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We tend to stay in vacation rentals on our travels.  Hotels are expensive and many hotels will not allow a family of 5 to share one room.  Vacation rentals through VRBO or HomeAway are a great alternative.  They fit our family and our budget.  The only thing they don’t have is that relaxing resort feeling.  Sometimes, I just want to lay in a hammock on a white sand beach and sip Piña Coladas, while my kids zip down water slides.  So I was overjoyed when I discovered the secret of The Resort Day Pass.

Many resorts, especially in the Mexican Riviera, sell a pass to use the resort for the day, just like a nightly guest.  The passes aren’t cheap, but they include so many amenities that we have never regretted paying for one.

These all-inclusive hotels allow use of the entire property for the day including pools, beach chairs, snorkel equipment, kayaks, kids’ clubs and shows.  They also include all food and drinks that are part of their all-inclusive plans.  If you arrive early, you can have breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner.  For adults, day passes at all-inclusive hotels range from $50 to $100 USD per person, and from $15 to 30 USD per child. When you add up everything that you ate, drank and experienced, it is a fair price.

Tips on Day Passes:

  • Day pass prices and availability are always changing so try to call the resort first.  You typically buy the pass at the front desk after you arrive.
  • Remember to ask for the child rate if you have children (usually 12 and under, but sometimes under 18) and ask how to check your child into the kids’ club.  Some kids’ clubs require morning sign ups.
  • Ask if you need dinner reservations as soon as you check in.  Many restaurants get booked up early.  
  • Before you go check out the resort website for dress codes.  Some resorts require collared shirts and long pants in their better dining rooms.
  • Ask about changing rooms.  Some resorts will have a room for you to shower and change before dinner.
  • At many resorts, the official beginning and ending times are not set in stone.  We have found that they would let us stay longer than the stated hours. Or get in before stated hours to eat breakfast.
  • Ask how to identify yourself in restaurants or when checking out equipment,  Some resorts will give you wristbands but others require you to carry a paper.

Our favorite day passes in the Mexican Riviera:

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa is a beautiful resort.  The grounds are amazing with multiple pools and a large white sand beach.  Our boys loved the giant chess board, the beach bars with swings for bar stools and Euro-bungee on the beach.  The adults were able to relax by the pool while the wonderful staff entertained our boys.  The food was excellent, as was the service.  Before dinner, the resort staff allowed us to use a room to shower and change.

Km. 236.7, No. 1, 77761 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico +52 984 871 3333

Sunset in Cozumel #mexico #cozumel #sunset

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Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa All Inclusive

Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa All Inclusive is our boys favorite resort for day passes. The resort offers tons of activities for the kids including water trampolines, amazing pools, ping-pong, giant chess boards, mini golf, kayaks and snorkeling.  The food is good and the beaches are beautiful.

The bartenders have a list of fun drinks for kids like Superman, Ironman and the Pink Panther,  Our boys loved the stand that serves up hot dogs, pizza and ice cream all afternoon.  They never wanted to leave!
Km 269.5 Mz 18 Lote 05, Solidaridad, 77750 Puerto Aventuras, Q.R., Mexico +52 984 875 3000

Omni Puerto Aventuras Beach Resort

We really liked the Day Passes at Omni Puerto Aventuras Beach Resort.  They are not an all-inclusive.  We paid $20 per person, which gave us a $15 food credit that you could use at the restaurants or beach bar.  We were able to use the pool chairs, beach palapas and towels.

Omni is a quiet resort with little sand but fantastic calm water for the little ones.  The food was not cheap but was delicious.  This is a great choice if you are looking for somewhere quiet and don’t want to stay all day.

Km. 269.5, Puntacelus y Marina, Puerto Aventuras, Solidaridad, 77733 Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico +52 984 875 1950

Allegro Cozumel

Allegro Cozumel is a great all-inclusive property on Cozumel.  The beach is fantastic with clear calm water.  They have a few nice pools and a great water park with slides and soakers for younger kids.  They offer a breakfast and lunch buffet and good drinks.

Km 16.5 Carretera Sur San Francisco Palancar, Cozumel 77600, Mexico

The Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya and Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

The Hard Rock brand has two amazing all-inclusive resorts to choose from: Cancun, on the beach in the hotel zone, and Riviera Maya, just south of Playa del Carmen.  Both offer excellent à-la-carte dining and unlimited beverages, fantastic pools and beautiful beaches.

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya has tennis courts, a Yoga Temple and Body Rock Fitness center. You can rent a bicycle, and they also have a diving school. Right off the beach, you can snorkel or kayak, and there is the Little Big Club kid’s club.

Day Passes are $91 U.S. for Adults and $44 U.S. for children (ages 4 to 17)

BacalarLagoon

We spent a fabulous weekend at Bacalar Lagoon in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  We rented a car in Playa del Carmen (see also: Renting a car in Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen) to make the 3 hour drive down to Bacalar, which is about 15 miles from the state capital of Chetumal and the border with Belize.   The lagoon is fed by freshwater underground rivers and well known in Mexico for its beautiful clear water.

The Maya called Bacalar Lagoon The Lake of Seven Colors, and it is still called that by the locals. The town of Bacalar is quiet and less touristy than its counterparts on the Yucatán Peninsula.

We stayed at a lovely secluded resort called Bacalar Lagoon Resort (see: Bacalar Lagoon Resort Review).  It was an incredible family hotel that had rooms that sleep a family of 5.  The lagoon is beautiful and the water is clear and warm.  We kayaked, swam and played on the hotel’s swimming platform.  We also spent a lot of time swinging in hammocks and enjoying the peaceful setting.

Another picture of #bacalar. The water is amazing! #Mexico #sailaway

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Our recommendation for a day trip is to start in the morning at the dock in Bacalar, where you can hire a boat to take you on a tour of the lagoon.  Very little English is spoken in Bacalar so we had a chance to practice our Spanish.  But everyone is warm and patient, so don’t worry.

In the main building,  a person with a binder will show you the different tours you can take and show you the prices.  You tell them how many people you have, decide how long you want to spend and where you want to go.  Then they will find you a captain.  You may have to wait 15 or 30 minutes, but there is food, drink and sundries to buy there, so you can grab some sunscreen or a few cold drinks while you wait.

Our captain took us to several spots to swim and snorkel.  The colors of the lagoon are unbelievable and swimming was so much fun.  At one spot, we swam over the top of a cenote, which is where an underground river joins the lagoon.  It was over 100 meters deep and the bottom is lost in inky blackness, even with the clear fresh water.

At another stop, we swam in El Canal de los Piratas Bacalar (The Canal of the Bacalar Pirates), where pirates used to sneak through to hide out in a small lake called Laguna Mariscal.  It is a shallow and warm canal, and at the mouth there sits an abandoned and ruined old restaurant in the shape of a ship, with painted beer ads still visible on the side.

After your boat trip, you’ll probably be ready for some food and drink, and we recommend La Playita, a lakeside restaurant only a few blocks south of the docks.  This is one of the better restaurants we’ve eaten at on the whole east coast of Mexico. Squirreled away behind some trees off the main road, La Playita is a beautiful oasis on the lagoon.

 

Choose an outside table, because the view is beautiful. You can lie in a hammock while you wait and have a drink. The food was delicious, especially the empanadas and the fish. Our kids loved the pizza, and the service was great. Can’t wait to go back!

After lunch, it’s only a few short blocks south to El Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar .  This is a Spanish fort right next to the main plaza in Bacalar with great views of the lagoon. The entrance fee is only MXN70 per person.  Spain built the fort in 1733 to protect villagers against pirate raids from the lake.  They have information in Spanish and English, so you can learn about the fort’s history, and also the history of the Mayans in the area.

Bacalar is a unique and relaxing area of the Yucatán, and after experiencing its many charms, we know you’ll want to go back as much as we do!

OK, so renting a car in Cancun/Playa del Carmen can be a little challenging (but worth it to see all of the Yucatán).  The rental companies tempt visitors with impossibly low rates ($7/day!) but you will eventually discover that you have 2 options: 1) give them $2500 USD as a security deposit and drive without insurance (Pro Tip: this is a bad idea) or 2) pay about $50/day for full insurance.  And with the way people treat cars in the Yucatán, you really want the insurance.

Oh, and don’t think you can get by with your “credit card covering you” because your friend told you that you could do that.  That may work in the US, but it doesn’t fly in Mexico.  In Mexico, you have Mexican car insurance, or you go to jail until you pay in cash for any damages you caused.  You really have to choose one of the two options.

Now, that’s the bad news, but here’s some good news: we have had a fantastic experience renting many times from Edgar Dzul at ISIS Car Rental (Tel.+52(984)879-3111).  [Full disclosure: this is not a paid advertisement; we really like them!] Despite ISIS’s name having been copied by a certain group in the Middle East, they are a wonderful family run company in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel that have been there over 20 years and they treat every customer especial.

Edgar is the best, and will even come to your house or hotel to drop off and pick up your car.  For week or longer rentals he’ll pick you up at the airport.  The cars are all very well maintained and reasonably priced (expect to pay about $50+/day fully insured, which in our experience was about $10-15/day less than brand name rental companies).

Edgar’s cars are all fully insured, with no surprises or hidden fees.  He stands behind his cars personally, and if you get into any sort of accident or legal problem, you just call his personal cell, and he will come deal with the police for you.  In Mexico, if there is an accident, both drivers can be held in jail until the police decide who is responsible and makes them pay.  If you have insurance, you might be able to avoid jail, but this is not always true.  Having a Spanish-speaking local who knows the police, there on your behalf, is priceless.
So get off the bus and out of the tour package, and really go so see everything that is amazing on the Yucatan Peninsula: Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar, Chichen Itza, Mérida, Valladolid and the refreshing cenotes!

Bacalar Lagoon is a long turquoise lake about 15 miles from the state capital of Chetumal.  The lake is fed by freshwater underground rivers and is known for its beautiful clear water.  The Maya referred to Bacalar Lagoon as The Lake of Seven Colors, and it is still called that by the locals. The town of Bacalar is quiet and less touristy than its counterparts on the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s about 3 hours from Playa del Carmen and is easily accessible by taking an ADO bus.

We decided to visit Bacalar on our journey from Belize to Playa del Carmen.  We chose to stay at an adorable secluded resort just outside of town: Bacalar Lagoon Resort.

This remote resort is a hidden gem. So peaceful and relaxing! The resort is made up of 7 cute casitas facing the lagoon separated by lush lawns and bougainvillea-lined pathways.

Our casita had 2 bedrooms and slept 5. Our room was cute and clean with comfortable beds and a large modern bathroom.  Not all the casitas have air conditioning, so I highly recommend asking for one when you make your reservation. Also, the WiFi is a little spotty, so I would not count on it working all the time.

The hotel has lined the lagoon shore with sun chairs and palapas with hammocks. There are a bunch of kayaks that you can help yourself to and or you can swim in the warm and clear water. For kids, the resort has a slide and a platform in the lagoon they can play on. There is a game room with ping-pong, Volleyball, badminton and kites. My boys didn’t want to leave.

The resort is very casual and relaxed. The food in the restaurant is delicious and well priced. There was no menu but we enjoyed what they served and they were willing to make something special for the kids to eat.

But the thing that really makes this place special is the owner: Roberto, a kind and interesting man. He built the resort on his own, just because he loved the area.  He is always there for anything you need, and is great to have a drink with at the end of the day. This is a truly special place and we can’t wait to return.

(Note: This is an unsolicited review and we did not receive payment, free food or accommodations from Bacalar Lagoon Resort.)

Thinking of visiting Bacalar Lagoon Resort?
We’d love it if you would use this affiliate link to check availability at Booking.com.

Bacalar Lagoon Resort
Camino Costero Lote 21, Pedro A. Santos
Bacalar, Q. Roo, México
Tel. (52) 1983 1322 896
Int. 045 983 1322 896
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  • Bacalar Lagoon Resort

    Thinking of taking your cat on a plane to Mexico?  It’s not as hard as you might think.  There’s some paperwork and planning to do, and some pitfalls to avoid, but it’s allowed by most major airlines and not that hard.  We lived in Mexico for 7 months, and brought both our cats with us to Mexico and back, with no problems. Viva en México con sus gatos!

    Note: The product links below are affiliate links. This means that when you buy an item from these links, we will receive a small commission from the sale (at no extra cost to you). These affiliate links help us continue to provide this site free of charge, so we truly appreciate if you choose to buy anything through these links! Thank you.

    Ok, first things first: when you are making your travel plans, you need to be more aware of which airline you are flying on, and not simply look for the lowest price or the best times.  Not every airline allows pets in the cabin. If they don’t, the airline will require you to put your cat into the cargo hold.

    Cargo is not a great place for pets, and in the summer months could be dangerous to your cat.  If the tarmac temperatures get too high, the airline will prohibit you from transporting your cat, which could really throw a wrench into your travel plans.  It’s not even that high either; the maximum high is only 85 degrees Fahrenheit in Miami.  That’s pretty much 8 months out of the year!  And if you have a connecting flight, you have to worry about your pet making the connection and not getting left outside for too long.

    So, we recommend an airline that allows in-cabin pets.  As of this writing, most U.S. Carriers allow them, but smaller regional airlines may not.  Then, before you buy tickets, you should call the airline and confirm that there are in-cabin pet slots available on your specific flight.  Most flights allow at least 4 pets per flight, but some limit it to only 2.  And these are not available online.  You have to pay for a pet slot after you book your ticket, so immediate after buying your ticket, call the airline and pay the pet fee to get that spot reserved (about $100 each way per pet on United).  Get an email confirmation and print that out.

    Now that you have your tickets, you need to get an airline-approved cat carrier.  This is an important step and one you should take seriously.  Airlines love to find reasons why you can’t carry something on the plane.  Your cat carrier needs to be a soft style carrier, and it needs to fit underneath the seat in front of you, so it must be no larger than certain dimensions.

    Our recommendation is the Sherpa Delta Deluxe Pet Carrier.  We used two of these carriers to transport our cats to and from Mexico, and on a 3000 mile cross-country drive, and they performed admirably.  They are solidly constructed, have little windows you can zip open and closed, a comfy removable/cleanable liner, are a breeze to get in and out of, and most importantly, Delta designed them to meet most domestic airlines’ requirements for in-cabin pets.  The stamp of approval of Delta all over it actually helped us at several points with airline staff; they saw the Delta logo and said, “OK, sure, that looks fine.”

    Ok, so you have a carrier now.  Next, we recommend getting a harness style collar for your cat.  The reason is that you are going to be taking them in and out for security checkpoints and customs, and you really do not want your cat to decide to bolt at that moment and have to chase them through the airport.  And they will likely be a little unhappy with the process by the time you get to the metal detector.  Here’s one that would work well: Petsafe Kitty Harness.

    When you arrive in Mexico, you will need forms from your veterinarian certifying that your cat is free from disease and has all their vaccines, most importantly rabies.  I recommend you call your veterinarian at least 30 days in advance and start talking to them about needing the “USDA pet health forms”, or the “travel health forms”, and they should know what you need.  If not, find another vet.  Now, here’s the tricky part: you need a licensed veterinarian to fill out these forms to and sign them not more than 10 days prior to travel.  You might be able to squeak by customs if it’s less than 30 days, but I wouldn’t want to find out.  So you need to schedule a vet appointment 3-5 days before you leave to get your final exam and sign off.

    That’s about all the prep you need to do.  Now, when you arrive at the airport on your departure date, head straight to the ticket counter to check in.  Trust me, don’t try to save time and skip the lines with express check-in.  Go to the ticket counter to check in and make sure they confirm your pet reservation and mark your tickets correctly.  They will likely want to see your pet carrier and check your paperwork.

    Security checkpoint time!  Ok, for this part, you need to wait until you get up to the X-ray scanner, and then take your cat(s) out of his/her carrier (with the harness already on), and hold them while the carrier goes through the scanner.  Walk through the metal detector while holding them (and getting smiles from the security guards who rarely see a cat come through), and then go wait for the carrier to come through the other side.  Return your cat to their carrier and you are ready to get on that plane!

    Flying was the easy part for us.  Your cat goes under the seat in front of you, and hopefully they’re like our cats and just slept the whole time.  We also sprayed some ‘calming spray’ in their carrier ahead of time, which seemed to have helped.  We used Calming Spray Stress Reducing Formula and Pet Naturals Calming Treats.  If you have a really long flight, you might want to give them some water, but our cats were not really thirsty while we were flying.

    You’ll get your customs form before you land, and you need to mark “Yes” to the question you probably would usually mark “No” on, about whether you are bringing live animals or plants with you.

    After leaving the plane, you’ll go through Mexican immigration first, who really doesn’t care about your cat, so that’s pretty easy.  From there you will get to Customs, and you should tell the agent right away that you have a cat (tengo un gato if you need the Spanish).  They’ll most likely wave you over to another agent, or to an office, and you might have to wait a bit (welcome to Mexico!), but then they’ll check your veterinarian papers and you’ll have to pay a small import fee (it was about $15 in 2015).  They’ll give you a stamped and signed paper authorizing you to import your cat, and send you on your way.

    OK, the last piece is returning to the United States (I mean, assuming you are planning to come back!).  From the perspective of U.S. Immigration and Customs, your cat is a foreign cat, so you need to have all your paperwork in order again.  Fortunately, the U.S. is actually *less* restrictive about importing cats, so you don’t need a veterinarian bill of health from a Mexican vet.  You do need your vaccination paperwork from when you left the U.S., however. Your cat must have a rabies vaccine within the last year, so you need to have that paperwork, and the Customs officer will give your cat a look over to make sure it’s not obviously sick.

    That’s about it.  Hopefully this has been a helpful article.  If you have more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section, and subscribe to our blog for more information on traveling the world with your family.

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  • Flying to Mexico with cats