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Kara Williams

Carbondale, Colorado

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I like outdoor adventures, beach trips, urban getaways and resort stays. Basically, there are few vacations I don't like!! I am a paid contributor to MiniTime.com.

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Ferry Terminal Ultramar

Benito Juárez, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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  • Big kids (6-8)
  • Tweens (9-12)
Visited: 2009-12-01 | Submitted: 2014-03-01 21:14:43.0 | I traveled with big kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12)

Ferry ride to Cozumel

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The ferry ride from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel is easy: show up at the centrally located terminal, buy a ticket and make the 45-minute ride. Many cruise ship passengers who dock in Cozumel will take the ferry to Playa del Carmen for the day. But I suggest families who are staying in Playa del Carmen consider ferrying to the island just for fun. You can make a whole day of it (the ferry runs from 6 am to 10 pm) and bring your snorkel gear (taxis wait at the dock in Cozumel to bring you where you ant to go). Or, just enjoy the mellow ferry ride to go to Cozumel for lunch, dinner or shopping -- there's plenty to see and do within walking distance of where the ferry docks in Cozumel.

Tips for Families

Beware of visiting Cozumel on holidays. We happened to take the ferry over on Christmas Day (!) and found few stores open.

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5th Avenue

5a Ave., Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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  • Tweens (9-12)
  • Teens (13+)
Visited: 2012-07-01 | Submitted: 2014-03-01 20:55:11.0 | I traveled with tweens (9-12) and teens (13+)

Shopping, eating galore on La Quinta (5th Avenue)

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I recommend a visit to the main shopping and dining drag in Playa del Carmen: La Quinta, otherwise known as 5th Avenue. It's a pedestrian area lined with souvenir stalls (beach bags, jewelry, handicrafts, clothing) as well as upscale clubs and restaurants. Don't be surprised at vendors who may call to you to enter their shops ("Lady! You like my jewelry?"). Just take it all in stride; bargaining is acceptable in these narrow shops with goods hanging from the walls, but I would not bargain in any shop that looks more like a department store. You'll find street entertainment, too: tiger cubs to pet, iguanas to hold, weirdly dressed characters to pose with... If you want to take photos of this "entertainment" expect to pay a few dollars for the privilege. One of my family's favorite restaurants on Fifth Avenue is 100% Natural, with its salads and smoothies. Ice cream and frozen yogurt shops are also plentiful.

Tips for Families

Fifth Avenue can get extremely crowded - especially after the sun goes down. Stick close to young children.

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Akumal

Akumal, Akumal, Mexico

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  • Tweens (9-12)
  • Teens (13+)
Visited: 2012-07-01 | Submitted: 2014-03-01 20:46:46.0 | I traveled with tweens (9-12) and teens (13+)

Excellent snorkeling in Akumal Bay

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I highly recommend a visit to Akumal Bay if you are staying anywhere in the Riviera Maya (take a taxi or go by rental car). This bay is also known as "Turtle Bay" due to the number of sea turtles you'll see here in the clear water! Seriously, I don't know where I've ever spotted so many turtles in the ocean near the shore. We rented snorkel equipment from the Akumal Dive Center and just walked across the golden sand into the calm bay. Afterwards, we walked down the beach for ice cream cones. This is a lovely place to spend the day.

Tips for Families

Shade is limited at Akumal Bay: either bring your own umbrella or be prepared (with sunscreen!) for spending time on the beach. There are some trees that provide shade but if it's a busy day (locals and visitors enjoy this spot), you may be elbowing for shade.

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Coba Archaeological Site

Carretera Federal 307 Cancun-Chetumal, Tulum,, Coba, Mexico

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  • Tweens (9-12)
Visited: 2012-03-01 | Submitted: 2014-03-01 16:25:22.0 | I traveled with tweens (9-12)

Climb an ancient temple

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The Mayan archaelogical site of Coba isn't as scenic as Tulum (it sits inland, in a jungle, versus Tulum's pretty coastal spot). However, at Coba you can actually climb an ancient temple, which is really really cool. To get to Nohoch Mul, the prominent ruin you can climb, you can rent a (rusty) bike or get driven in a "pedi-cab." (Or you can walk, but it would be a long, hot walk.) The ascent to the top of the temple is steep (and dare I say a bit scary), but the views are impressive. Otherwise, you can hire a guide to tour you around the ruins at the entrance to the site, which helps children put the buildings into context.

Tips for Families

We brought our own water bottles and still spent money on frosty cold drinks for sale once inside Coba. Be prepared for tropical, steamy temperatures when you visit, no matter what the time of year.

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Xplor

Puerto Juarez, Carretera Cancún -Tulum Km 282, Solidaridad, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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  • Tweens (9-12)
Visited: 2012-07-01 | Submitted: 2014-03-01 00:09:00.0 | I traveled with tweens (9-12)

Fun outdoor adventures at Xplor

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Ride 14 ziplines, drive (adults only) an amphibious vehicle through the jungle, paddle on a raft through an underground river, and swim through another underground river. The adventures at Xplor are really, really fun - especially the ziplines that land in water! You can choose to participate in all or just some of the activities; if you really like the ziplines, just go through the circuit again. The buffet restaurant is good; I recommend it for lunch.

Tips for Families

Children must be 5 years of age or older to participate in any of the activities at Xplor. Be sure to pack water shoes to protect your feet; you do not want to be running around barefoot here.

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Iberostar Quetzal Hotel Playa del Carmen

Avda. Xaman-ha, Lote Hotelero No. 2, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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Visited: 2009-12-01 | Submitted: 2014-01-31 21:57:11.0 | I traveled with big kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12)

Sister property to Iberostar Tucan shares services, amenities

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A few years ago, my family stayed at the Iberostar Tucan, which is right next door to the Iberostar Quetzal. In fact, the long stretch of rooms at Quetzal (extending from the beach inland) is a mirror image of Tucan. I am not sure why the two properties are treated as "separate" (with different names and reception lobbies) when they share the same beachfront, pools, restaurants, spa and kids' club. So, if you are wondering which to book, it's really a toss-up, in my opinion. Though I didn't see the Quetzal room decor, it looks (online anyway) similar to that of the Tucan; and the prices are the same. Either one will work - you'll enjoy the neat, lush, rainforest grounds filled with monkeys and birds; the array of restaurants pleases every palate; the beachfront is beautiful; and it's only a 25-minute walk to Playa del Carmen's main drag, 5th Avenue.

Tips for Families

Check the dress code at the a la carte restaurants. While buffet dining tends to be more casual, you may need to pack a pair of long pants for boys 12 and older, if you plan on eating at the reservations-only eateries.

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Iberostar Tucan Hotel Playa del Carmen

Avda. Xaman-ha, Lote Hotelero No. 2, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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Visited: 2009-12-01 | Submitted: 2014-01-31 21:36:59.0 | I traveled with big kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12)

Large property with natural wildlife habitat

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My kids and I (and my husband) got such a kick out of the animals we'd see in the lush rainforest foliage that makes up the spacious grounds at Iberostar Tucan (and its sister resort, Iberostar Quetzal - right next door, and sharing amenities). Walking from our room to dinner, or to the beach, we'd spot monkeys, peacocks, flamingos, turtles and chickens. The beach is awesome here, with great waves for playing. It's only a 25-minute walk to downtown Playa del Carmen and its fun 5th Avenue (La Quinta) filled with shops and restaurants. Though the food is quite good at Iberostar Tucan, and it's all included in your room rate, we did enjoy heading into town for a couple of dinners out.

Tips for Families

As soon as you arrive, make reservations at the a la carte restaurants. Choice times fill quickly. Also, check the dress codes: men and boys over age 12 may be expected to wear long pants at the reservation-only restaurants.

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Azul Hotel & Beach Resort Puerto Morelos

Carretera Federal Cancun-Tulum Km. 27.5, Puerto Morelos, Mexico

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Visited: 2009-04-01 | Submitted: 2014-01-31 21:18:35.0 | I traveled with big kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12)

Intimate all-inclusive resort with great food

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I loved the Azul Beach resort when my family visited in 2009, but after $21 million in renovations since then, I bet I'd love it even more! (Especially because four years ago, the drawback was the dated room decor; the accommodations have totally been made over.) What's to like here is its intimate size: just 148 rooms and suites. Like its sister property Azul Sensatori, Azul Beach has some "swim up suites" so you can enter the pool right from your patio. The Azulitos Kids Club is new since I visited; it now features Fisher-Price toys for use in the club, and there's a toy-lending library, too. The food is excellent at this "Gourmet Inclusive" library.

Tips for Families

Do not miss being waited on by accommodating "beach butlers" while hanging out on a large canopied beach bed. There's room for the whole family on these comfy lounging spaces!

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Azul Sensatori Hotel Puerto Morelos

Carretera Cancun Km 27.5, Puerto Morelos, Mexico

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Visited: 2009-04-01 | Submitted: 2014-01-31 21:02:04.0 | I traveled with big kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12)

Excellent all-inclusive resort for kids of all ages

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We stayed at the Azul Sensatori just after it opened in 2009, and I dubbed it the best all-inclusive resort for families in the Riviera Maya. In particular, its amenities and services for babies and toddlers are amazing: a Fisher-Price toy lending library, plus Gerber baby food included in the room rate, and a kids' club with activities for children as young as six months. Plus, there's an Extreme Breeze Club for teens, a water-spray playground for children, and daily activities that range from beach volleyball to Spanish class to aqua aerobics. The food at this "Gourmet Inclusive" property is excellent (several restaurants to choose from); accommodations are extremely roomy and modern, and some have access to the pool, right from the patio (i.e. "swim up suites").

Tips for Families

We found the beach a bit rocky when we visited in 2009; erosion (or beach upkeep) may have changed the quality of the beach and ocean entry since then.

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Tulum

Carretera Cancun-Tulum Km. 133, Tulum, Mexico

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Visited: 2009-03-01 | Submitted: 2014-01-30 00:07:07.0 | I traveled with big kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12)

Interesting, ancient Mayan ruins

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I really think it's important for visitors to the Riviera Maya to visit some of the ancient Mayan archaeological ruins. Tulum is a good location to learn more about the Mayans and how they lived, via a tour of their walled city that now is home to only stone remnants. But I do think tweens and teens get the most out of this visit -- children 8 and under will just get hot in the tropical sun. Tour guides can be difficult to understand if English isn't their native language -- but it is worth it to hire a guide, since the stories they tell of the Mayans' knowledge of astronomy and agriculture is fascinating, though perhaps only to teens and adults. The good part about visiting exposed Tulum? It's located cliffside, and you can descend to the beach to hop in the water (bring your suit!) if you do get too hot.

Tips for Families

Don't miss the Dance of the Flyers near the market that you'll pass on your way to the ruins. Men in traditional dress perform their "pole dance" ritual several times daily.

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