Cancun’s Dolphin Discovery Program lets guests swim with dolphins. // © 2015 iStock
Feature image (above): Kids can visit scaly creatures at Croco Cun Zoo. // © 2015
When my friend Kristin Carleen Busse, a single mom and Midwestern expat, told me she was spending a few days in a Cancun hotel most commonly associated with the city’s infamous party-hard 20 somethings, I was surprised. But for her, this was a staycation —one that she was confident would be just as fun for her 8-year-old son as it would be for her.
Busse is a hospitality industry professional, as well as a Cancun resident of 15 years — and therefore an expert on navigating Cancun’s interesting split between being a family-friendly vacation spot as well as a college spring break getaway.
“Family is important to Mexicans; they love to host families,” Busse said.
In fact, during this year’s lead-up to spring break, the tourism board made a point of promoting “the unexpected” side of Cancun — its ecotourism parks, adrenaline-pumping adventures, historic archaeological sites and anything that could be considered “family-oriented and diverse.”
For parents carefully considering Cancun’s theme park options, Busse’s recommends privately owned Xcaret Park. She also suggests Xel-Ha for good swimmers and the ziplines at Xplor Park for brave children.
While these three attractions are technically within the overlapping Riviera Maya region, the town of Isla Mujeres, with its beautiful beaches and the area’s Dolphin Discovery program are considered part of Cancun. So is Puerto Morelos, an eco-adventure paradise and quaint sea-port village. Kids who prefer to stay on land will enjoy the Croco Cun Zoo, and snorkeling families have the opportunity to take a boat out to the offshore reef.
As an honorary local, Busse says the biggest misconception about Cancun is that it lacks culture and history.
“Modern Mexican culture can be found downtown, at Parque las Palapas, for instance,” she said.
Busse recommends Parque las Palapas for a good Friday evening family spot. Food vendors, street performers and craft stalls cater to a relaxed, local crowd.
When it comes to recommending hotels, there are several options available to families, whether it’s a Mexican-owned hotel company such as Grupo Posadas and Karisma Hotels & Resorts, or international brands including Westin and Marriott. Most of the big hotels in the region go all out to make families feel comfortable.
For example, CasaMagna Marriott Cancun has partnerships with family-friendly companies such as Hasbro and Crayola — plus a playground on hotel grounds — but this isn’t what they count on to get the teenagers excited about a visit. In fact, there’s something that’s even better for that age group.
“As part of a new collaboration for 2015, guests can film their family getaway on the newest GoPro camera,” said Michelle Bozoki, director of marketing and eCommerce for Marriott Caribbean and Latin America Resorts. “Cancun is a great destination for families, offering a fun and active getaway in the setting of a relaxing, beachside retreat.”
Whether its ziplining in a theme park, snorkeling through underwater reefs or finding a hotel that loans a GoPro, it’s all possible in Cancun.