Traveling during the COVID-19 Pandemic
To say this Pandemic has been an interruption to our world is an understatement. From the crazy Karen, who after boarding refused to wear a mask and got kicked off our plane, to encountering eerily empty airport terminals that are usually so full that you dread the trip down the escalator, travel has changed tremendously. Most of these changes are for the public’s safety, but they don’t exactly make getting out and about as easy as it once was. BUT, we didn’t let that stop the Traveling Bradburys.
Cruising is a bit tough in a pandemic, especially when they keep canceling your trips. We move our cruise dollars forward to future sailings, but in the meantime, we still have to relax and get out of our monkey suits for a week. Booking cheap flights limits your options when it comes to refunds or credits, and usually expire within 6 months, so, since we had to use or lose our Southwest Travel Funds, we moved them to Southwest Vacations and booked our first stay at an all-inclusive resort.
After weeks of research, we ultimately chose the all-inclusive Breathless Riviera Maya for our vacation. Breathless offers three experiences, and since we are not as much into the total party scene, we booked a swim-out room in the XHALE section (relaxed VIP). Breathless is an adults-only resort that caters to your level of interest. If you want to chill, you hang out at the XHALE pool, where there is no music pumping and you can relax in a huge infinity edged pool looking over the Gulf of Mexico. Drink service is on point and served from the bar at the Rosewater Grill, where you can also enjoy a la carte breakfast and lunch. If you want to party you go down to the XCELERATE party pool where they have foam parties, champagne pours and the bikini tops are optional and often missing. If you aren’t ready for the total party, but don’t want to hang with us old fogies, then the Allure section is for you.
About three months before our arrival, AMResorts, rebranded the XHALE VIP section to their next tier property, Secrets Resorts. So, our stay ended up being at the new Secrets Riviera Cancun, and we booked Preferred Club so that we had access to the entire resort, including VIP treatment, and top shelf libations. Not a bad way to spend your vacay!!!
Our first flight!!
Prior to this trip, we had taken road trips to all our vacation destinations. Dawn and I had yet to fly together, and since she doesn’t like heights, she isn’t really that big on air travel. This was my first chance to see her “OH MY” reactions on each takeoff, and touchdown, and that right there is worth the price of admission!! She makes everything more fun for sure.
We had super early flights booked on both legs, and so encountered airports that were reminiscent of pre 9/11 travel. It took us ten minutes to get from the curb to the gate in Louisville, and later when we arrived at an empty airport in Cancun. It seemed we were the only flight in the terminal.
Now, it had been quite a bit since I had flown, and I somewhat misjudged our connection in St. Louis. We had a leisurely lunch, and some drinks, while we waited to head down to the gate. The drinks may or may not have caused us to be less than punctual. As we were meandering through the terminal, like we had all the time in the world, our names were being called on the loud speaker telling us to get our butts in gear. In our typical KY hillbilly fashion, we were the last two to board, so we crowded into the front row, and settled in for our final leg into Cancun.
Now I did not know it at the time, but across the aisle sat another USAF veteran that served the same time as I did at Dover AFB. Small world on a big planet, we would cross paths later in the week on our excursion to Isla Mujeres. After putting it all together, we toasted old times and swapped stories about old friends. Travel takes us places we have never been, and occasionally, down memory lane too.
Attn: CANCUN – the Traveling Bradburys have arrived!
Notoriously busy and confusing, Cancun International greeted us with completely open arms. Open lanes, open baggage claim, open customs lines, not a line in sight. I had seen videos of arrival that made me very nervous, but our experience could not have been more different. The terminals were empty except for our flight. The baggage claim area had no wait and we were out the doors past the pushy vendors in no time. Outside, Amstar makes it easy to find their reps and your transfer, by putting them in recognizable blue Hawaiian shirts. Our representative told us what to expect, how to find our Amstar desk at the hotel to schedule our trip back, and walked us to meet our driver. There they disinfected and loaded our luggage, and we were on our way!
Riviera Maya is south of Cancun. In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Hotel Zone, the resorts here are tucked away among lagoons and Mangrove forests. So, after just a short trip in the small passenger van, we were surrounded by nature – tucked away in the flora and fauna of Mexico. The roads leading to the resort are not pristine, but once you arrive at the gates all of that changes. A vibrant purple water feature takes center stage in the driveway leading to the open lobby. Our bags were once again sanitized by the bellman while our temperatures were checked and our hands sanitized.
The VIP check-in is downstairs in the Preferred Club bar. So, while the bellhops took care of our bags, they escorted us past the check-in line and down the steps into a very comfortable lounge. We were seated with our receptionist, and delivered nicely handcrafted cocktails and champagne while we signed in. The VIP bar has only top shelf liquors and reserved for Preferred Club guests, so you can always get a delicious well-made drink quickly. A small buffet is setup and changes for breakfast, lunch and dinner snacks. During check-in they will try and sell you on the Ultimate Vacation Package, but we were pretty clear on our intentions, and thus they kept it short. It takes a couple of Margaritas to finish the pitch regarding the resort and spa amenities. If you do decide to take the 90-minute presentation later on, they will give you resort credits for use at the spa and gift shops. Some folks think it is worth it, and after 90 minutes of pitch and a lunch, they cash in for a free couples massage.
In the upstairs lobby, which is absolutely beautiful from every angle, you will find the Customer service and Amstar excursions desks. Here you can setup your return transfer to the airport, as well as schedule excursions off the resort. We took a Catamaran to Isla Mujeres, and it turned out to be one of the best excursions we have ever taken. The trip included snorkeling, lunch (fresh ceviche and guacamole – some of the best I have ever had), and drinks from the bar after you were done swimming and on the trip home after a couple of hours on the island. You can check out our Isla Mujeres blog on the main page.
A swim out room with a view…
Our room was incredible! We had a king suite with a patio that led into a private pool. From our room we could easily see the ocean beyond the bigger main pool that had an infinity edge looking out into the water. The Rosewater Grill and Bar was directly across from us as well, so we would have a short stroll over for breakfast or lunch, and our awesome waiter, Urbano, could (and did) deliver drinks while we enjoyed our private pool.
From the massive walk-in shower with dual showers heads, to the backlit headboard, the room was setup perfectly. A mini-bar was stocked daily with our favorites, including Red Stripe beer and M&M candies (I was in heaven!) Robes, slippers and a large umbrella were waiting if we needed them, and there was plenty of drawer and closet space to hold our bags and gear. A large chair, a comfortable couch and a small table provided space to relax and enjoy your room service, without having to eat on your bed.
A tablet connected to the resort wi-fi allowed us to make reservations, check out entertainment schedules, request room service, or have our mini-bar restocked if/when we needed something prior to housekeeping arriving. The staff was all too happy to meet our every need, and every need was right there at our fingertips. We could even adjust our lighting to match every mood.
Cheeseburger in Paradise
Dining options are available for every palate though most are served on the Breathless side of the resorts. The resort is nicely laid out, so the walk over from Secrets to Breathless was short with a quick pass thru the Preferred Club Bar and a guest card-controlled glass door leading to the main entertainment and dining options.
Coquette offers upscale French cuisine in a funky and yet formal setting. The Escargot and the French Onion Soup were absolutely wonderful. Our entrees were delicious and the entire experience felt far removed from the Mexican resort we were visiting.
Silk City offers Pan-Asian cuisine with Teppanyaki and Tatami Tables. While you need reservations for the show tables, you can walk right in for Sushi and regular menu service. And service is what you get! Fernando and his assistant made our night out fabulous, and kept us entertained and satisfied without being in our face.
Spumante offers Italian Specialties in a sleek and classy atmosphere. From start to finish the meal was perfection. Sauces were rich and thick, vegetables fresh and crisp, and each dish was made to delight the senses. We loved the atmosphere and I was all too ready to return for more.
Spoon offers Local and International Cuisine served buffet style. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the buffet was vast and had plenty to offer. Everything looked fresh and was presented nicely, with plenty of room to move from station to station.
Rosewater Grill was reserved for guests of Secrets Resort only and was open for breakfast and lunch during our stay. They have since added dinner offerings including premium steaks to enjoy while dining in an open-air setting with views of the Caribbean. We had most of our breakfasts and lunches here. The fish tacos were fantastic. Eggs benedict at breakfast while you listen to the waves break is amazing.
During the day, Barefoot Grill offers pizza and snacks poolside, or you could enjoy small plates in a contemporary atmosphere at Bites where they serve international Tapas. And to start your day off right, The Nook has every coffee drink you could want along with fresh cookies and pastries – and if somehow you are bored, you can pick up a book or game to play back in your room.
Fun in the Sun and Parties After Dark
Our man Urbano kept our drinks full when we were poolside, or on our patio, but there were plenty of other bars to enjoy. Aside from the Preferred Club bar, there were poolside and swim-up bars serving up cocktails while we kicked back and watched the fun. The main party pool was under repair during our stay, so they moved the action over to the main pool and kept the energy going. We stayed over at the Secrets pool mostly, since it was more quiet and less crowded. The entertainment staff didn’t leave us out of the fun, in fact, quite the contrary. Berynice gave us Spanish lessons poolside, and Yoshi stopped by daily to chat, and get our entries for the daily trivia contest.
After the first day, Yoshi and Berynice stopped by more and more often, and we shared our story of reconnecting over Facebook. It turned out they were young lovers and Yoshi was quite the romantic. He said our story really touched him and he went out of his way to make our next pool day extra special. On our last full day, as we were just getting started, we noticed Yoshi and his team setting up a romantic poolside Cabana. We assumed it was for a couple of newlyweds, but were overjoyed when they came and invited us over. They had reserved and decorated a private spot for us, and that little kindness blew us away. We love them and can never thank them enough for this memory!
The beachfront is wide and they worked very hard on keeping the seaweed from becoming too much. The beaches in Cancun are currently covered with unsightly piles of sargassum that has bloomed as a result of countries to the south dumping industrial fertilizer into the ocean. It seemed an impossible task to remove it all, but the resort has teams working overtime on the problem. When I last checked (which was a minute ago to remember sargassum), they predicted much less bloom this year so the problem should be getting better.
There are plenty of lounge chairs and Palapas to enjoy your day on the beach. The water is beautiful and like anywhere in the Caribbean, turquoise blue and clear as glass. We found the swimming area drops off pretty quickly, and the wind is a constant companion. You are exposed to the ocean breezes with nothing to break them up or slow them down. Ultimately, we found the pool area more our speed as it offered a break from the constant breeze.
At night, Wink Bar became the place to be with DJ entertainment and live shows including a fire dance that was amazing. Flames light the night and play on the water features surrounding the open-air bar, while the bartenders show off their bottle juggling and flair. There is plenty of seating for couples and groups alike with fire pits to set the mood and keep you warm on the colder winter nights where it may get down into the low 70s. The fun continued in the Disco after the show and went on late into the night.
Time to head Home
Overall, Secrets Riviera Cancun made us fall in love with the all-inclusive, adults only vacation. Given the opportunity, we would gladly return here time and time again. However, given a choice, we have ultimately fallen in love with Jamaica, and so would have to take that option first. When we booked our next trip, we would return to Secrets Resorts, but in Montego Bay instead of Cancun. And Jamaica is where we would find the resort that we will be calling home from now on. Check out the next installment to see where that is.