If you follow us, you know we aren't living in the shadow of fear that's been perpetrated on the world for the last year and three months (but who's counting)? We've been all over the country and back from Florida to California and in between, to Tennessee, Oregon and Texas. But it was high time for us to get back to Mexico! We were more than ready to flee for a stress free vacation to the white sand beaches of the Riviera Maya and the huge meandering pools, endless buffets and decadent massages. We're not here to tell you you should head to Mexico too, but we want to let those who are ready to travel in on the deets of what to expect.
With a firm belief that our immune systems are strong, that relaxing in the sun does wonders for the human body and soul and when it's your time to go, it's your time to go, we are not sitting around waiting for "the right time" to resume living. We live in the present, because it's all we've got. That may not be right for you, but it's right for us! Now that we've been home for a few weeks, well past the incubation time and still healthy as a bunch of horses, I thought this was a great time to publish this post. So let's begin.
This was a girls trip with four of us. Wren, her best friend, my Aunt and myself with a wide range of ages from 23 to 64. My Aunt is our accountant and payroll processor but she refuses to take payment. So we offered a trip to Mexico instead and she loved the idea! And Wren's best friend is a nurse, so we had a lot of our bases covered; finances, health and cute clothes. What more do we need?
We opted for a 5 night all inclusive resort that we've been to many times before, The Barcelo Maya. Our airfare, hotel, food and transfers were all included. We booked through the travel agent I use often, Monica with Dream Vacations. She lives in Spain now, but has no trouble working with us here in the US. Just give her a few hours to get back to you if you're ready to plan a vacation!
Let's start with flying TO Mexico. Flying home is a whole different ball game. As of May 2021, getting there is no big deal. Just be sure your passport is current. The only c o v i d (I'm separating the word because I don't want to get flagged for anything by talking about the dreaded certain death sentence) related documents you'll need to get to Mexico, is an online form we had to fill out on a Mexican website that generates a QR code for you. General questions about exposure and current health conditions. We were never asked for this QR code but on the flight they kept repeating that you had to have it. Maybe it registers you in some system so they know you're there?
Once you arrive at the Cancun airport, no different than before, if you've ever been. Except that people were masked and glaring at those who had masks below their noses. Why they'd travel to a foreign country if they're so afraid is beyond me. Upon arrival, Immigration was packed, as always. No social distancing, so someone high up isn't too worried we're all ticking time bombs. Showed our passports and the usual immigration form and that was it. Gathered our luggage and headed out. If you've been to this airport you know about the "button" and red light/green light. This was gone! No scary button to push to see if you got the go ahead. We went out the doors, ignoring all of the people trying to get us to book a car or shuttle. Looked for our transfers that had been pre-arranged through our travel agent and headed to the people in the floral shirts. Really long line, so we asked one of the guys if it was the correct line and he took us forward to a smaller line and a smaller shuttle, same company, and got us right on. Pays to ask! And tip.
The Barcelo is pretty far south of the airport, about an hours drive. So don't get worried that they've kidnapped you and are selling you into human trafficking. At least not at this point. No seriously, I can't say I've ever felt unsafe in Mexico, but we've never really ventured far from the resorts and certainly not just to roam around. At this point, can't be much worse than it is here right now, depending on where you are visiting. Portland and Chicago would be a big NO.
A little about the resort. The Barcelo is a huge resort, with different levels of hotels within the complex for you to book. If you don't like to walk, look elsewhere. You can expect to get in 5+ miles per day. Yes, per day. But we look at it this way, we can eat all we want because we know we're going to get in the exercise throughout the day and we've always had such a great, relaxing vacation there. If you want to try it out but are not looking forward to so much walking, be sure to ask for a room in the front, closest to the pools and beach of whichever hotel within the complex you end up at. There are shuttles, but we find it to be just as quick to walk.
I thought I had booked one of the original hotels within the complex, but upon our shuttle arrival, we were dropped at the brand new Barcelo Riviera. This new hotel is VERY modern, not our cup of tea. We asked if we could be switched to The Tropical or The Palace and they gladly switched us. We did go back to the Riviera and walk around one night and were glad we made the decision we did. We like the more traditional Mexican feel of the Tropical and the Palace with thatched roofs, open air lobbies and open air beachside restaurants for lunch. However, if you stay at the brand new Riviera you can use the facilities of ALL of the hotels in the complex, including the Tropical and Palace. But you'll be walking or on a shuttle a lot to get to them. But it may be for you if you like a high rise feel, lots of glass, modern architecture, loud music and more of a Vegas feel. There were restaurants for dinner but breakfast and lunch are in a huge cafeteria that gave the Wren and Bradi reminders of their college days. That's exactly what it looks like, a cafeteria. The one plus of the Riviera is that it is Adults Only and we liked the pool area, with big concrete "docks" in the rectangular infinity edge pools. But all in all, I would not stay there.
We ended up staying at The Barcelo Palace, where we've stayed before. There are a few things I love about the Palace; the smaller adults only pool that never has many people at it and is much quieter than the big pools, the dinner restaurants are very good and the buffet restaurant is pretty decent. At breakfast there is a fresh juice bar, omelet bar and egg station. If you stay at The Palace you can use all the other hotel restaurants and pools, except at the new Riviera, which in my opinion, wasn't much of a loss. We've stayed at the Tropical and Colonial and been very happy there too. They all have a very traditional Mexican feel, with bright colors, thatch roofs, tile, nods to the Mayans, etc. Garden areas are gorgeous, pathways everywhere, we've even seen monkeys before. We love it!
The beaches at this resort are beautiful. They are basically in two cove areas, so there are waves only on the roughest days. It is usually very minimal wave activity every time we've been. The white sand beaches have lots of lounge chairs and palm trees for shade. For the last few years this whole Riviera Maya area has been inundated with mounds and mounds of red sea weed. There was a bit this time, but not that much and it didn't hinder going in the water and they raked the beaches every day to pick it up. I was so happy to see that the seaweed situation was much better this go around. There are multiple areas along the expansive beach to go into the ocean that are rock free and there are some areas with lots of big rocks, which are good for looking at sea creatures. You can also snorkel right off of the beach and see quite a bit. The girls snorkeled and saw a turtle and a few fish and they didn't go very far at all. If they had, I'm sure they would've seen more. You can get snorkel equipment for 1 hour a day for free with a $50 refundable cash deposit for each set. Take your cash to the beach for this purpose only. Side note: There are no vendors walking up and down the beach selling souvenirs like in Cancun.
If you plan on getting a massage, wait until the staff from the spa starts to canvas the pool and beach areas to do your bookings. And don't be afraid to barter and say no. They always come back. If we booked through the spa the 80 minute massage was $235, we waited for the guy to come around, bartered, said no, then he came back the next day with the price of $102!! All four of us happily signed up for an 80 minute massage that was wonderful.
I'm sure many people will wonder about masks, so let's talk about that. We were really expecting and hoping it would be very lax and most would be without. I would say it was about 50/50 when people were walking around the resort. The only time they asked you to mask up was walking into the restaurant, but I used my crocheted mask and that was fine. Considering the masks they handed out were like a piece of tissue paper, open on all sides, with ear loops. We thought it was a joke at first and wondered where these people were getting these pieces of kleenex they were using as a mask and then we realized that's what the hotel was handing out. The staff wore masks at all times, even the poor gardeners and house keepers. I'm sure facial fungal and lung infections are at an unprecedented level in this very hot, very humid climate.
The one big complaint I had was that they are anti-bacterial glop police. They tried to squirt our hands with that poison every time we'd go back to the buffet. I never let them and we all just kept saying, "no thanks", but one of the buffets was pretty intense about it and we thought the Federales might show up for us since the manager kept pointing our way. If they tried it again, I was going to be happy to let them assign us someone to walk around with us and dish up our food. It was absolutely ridiculous. This is highly toxic stuff and I've never allowed it in our household. Ever. How about good ole soap and water?
Upon entering each restaurant you are temperature checked as well. This is also ridiculous and just checking another box to remain open I'm sure. Let's just say LO is a common reading we kept seeing on the thermometer. Which, I'm pretty sure, indicated battery life.
Now let's get to the dreaded test to get back into our country. As a citizen of the US you are not allowed back into the country without a negative test. Ok, I understand this. But at this time I don't feel it should be something they can be enforcing when tens of thousands of people are illegally crossing the very same border without a negative test to get into my country. How are we allowing this? I have to pay for a test and stay in Mexico on my own dollar if it's positive, but if I wasn't a US citizen I could come here, no test, and be sent on my merry way, thanks to the tax payers. This is insane.
But alas, we abide by the rules and weren't going to trek to the border to try a crossing there, so we all had to have the stupid test with negative results. The test must be performed no more than 3 days prior to leaving Mexico. The test may be the deal breaker of whether I travel out of the country again. I haven't decided yet. It was awful. Way up into our sinuses, while the guy laughed. I'm willing to bet it's only being used as another huge money making scam for big pharma supplying the tests and the travel industry to recoup some lost revenue. $20 a pop, which we heard from other travelers at different resorts was cheap, and 30 seconds later, we had our negative results. No joke. 30 seconds from the last one of us being swabbed and the results were coming in for all four via the printer. Took all four of us less than 5 minutes to be swabbed. Then, to top it off, they had a tip basket at the door! Hilarious. But hey, we had our needed paperwork. They should just let you pay the $20 bucks and hand over the paperwork. I find it highly suspect results are back in 30 seconds. As I said, we had a nurse with us who has had to test a few times and she said this was the worst one and she'd never heard of 30 second results.
Which brings me to another ridiculous point. One of the four of us is fully v a c c in a t e d and she still had to pay $20 bucks to have a q-tip stuck three inches up her nose and wear a mask in restaurants. What is the incentive there? Those people are really getting robbed.
Our time at the resort was amazing but the preparations to leave Mexico and get back to the US was time consuming, uncomfortable and a waste of our precious vacation time. It's almost as if they are trying to make travel miserable. But, we figure we better do it now, while we can. Now, let's discuss our trip back home.
Once again, we had to fill out the form which provided us with a QR code. We had to fill out another online form on United Airlines site and we had to have the negative test result paperwork. Once we arrived at the Cancun airport and checked in at the kiosk we had another level of security to get through before baggage check. I've never experienced this before and they were a little scary. Men in suits, very professional asking some very bizarre questions. What resort, did we leave, what countries have we been to, what state do we live in, and then a repeat of similar questions. Almost as if he was trying to catch us in a lie. In fact, I jokingly replied to his country question with something like "I wish other countries too" and he replied with, "well, it will show up on your passport when scanned". Very interesting. I should've asked if the same questions were being asked of the illegals crossing into the US in the thousands.
Once we escaped the interrogator, we checked our bags and received ANOTHER c o v i d form to fill out and headed to security. We did have to scan our QR code finally, show our paperwork and passport and then we were allowed into the bustling terminal, which was packed. And that was it, we were on our way back into the US and once we arrived here, it was business as usual in Immigration. I don't think we had to show our test results again, if I'm remembering correctly. I'm telling you, this is the time for far more nefarious stuff to get onto planes and through airports than ever before. I'm convinced this s c a m de m i c is a front for so many other activities, none of which are good.
I must not be too traumatized by the testing and process we had to go through because I'm already looking at returning in August. It's kind of like childbirth. The good far outweighs the bad!