The Yucatán Peninsula is a beautiful destination for a family holiday, but can often feel a little busy and overdeveloped. Abi Campbell heads north of Cancun to the Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa to escape the crowds.
There’s no question that the Yucatán is an exceptional choice for a family holiday. The peninsular is bursting with kid-friendly hotels, which makes choosing one likely to onset a serious case of decision fatigue. Invariably most people’s accommodation short list will boil down to star ratings, budget, or simply sticking to what they know best.
The latter appeared to be the case for several families I spoke with during my stay at the brand spanking new Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa. These chatty guests declared themselves SO wedded to Palladium they wouldn’t consider vacationing anywhere else. This extreme brand loyalty left me wondering if they were actors, employed with the sole purpose of providing positive marketing at breakfast. I vowed to uncover what this hotel group offered that prevented so many others from luring their customers away.
Perhaps one of the most significant advantages over others of this size is the Spanish owned company has retained their crown as a family-owned business. Embracing clientele warmly into the fold is part of their philosophy.
In a property of this scale it must be a colossal management challenge to ensure every one of their 900 guests feel like kinfolk. Undeniably though, you do feel very welcome here. In my experience Mexicans are notoriously friendly, but here the staff are so utterly charming it’s bordering on The Truman Show.
Much of the action on Mexico’s Caribbean coast happens south of Cancun. Grand Palladium has a second resort located there and I was impressed to learn that (with prior arrangement) all-inclusive food and beverage are transferable between these hotels, as are the facilities. This is ideal for breaking up a visit to the Tulum ruins or any of the mind-bending eco parks dotted along the Mayan Riviera.
In my opinion, The Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres has weighty advantages for families over its sisterly counterpart ‘down south’. For starters it’s only a short 20 minutes transfer North of Cancun airport, ideal for long haul weary kids (and their even wearier parents). Also, Costa Mujeres is the last stretch of relatively underdeveloped coastline on this peninsular, so, those with younger children looking for a slower pace, will find it here. Less than 20 minutes drive North again is the sleepy beach town of Isla Blanca, reminiscent of Tulum 20 years ago, virgin beaches and local restaurants serving beer and lunch for under a fiver.
As well as the geographical advantages, the hotel has the added bonus of being shiny and new. The technology is second to none. From keyless room systems, heat sensors telling housekeeping if you’re in or out, to an app that calls a buggy to your precise location. If you prefer travelling at a more leisurely pace there are boat taxis utilising the network of Venice style waterways snaking through the 50-acre property
Room fit-outs have splendid luxury details. Each one comes with a furnished balcony and room decor that is modern, without feeling alienating. I especially loved the glass partition between the bedroom and bathroom (to keep an eye on your little minnows in the spa tub from the comfort of your bed) and the electric blind when you need bathing privacy.
The pool areas are nicely spread across the property. There’s a kids’ wet area with brightly coloured water slides and aqua play apparatus, guaranteed to wear them out. This is conveniently located next to the kids club, a childcare Mecca with all the toys, gadgets and facilities you would expect from a five-star resort. There’s a teen room with gaming corners and if, like most adolescents (and vampires), yours melt in daylight, they can request an Xbox to play in the privacy of their own room, where they can keep the curtains firmly shut.
I’ve never been one for buffets, simply because I find them a little impersonal. However, The Grand Palladium has blown any preconceptions I had about all-inclusive holidays out of the water. They’ve achieved this by providing nine family friendly, stunning, a la carte restaurants. You’re invited to take a culinary voyage around the world during your stay, visiting Italy, Thailand, Japan and India along the way. There’s also a Mexican restaurant (naturally) and for the man who loves his meat, El Dorado, the steakhouse. Finally, if you fancy getting a babysitter and having dinner à deux, there is the Chic Cabaret and restaurant. This multi course dinner takes place in an impressive purpose built theatre, where you’ll be entertained ‘Vegas show style’ by music, dancing, and acrobatics as you dine.
Fun abounds in this resort and one can be as actively involved or sedentary as they like. From impromptu, poolside redcoat a cappella singing performances, to aqua bike aerobics, snorkelling, diving, yoga, Pilates, salsa and live music shows at the open-air amphitheatre, there’s something for all tastes and speeds. Whether your kids are enraptured or down right terrified by the Mayan warriors and 12-foot teddy bears wandering around, will be down to their own unique disposition.
There is a fee for Grand Palladium guest use of the Zentropia spa, but it’s worth the outlay, if only to experience the thermal water circuits. If you need a break from your ‘little darlings’ this world-class haven of peace and tranquillity is guaranteed to wash those kids right out of your hair, even if only for an hour or two.
Tennis lovers will die for the Rafa Nadal tennis centre. The design and concept expertly executed by the man himself, includes eight floodlit courts, classes, programmes and the option of attending a week long or three day tennis camp. Sporting action doesn’t stop there, the resort has a football pitch, paddle court, gym, sports bar/ cafe with obligatory giant screens for watching the all-important televised matches as well as a premium sports shop.
If you’re anything like me, who has a family that hankers for sand and swimming in Caribbean seas, there’s a stunning stretch of white beach with sun loungers. Break up the afternoon by following one of the wooden pathways to Poseidon, the open air beach bar and restaurant, for an al fresco lunch. A word of warning, it’s a challenge to keep a tally on daily margarita intake when there’s no bar tab to pay at the end!
For those who like the finer things in life and can pay a little extra, there is the Family Selection Program. This premium service offers exclusive facilities in a separate beachfront building with its own reception and pool. Children will go gaga for the entertainment lounge with board games, computers and video games, the mini bathrobes and slippers, the milk and cookie turn down service from the child-friendly butler. It’s not all about the kids though, adults benefit too, with access to all the preferential services and restaurants at the adult only TRS hotel next door.
If you find yourself daydreaming about how life may have looked in this region prior to human inhabitants, I recommend a day trip to Isla Contoy. The untouched beauty of this ecological reserve is only possible due to the 200 a day visitor limit. Teeming with wildlife, the staggering perfection of the beach and shallow blue waters that hug them, this treasure of an island encapsulates the theory behind the name ‘Yucatán’, being derived from the Nahuatl word “Yokatlān,” meaning “place of richness.”
I’ve had a love affair with this part of Mexico for a lifetime. I first visited 25 years ago and have been back several times with my children since. It’s undeniable that tourism has engulfed the state of Quintanna Roo with heavy footprints of progress during that time, but the peninsular still retains much of its charm and natural beauty. Combined with exceptionally good value five-star resorts like The Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres, it makes long haul travel with kids in tow, one hundred percent worth it.
How to get there:
A range of airlines fly direct to Cancun from most major airports. Prices cost from £450 upwards for a return economy flight. Flights take around 10 hours. The Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa is a short drive north from the airport.
Where to stay:
Caribbean Warehouse offers a range of packages to the 5-star Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa. A seven-night all-inclusive holiday is priced from £3,666 for two adults and two children, inclusive of international flights, transfers and 5-star accommodation (based on an October 2019 departure).
What to do:
The full day Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres trip including snorkelling equipment, lunch, r/t transportation, drinks (alcoholics and soft drinks) is priced at £98 for adults. Kids from 0-5 go free and kids from 5 to 12 get a 12.5% discount (bookable in the resort).
Dinner show at Chic Cabaret is £76 including food and drinks (bookable in the resort).