkeley, and the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. But I gotta tell you folks, the luxurious Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba topped them all. It was absolute paradise on the Caribbean oceanfront, and an ideal place for a family vacation to unwind, relax, play and explore. Good bits of all those things were accomplished, and more – read on for details!
Family Vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba
First, let’s get something out of the way. Mexico and Playa del Carmen are absolutely safe places to visit for Americans. There is no more reason to worry about traveling to the tourist areas of Mexico as there is traveling to any major city in the US. Besides, most of the resorts like the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba are all-inclusive so you could spend your entire stay at the resort.
Our family has traveled many times to Mexico over the past several years, and have always felt 100% safe and secure. There are so many amazing things to see and do here!
From the walkway leading to the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba lobby and El Puerto Restaurant, the evening lights were so beautiful.
Activities for Kids
Of the luxury hotels on the grounds of the Mayakoba Resort, the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is the one most suitable for families. In fact, they go out of their way to welcome kids of all ages – even surly teens! (Oops, did we say that out loud?) There is a great Kids Discovery Club next to the main pool, where they will watch your kids while you lounge or play golf. Some other things here that make it perfect for kids:
waterslide at the main pool
another pool at the beach if you want to do a combo sand/pool day
Boat rides along the surrounding canals – so amazing
So many cool animals and birds to spy on and chase
Iguanas for DAYS (we must have counted two dozen in one outing)
Menu items conceived specifically for kids, with poolside service
Lots of interesting day trips to the neighboring sites are easily arranged with the concierge. (We visited the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza).
The main pool at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is so well designed, with nooks and crannies for families to tuck into.
There were so many families with kids staying here during our visit. Families were American, British, Dutch, German and Mexican, along with a smattering of other nationalities. Never did our kids feel out of place or unwelcome, even in the fanciest restaurants onsite.
Beach Activities for Kids
The beaches in front of the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba are pretty epic. Crystal blue water is comfortably warm but still refreshing. There are no waves, so even the smallest kids can run into the sea safely (with parental supervision of course). We must have bobbed around in the water for more than an hour, just floating and chatting and looking for the small fish that darted away from our grasps.
The beach side pool at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba has a disappearing edge overlooking the beach palapas and crystal blue ocean.
At the beach, the hotel makes toys available for guests’ use, as well as ocean kayaks, boards and other watercraft. We were feeling too lazy to take any of these toys out for a test drive, but many others did with huge smiles and laughter. Here are some watersports included in your stay:
Guided catamaran tour
Use of sea kayaks, Stand-Up paddle boards, traditional snorkeling, masks, boogie boards, beach balls and sand toys
Beach games and competitions
Playing in the beachfront pool at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba – could have stayed here for weeks.
Boat Rides on the Canals
The Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is set on some 240 acres of beachfront tropical property, crisscrossed by a series of canals. Much of the Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with cenotes (seh-no-tays) – round, fresh water tunnels or caves that are so fun to explore and swim in. These cenotes are fed by an underground aquifer that overflows to create canals which flow to the ocean. The Fairmont is built at the edge of a series of canals, and you can even take one of the resort’s boats from the lobby to your casita.
Most of the casitas at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba sit along beautiful waterways. Ours even had a private rooftop pool!
From a least two different locations, guests can take a complimentary boat tour of the canals. This was a highlight of our trip, and the entire family still talks about that hour+ boat excursion. As we left the dock near the main pool and restaurants, our captain narrated the vistas. Our boat traversed though waterways both wide and narrow, and our favorites were deep crevices with fern-covered rock walls on either side.
Our boat tour of the waterways that wind through the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba was a fun way to see the natural flora and fauna of the area.
Along the way, we saw plenty of iguanas. But we also saw a young alligator, dozing in the jungle grasses at the water’s edge. We ventured close enough for photos, but not too close! There was also a wide range of tropical birds, colorful fish and plenty of turtles to entertain us along the way.
Far from the hotel along the waterways, we spied this little guy from the boat.
The Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba is laid out across it’s many acres, woven into the natural environment. All the rooms are either private or semi-private casitas. Our room was enormous, with a living room large enough for the pull out bed and a cot for the kids. (For some dang reason, these girls refuse to sleep in the same bed – something about Ava being a kicker). The master bedroom and two bathrooms were equally spacious – I mean really large.
The spacious living room in our casita at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba – plenty of room for the girls to avoid each other!
On our private deck, there were stairs up to the roof level. When we explored this space, we found a giant area for sunbathing or shade and OUR OWN DIPPING POOL! On the roof! Overlooking the beach and ocean!
Bigger than our bedroom at home, this gigantic master bedroom in our casita at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba opened on to a wrap-around deck overlooking the waterways.
There was another guest room underneath ours as part of our semi-private casita, with views to the canal. I don’t think there were guests staying there during our visit, since we never saw other people coming or going.
Even our master bathroom at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba was enormous, complete with soaking tub and huge shower.
Relaxation for Adults
Since our girls are now teens, we are afforded a small amount of time without them. They are old enough to get themselves to the pool and back, or stay in the room unattended for longer periods of time. Because of this, we headed to Willow Stream Spa on property, and are so glad we did.
The front entrance of the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba beckons us to relax and enjoy.
We both tried the signature “Chocolate – Food of the Gods” Massage, where a special blend of Mexican chocolate beans are ground into a paste. Spread onto your body, the chocolate makes you smell like a giant Kit Kat bar. Evidently, the spa’s special blend helps your skin sluff off the old and bring forth the new. After rinsing off my candy bar coating in the in-suite shower, I must say my skin did feel great. This was followed with a more traditional massage treatment that included the scalp, which I love.
We loved our Chocolate – Food of the Gods massage at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba.
In addition to treatments, the spa has a fantastic workout facility including daily yoga and other group exercise options. There are wet and dry saunas as well as separate whirlpools for men and women. On the spa building’s roof, there is another giant pool for relaxing or swimming laps. Very impressive and well-designed complex.
If golf is your thing, the 18-hole/par 72 course is postcard perfect, and was designed by Greg Norman. El Camaleón Golf Club winds through the forest canopy, over to the oceanfront and then back