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Getting Cozy With Cancun Crocodiles

Getting Cozy With Cancun Crocodiles

Having held a baby crocodile in my hands on a trip to Australia many years ago, my reptile-cuddling needs have been long satisfied. But Brayden had never had such an opportunity, so today we joined up with our friends to tour Crococun Zoo, about a half hour out of Cancun.

The place is billed as an “interactive” zoo because you can actually hold a few of the animals; I’d also read that there would be wild spider monkeys swinging through the trees overhead. It was exactly the kind of place that would send Justin’s anxiety skyrocketing, but he was happy to stay at the resort by himself, so that worked out all right. (He was unusually happy to see us when we got back, but that was only because he’d managed to lock himself out of the room. Sigh.)

The guide let our group hold and/or feed everything from macaws and deer to boa constrictors and crocodiles. At one point we even walked through the crocodile enclosure, with strict instructions to walk single file and stay in the middle of the path. We were also told not to stop to take pictures, but to film as we walked. We literally passed within two feet of full-grown crocodiles, with nothing separating them and us. I still can’t believe that actually happened.

Home tomorrow…

Eco-Adventures at Xcaret

Eco-Adventures at Xcaret

This was pretty close to a perfect family day. We spent it at Xcaret, an eco-park about an hour south of Cancun. I chose that particular park because it offered options that appealed to all four of us — not an easy feat. And we did it on a private tour where we had our own car and driver and could set our own departure and return times. Which cost a bit more, but which was totally worth it.

And it really was an excellent day. The park is beyond gorgeous, which helped us to forget that much of the rest of non-resort Mexico is dirty, decrepit and overrun with garbage. This place clearly made a big effort to protect the environment and keep things pristine. They even require you to use biodegradable sunblock so you don’t damage the ecosystem. Awesome.

We started by suiting up in lifejackets and flippers and spending 40 minutes floating through an underground river. I was more than a little surprised that Justin was willing to give that one a go (especially after Brayden loudly announced he’d seen real fish in the water), but he did great. Many sections of the river run through caves with low-hanging ceilings and absolutely no light, and he was still OK. One of his flippers fell off and he still managed to outswim most of us. Kudos, dude!

One whole section of the park is kind of a mini zoo with various animals on display. We wandered around for an hour or so and saw manatees, tapirs, jaguars, pumas, flamingoes, etc. They even had deer, which was no biggie for us as we get them in our backyard at home all the time, but we did overhear a tour guide in a heavy Spanish accent announcing “the Bambi exhibit,” which was kind of amusing.

Lunch was an excellent buffet in a spectacular setting — the boys could even watch the jaguar from our table. Brayden ordered a pina colada, his new favorite cocktail, and it showed up in the most amazing drink container ever: a full-sized pineapple that had been given eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth made out of fruit. Way cool.

After stuffing ourselves, we took a leisurely 15-minute raft ride on another river. It was billed as a way to see exotic flora and fauna without getting wet, but it didn’t actually show us anything we hadn’t already seen on the long walk down to the raft boarding dock. Live and learn.

We spent our last bit of time in the park’s aquarium, which was especially awesome for its air conditioning (ahh). Jellyfish, sharks, sea turtles…the kids loved it.

One more day!

Hunting Iguanas in the Hotel Zone

Hunting Iguanas in the Hotel Zone

I can only take so much relaxation. We’ve never done an all-inclusive before because I do all the vacation planning and I don’t particularly enjoy sitting on a beach for a week at a time. It doesn’t matter how nice the resort (or cruise ship) is or how many activities are available. I like a change of scenery once a day, even if it’s only for an hour.

Certain other members of my family do not share this need, however, so I was having trouble organizing a family outing this morning. Chris was happy to just sit by the pool, and Justin could not be dragged from the kids club. I finally sold Brayden on the idea of checking out a small archeological site near the hotel that’s known for being overrun with iguanas. He couldn’t care less about ruined temples, but hunting lizards is totally his thing. So off we went.

The ruins were bigger than I expected and probably would have been more impressive if we hadn’t just done Chichen Itza yesterday. We counted 34 different iguanas — not too shabby for 40 minutes’ work. It wasn’t until we found the first big lizard that it dawned on us that we knew almost nothing about them: should we be worried that they keep bobbing their heads in our direction? Is that one about to charge? What do iguanas eat anyway? Huh.

After lunch and some colorful kiddie cocktails, it was back to (where else?) the beach. I swear that sand is never coming out of Justin’s hair.

To an eco-park tomorrow…

The Mightiest Mayan Ruins: Chichen Itza

The Mightiest Mayan Ruins: Chichen Itza

As I repeatedly explained to my children: today was for me. The rest of this trip (the kids club, the beach, the waterslides, the basketball court) was designed to make them happy, but today was about letting Mommy get her history fix. And if that meant sitting on a bus for 2.5 hours each way, with nothing to do but watch movies and drink pop and eat snacks and play iPad, then so be it.

So we headed off on a tour of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (or as Brayden called it: “chicken pizza.”) There are other ruins closer to Cancun, but the ones at Chichen Itza are the largest and most famous, so that’s where I wanted to go. 

We started out with sincere intentions of following the guide, but after 10 minutes of standing in the heat listening to him ramble on in a dry monotone, the kids were close to mutiny. So we bailed on the tour and just wandered around on our own. It was hotter than Hades and we had only a vague idea what we were looking at, but it was still a neat experience. We even managed to get a photo of all of us smiling in front of the famous pyramid. Nice.

Lunch was in a charming restaurant in the colonial town of Vallodolid, and included traditional foods of the Yucatan as well as typical American fare. The boys ate Mayan chicken and a few actual vegetables (gasp) in addition to their hot dogs and fries, so I was pretty happy. The buffet also included unlimited Corona, so Chris was pretty happy too. We had some free time after lunch to wander around the old town center, but we were out of steam by then (hot as Hades!) so we plopped down in the shade and watched Chris play Bejewelled until the bus arrived.

Our final stop was at a cenote, an underground sinkhole. There are thousands of them all over the Yucatan, and they’re a popular way of cooling off. Our guide noted that this particular cenote was unsuitable for swimming, however, as it sits in the middle of the city and the water is almost certainly contaminated with sewage…but we saw a few people floating around in the water, so clearly not everyone got that memo. Yuck.

A long day, but a good day overall.

Relaxing at the resort tomorrow…

Kayaking on the Cancun Lagoon

Kayaking on the Cancun Lagoon

We are not what you would call an adventurous family. Given my motion sickness problems and Justin’s anxiety issues, many of the most popular activities in Cancun (snorkeling, scuba diving, speedboating, ziplining) are a no-go for our group. So I was pretty excited when I discovered a marina near our resort would let us borrow pedal boats for free — we could explore the lagoon in leisurely comfort and never have to get wet. We even convinced another family we know to join us on this little outing. Perfect.

But things didn’t go quite according to plan. The guys at the marina explained that the current was too strong for pedal boats, and that we’d be wasting our time trying to manoeuvre around that way. So we went with double kayaks instead. This required a lot more energy and a lot more coordination, neither of which was in great supply.  Brayden was more interested in ramming the other kayaks than actually contributing to the navigation; I finally gave up and told him to just sit still and let me do all the paddling. Still, it was a good time. Here’s hoping I can lift my arms tomorrow.

After a lunch in which my three boys ate a combined total of four hamburgers, two hot dogs and four plates of fries (we are really getting our money’s worth at that buffet), it was back to the beach, where the kids spent the better part of three hours getting sand into every possible orifice. Good times.

Tonight we’re having dinner with our friends at the resort’s Italian restaurant, which will be a nice change from the line-up-at-the-trough experience of the main buffet.

Day trip to Chichen Itza tomorrow!

Family Fun in the Mexican Sun

Family Fun in the Mexican Sun

Our Cancun resort may be regretting their policy of charging the child rate for a 12-year-old boy. Especially a 12-year-old boy who spends the whole morning swimming and playing basketball, and thus shows up for lunch ready to devour everything in sight. That buffet never knew what hit it. We finally put our foot down after Justin’s third trip to the dessert table. Whew.

Having never done the Mexican all-inclusive thing before, we weren’t sure what to expect, but everyone’s having a good time so far. We hit the beach first thing this morning and let the kids play in the massive waves (housekeeping must hate us…that beautiful white sand gets everywhere), then Brayden hit the waterslides while Justin went off to the basketball court. The four of us met up for lunch by the pool, then relaxed a bit in the games room: the boys played Wii while Chris and I shot some pool (I won my first game ever!)

Right now we’re just chilling in the room. It’s hot and sunny and beautiful…ahh.

Maybe some watersports tomorrow…

How “We” Plan a Vacation

How “We” Plan a Vacation

My husband and I have a very clear division of responsibilities when it comes to trip planning.

WHAT I DO: research destinations, compare packages, investigate flights, read hotel reviews, arrange car rentals, book tours, renew passports, check weather forecasts, purchase appropriate clothing, pack suitcases, and close down the house

WHAT HE DOES: sets the “out of office” notification on his email

So while I can happily spend a year or more planning a vacation, he prefers to wait until the next-to-last minute before familiarizing himself with all the details, such as where we’re actually going.

Four days before we left for a Scandinavian cruise, for example, he was still unclear about whether we were flying to Sweden or Switzerland. Once we cleared that up, and he read a bit about our itinerary, he said to me in surprise, “Hey, did you know the Kiel Canal is a real canal?” (With water and everything? You’re kidding!)

A few years later, we were on our way to the airport for a trip to Hawaii when he asked me the name of our hotel so he could look it up on his phone. Then he said to me, in all seriousness, “Hey, did you know our hotel is really close to the beach?” (Really? You’d think I would have noticed that.)

It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy travelling. He just doesn’t care to be involved in the planning. I used to seek his opinion on travel issues, but he was happy to let me handle all that stuff, and I was happy to have carte blanche to do whatever I wanted.

But when he does take an interest, he can be dangerous. If he’s around when I’m packing, for instance, he will insist on throwing in virtually every piece of clothing he owns. Never mind that he will wear a maximum of two different outfits no matter how long we’re away. Never mind that including all that stuff means taking a bigger and more unwieldy suitcase. Never mind that I will have to wash his entire wardrobe when we get home. Sigh.

So to summarize: I do all the work, and he goes along for the ride.

And that way, we both have a bon voyage.

Newport: Gateway to the Gilded Age

Newport: Gateway to the Gilded Age

Now I get why the Vanderbilts called their Bar Harbor dwellings “cottages.” Compared to the summer homes they built here in Newport, those shacks in Maine could barely be considered broom closets.

Today we toured both the Breakers and Marble House, two of the many homes owned by the Vanderbilt family. Both were built around the turn of the century and represent the height of the Gilded Age, when the ultra rich spared no expense in their quest to flaunt their wealth and imitate European royalty. These homes were nothing short of palatial. It's crazy to think that they were only used in July and August.

That marriage match game last night was something else. The host wanted one newlywed couple, one that had been together for at least 25 years, and one that had been together for at least 50 years. The latter two were easy, but for the newlywed category they had to settle for a couple that had been married for 16 years — tells you something about the crowd on this ship.

Anyway, the newlywed couple was Joe and Sandy from New Jersey. He apparently volunteered them for the game while she was in the restroom, and she was not at all happy to be up on stage. I mean not AT ALL happy. So naturally they provided most of the comedy. When the women left the room and the men were asked to describe what their wives were wearing, Joe thought for a minute and finally said, “She might be wearing a bra, but I'm not sure” (no). When the women were asked about their husband's worst habit, Sandy instantly blurted out, “Scratching his junk.” Classy.

We sail for New York tonight and fly home from LaGuardia tomorrow. Back to reality…

Presidents and Patriots: Our Day in Boston

Presidents and Patriots: Our Day in Boston

This was a day about dead presidents. Having done most of the high-profile tourist stuff the last time we were in Boston, today we opted to see Peacefield (former home to President John Adams and his son President John Quincy Adams) as well as the JFK Presidential Library. After watching endless analysis of last night's Trump-Clinton debate while waiting for the tour to begin, I was more than ready to hear about a time when presidents actually inspired people.

We began at Peacefield, where four generations of Adamses lived from 1788 to 1927. This is actually the nation's oldest presidential birthplace. I was vaguely aware that John Adams had been the second president, and that his son went on to also become president, but I didn't realize John Quincy Adams served as a member of Congress for 18 years after leaving the presidency. He insisted to contemporaries that he didn't see it as a step down. Can't see that happening today.

We also explored the JFK museum. Much of the building has been done up to resemble the interior of the White House, complete with a replica of the Oval Office. The place is filled with Kennedy photos, artifacts and memorabilia; I really enjoyed seeing video footage both of JFK's speeches and off-the-cuff conversations with reporters. Good stuff.

The fun continues on the ship. After that country and western party the other night we decided to lay off the booze for a day, but then last night our team finally won a round of trivia (!) which came with a bottle of free champagne. Who are we to turn down free drinks? Tonight is some sort of marriage match game show, which should be interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Now to Newport, Rhode Island…

Merry Times in Maine

Merry Times in Maine

They say Maine is the lobster capital of the world, but I distinctly remember New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland all making similar claims, so it's hard to take that seriously. This town sure takes it seriously, though — virtually every pub, restaurant and shop in the downtown area has a lobster on its sign or in its decor. If I never see another crustacean, that would be OK by me.

But Bar Harbor is about more than just lobsters. From the mid-19th century to the 1940s, this area was the summer playground for America's elite: the Astors, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies built beautiful mansions (they called them “cottages”) so they could spend their summers in luxury. Sometimes they even bought the neighboring cottages just to use as guesthouses. Many of those mansions have been converted to hotels or B&Bs. I don't know what they charge, but there were “no vacancy” signs on most of them, so I imagine they're doing pretty well.

The ship hosted a country and western party in one of the lounges last night. They were offering line dancing lessons again, and this time I convinced Chris to come with me on the condition that he could just sit and take pictures. Just as the lessons ended (so much fun!) we happened to meet up with three other couples we knew, and I don't know if it was the beer or the peer pressure, but Chris actually agreed to dance with me for one slow song. The man has not danced since our wedding, so this was a very big deal. If only we had photographic proof.

Our streak of beautiful weather ended today, but we're hoping for better things tomorrow. On to Boston…