After years of very careful pandemic living, my family finally booked an all-inclusive vacation in Mexico this past April. We figured that not having to think about paying for anything would be easier on our COVID-weary brains. This would be our first resort experience as a family of four (my son is five, my daughter is two and a half)—and my first all-inclusive ever. It was amazing, but that’s in part because of tips I learned in advance, and some others I picked up along the way. Because let’s be honest, even when we’re on vacation, we’re really just parenting in a different setting, tantrums and all, so hacks are always welcome.
Here’s how to get the most out of your all-inclusive experience.
Toss your kids’ schedules into the ocean
Ok, that sounds dramatic, but don’t expect to maintain the exact nap and sleep schedule you have at home. And I don’t mean this the way your mother-in-law tells you you’re just too rigid about schedules, and “in my day we didn’t worry,” and so on until you want to punch the wall. But it’s beneficial for the whole fam to shift your schedules so you’re going to bed later and waking later, because so many fun things happen in the evening. Our resort had live music every night at around 7 pm and after-dinner shows for kids (we were lucky to stumble on an Encanto performance in the theatre while walking back to our rooms after dinner. Yup, even in Mexico they know all about Bruno-no-n0-no.).
Travel with friends
If possible, plan your trip with another family (or three!). We went with friends whose kids are the same ages as ours and go to the same school and it was such a treat for everyone. The kids had playmates and were much better behaved at meals because they weren’t bored. The older kids could hang out a bit more independently and we were all already so comfortable with each other (except when I dared to wear a strapless bathing suit and accidentally flashed the other family *facepalm*). Between our families, we had everything we needed, from snacks and sunscreen to diapers and wipes. It takes a village and all that.
It takes a village. Photo: Courtesy of author
Map out your snacks
We packed some of our kids’ favourite snacks for the plane and the room, but I didn’t want to weigh down our bags with a week’s worth of soft bars and applesauce packets, so we prioritized figuring out where the snack options were around the hotel so we could always grab something quickly. Our resort had an app that outlined all the spots to get food and drinks, which helped. I liked being able to offer a mix of healthier snack options and treats. Yes, our kids had ice cream at least once a day from the ice cream shop (which also had yummy iced coffees, win-win), but we also saved cots every day at the pool that was attached to a smoothie bar, so the kids had plenty of fruits and veggies, too. I also ordered some fresh whole fruits to our room, like bananas, to have on hand when we were in nap prison—in addition to the Oreos and peanut M&Ms stocked in the mini-bar, which were used as a daily bribe to get the kids out the door for dinner.
You don’t necessarily need to spring for a suite
We booked last-minute and there were no suites available, so we had to opt for a standard-sized room. But I’m as it turns out, I’m glad it worked out this way. Honestly, having the four of us in one room wasn’t an issue at all. Our daughter was in a crib, our son took the pull-out couch and that left a king-size bed for my husband and me. I’ve heard families of five just put two kids in the pullout and one in the crib. Some friends brought Slumberpods (if you haven’t seen these, it’s like a black tent that engulfs the crib in sweet, sweet darkness), and you may be able to rent one from baby-rental services before you leave rather than spending hundreds to own one. The only issue was that we all had to lie in the dark during nap time, but we found that we welcomed a mid-day break from the sun, and my son is used to downtime then anyway, so he strapped into his iPad and we napped or read our books, which was actually very relaxing. Plus, we had a balcony if we wanted to chill in the sun.
Also, to make sure we could fit all our clothing in the closet space provided, I ditched my kids’ packing cubes for some next-level hanging travel shelves (I got these ones by Tabitora in the large size). When we got to the room I just unclipped them and hung them in the closet. It was a revelation.
This is packing cubes 2.0. Photo: Courtesy of author
Note restaurant dress codes before you go
Resorts that cater to families may still have dress codes to class up dinnertime a bit. Often that just translates to sleeves or collars for men and pants, skirts or dresses for women. There were 13 restaurants at our resort, ranging from an upscale sushi bar and a steak house to casual diner and buffet, but all required footwear and, at minimum, something covering your bathing suit. We dressed up a bit at night and our kids did too, which was fun after years of not going to restaurants because of the pandemic.
Check the kids’ club schedule, not just its hours
We got a hot tip from another family that the kid’s club was doing horseback riding on the beach, for free, but you had to line up at a specific time to register. We almost forgot but made it just in time to take the last two spots on the list! Phew. So even if your kids aren’t hitting the club every day, check in regularly to see what special activities are on the roster and when you can sign up.
One of the highlights of the trip that we would never have known about if we hadn’t learned the ropes from more seasoned all-inclusive fams. Photo: Courtesy of author
Pack Tupperware and plastic baggies
The holy grail of family travel is plastic bags of various sizes and types. Wet bathing suits to throw in your beach bag? Bag ’em up. Loose crayons to bring to dinner with colouring books? Bag ’em up. Breakfast buffet with baked goods perfect for mid-morning snacks? Bag. Those. Babies. Up. Or better yet, throw them in a Tupperware so they don’t get crushed. We also loaded up a few Tupperware on our last morning before heading to the airport so we had fresh fruit and pastries on the plane.
Bring doubles of key items and lots of activities
You don’t want to have to buy simple things like hats and sunscreen at the wildly overpriced gift shop (though I happily spent $20 on a small bag of fancy chocolate-covered cashews to avoid a meltdown one afternoon). Bring an extra hat for each kid and a few extra bottles of sunscreen, because hats are easy to lose and I saw my friend’s toddler pour an entire bottle of sunscreen on her leg for fun one day. Ah, memories. We also brought some small activity books, crayons, books and toys to keep our kids busy at dinners or by the pool. (No judgment if you don’t—the iPads came out plenty, too). And we brought beach toy sets with shovels and pails from the dollar store.
Our toddler wasn’t into swimming (pandemic babies) and I was happy to have games for her to play poolside. Photo: Courtesy of author
Find some time alone
Make a deal with your partner that you each get some alone time during your trip to unwind and recharge. This can mean a walk on the beach during nap time or a glass of wine and a book at a restaurant after bedtime. I had one night out with some other moms at the resort and my husband did the same with another dad. It was refreshing to enjoy even just a couple of hours of resort time away from my family, who I love, but a little absence sure does make the heart grow fonder.
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