Friday, March 22, 2013

Family Friendly Mexico

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

It's been long bothering me that while we travel all over the Canadian Rockies, we haven't been out of the country for over a year.  It's been a goal of mine since getting married that we would board an airplane and go somewhere new and exotic once a year.  Since having a child however, it's gotten a tad harder to save up for these vacations, to make them a priority, and actually execute a big trip.  In 2011 we compromised and drove to Washington in the United States for our summer vacation.  Technically, while we didn't use an airplane, we were still out of the country.  We played and camped by the ocean in Olympic National Park, hiked in Mount Rainier National Park, explored Seattle and felt like we had discovered and explored new territory.  It was an awesome vacation but it's still seemed like a long long time since 2010 when we did take an airplane to travel to both Maui and Puerto Vallarta Mexico while our son was still flying for free.  We took full advantage of that, knowing it would be a while before we could afford to pay for all three of us to go somewhere again.  3 years later, buried under mounds of snow in Calgary with no glimpse of spring in sight, we decided it was time to throw caution into the wind and take that next airplane ride to someplace warm and sunny.  Affordable would have to be the key word in the vacation planning and we knew we wanted water.  Lots and lots of water!

Water!  Lots and lots of water!
The Tesoro Resort, Manzanillo
Manzanillo Mexico pretty much jumped into my lap one day while going through emails when I noticed a travel special being advertised through Transat Holidays.  For a very reasonable price we'd be able to fly to Mexico for a week, enjoy the all inclusive benefits of the Tesoro Resort, and hopefully remind our Vitamin D starved bodies what sun felt like.  While only rated with 3.5 stars, I know from previous experience that the rating of a hotel does not define how much fun a person will or won't have.  What I was looking for was a resort that would excel in family friendly amenities, provide plenty of yummy food my son would eat (read:  pasta, french fries and hot dogs),  and concern itself with our safety so I could focus on the fun part of relaxing.  The awesome Mexican food I ate all week was definitely a bonus!  Tortillas and Chilaquiles for breakfast anybody?  Yes, please. 

There were several things that I was looking for in children's amenities and the Tesoro Resort in Manzanillo knocked most of them out of the park in the best way possible. Mostly, I wanted a really good water park for the kids with slides, a shallow swimming pool and maybe a splash park.
The Kid's Club at the Tesoro Resort, Manzanillo
The Toddler Pool
While the resort didn't have a splash park with fountains and buckets of water dumping on you, it more than made up for the absence with water slides and shallow swimming pools.  The Kid's Club had a shallow pool (knee deep for the average 5 year old) with 6 water slides spilling out into it.  I loved that I didn't need to supervise my son at the bottom of each slide as he came down and that he was never in danger of drowning as he landed in the water each time.  Most of the slides slowed down as they approached the water and older kids added more challenge by riding tubes down the biggest slide.  There was also a toddler wading pool within the Kid's Club gates and it had its own small water slide that would have easily entertained a two year old for hours.  

Kid's Water Park
The Kid's Club was stocked with water and sand toys as well as provided a quiet room in which to do puzzles, play games or watch a video out of the heat.  It was a great place and we spent hours there every day.  A tennis court was located right beside the club so school-aged kids could  learn to play tennis during the day with Kid's Club staff members.  A mini-golf course was also found within the gates and clubs could be signed out for a short game.  Finally, there was a small playground that consisted of some swings and an area for climbing up ropes or running across a little rope bridge.

Hole in One

Just about to hit the water...
My only complaint with the Kid's Club was that according to the resort's website and all travel information I read, the club is intended for kids ages 3 to 12.  This led me to believe me that I would be able to leave my son there for supervised play during the day.  That is at least how a Kid's Clubs operate at other resorts I've stayed at.  Meanwhile at the Tesoro Resort, you definitely wouldn't be able to leave any child under the age of maybe 8 or 9 there unsupervised.  There were times when I didn't see a single staff person inside the club and if the attendant was playing tennis with older kids, there would often be nobody supervising the pool. We did see a few kids left there to play on their own but they were older school-aged kids who would know where to find their parents if they needed help.  In the end, it didn't ruin our vacation, and we just stayed there to play with our son, met other families, and then even joined new friends for dinner in the evening.

Playground in the Kid's Club
The second area of the resort we spent a lot of time at was the main swimming pool with its adjoining kid's pool.  The pool was the perfect depth for my son to make running feet-first jumps into, over and over until I was sure he must have consumed half of the pool based on the frequency with which we were taking him to the bathroom. This pool was a hotspot for local Mexican families and so we had plenty of opportunity to practice our Spanish.  It quickly became apparent that my son's ability to count to 10 was not quite enough to actually make a friend (though it did impress the moms).  More lessons I guess.

The Main Pool and Adjoining Kid's Pool
Jumping into the Kid's Pool

Jumping into the big pool with Grandma who travelled with us
We brought a life jacket with us and were grateful for it in the main pool which had no shallow end to it.  The pool had a swim-up bar (with a counter on the deck as well) which served us well as a family.  They were never short on orange juice and provided filtered water to drink.  If your child likes apple juice be warned that there was none on the property that we could find.  Maybe it isn't a common drink in Mexico? 

The Pool area on a busy weekend day

Water Babe!
Also, on the topic of drinks for kids, families might want to know in advance that the resort is very short on straws!  If your child needs one, bring a sippy cup with you or bring a package of straws in your suitcase (and share with all the other families there too). We did bring a special cup with us but had to cart it around with us all day or else use coffee stir sticks for a straw - which in a pinch worked.

Quiet Afternoon at the Pool
Playing on the Beach
Finally, no beach resort is complete without, well, a beach!  We didn't make use of the beach as much as we could have because we found the sand to be very hot during the day and unfortunately many guests chose to use it as their personal ash tray.  It's pretty disgusting to watch your son try to make a sand castle out of cigarette butts - really, he could have!  We didn't find much shade on the beach as well and the few chairs with umbrellas were always occupied by the time we got down there to play.  However, that didn't stop us from playing in the sand a bit each day, braving the waves to approach the ocean, and even taking out the kayaks.  

Sand Angel
My Pook and I
My First Time Kayaking
Kayaking at the resort was the highlight of the week for this paddling girl!  I was sad that the resort didn't offer any other water sports that would have been perhaps more family friendly but I did convince the guys on the beach to let me take my son out with me in a kayak for 15 minutes one day which was nice of them considering the minimum age for using the boats was 13.  It was confusing during my first few days at the resort to actually figure out how to borrow a kayak because I just assumed everybody working on the beach was trying to sell sunset and snorkel tours.  When I actually approached one of the tents though to talk to some of the guys, I finally figured out that I could just ask to take a kayak whenever I wanted and the process was pretty simple.  Weather was the only factor that occasionally turned me back because they'd only let you take the boats out on calm days.  There didn't seem to be any rules for how far or long you could take out the boats and the men were awesome at helping you get out over the first waves as well as pulling you back in again at the end. 

Riding a small wave to shore
Paddling with my son
Our beach wasn't the best swimming beach and had a fairly strong undertow.  The waves coming in were small but had a large break very close to shore that was too powerful for small children.  The water also dropped off over my head within a few feet of shore which intimidated me from trying to take my son into the water with me to swim.  Fortunately, he was content to play in the waves as they lapped safely against the shore and to play in the sand.  For swimming we had plenty of other options and didn't really suffer.

Playing in the water
Holding a sea turtle at El Tortugario
We had a fabulous time in Mexico and we definitely made sure we got off the resort property a couple of times to explore the real Mexico.  You can't really say you visited another country if you just cloister yourself amongst the safe walls of a protected resort and fail to see where the local people live, eat and shop.  We chose to first visit El Tortugario, a sea turtle sanctuary located about 30 min. south of Manzanillo.  I fell in love with sea turtles when we were in Maui a few years ago and couldn't pass up the opportunity to maybe help release some baby turtles to the sea or even hold one.  While we didn't get to release any on this visit, we did at least get to hold a baby turtle and touch some of the big ones.  

While at the sanctuary we also got the opportunity to take a 45 minute jungle cruise through a mangrove forest.  I could have sworn I was back in Costa Rica!  While on the boat ride we looked for crocodiles and exotic birds and while we only found one baby crocodile, we did see plenty of interesting water birds.  The boat ride alone was enough to entertain a child who thought he was in a real jungle!

Dream come true Moment

Mangrove Boat Tour
The tour was a great first choice for our family and allowed us to explore the state of Colima and the seaside village of Cuyutlan.  I liked knowing that our admission to the Tortugario also helped with the protection of sea turtles and their eggs.  The only thing that could have been added to the tour would have been lunch in a local restaurant.  I would have enjoyed more time to explore the local village and to eat at an authentic cafe rather than returning to the resort's buffet.  Next time...

Visiting the Beach in Cuyutlan
Chasing pigeons downtown Manzanillo
For our second adventure off the resort, we chose to do a sightseeing tour of Manzanillo so that we could actually say we had seen the town of Manzanillo beyond the resort.  We did some shopping at a lovely arts and crafts market on Miramar Beach and thoroughly enjoyed our time downtown exploring in our own unique way.  While the rest of the  tourists on our bus were exploring the shopping mall downtown, we spent 45 minutes chasing pigeons around the waterfront plaza.  My son was in absolute heaven!  I had no idea he could be entertained with something so simple as a few dozen birds.  It was a fun half day trip and had we have done the tour earlier in the week, I feel confident that we would have felt comfortable to take a local bus or taxi downtown to explore on our own. 

Downtown Manzanillo
Here pigeon pigeon....
We had a great time in Mexico and found it to be a very family friendly vacation destination.  We still had to come home to snow and winter is long from over I'm sure (despite the fact we just celebrated the first day of spring), but it was nice to get away for a week and see how the other half of the world lives without blizzards and ice. 

The view from our room
This was our view every morning from our hotel room on the 14th floor of the Tesoro Resort. Paradise doesn't get much sweeter than this, does it?

Happy, happy, happy

And this was the smile I got to look at all day long for a week.  He never stopped smiling, laughing, and running - the whole time!  I actually think I lost weight in Mexico just from chasing him the whole time.  He ran steady from breakfast till dinner until he pretty much flopped into his pasta during dinner each night.  No surprise we never got to take in any of the evening entertainment at the resort.

Sunset in Mexico
While normally Daddy would have travelled with us, this trip was a nice opportunity to bond with my son and spend more time with him one on one. Tesoro means treasure in English and we certainly did treasure our moments in Mexico. We treasured the laughter, the fun, the meals together, and the sunsets.

Sunset over the Cove of La Audiencia, Manzanillo
Final sunset at Tesoro, Mexico
Sadly, we had to say goodbye and come home so I took this final photo below on my last night in Mexico to remind me of the magic I felt each evening as I walked around after dinner, in the stillness of the warm evening as I listened to waves crashing below me on the beach.  It feels like an eternity away already.

 If you found this travel story interesting, I hope you will please consider taking a quick second to cast a vote my way for the Big Blog Exchange, sponsored by Hostelling International.  If chosen, I will get to exchange lives and blogs with another blogger somewhere in this big incredible world for 10 days this June on an all expenses paid trip of a lifetime.  You only have to vote once and you'll receive a confirmation email within a few minutes to verify your vote.

Disclaimer:  The Tesoro Resort did not sponsor our vacation or pay for this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. 

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