The Hotel Cozumel & Resort.

You’ve worked your fingers to the nubby bone and have finally arrived at the long awaited moment—the Annual Family Vacation!  Oh, but don’t forget with that comes the Annual Family Vacation Showdown.  Visions of tropical drinks melting in Mom’s hand and great reads dance in her head.  Dad wants to shave strokes and to dive with the locals.  Of course, the kids crave enough endless noise-making, head-throbbing fun to make their parents down a Sam’s Wholesale Club sized container of headache medicine in just two weeks.  Where to go?  What to do?

Play it smart like the dolphins —
stay at Hotel Cozumel  & Resort.

With pen in hand, Dad hastily scribbles each idea as it is screamed out—scuba! snorkel! dining! museums! surfing! nightly shows! kayaking! lazing! shopping… The cash register rings in his head as the prices rise with each wish.

Even the so-called experts don’t agree.  “Make it a kids’ trip.  Keep
in mind that kids aren’t adults.”

“If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”

“The man is king of his castle.”

But I think there is one thing that all agree on and that is everyone has a personal desire on how they want to savor their holiday.

And so the glossy dog-eared travel guides pile up on the packed coffee
table.  Enchanted children’s theme parks, couples exotic hideaways, and sleep amongst the King of Beasts extreme adventure trips. Choices and packages but which one is best for your clan of many interests?

Well, after many years of vacationing with my own motley crew, I have found THE resort at THE location.  In fact, I’ve frequented this spot so many times that I’m registered somewhere between an elated local and a clued-in visitor.  So you and yours grab an aquas frescas and come with me to the place that will satisfy both the desires of those wanting an endless schedule of activities, and those dreaming of a private retreat on the edge of paradise.

A sombrero of blue sky —
A poncho of crystal water.

Wearing a sombrero of endless blue sky and a poncho of shimmering crystal clear water, the island of Cozumel, which nestles along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula , offers the contrast of old world Mexico with a Caribbean flamboyance.  The isle teems with amazing contrasts from gentle lapping waters as clear as glass for superb diving and snorkeling on one side, to extreme waves on the other side for some wild surfing and gazing out at rock formations that are sprayed with the sea.

This isle has all the fixin's:  three distinctive types of beaches—white confectionary sugar sand with gentle lapping waves; "iron shore" rocky beaches for oh-wow! snorkeling; and assisted-by-man strand where sand was dumped over natural limestone rock shoreline for breathtaking glances of underwater life and a great beach to play and lie on.

Jacques Cousteau introduced us to the mind-blowing diving along the 32 km long reef system and combined with this main ingredient, add the à la carte dishes of fishing the shallow lagoons for barracuda, gray snapper, tarpon, and bonies; sailing into one incredible sunset, soaking up the sun, and many other activities; and you'll have a island buffet that will please anyone's flavor.

Once a fishing village on perpetual siesta, now a mecca for many of the finest cruise lines, San Miguel, the isle’s only town, presents off-the-beaten-path charms with vendors still pushing wares on wheeled carts alongside a bustling on-the-beaten-path metropolis with shopping malls.   Hard-working locals and hard-playing tourists hang together all over this little town.

Al fresco garden dining.

You may go as "touristy" as you'd like with the Hard Rock Cafe, Fat Tuesdays, and new American-style malls along the most concentrated visitor's path.  Or you can live like the Cozumeleños and trudge a few blocks in from the "cruise ship strip" to the shops with no names and get the locals' prices and full Mexican culture, such as folkloric dances and parties on Sunday nights in the town square where entire Mayan and Mexican families come out to play. During this time, there is always some free happening going on and the local food is not only so inexpensive, it is so delicious!  No matter how you slice it or perhaps want to mix it, you'll find the perfect blending which will thrill everyone's tastes.

In the heart of it all, one mile from downtown and three miles from the
airport, nestles the Hotel Cozumel and Resort at Carretera Costera Sur Km 1.7, Cozumel , Mexico 77600. This means that you are near everything and will save mucho dinero on transportation costs.  It’s Cozumel ’s favorite hotel for divers and a great have-it-all resort for families.

Resembling the Beverly Hillbillies clan with our hodgepodge luggage,Wal-Mart bags (those blue plastic bags can be used for anything!), and at least three guitars, boogie boards, and whatever else kids seem to think that they need, we pour out of the shuttle and immediately the children scatter everywhere.  You can never be discreet with three kids!

Seared sirloins with hot chiles!

It is a flawless check-in as the bilingual reception staff patiently puts up with our elated kids and welcomes us to the resort.  The open-air lobby with its three-story ceiling, glass doors wide open, and enormous tropical plants all around blends outdoor with indoor, a trademark of the Caribbean.

We utilize the all-inclusive (all meals, domestic drinks, non-water sports, childcare, activities program, hotel amenities, private beach club access, billiard games, tennis, gratuities, & taxes included—phew!) option for with the way this group eats let's just say that the hotel may lose money! I have lodged at many all-inclusive resorts in the past and the Hotel Cozumel Resort’s price is by far the best value.

A couple standing next to me chooses the European plan as they will get their own food or dine out. I can see how Mr. and Mrs. DINK (Double Income, No Kids) can afford to do this.  Hmmm . . . and I must wonder if they are Dinks then what are we?  Dorks?  No income, double kids?

My son takes one step outside, looks at the largest pool on the island
beckoning his graceful belly flop, colorful mounds of American and international fare at the poolside La Terraza bar and grill, nonstop activities and says, "Well, I guess this is goodbye" as he salutes us and makes plans to disappear for the next five weeks.  (Yes, you hear me correctly.  It's a five week stay!)

Flames over Isla Cozumel.

We scan the courtyard and it is huge! I notice ramps for the disabled and elevators to get to all three floors.  The resort encircles the beautiful tiled courtyard and in the center is a pool so enormous that it comprises several smaller pools with different depth levels to meet various needs for lazing, activities, Jacuzzi, children, and well, for swimming.  Pools within a pool!

My children are already hooking up with new amigos from Merida as they sit under the shade of a palapa to enjoy their own version of "grown-up" drinks.  My youngest downs about four Shirley Temples and dons the tropical flower garnish (toothpick and all!) in her hair.  The two teenagers run around the pool with heaping plates of chicken nuggets and French fries hoarded from the poolside snack bar, as if the food supply would end!  I see the cocinero is also cooking up some fresh burgers upon the children's request.  I can also see my rules are flying right out the window!  But hey, it's vacation!

It's vacation! Those words ring in my ears and I head to the open gym to check out the equipment. A sea breeze wisps by as I climb on to the treadmill and look out at the glistening pool and the secluded courtyard. The activities staff in their red polo shirts is rehearsing for the nightly show.  The shows range from comedy, family, to all-out aesthetic dances of the culture.

Restful beach comforts.

Walking . . . no skipping…to our room with silly smiles upon our faces, a “swish, swish, swish” sound starts and never ends.  It is the sound that we hear all over the island.  The swishing is from all the sweeping that goes on.  Sweeping must be a favorite national pastime for it goes on night and day and the people even smile while performing this task!  I, for one, have never smiled incessantly while sweeping, nor have I ever swept incessantly, as a matter of fact.

“Fresh paint” announces the sign as we round the bend to our rooms.  The hotel is huge and very large hallways lead us.  Ahh . . . tranquility whispers the cerulean walls which mimic the sea.  Hues from the brown family-beige, chestnut, mahogany, cocoa—of the furnishings bring raw elements of the island inside. Like all rooms, ours consists of direct touchtone telephones, satellite TVs, safety deposit box, hair dryer, hooks about diving, large closets, plenty of storage space, and an A/C that worked way too well! Immaculate housekeeping each day means our rooms are swish-swish swept, freshly picked flowers from the lush, well-groomed gardens, and footpaths leaving a tropical scent, and tissues and towels meticulously folded into swans, hearts, and even little smiling people.

Oh Wow ! - The Pool.

“Oh wow! Lookie at the pool from here!” my youngest yells as she scurries in from the arched-covered balcony and immediately starts pouncing on one of the cushy beds.  I discover that every room has a private balcony that offers an ariel view of the island’s largest pool or a terrace with a fresh look of the hand-scaped garden (all work is done by hand around here), and views of the staff sweeping and sweeping and sweeping . . .

Throwing sunscreen at my husband’s back, I quickly follow the rest of the clan toward palm-shielded lounge chairs.  Cindy and Mike with the Activities Staff greet us energetically and ask if the girls want to join them in the Kids’ Club and Kids’ Playground.  Children from around the world are in the pool preparing for a water balloon war and reciting their daily Spanish lesson in song at the same time.

After a few hours of melting into the chaise lounger, I am not able to read any of the books I brought, nor listen to my CD player, nor jot notes in my journal, but just lie in utter stillness and peace.  “Palm Tree Syndrome” they call it here.  It’s as if layers of stress
are starting to peel away.  No shallow ambitions, no material bondage, complete freedom of mind, body, and spirit. 

Pictures of undersea life and soothing water sounds illuminate our way through the underground walkway leading to the hotel’s private beach club.  My husband is drooling over the complete dive center with snorkeling, scuba diving, and certifications galore.

Plop into the Caribbean aquarium.

The children are dropping in one by one from the private pier with its gleaming white gazebo and its glass bottom.  What an incredible backdrop against a turquoise sea and powder blue sky with wispy clouds.  No wonder many wedding promises are sealed here!

Our clan, like most people, tends to opt for wide beaches and shallow waters but at the Hotel Cozumel Resort, dropping into the sea means we have instant access to the incredible live tropical aquarium without having to pay the prices of a snorkeling or diving tour. There is also a wonderful beach for the landlubbers in the family and a pool which peeks at the Caribbean.

Safe diving for over 20 years.

When we want to catch the action of what makes Cozumel’s reefs one of the top places in the world for dazzling underwater life, Dive Paradise, the largest dive operator on this oasis, is immediately at our call to hand out snorkeling equipment, kayak rentals, and to set us up with awesome tours.  Because they are the largest their dive prices are extremely affordable.  With lockers and showers right on the beach how much more of a godsend could families ask for?

Now the topic that everyone has been wondering about all along-what about the FOOD?!  The selection, variety, and themes of each meal and snack could outdo any cruise ship.  We greet the sun with breakfast at the Los Arcos Restaurant and Coffee Shop. Early morning coffee starts at half an hour before breakfast for those who want to catch an early dive. 

Ingredients & decor by Mother Nature.

Los Arcos features an international buffet for each meal, perfect for my exotic tastes which require a breakfast dish of huevos motelenos — fried eggs, black bean paste, and vegetables and ham over crispy tortillas.  It’s an “ooooh-weee!” hot and hearty wake up call as I crank it up a notch with spicy pico de gallo salsa.

The children balance toppling pancakes, Belgium waffles, sausages, and eggs on their plates.  Hubby is in line getting his usual everything-and-the-kitchen-sink omelet freshly made by the chef we have lovingly deemed “Omelet Man”.

A damask cloth dinner at the Sunset Grill finds us facing the ocean and each other all dressed up and some place to be. What quality family time as we are attuned to the sea and to each other. Eating by the water elevates the freshness of flavors and could it possibly be that the lobsters we spotted in the waters are the same ones nestling succulently in a bed of lettuce on our plates?

The fine selection of international pastas, fresh meats, and wine and beverage selections and authentic Yucatan regional dishes is accented by the perfect service and reflects the full multicolored charm of the Mexican Caribbean.

So we indulge in the best of both worlds by living it up resort-style and seeing the area as the fun-seeking tourist with jeep adventure tours through extreme rugged terrain of the island’s other side; shopping for Gucci bags at the mall; listening to Mick Jagger wail it out at the Hard Rock Café.  We also traverse on foot and help two local brothers carve faces out of coconuts to sell as souvenirs; we enjoy delicious sliced jicama dipped in spicy paprika at a family-run food stall.

So you see, the Annual Family Vacation doesn’t have to turn into the Annual Family Showdown in deciding what to do. The only decision to make is whether to indulge in all the wonders of the island or give in to the temptation of never leaving the hotel grounds!

— By Lena Hunt Mabra, Cozumel Correspondent.