Cozumel, Mexico

I have had the pleasure of traveling to Cozumel twice now, once 6 years ago on a cruise with my husband, and then a few months ago with my best friend, Susan, who writes a lot of Trip Advisor reviews as Super Susanita. Cozumel is one of my favorite islands. The food is delicious; it offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean; fantastic jewelry shopping, and best of all, it’s safe and inexpensive!

The first time I went to Cozumel, Jim and I were on our Mexican cruise. We did a ship’s excursion that allowed us to prepare a three-course Mexican meal with an adorable Mexican chef. We cooked in a room with huge windows overlooking a fabulous beach while drinking margaritas. Then we shopped. Cozumel is a great place to shop for silver or Mexican fire opals, which glitter an orange-red color. As we shopped at the jewelry stores, the shopkeepers plied us with free margaritas or shots of tequila. We sloshed back to the ship with Jim threatening to sacrifice me to the Mayan gods if I bought any more fire opals or silver.

A few months ago, I went back to Cozumel with my best friend Susan Nichols. I was a little nervous traveling with a friend instead of my husband, and Jim was concerned about our safety, but there was no reason to worry. Cozumel felt very safe. Susan and I stayed at the Flamingo Hotel, which is a small boutique hotel on a side street near the ferry dock. The room was not upscale, but it was clean and decently appointed. There was an open air lobby with a bar that was open in the evenings. The bar itself was worth staying at the Flamingo. Ivan the bartender squeezed limes and oranges to create the base of his margaritas and then added his favorite tequila and Grand Marnier. Ivan truly makes the best margaritas I have ever had. Period. The price for one of the margaritas was only $6. Not bad for a hand- crafted drink. Our room was a very decent $70 and included coffee and a continental breakfast. For only $2 more, you could get omelets and pancakes. Overall, the Flamingo Hotel was a great deal. What’s more is that I only saw one child at the hotel during the five days we stayed there.

During the day, Susan went diving during the day with Blue Magic Scuba. She researched getting her dive certification and decided that Blue Magic was the most accommodating shop for the best price. While she dove, I took a short $5 cab ride to another hotel, Playa Azul, where I laid on the beach and read or swam. There was always a helpful employee to bring drinks at Playa Azul. Pretty little hotel, and pretty beach with a tiki bar and an open air restaurant next door. Since it was a bigger hotel on the beach, there were some children. Playa Azul seems to be popular with vacationers from mainland Mexico.

One of the days we were in Cozumel, Susan took me to Sky Reef, a beach restaurant, and bar for lunch and snorkeling. For $15, you get a small drink, tequila tasting, snorkeling equipment and a five-minute chair massage. We paid the $15 considering all it included and had tacos, avocados, rice and refried beans for an additional charge of about $15. Those were some of the most delightful tacos I have eaten in a long time. We had a lot of good meals in Cozumel, most of which were around $15 or under. Cozumel offers a lot of great local food at great prices. In fact, the island is worth visiting just for the food!

As well as delicious food, diving and shopping, there are other things to do on the island of Cozumel. There are small Mayan ruins on the island, or you can take a ferry to Playa del Carmen and journey to the larger ruins of Chichen Itza near Cancun. It’s a day trip which we did not choose to do, but I intend to go back with Jim and visit the ruins. Cozumel also offers golf during the day and dancing at night. Susan and I went dancing at a local dance club called Tic Toc and had a great time dancing to the Latin tunes the DJ played.

We checked out several small hotels while were there, and many of them ranged from quite acceptable to quite nice. If you want to vacation on the island of Cozumel, you can get a hotel for a pretty decent rate on Trip Advisor and have an excellent time tasting local fare at the restaurants and going snorkeling or scuba diving. Although I do love all-inclusive resorts, if you choose to do one of those on Cozumel, you’ll miss tasting the local fare, and you’ll spend a lot more money. Cozumel is my pick for a fun vacation at an affordable rate. It’s not all childfree, but if you pick a boutique hotel like the Flamingo, you’ll reduce the number of children you have to deal with.

Sandals Resorts Whitehouse

Last July, Jim and I tried a Sandal’s resort for the first time. If you want a childfree vacation where you will be pampered, Sandals offers the ultimate experience. Everything from transportation to the resort, gratuities, use of the sailboats, kayaks, paddle boards, the snorkeling boat, all dining and drinks was included. You truly can leave your wallet in your room. Many of Sandal’s resorts are on the island of Jamaica. Once we landed in Jamaica, we made our way through customs to the Sandal’s lounge where were offered bottled water and Red Stripe beer as well as rum cake. The Sandals employees took our luggage, and we didn’t have to touch it after that. No bag drag here! From the airport, it is almost an hour’s ride over the mountainous terrain of Jamaica to get to the Whitehouse resort. The ride itself was an adventure. When we arrived at the resort, we were greeted with champagne in a beautiful lobby. Our luggage was taken to our room by helpful employees.

Once we landed in Jamaica, we made our way through customs to the Sandal’s lounge where we were offered bottled water and Red Stripe beer as well as rum cake. The Sandals employees took our luggage, and we didn’t have to touch it after that. No bag drag here! From the airport, it is almost an hour’s ride over the mountainous terrain of Jamaica to get to the Whitehouse resort. The ride itself was an adventure. When we arrived at the resort, we were greeted with champagne in a beautiful lobby. Our luggage was taken to our room by helpful employees.

At Whitehouse, we had eight restaurants to chose from ranging from French, Italian, seafood, Japanese, Jamaican, and gourmet European fusion. There was also a coffee shop which offered pastries, made to order crepes, as well as fantastic coffee. The meals at Whitehouse were all delicious. Even Jim, Chef Fussy Pants, enjoyed the dining. The meals were even better than we have had aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines, and that is quite a feat. I truly enjoyed all the fresh seafood, including the huge Caribbean Lobster I dined on one night, and we both loved the jerk dishes at lunch time.

During the day, there is a breathtaking beachfront with tiki huts to read, relax or nap. While we were there, swimming in the ocean did involve a lot of seaweed, but that’s because Whitehouse sits in a cove and recent storms had pushed the seaweed into shore. There were four pools, three of which had swim-up bars, and lots of lounge areas. Two of the pools had DJs playing reggae music and an activity director who offered pool games. In addition to the beach and pool, there were 16-foot Hobi Cat sailboats, kayaks and paddle boards for guests’ use. I grew up sailing so I took advantage of the Hobi Cats. There were always employees watching the pools and the water, so help was on hand if you tipped a sailboat over. (Yes, I did that, and Jim got his first taste of being dumped into the brine. He was not amused.) The employee in charge of the boats even offered sailing lessons. A snorkeling boat with a glass bottom went out three times a day to offer snorkeling or just gazing through the glass bottom. For those who were already certified as divers, a dive boat was also available. All of these activities were included. Sandals’ did have their own dive shop on site and offered dive lessons and certification for an extra fee. In addition, there was also a 40 -foot catamaran that offered sunset cruises. We got a free sunset cruise as part of our package, and it included a bar, DJ, and a chance to jump overboard and swim in a cove with beautiful azure waters and no seaweed.

In addition to the water activities at the beach and pool, Whitehouse has a spa on site that offers hot and cold pools in a lush courtyard garden, as well as massage services and saunas. As part of our package, we were treated to a couple’s massage complete with herbal iced tea and candles. The Sandals employees know how to create the most romantic moods and settings.

At night, Sandals offered homegrown Jamaican music such as reggae bands, steel drum bands and such in a small theater on site. We were there the week before Jamaica’s independence day, and it was wonderful to see people proud of their island culture. We both enjoyed the music, and thought it was well done and a lot of fun. Friday night of that week, we were treated to a white party. All the employees were dressed in white. They set up all kinds of chocolate delights in the courtyard and had a reggae band playing so everyone could dance. What fun! After the evening show, there was always a DJ or karaoke offered at Martini’s, the upstairs late night bar. We met two other couples there and had a good time talking and dancing.

Besides the beach activities and nightlife Sandals’ offers, another part of the resort company that Jim and I appreciated, was that Sandals gives back to the island. Sandals is a part of a program that sponsors teacher training in Jamaica. American teachers come to Jamaica to work with the children and teachers, and in turn, stay at a Sandals’ resort for less than half the average rate. Sandals’ is also part of ocean conservancy efforts.

The best part? No kids. We didn’t hear one whimper, whine or meltdown. Sandals is an adults only resort. It offered quiet spaces if you wanted to relax, beach activities if you wanted to be active, and parties if you were in the mood. Sandals is a top pick for honeymooners or anyone who loves the beach, fine -dining and relaxation with no kids in sight. Sandals’ counterpart, Beaches exists for families. What is not to love about this company? Jim and I are going back this summer to the Grand Plantation resort which will be our first time staying in a room complete with an English- style butler. Stay tuned for new information!

As far as costs are concerned, try to book when Sandals is running one of the 60-65% off sales. We went in July and got the sale price. Of course, if you book another vacation with Sandals, you accrue points. Our price for Whitehouse was $3,200 last year. The Grand Plantation resort with a butler this year will be $3,100 because we booked before we ended last year’s stay.