A working vacation? Definitely an oxymoron…

The hubs has an annual work conference that was celebrating a milestone this year, so the conference moved from the midwest to sunny Cancun. Seeing great potential for myself to be able to tour resorts while he was working, I packed my bags and accompanied him to the sunshine. We only had two full days plus our arrival and departure days, to enjoy the resort we were staying at plus attend the conference and do my site inspections. So, not much vacation time was had but a lot of work was done. Here’s the recap.

The accommodations: Nizuc Resort and Spa, south of the Hotel Zone in Cancun. This resort is uniquely positioned such that its beach is essentially private. The resort itself isn’t an all-inclusive but you can add on an ‘Endless Indulgence’ package to include meals during your stay. There’s no other way to describe Nizuc as anything other than pure luxury. The rooms were AMAZING. Our room was an oceanview junior suite that had a huge balcony with private pool, coming it at around 1200 square feet! We had a gorgeous view of the Caribbean and the mangrove forest that fronted the resort, where we watched a heron come in each afternoon and enjoy the forest goodies.

Sunset from our balcony at Nizuc

Pampered every minute, we had golf cart transportation around the resort, which is fairly spread out due to the layout of the land and how it meets the Caribbean. And the food, delicious. Possibly the best food I’ve ever had at a resort. So fresh and beautifully presented.


Nizuc is supposed to have a fantastic spa but, I’ll have to make a return trip for that, we didn’t have any time to enjoy that on this trip. Disappointing for sure but… working vacation. When this is the view from your resort’s lobby every morning, that puts any disappointment back in check.

Nizuc lobby

But alas, back to work. Two full days to get in as many site inspections as I could. That meant five resorts on the first day and three on the second day. Those last three are huge resorts so they warranted more time. The hotels I visited on day one were all in the Hotel Zone. Normally not my favorite place for families because the beaches aren’t private and the hotels are very close together, I wanted to get a feel for the on-site experience at a few properties. Seaweed, while not currently an issue in Mexico, has plagued the beaches there and around the Caribbean for the last couple years. I’m always on the lookout for resorts that have great pools and activities in case the beach turns out to be a no-go due to seaweed at a particular time. It seems too that many guests are focusing more on these types of amenities over the beach itself so I try to follow what I’m seeing on that end as well.

I hit the ground running on day one with my first stop, Now Emerald. This is a family resort and has a very nice beach, beautiful pools, and is continuing to be renovated after the property itself changed from an Oasis brand resort to Now Emerald earlier this year. I took this shot from a room that I toured on-site, such fantastic views and look how pretty the water was that day!

Now Emerald

Moving right along, Live Aqua Beach resort, an adult-only property in the Hotel Zone, right across from a luxury shopping mall. This place knocked my socks off. The rooms were beautiful, amenities stellar, multiple pools all at different temperatures even!, delicious food and drink, plus activities galore. I would definitely love to stay here in the future. It just finished up a multi-million dollar renovation earlier this year after hurricane damage. Any place with a room view like this has my vote. Did I mention that the room also had its own aromatherapy station, the curtains closed automatically when you left the room to save energy and reduce cooling costs, etc.? So nice. And the rubber ducks, super cute!

Welcome to Live Aqua Beach

Welcome to Live Aqua Beach

Hyatt Zilara was next on my list, also adult-only and in the hotel zone. The style here felt authentic Mexico with lots of wrought iron, stained glass, and open air spaces. I especially loved the room balconies, facing the Caribbean with a hammock. Can’t beat that! The fitness center had a lap pool outside that would make anyone want to become a swimmer! I especially loved the idea of their apothecary where you could be instructed on how to make your own oils and scrubs to be used during your spa treatments!

Hyatt Zilara

Zilara lap pool

Zilara apothecary

After that, Hyatt Ziva was my last stop away from my own resort for the day. Ziva is a kids friendly property that also has an adult only section. There is a Delphinus dolphin center on-site there for those interested in interacting with dolphins. There’s a new tween/teen club called Moods that had virtual reality machines that I would’ve loved to have checked out.

Ziva Moods

An interesting thing about Hyatt Ziva is its location. Much like Nizuc where I was staying, Hyatt Zila sits at the end of a point, basically on a peninsula. So their beach isn’t private but they’re pretty far down and not in the middle of a lot of other hotels. The break shown in the picture below also helps with seaweed blockage.

Hyatt Ziva beach

The last place on tap for me that day was back at my own resort. I enjoyed learning more about the resort itself and its history and the different rooms types available. I thought our room was stunning (and it was!) but the one-bedroom private villas… truly a ‘wow’ moment. Imagine having your own backyard with private infinity-edge pool!

Nizuc one-bedroom

Speaking of history there, their most famous and award-winning restaurant called ‘Ramona’ has these doors as its entrance. The story has it that these are the original doors of the Presidential Retreat building that used to be on the site of the Nizuc resort, where the President of Mexico came to relax. From standing in front of them, I would agree that they definitely seemed authentic and impressive. The picture doesn’t capture the jaw-dropping size of these!

Ramona doors

Phew. Lots of resorts, pictures of beds, bathrooms, and balconies. I had just enough time to enjoy the pool on my own balcony before dinner and bed. The next day, I headed out again, bright and early. First stop, Azul Beach Riviera Cancun. A family-friendly property that is often a little friendlier than some on the purse strings, I was pleased to see that even at a slightly lower price point, the quality wasn’t compromised. The beach here was definitely not as big or pretty as the Hotel Zone but the pools helped offset that.

Azul Beach RC

Azul Beach RC

I really loved a new room style that I toured, and I can’t wait until those become open for booking. They are family suites and the current style with double beds and sleeper sofas are being renovated into beautiful split rooms with a separate king bedroom area for parents and two twin beds for the kids. These are set to start renovations in 2020 and hopefully they are finished quickly!


Royalton Riviera Maya was next and is a client favorite. This resort has some beautiful swim-up rooms (I LOVE swim-ups!) and so many amenities. That was a huge plus because it started to rain cats and dogs when I arrived at Royalton. So much so that I didn’t get to tour much of the grounds. Disappointing but I can’t control the weather!

Royalton RC

I’m a sucker for pretty bathrooms. 🙂

Royalton RC

Last stop, Moon Palace Cancun. Moon Palace is a huge resort with three separate sections: Sunrise, Nizuc (not my resort), and the Grand. Sunrise and Nizuc are very similar with different decor and the Grand is the most upscale part of the property. I was impressed by the amount of things to do, how happy the guests looked (despite the buckets of rain coming down during their vacation), the decor, and the friendliness of the staff. Such a great place for families. Check out the stained glass ceilings in the Sunrise lobby!

Moon Palace Sunrise lobby

The rooms were pretty sweet too. Wouldn’t that jacuzzi be so great in the evening?Moon Palace

After Moon Palace, it was back to my resort for a little more pool time (thank goodness our balcony had a roof!) and a quick walk on the beach after the rain subsided. The next day, we were to fly home but our flight was cancelled due to a mechanical delay and then crew issue. The airline very smoothly setup accommodations for everyone on the flight for the night and shuttled us to the hotel and back. The only glitch? The hotel was a DUMP! I always talk about not selling resorts I either haven’t personally been to or ones that I don’t have a colleague who has been to confirm its quality. TripAdvisor reviews are often lies or one-sided (I know, shocker!), pictures can be staged and cropped, resorts change owners and aren’t renovated when needed, locations can be horrid, etc. Well, here’s a perfect case of that. Seadust Cancun. Oh my gosh, never have I ever. This place brings new meaning to budget. The entire resort was basically open-air, including the restaurants, which is so bad when we’re talking Cancun on the beach and in a high-rise. Even the rooms were hot and the air-conditioning in the rooms never got to the temperature it was set to. We had tile floors with wet spots on the floor that NEVER dried, from the humidity I guess, brown water pouring from the faucets, hair in the bathroom, two sets of outlets in the whole room, and a bed that felt like someone had poured water all over it from the humidity. The food in the buffet restaurant was out of temperature, it’s a true wonder we didn’t end up with food poisoning.

What are you looking at in the picture below, you ask? These things that looked like sports lockers were actually doors to closet space. Those aren’t reflections near the handles either, those are literally handprints and smudges. When opened, they were basically big holes to put stuff. A couple of captive hangers and one or two shelves. My main concern with these was that I needed to open them up to see if someone was hiding in there to kill me in the night!


The funniest thing is that the reviews on this place are great, 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. I was trying to rationalize that in my head when I realized what the resort reminded me of. A cheap Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach high-rise hotel crossed with something cheap in Las Vegas. I think the guests that enjoy this resort must be using this property in a similar fashion, not realizing that by spending a little more money, they could stay at a resort that their health and well-being wouldn’t be in danger. I’m very grateful to have not woken up with an upper-respiratory issue after sleeping in that room for the night. This place is EXACTLY why I tour resorts, I want to see the place first hand before I send a guest to a place that “has great reviews and is budget-friendly”. I can guarantee if I sent someone to this resort, they would question my qualifications as a professional travel agent.

Long blog post short, Cancun was great! So much touring done but it was all worthwhile! Some great new resorts to dream about at night and think about for my family’s own vacations… always happy to help with yours too. https://www.GototheMouse.com/AndBeyond

Until next time!






The “Finest” resort of all…

As I write this blog post, I am on my way to board the world’s largest cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. You will have to wait to hear all about that though, this post is about my trip to Mexico at the end of October. Happy reading!

The fam and I boarded an early morning flight to Cancun, ready to venture back into the sunshine as fall enveloped Virginia. The destination was Playa Mujeres, a gated resort community about thirty minutes north of Cancun. We enjoyed another resort in the same area last June, Dreams Playa Mujeres, so we were excited to get back and try out something new. I chose Finest Playa Mujeres, a family- friendly, all-inclusive resort that belongs to the Excellence Hotel Group. Excellence resorts are beautiful and modern but adult-only; luckily Finest offers that same great service and amenities but allows children. Finest Playa Mujeres is their only Finest resort and they definitely should build more!

Upon arrival at the resort, we were promptly greeted and taken to the Finest Club lounge to check-in. During our stay, we were booked in a Finest Club Junior swim-up suite so that offered a special check-in, fresh flowers in the room, a bottle of sparkling wine, a bowl of fresh fruit, daily dessert delivered to the room, a club-only section of the beach, a restaurant only for club guests, etc. It was divine! Our room was huge, with a walk-in closet and a shower that was big enough for two. The highlight was the outdoor area. We had a Jacuzzi tub directly off the room, enclosed with a glass front so you could relax in the tub but see the porch area. The porch was amazing! A table and chairs, two lounge chairs, a cushioned double bed, a second cushioned bed built into a wall nook, an overwater hammock, and then the pool itself! There were steps going down into the pool from the porch and another set of stairs across the water so you hop out on the other side to access two other cushioned lounge chairs and an umbrella. The only negative was that the pool was COLD because the sun just didn’t hit the water for enough hours to get it warm (or make us hot enough that the water felt good). That was a bummer but we know to request the opposite side of the building we were in to get full sun. I’m sure the time of year and angle of the sun didn’t help either.

Finest Playa Mujeres Junior Swim-up Suite

The best room ever! Finest Club Junior swim-up suite

We did end up spending a lot of time in the main pool, which was the perfect temperature. The pool bar kept the drinks flowing and had a full kids bar menu with plenty of options for the kid to enjoy some non-alcoholic deliciousness. There were rafts for guest use but I brought my own (pro tip!) and we all enjoyed spending some time on that. We did venture down to the beach and swam one afternoon but we are definitely more into the pools (and pool bars) so that’s mainly where we stayed. There was some seaweed the day we swam but nothing too terrible. It was much worse another afternoon that I walked the beach and I would not have swam that day. The seaweed is a cyclical nature issue that comes and goes every few years but 2018 has been particularly bad. Each day is different and all of the resorts do what they can to keep it under control on the shore.

Finest Playa Mujeres beach

My view at the beach

The food was so good, even for my vegetarian self. I am the one that has the hardest time with resorts because sometimes vegetarianism gets lost in translation. Finest rocks the food options though! They had completely separate vegetarian menus and, not only that, the servers were knowledgeable about the options and even commented that something on the vegetarian menu at one of the restaurants actually was prepared in bacon fat and to avoid that. I was impressed. Everywhere we ate was delish and had so many options we could all enjoy. Zero food complaints! There was 24-hour room service available as well and that menu even had baby food on it!  Ever had cantaloupe juice? Yeah, me either but it was so good! There was a little café that served dessert, hand-scooped ice cream, and a variety of coffee beverages; we stopped there each evening on the way to the room.

Nightly treats at the Sweet Corner

Macarons, meringues, cupcakes, brownies… oh my!

The spa was perfection too… I had a delightful deep-tissue massage and came away relaxed and refreshed. The massage therapist was kind, attentive to my specific needs (work those knots out!), and respectful. The treatment room was huge and so comfortable, as was the relaxation area to enjoy before, and the second relaxation room to enjoy after, the treatment. Great experience overall!

We largely stayed on the resort but did venture out crazy early one morning to go to the Mayan ruins in Tulum. We had to catch the van at 6am, which is just ridiculous on vacation, but necessary to get to Tulum early and beat the crowds and heat. The ride there took probably three hours after stopping to pick up a few other guests from other resorts. It is a long ride whether you stop or not, that’s for sure. If was definitely worth the early wake-up and long ride to be able to see the magnificent ruins that remain from so long ago. We had a guided tour and then some free time to explore on our own. There was time for a quick dip in the Caribbean but that involved a huge set of steps down to the water, then some seaweed, then having to climb back up, so all of that was a no-go. It was pretty to look down there but “no gracias” when it comes to all those stairs and seaweed.

Ruins at Tulum

Some of the ruins at Tulum. The detailed carvings that still remain on these buildings after hundreds of years is amazing!

Sooner than we wanted, as always, it was time to pack up and fly home. That was another early wake-up call, 3:55am pick up to go back to the airport. Talk about way too early! It is nice though to see Cancun at sleep, such an interesting place. That brings me to the last thing about my trip, traveling to Mexico in general. Mexico is a beautiful country and begs to be visited and explored. While there are unsafe areas, like any country in the world, the people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met and the resort areas that I stay at and recommend don’t give me any pause. I’m not a fan of the hotel zone in Cancun for my family, it feels too much like a cross between Myrtle Beach and Las Vegas, but some guests love it there. Wherever you decide to stay, you are in for a great visit.

Until next time!




Memorial Day in Mexico!

Hola! The end of school means hitting the road (or skies) for another adventure! This year, the fam decided on Cancun, Mexico for a little Yucatan fun! Our visit to Cancun was largely spent in the amazing pools of our resort, Dreams Playa Mujeres Resort, just north of Cancun. From our balcony, you could look across the Caribbean Sea to catch a glimpse of Isla Mujeres in the distance. Such a beautiful place, let me recount the ways…

#1:  All-inclusive resort goodness… Dreams Playa Mujeres is part of the AM Resort family, like Dreams Punta Cana that I visited last fall.  These are family-oriented, all-inclusive resorts that offer as much (or as little) as you care to enjoy during your vacation.  In our case, we were going for ‘as little as possible’ in terms of activity level and we were not disappointed!  With two infinity pools, a lazy river, and waterslides plus a gorgeous beach, we had plenty to ‘not do.’  Each day started off with no alarm clock ringing, room service for breakfast, then hours by/in the pool being served fruity beverages. When I wasn’t in the pool, I was enjoying a Bali bed near the pool with said fruity drink.

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A look toward “our pool” and the Bali beds that are napping perfection

After a day in the pool, we would clean up for dinner and enjoy after dinner cocktails and desserts at the Preferred Club lounge.  (Preferred Club is the Dreams resort version of club level.)

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Cocktails anyone? I highly recommend the kiwi one!

The resort was in the off-season so we felt like we often had the place to ourselves.  That was such a fantastic change from our typical vacation style.  No plans, no crowds, all food and drink included… super luxurious and a great change of pace.  Our room didn’t disappoint either with modern furnishings (it is a new resort, just opened in late November 2016) and a laid-back feel.

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We did decide to do an excursion to Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres one day… Isla Contoy is essentially a deserted island with a limited number of guests (200) per day allowed to visit.  A friendly stingray played in the water with us during our morning and the fam enjoyed climbing up a small tower to drink in the view of the island.

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And we shall name him ‘silky’.

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Isla Contoy — a view from the top

All-in-all, we had a great vacation that was filled with lovely weather, lots of relaxation, and family togetherness.  Until next time, good night to Playa Mujeres!

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