Mexico · Overnight Trip · Whale Sharks

June 2017: Riviera Maya, Mexico

What better way to celebrate 5-months of sticking to our New Year’s resolution than a 5-night getaway to sunny Mexico! After being thwarted by a May blizzard that prevented us from reaching Saratoga Hot Springs, our June destination was the perfect way to bounce back. We had discussed a Mexico trip for months, and at the end of April we took the plunge (despite Corrie’s unstable work environment) and booked a long weekend trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. This Resolution Destination was going to be one filled with many “firsts” as a couple; our first plane ride together, our first international destination together and our first time sharing a hotel room for more than one night (Mexico + shared bathroom for 5 nights = why did we forget the poo-pourri?!). These milestones can often reveal more about your strengths and weaknesses as a couple than months of dating ever could, so there were of course some nerves. But more than anything we were excited to go on an adventure like this together. And both of us really needed a vacation!
We searched for hours to find a resort that looked laid back and comfortable. All night partying is no longer on our radar. We wanted quiet, small, adults only and all-inclusive so we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. The Ocean Maya Royale fit the bill perfectly and it was convenient to Cancun. So total travel time would be limited. We were amazed at how much fun it was just planning this trip together. Endless laughter and the first time Cameron ever told Corrie to, “shut your mouth” when he couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

We knew that we were looking to take our trip sometime in June, and since a very special young man’s birthday falls in June (Cameron’s, in case it wasn’t clear) we decided that going over his birthday weekend was an absolute must. And in true Corrie-style, with tickets and a hotel room booked, she immediately went to work on planning a birthday surprise that she amazingly managed to keep secret for months (despite her trying to get Cameron to goad her into telling him).

The next month and a half moved slowly, but the anticipation was delightful. And when June finally arrived we were more than ready to board the plane.

We made it to the resort by early Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, when we arrived our room wasn’t ready yet (even though we were only 10 minutes earlier than the advertised check-in time). We were still able to check-in, get our wristbands, listen to a soft sales pitch that we quickly brushed off and had late lunch and a cocktail while we waited to access the room. Now, for anyone that’s ever been to Mexico, especially an all-inclusive, you know that a soft sales pitch is not all that they are going for. So when the salesman promised to “find us” again when we went back to the front desk for our room keys we knew we had to be stealthy. One eye on the front desk to grab our keys, one eye on the salesman to make sure he didn’t spot us and a nonchalant walk-run to the golf cart that was driving us to our room, we managed to dodge that bullet.

Our room was absolutely beautiful. Spacious and comfortable with a large deck facing the ocean. The only accommodation that horrified Corrie was the bathroom door that was frosted glass and didn’t extend to the ceiling or the floor, which would allow sounds and odors to escape! But other than that, the room was beautifully appointed with modern fixtures and a large glass shower, plenty big enough for two people.

Being satisfied with our accommodations, Corrie could no longer contain herself and had to give Cameron his birthday gift before any more activities were planned. Cameron excitedly opened a small box to find motion sickness pills, ginger candy (for settling stomachs) and a folded sheet of paper. We were going swimming with Whale Sharks (Tiburones Ballenas)!! Cameron had mentioned once that he would like to swim with sharks, and while whale sharks aren’t quite the same a Great Whites, it was as close as Corrie could come for this trip. She also knew that Cameron got sea sick easily, so she had planned well ahead to try and make the trip as comfortable as possible.

With the birthday surprise finally revealed we quickly changed into our suits and hustled down to the beach to catch what sun and relaxation we could for the rest of the day. Once we started to lose sunlight and our cocktails dried up, we headed back to our room to shower, change and enjoy an average dinner at the resort’s only Mexican restaurant. After a travel day and an afternoon on the beach, we were ready to jump in bed by 8:30 (like the party animals we are). Some vacations are hard charging, where you try to fit in all the activities you can, this was not going to be one of those vacations. We were here to slow down and RELAX. Cameron has never been one to sleep more than 7 or 8 hours at a time, but he was so relaxed and unhurried by anything here that this night he had no problem sleeping 10 hours or more. He enjoyed the feeling immensely; it was strange, foreign, BLISSFUL. Corrie smiled, knowingly.

This morning started the same as the rest were going to, with a walk… to the breakfast buffet. We had promised each other before we left on our trip that we would start our days at the resort fitness center. Knowing that once we made it to the beach and had some cocktails; treadmills and ellipticals would be out of the question. It turns out, this would not be that kind of vacation either. Corrie did go so far as to ask where the fitness center was, but we never managed to even lay our eyes on it.
After our typical all-inclusive breakfast that offered everything from pancakes to chilequilas to soggy, un-cooked bacon and serve your own mimosas, we were ready for a full day of beaching. We made sure to slather on the sunscreen for our first full beach day and we positioned our lounge chairs in the shade of a palapa. We figured we were doing it right; get some sun but not too much. By afternoon, however, the shallow wallowing pool was calling our names. Maybe we lost track of time, maybe we didn’t reapply enough, but by the time we left the pool Cameron’s chest looked like a cooked lobster. He arrived in Mexico with a seriously sexy farmer’s tan and now he had seriously sexy farmer’s burn.

Once we realized that the sun had worked its magic on us, we went back to the room to clean up so we could take a short cab ride into Playa Del Carmen for dinner. Even though we had sought out an all-inclusive resort, we were eager to get out, find some different food and see some more of Mexico. We ended up at charming little Italian restaurant (yes, in Mexico!) just a few blocks from the beach.IMG_3134 We were able to sit on the screened-in, upstairs patio and enjoyed a quiet dinner with only a few other full tables around us. The food was delicious with everything, including the pasta and bread, being made from scratch on-site. And after a full day of sweet tropical drinks, the glass of wine was refreshing.

After dinner we strolled through town and down some of the side streets to see what all Playa Del Carmen had to offer. It had been years since we had both been in the area and all of the change and growth made it impossible to recognize. Last we both remembered, Playa Del Carmen was a sleepy little town that had yet to be fully discovered. Now it’s town made up of cheesy tourist shops and bars with loud music competing for attention.

One thing that hasn’t changed in Mexico… the ice cream. Growing up, every year Corrie’s family would travel to Puerto Vallarta for Spring Break to visit her grandparents. It was tradition that at least one night after dinner they would all make the walk to Bings Ice Cream Shop for a cone. So for her, Mexico and an after dinner ice cream treat go hand in hand. While there is no Bings in Playa Del Carmen, there was no shortage of ice cream shops either. She dragged Cameron into the nearest one to indulge.

A full day of salt water, beach lounging and wallowing. A lovely dinner in downtown Playa Del Carmen. Ice Cream and a leisurely stroll. Our first full day was in the books and we both went to bed happy.

The best thing to follow-up a day of beach lounging is another day of beach lounging! It’s a rough life, but somebody’s got to live it. And today, it was going to be us. So after another casual morning of sleeping in and breakfast buffeting we packed our beach bags and made our way back to the palapas. Unfortunately, our beach wasn’t all that great. It was small and it was also seaweed season… seaweed as far as the eye could see.
But the people watching was phenomenal. There was the family of beach bed hoarders who rushed to the beach every morning to stake their claim to two out of the four large beds. The parents took one and the two young adult children took the other. What was so intriguing is that we couldn’t tell if the young adult children were brother and sister or boyfriend and girlfriend. What we could tell, by laying right behind them in our hard-plastic lounge chairs, is that Facebook and Instagram were way more interesting than the beach.

Then there was the mid-forties woman who decided it was time to try her hand at modeling. Lucky for her, the hotel just happened to have a professional photographer on staff! So there she was, in all of her middle-aged glory, crawling through the sand and waves on all fours seductively looking into the camera while the cameraman shouted words of encouragement. The rest of us gawked.

Or how about the greased-up couple in their seventies (at least we think) who looked like they had never missed a day in the sun? We had so much people watching excitement that morning, that we decided in the afternoon we would seek another beach. We had discovered the day before that the further south we walked along the beach the more the seaweed and crowds started to thin out. After lunch we grabbed our new snorkel gear (that we wanted to test out before our swim with the whale sharks) and headed south. After about 15 minutes we found the perfect place to stop.IMG_3123 It was in front of a row of private hotel villas that looked nearly empty and there was a beach ledge that blocked us and gave us privacy. There was also virtually no seaweed. We eagerly jumped in the water to swim, test our snorkel gear (there wasn’t much to see) and enjoy the peace and quiet. The only problem is that we didn’t have any shade and all of the beer was back at the resort. So after about an hour or so we packed up again and headed back to the resort. There we resumed our usual position under the palapa, took a couple of dips in the seaweed filled part of the ocean, read and wrapped up the day with total relaxation.

We headed into Playa Del Carmen again for dinner that night. This time we used Trip Advisor to pick a highly rated seafood restaurant. The food was delicious and fresh and even though Cameron isn’t a huge seafood fan, he did sample some of Corrie’s ceviche. After our delicious dinner, we strolled down to the beach and stopped off at a Haagen Daaz to get ourselves a reward for skipping our workout again that day.

We jumped in a cab for our ride back to the resort and the moment the door closed behind us Cameron was struck by the dreaded wave. A poo wave, a DI-DI WAVE, Montezuma’s revenge was striking early. He bravely stuck it out and said nothing, until we reached the LONG driveway up to our resort. The mile long driveway was lined with speed bumps all the way up from the highway. Each one more torturous than the last. By the final two he was ready to spring from the car and run for the lobby bathroom. He looked at Corrie and said “can you get the cab?” Corrie knew her man pretty well at this point and could see the panic in his eyes, she reassured him it was no problem and he could just hustle to the baño. Señor Piña Coladas speed-walked through the lobby and made it to the bathroom just in time for disaster to be averted.

Knowing we were going to be on a packed boat and snorkeling all day the next day, Cameron purchased the over-priced, but super powerful, Mexican equivalent of Imodium in the gift shop and proceeded to, as Corrie put it, “panic Imodium himself.” This stuff was the real deal. Had him clogged up for weeks (until he got giardia from river water). And, yes, Corrie made fun of him the whole time.

Going to bed at 8:30 the night before ended up being a smart move, as on the 4th day of our trip we had to get up nice and early to start our whale shark adventure. We were instructed to meet our pick-up shuttle at 5:45am in the lobby of the hotel. We were the first “group” that the shuttle picked-up that morning and we secretly hoped that there wouldn’t be anyone else joining us. Of course, we knew that wasn’t going to be the case and soon enough we were picking up another couple from a hotel just down the road. At the third stop we switched vans and met the loveliest family that we soon came to know as, “The Pukersons.”

When we arrived at the dock we met up with a couple additional parties that we would be sharing a boat with and were treated to a “wonderful” breakfast of coffee, juice and turkey sandwiches. Not wanting to put too much in our stomachs before hitting the open water, and because none of it was too appealing, we indulged lightly while we waited for further instructions. It was also at that time that the Pukerson parents began talking about how easily they become sea sick and how they had neglected to bring anything with them to help take the edge off. Because part of Cameron’s birthday present was a bottle of motion sickness pills, and because he’s a generous man, he quickly offered each of them a pill. To which he was quickly met with Dad Pukerson’s machismo stating he probably wouldn’t need anything, but he would take one anyway (like he was doing Cameron a favor by doing so).
IMG_3161When we boarded the small boat that sat 12 people and the two captains, we were placed in the back near the motor. Initially we thought this was a good thing. First, it got us away from the Pukersons and second, if you get sea sick easily (like Cameron said he did) that’s the best place to sit because the bouncing is minimal.

We headed out to the open sea and watched the water transform from shades of translucent aqua, to a deep and vibrant turquoise to a dark and heavy navy blue. It was then that we began cursing our seat assignments. As everyone was busy scanning the water for signs of whale sharks and other sea creatures, we were being pelted viciously in the face with salt water from the boat’s wake. We spent almost the entire ride with our eyes tightly shut. Opening them once when sea turtles were spotted mating (cause, why wouldn’t you open your eyes for that?) and then again we heard the guide yell in our faces that they had spotted sharks and we were going to be the first ones to jump in. As the boat came to a standstill we wiped our eyes with our towels (that were now soaking wet as well and provided little relief) and scrambled to grab our snorkeling gear.

The whole scene was chaotic and had us feeling guilty about the activity we were about to partake in. As we looked around we saw a dozen boats all packed full of tourists like us waiting for their chance to swim with the world’s largest fish. Captains were maneuvering the boats trying to wrangle the 5-6 sharks into one spot. Looking back on it, it didn’t seem like the kindest behavior towards the magnificent creatures. But, we had little time to think in the moment. In an effort to not miss the opportunity, and with the number of people that had paid to be there, we went into full Navy SEAL mode.

We were told that only two people would be allowed in the water at one time (we were happy about this). Each couple would get a couple of minutes to swim the whale sharks and when the guide called time, you were to leave the water right away. After everyone had gone once, we would each get the chance for a second swim if we wished. We were told to perch on the side of the boat with all of our gear on. We should wait for the captain to yell, “NOW!” And when he does, don’t hesitate… jump. If you hesitate you miss it. As someone that scares easily, the thought of jumping into water so deep you can’t even begin to see the bottom, into a pool of sharks (as docile as they might be), had Corrie’s heart racing. But, we did as instructed. And when we heard the shout of “NOW!” we leapt overboard and crashed into the water… nearly on top of one.IMG_4749

HOLY. CRAP. It is no joke that these fish are BIG… even that feels like too small a word for describing what we saw. We swam as hard as we could to keep up with one of the whale sharks, who seemed to just be meandering along, taking its sweet time. And in a moment of quiet awe and admiration, Corrie managed to narrowly escape getting her head knocked off by its tail fin. Meanwhile, Cameron was able to capture the experience on video as he swam next to the beast.

Before we knew it, our time was up and we exited the water and eagerly waited for our second turn. The second time in, was just as incredible as the first. This time, Cameron left the video camera on the boat and just enjoyed being in the presence of such an amazing creature. Nothing puts your world into perspective like swimming next to a 20 ton creature of the sea.

As our group was wrapping up the last of our swims, our whale shark friends were also joined by the largest manta rays that either of us had ever seen. They glided and splashed through the water, almost like they knew they had an audience.

The second half of our tour package include snorkeling along the reef of Isla Mujeres. As we prepared to make our way to the reef Corrie was asked to please sit in the front of the boat, as two of the seats in the back were needed desperately by none other than… Pukerson Mom and Pukerson Dad. As we sped through the water towards Isla Mujeres Cameron was stuck between the two parents who were green in the face, writhing with nausea and leaning over the side of the boat threatening to vomit. And to top it all off, Pukerson Dad also spent the entire time complaining to Cameron that the anti-motion sickness pills he had given him weren’t working. Funny though… Cameron was totally fine.

While Corrie felt horrible for Cameron being stuck in between all of that, she was also facing her own nightmare of a boat ride. For the entire hour ride to the island she got to listen to the 15-year-old Pukerson Son trying to impress a man from Australia with his tales of partying in China (which was more of a rush than swimming with the whale sharks, according to him) and how he’s in the popular, “cool” group at school. 60 minutes… never once stopped talking. By the end Corrie was hoping for one large wave to knock him overboard.

But we survived and made it to the island. We were excited for the snorkeling since it had been a while for both of us. Our excitement was quickly diminished though when we had to leave our life jackets of the whole time. How are you supposed to dive down and explore when you have a bright orange life jacket choking you at the neck? IMG_3148But we also soon discovered that there wasn’t much to see anyway. Sadly, most of the reef that used to be vibrant and full of colorful fish has nearly died and was almost lifeless. We spotted one brown fish, and that was about it. Feeling frustrated and saddened we returned to the boat ready to call it a day.

But it wasn’t the end of our day. Instead the boat motored into the bay of Isla Mujeres and anchored for lunch. The nice part of this is that we were able to get off the boat and spend a bit of time on the beach. Unfortunately, Pukerson Parents decided to sit right next to us and try to engage in small talk. Rest assured though, Cameron quickly shut that down.

When we finally made it back to the dock in Cancun we boarded the van and headed home, feeling thankful that the Pukerson’s were the first to be dropped off.

It was an exhausting day, so dinner that night was at the resort again. This time, instead of Mexican we opted for their “romantic” restaurant that served “international cuisine.” Reservations were recommended and when you arrived you had to stand outside until your table was ready. An effort that we guessed was made to try and protect the quiet intimacy of the restaurant. The only problem was, every time the door opened or closed it was a distraction as everyone stared to see who was coming in. But, overall, it was a pleasant meal that we were both happy with. And lucky for us, it ended in time for us to make our usual 8:30 bed time, (at least we had an excuse this time).

Our last full day in Mexico and Cameron’s birthday!! After an action packed day the day before, we looking forward to taking it easy on our last day in paradise. We, of course, started our day at the breakfast buffet for some chilequiles and mimosas. We knew that morning we had to stick somewhat close to the hotel room, as Corrie was trying to remedy her unstable job situation and had a phone interview that day (she later got the job!). So we set-up at our favorite spot on the hotel beach and lounged an hour or so before Corrie had to go get prepared.

Not wanting any added pressure of an audience during the interview, Corrie banished Cameron from the room. On his own for about 45 min he did what any red-blooded American man would do when on his own in Mexico… he hit up the lobby bar for some piña coladas! Now, if you know Cameron, you know he’s not a sipper. Doesn’t matter what he’s drinking – water to wine – he drinks fast. So when Corrie wrapped up her interview and headed to meet him in the lobby, she was not surprised to find that he was already through his 3rd beverage. Giving him the new nickname of Señor Piña Colada (in his defense, at an all-inclusive, there was relatively little alcohol in the drinks).

Business complete, it was time to head back to the beach for more relaxation. As we walked back to our room to gather our belongings, we were greeted at our door by a hotel employee holding a birthday cake for Cameron. After handing us the cake he also quickly offered to get us a bottle of champagne and scurried off to get it.

After a bite of cake and a toast to the upcoming year with a glass of champagne (saving the rest for later), we headed back to the beach. This time we walked south again to the spot we had found a couple of days earlier. There we enjoyed the secluded quiet as we floated in the water and basked in the sun. Once again reminding us that happiness is when we are together.

As with the time before, we soon found ourselves ready for some shade and a beverage. So we packed up and headed back to the hotel. Being Cameron’s birthday, he got to pick all of the activities for the day (okay, Corrie makes him do that anyway. But at least now she had an excuse). He decided that he wanted to rent a jet ski and take it out on the open water. Corrie tried to insist that he would have more fun by himself, but he insisted that she ride with him on the back. Corrie still maintains that she was right… he would have had more fun without her on the back, since he was so worried the entire time about throwing her off. But overall it was still pretty fun… and Corrie never minds having an excuse to wrap her arms around Cameron’s waist.

After jet skiing a little more lounging, reading and napping was on the agenda. It was the perfect way to end the last day of an incredible vacation.IMG_3135

For dinner that night we decided to head back into the town of Playa del Carmen. We found a quiet restaurant off the main strip that had pretty good ratings on Google, so we decided to check it out. Overall, however, we were fairly unimpressed. While the pictures made it look charming with tables around a small wading pool in the middle of the patio. The reality was tables around a small, dirty pool in the middle of an apartment courtyard. None of it felt too clean or hygienic. And the food was pretty flavorless. Certainly nothing to write home about (even though that’s exactly what we’re doing!).

After dinner we wandered down to the main strip for a nightcap and some ice cream (duh). We strolled. We looked. We drank. We licked. We went home. We celebrated Cameron.

It was time to pack up and head home. We had to the most wonderful time. We learned so much more about each other. We discovered that we travel well together and balance out each other’s traveling quirks. We fell even further in love. But we were also very ready to not smell cooking grease all day. We were ready for a break from sugary drinks. We were ready for a big, green salad. We were ready to give our bowels a break.

Destination Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

What We Learned

  • DO: swim with the whale sharks, it is an incredible experience, but be aware that it is Eco-tourism at its worst. The guides that do it, take great care not to hurt the sharks in any way and know the animals are their livelihood.
  • DO: get off the resort as much as you can, even if you’re staying at an all-inclusive. Playa Del Carmen is full of amazing and not-so-amazing restaurants.
  • DO: prepare yourself for the shock to the system you’ll experience when integrating back into a world full of screaming children.
  • DON’T: interact with anybody except your ground transportation while exiting Cancun International Airport, they’re all sales people even if they look like they’re there to help.
  • DON’T: let people like the Pukersons ruin your fun, take them in stride, they make for better stories later, rather than getting frustrated.
  • DON’T: panic Imodium, unless you have to. Let your body purge itself of what’s bothering it.



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