Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017
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A Family Affair

Cancun's all-inclusives promise fun for the kids -- and a break for mom and dad

Travelling with two small children can be a real challenge. It's not easy finding a 100-percent child-friendly vacation particularly when you consider the higher ticket prices around school-break time. That's why my family and I have come to favour the all-inclusive holiday.

And not just for the price: We're always on the lookout for a resort with good kids' programmes or a separate children's club. These small, self-contained village hotels allow mom and dad a leisurely and relaxed week away from day-to-day responsibilities, while younger family members keep busy with creative games and pool activities.

Which is why we've become great fans of Mexico -- for its reliable weather and varied choice of resorts. A few years ago, our visit to Club Maeva in Manzanillo left nothing to be desired. By the time we checked out, we went home refreshed, tanned and with no hidden costs to pay. As with most all-inclusive holidays, taxes, meals, drinks and tips are part of the original package.

For our most recent trip to Mexico, I had supplied a list of requirements to our travel agent who, in turn, recommended Crown Paradise Club (Tel: 85-1022; fax: 85-1717; Internet: <www.crownparadise.com.mx>; e-mail: <ventas@crownparadise.com.mx>) on the Cancun hotel strip. As the hotel had a website and an e-mail address, I was able to ask the hotel administration direct questions, request brochures, as well as read a few posted comments by some of the previous guests. Another good source -- particularly for maps and travel material -- was the CAA, which provides an excellent Mexican road guide. Although we had no intention of driving, the guide, mailed free to members, has good descriptions of Mexican destinations and a fairly in-depth history of the country's regions.

After some research, Crown Paradise Club clearly sounded like a great resort. And although the hotel boasts 364 rooms, it had only a smattering of vacancies remaining when we reserved for the March break, despite the fact we had booked in October.

If you've never been to Cancun, don't expect to find the charm of old Mexico you may have experienced in Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco. Cancun is a modern town and resort area that is a mere 25 years old. With an estimated population of 300,000, its white beaches, fine sand and vivid aquamarine waters made it a natural holiday destination. Located in the state of Quintana Roo on the northeast aspect of Yucatan peninsula on the Gulf coast, Cancun is a rather odd place in terms of planning, with the town proper tucked in the north corner of the hotel strip. The 25-kilometre-long resort strip lines a narrow isthmus (it's actually an island because the land has a tiny river in the north and south ends of the strip) and to the south, leads to the international airport.

Currently, there are about 25,000 hotel rooms in Cancun -- with development underway for more. On the west side is the Nichupte Lagoon which, compared to the Gulf side, has fewer hotels bordering it. Yet many restaurants and boating facilities line its shores. Probably the most prominent tourist attraction is Aquaworld, a large, modern marina which also runs an all-purpose recreation centre, arranges deep-sea fishing, diving and snorkelling excursions, and organizes jet-ski tours to the jungle across the lagoon.

A POOLSIDE PARADISE
Once we settled into our hotel rooms, we headed straight for the pool and to scout out the kids' club. Crown Paradise Club boasts three large pools. The main one is an intriguing optical illusion, seemingly joining up to the edge of the ocean. There is a strictly adult pool, complete with Jacuzzi with daily aquabics classes, water polo and water volleyball. During our visit, the pool's mainstay was a suave lifeguard on the microphone, kibitzing with the guests and leading us in a few rounds of bingo. We ended up spending most of our time at the indoor pool -- not indoor in the Canadian sense of the word, but partially sheltered by a glass wall and open to the cross-sea breezes, which we found ideal for protecting sensitive, sunburn-prone skin like ours.

Our kids, five and seven, adored the smaller children's pool which, as expected, comes complete with slides and waterfalls, as well as being shallow enough for our non-swimming five-year-old daughter. When they weren't splashing about, the kids were usually busy working away at crafts, watching videos, or painting and glazing pottery parrots and turtles to take home. Since even the kids need to let loose on holidays, the hotel provided a special kids' lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, fries and pop.

Mom and dad, for their part, feasted on superbly prepared buffets. In the morning, we were treated to freshly prepared Belgian waffles, Mexican omelets, tropical fruits and French toast. A well-stocked salad bar or hot tables with fish, chicken, prime rib, veal or pork were set up later. The barbecue-chef seemed to be going all day, preparing shish kabob, steak and chicken. On several occasions, we indulged in caviar, shrimp and the best smoked salmon I've ever tasted. Meanwhile, in the open-air lobby, cocktails were constantly being whirled up in blenders. I tried a couple made with my favourite, Kahlua. Delicious!

I introduced my kids to shuffleboard, something I hadn't played since I myself was a child, but what they really enjoyed most was miniature golf. So before we knew it, we were regulars on the 18-hole course. After a week, I actually began to believe I could someday play a real game of golf.

My husband and I also made a point of regularly visiting the gym, which is well stocked with treadmills, StairMasters, exercise bicycles and a variety of weight machines. I immediately went into weight-gain prevention mode and attended daily aerobics or step classes. I even tried the trampoline with my children. What a sight!

Of course, every night we were treated to a theme show. Our favourite was a Mexican music-and-dance number complete with a mariachi band and fluorescently dressed dancers and singers. The show was preceded by an authentic Mexican buffet dinner and followed by group photos taken at each table, which made for special mementos of the evening.

 

SHOPPING
Because the local people live right in the town, there is very little peddling along the beaches. There are a couple of shopping malls in town, although they're quite expensive. I opted for the 45-minute, four-peso (around 75 cents) bus ride into town to look for souvenirs. Of course, the big seller here is silver. Our hotel concierge advised me to offer half of what the merchants initially ask, and then negotiate from there. Silver bangles (not the "925" quality, but those with 50-percent silver in them) made great and inexpensive souvenirs for my office staff as well as the little girl up the street who fed our cat while we were away. I also returned with little silver thimbles decorated with abalone. Of course, there are numerous other items to bring home -- carvings, candles, blankets, hammocks, chessboards and masks, as well as T-shirts, tie-dyes and macramé-- all of which are pretty good buys.

The town variety store also offered the best prices on tequila: a 12-ounce bottle went for 18 pesos (about $3). Kahlua, on the other hand, is a good duty-free buy, at $10 for 26 ounces. The Cancun airport has several duty-free shops competing for your dollars, so good prices can be had with a little window shopping.

DAY TRIPS
The Yucatan Peninsula is rich in Mayan history. Just up the road from Cancun is one of the area's many historical sites, all of which are protected by the government heritage agency. A highlight for me was the day trip we took to Chichen Itza, a two-and-half-hour bus ride from the hotel. I found a relatively inexpensive trip for $40 on a fully equipped double-decker bus. And since the hotel provided us each with a box lunch, I found the expedition doubly economical. Despite my initial reservations when I saw what appeared to be fairly monotonous scenery on the trip there, what awaited us was well worth the ride.

As our guide informed us, sometime during the first millennium the ancestors of the Mayans crossed the Bering Sea and travelled down the North American continent in pursuit of large game. Settlements flourished between 300 and 900 AD. While Europe was in the Dark Ages, the Mayans were busy building religious temples and ceremonial centres of amazing architectural proportions. The Mayans were also skilled astronomers and mathematicians, and had a refined hieroglyphic writing system.

Yet Mayan civilization declined with arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Determined to see the demise of Mayan world, the Spanish conquered this part of world with a vengeance; they damaged and destroyed much of the Mayan buildings, using the stone from the temples to build their own homes. They also methodically removed any paintings or pictures portraying the pagan rituals and religion.

Today, of the several hundred buildings originally in Chichen Itza, about 30 have been restored. It is believed that the city, founded around 435 AD, was initially occupied by the Itzaes and later by the Toltecs from central Mexico. Chichen Itza's main pyramid, called El Castillo, rises about 23 metres above ground, and visitors can actually climb the 91 steps to the top. But be careful when you get to the summit -- the stairs are so steep and narrow that many people have to be rescued and assisted down from the top. I chose to watch from afar as many of the climbers slowly inched their way down, step by step, on their bottoms.

The design of the pyramid reflects the Mayan calendar. The precision of its construction is borne out at the spring and fall equinoxes, when the sun's shadows fall in precise patterns. There are large crowds that gather on the site to witness this phenomenon every spring and fall.

A large playing field and its surrounding walls' hieroglyphics explain the complex ritualistic games played during the rainy season. It's no wonder that the Mayan civilization fell: The captain of the winning team, usually the best athlete, was always beheaded as a sacrifice to the gods! This, of course, was considered an honourable and desirable way to exit life. A little further on through the city, many pictures of skulls are carved into the stone walls, representing those who were also bestowed with this rather dubious honour.

Other day excursions from Cancun that are popular include a visit to the Tulum ruins, originally a 10th-century fortress overlooking the Caribbean. It is the only Mayan site on the coast.

Those wishing to escape the modernity of Cancun should opt for an excursion to the island of Cozumel, noted for its glorious aquamarine waters and unparalleled scuba diving and snorkelling. Cozumel can also be accessed directly via its own international airport. It's a popular destination from Canada, especially for package vacations.

So, if you're looking for an easy and inexpensive winter getaway that promises plenty of things to do for the kids -- and lots of diversions for mom and dad -- a package trip to Cancun simply can't be beat.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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