We’re just going to jump right in and say, you can’t go wrong planning a family vacation to Cancun. The travel time from anywhere in the U.S. is reasonable, even with young kids in tow, the beaches are pristine, the weather is a dream and it offers activities whether you like to dig your toes in the sand for non-stop beach bumming or explore morning, noon and night. Read on to hear about a new resort with a familiar name and the recipe for a vacation well done in Mexico’s Cancun.
WHERE TO STAY
You might be familiar with Panama Jack for sunscreen and hats, but now he’s inviting you to immerse yourself in his laid-back approach to life at his resorts. Introduced this spring, Panama Jack Resorts Cancun has two outdoor swimming pools, a stunning beach with water so clear you’ll think you’re in a bathtub, Camp Jack with supervised activities for ages 4-12, waterpark with slides and splash zones, an ocean-view mini golf and water park, live entertainment, movie nights and #Hashtag teen zone with video games and activities for ages 12-17. They also offer after-hours babysitting so you can schedule a kid-free date night.
The rooms all have a good amount of space, but we’d recommend the Family Junior Suite that accommodates 2 adults and 3 kids with twin bunk beds and access to Camp Jack from the terrace.
WHERE TO EAT
With Panama Jack Resorts Cancun being an all-inclusive resort, it takes much of the guesswork out of where to dine, as you never need to leave the resort. Even the pickiest of palates will find a spot to feed their hunger with 13 dining options featuring flavors from around the world that cover everything from tacos to an Italian feast, fresh ingredients, imaginative recipes and masterfully trained chefs at the helm.
Insider tip: Panama Jack Coffee Co., located in the lobby with a hang-worthy second floor overlook perfect for a morning of people watching, bakes fresh cinnamon rolls every thirty minutes that are so good you’ll be thinking about them even after you return home. Trust us, grab one, and don’t share.
WHERE TO PLAY
The pages of your kid’s textbook will come alive with day trips to see what was left behind from Mexico’s mysterious Mayan civilizations. There are two ruin sites we would recommend that make for worthwhile full-day excursions, which can be booked with the assistance of Panama Jack’s staff. Tulum is extremely well-preserved and is the only ruins with a gorgeous ocean view, so bring along a swimsuit to take a quick plunge in the sea. If you decide to rent a car to make the drive to Tulum, consider a stopover for shopping and lunching in the up-and-coming town of Tulum.
The other we recommend is Chichen Itza. The signature Kukulkan Pyramid that dominates the site, also known as El Castillo (the castle), was designated as one of the seven wonders of the world in 2007. Built as a physical representation of the Mayan calendar, it has 91 steps on on each of the 4 sides totaling 364 steps and it’s 9 platforms bisected by a staircase on each side represent the 18 months in a Mayan calendar, it’s a shining example of the Mayan’s phenomenal understanding of math and astronomy.
Insider tip: Minecraft fiends will find it hard to resist purchasing a bit of obsidian available at one of the hundreds of vendor stands set up within Chichen Itza, but beware, it’s most likely a fake.
A must-do if you head in the direction of Chichen Itza is a reprieve from the heat in the cool waters of the 135-feet-deep Ik Kil Cenote. If you’re unfamiliar, cenotes are natural sink holes from the collapse of limestone that expose groundwater underneath, a natural swimming pool, essentially. And, Ik Kil is arguably one of the most beautiful in all of Mexico. Not only that, but if offers amenities you won’t find at some other cenotes, like changing rooms, bathrooms and an onsite restaurant.
If you choose to strike out on your own to visit either ruins, be sure to take pesos to pay for entry and parking, a bathing suit to take a dip, comfy shoes as the terrain is uneven, mosquito spray, a bottle of water, sunscreen and a camera to capture the moment. One more tip, we recommend getting there right when they open as the crowds and heat increases as the morning moves along. Plus, as it only takes about an hour to conquer the ruins, an early start means you can be sitting by the pool, sipping margaritas at Panama Jack by late afternoon.
photo: Dolphin Discovery via Flickr
The vacation becomes unforgettable when you hop a 20-minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres to swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. You’ll be provided coffee and a light breakfast on the cruise over and after a short orientation, you’ll slip into a life jacket to meet your new marine friends. Depending on the program you choose, you’ll get a kiss, hug, belly ride or a foot push from one of these beautiful animals.
photo: Captain Hook courtesy of Mar Y Cielo R. via Yelp
Choose the excitement of the pirate life over frolicking with dolphins by setting sail with the most famous captain of all, Captain Hook. The sound of cannons marks the start of your experience as you push off from Cancun’s marina for an evening of contests, music that’ll get you dancing and a full pirate show. As you grab grub, The Captain introduces you to his crew and tells tales of his escapades at sea, but don’t get too comfortable as the approach of another ship cloaked in darkness sets off an authentic pirate battle right before your landlubbing eyes.
photo: Ventura Park courtesy of Linda G. via Yelp
The last stop on your Cancun vacation is Ventura Park, a family amusement park that covers the full spectrum of interests, whether you’re a zipline-loving adult or roller-coaster thrill-seeking child. The only adventure park in Cancun’s hotel zone encompasses Grand Prix that puts you behind the wheel at a seaside go-kart track, Wet ‘n Wild for water slides, water playground, wave pool and lazy river, Dolphinaris provides another opportunity to befriend dolphins, Fun World for kid-approved coasters and rides, Aaah! to make like Tarzan on ziplines and bungee-swings, and Underworld for high-tech arcade gaming that includes VR and laser-tag-inspired bumper cars.
Panama Jack Resorts Cancun
Rates: Standard rooms rates as of press time started at $158-$174/night based on double occupancy depending on dates booked
Blvd. Kukulcan KM. 11.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún
Quintana Roo, Mexico
In the words of Panama Jack: Don’t think, just go!
— Maria Chambers
Special thanks to Panama Jack Cancun for assistance with accommodations and entertainment. All opinions here expressed are the writer’s own.