Making tortillas on the plaza at Azul The Fives

Making tortillas on the plaza at Azul The Fives

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

The three Goenka kids are splashing in the pool with their dad, while their mom sits poolside in the sun, a big smile on her face.

“A real vacation,” sighs Kelly Goenka, noting that it is the first resort vacation for the Toronto family since before the birth of their 4 year old.

The family had chosen Azul Beach Resort the Fives, a Karisma Gourmet Inclusive Experience, just outside of Playa del Carmen, for their getaway, because it seemed to offer all they needed. There were spacious condo-like accommodations with a kitchen that holds juice and snacks (“staying in one room is no vacation,” Goenka said) to a kids’ club (they could drop the kids off after feeding them an early dinner for a few hours of adult time). There were numerous food options at eight restaurants and 24-hour room service, everything from a bountiful buffet, Mexican, sushi, Italian, seafood, French, something that would satisfy the kids and her vegetarian husband when they didn’t want to eat the same thing.

While the condos weren’t beachfront, each had its own pool and bar and the expansive beach and pool area featured several restaurants, as well as water sports. Kids were thrilled they could see so many tropical fish in knee-deep water. “Hundreds!” declared one 10 year old. There were also delighted by monkeys that tended to come out at dusk in some of the trees.

Sure families paid more than if they’d rented a condo or a house on the beach, but that wouldn’t have been a real vacation, parents said. “I’d be thinking about the next meal, scoping out grocery stores, cooking and cleaning, like at home,” said Kelly Goenka.

As vacation planner-in-chief in my family, I knew exactly what Goenka meant. I realized an all-inclusive resort can de-stress the vacation experience for adults too — no arguing about who is paying for dinner or a cab; no need to get consensus on where to go when there’s only one rental car.

“You can waste a lot of your vacation doing chores,” explained John Daniels, vacationing from Winnipeg with his wife, two kids under three and his parents. With young kids, his wife April added, convenience — not having to get the kids in and out of the car for a meal, being able to walk everywhere — “is a big deal.” And worth paying extra for.

Karisma currently has some deeply discounted Leave Winter Behind deals at its three Azul Beach resorts (starting at $30 USD per child, per night gourmet inclusive. Kids under three are free.) At the group’s Riviera Maya all-butler all-beachfront Generations Riviera Maya (starting at $1,023 USD per night, 4 pax, gourmet inclusive), grandparents get a free one-bedroom when their family books a two-bedroom unit — a savings of up to $4,000 on a four-night stay. Adult rates start at $132 per night.

Family Swim-Up Suite at Generations Riviera Maya

Family Swim-Up Suite at Generations Riviera Maya

Certainly Mexico is known for its all-inclusive resorts at various price points. Some are adult only, others offer family friendly amenities. They offer all sorts of wedding and anniversary packages too. Just like booking a cruise, though, it’s important to know what you want and need when booking an all-inclusive resort and most important, what vacation value means to you. Jessica Kosempa, for one, grew up going to all-inclusive resorts with her extended family. Her husband Damien prefers exploring. But here they were from Wisconsin with their three kids for a family reunion — 13 adults and eight kids, eight and under. “I think he feels a little contained,” she said. “I have to be patient.”

It’s more than the value of all the food and frothy drinks you can manage, especially for families. Do you prefer a small beachfront resort that’s quiet? A large resort with more activities and a party scene? (Karaoke, anyone?) Are you a foodie who hates buffets, or do you find buffets where kids can each get what they want vacation nirvana? (I especially loved the woman stationed outside at the Azul Beach Resort The Fives, who made fresh tortillas and served up different varieties of tacos all morning.)

Is a big spa important? Fitness center? What about a kids’ and teen club — so you get some alone (and maybe romantic) time. Do you need elevators for strollers or for those with mobility issues?

No one I met seemed worried about safety in Mexico, nor was the Mexican staff anything but gracious to Americans, despite President Trump’s much-resented plans to build a border wall.

These resorts have everything for young families — strollers (even jogging strollers), baby bathtubs and monitors, pint-sized robes and slippers, freshly pureed baby food, bottle warmers and sterilizers, kids’ menus and toy lending library. Let’s not forget the new Nickelodeon Experience at some of the resorts, complete with character breakfasts and “slime” smoothies.

“Pretty Perfect,” said New Yorker Jessica Yager, acknowledging that she and her husband aren’t “all-inclusive resort types.” Her in-laws invited the couple and their two young kids to join them at the intimate 148-room beachfront Azul Beach Resort, which is just 20 minutes from Cancun airport and particularly caters to young families. There’s even a small play structure in the sand, a kids’ pool and a “Perfectly Pink” spa with treatments for kids starting at age five.

Avery Dodson, 6, from Western Canada, was particularly enthralled with the swim-up pool to her family’s room. (There are special locked gates.) “It wouldn’t be a problem if we just lived in the pool,” Avery said.

And the baby monitor made it possible for her baby brother to nap in the room while her parents watched her swim just outside. “None of the things we worry about at home we have to worry about here,” said Peter Dodson, who also opined that he and his wife had never been to this sort of resort. “We just show up and enjoy ourselves!”

That sounds pretty good to me.