Let’s come back to Mexico again soon,” my four-year-old son pronounced at the end of a three-day visit to the Karmina Palace, an upscale, all-inclusive resort in Manzanillo.
For him and his eight-year-old brother, the Karmina Palace was paradise, with its waterslide and eight interconnected swimming pools, a steady supply of French fries and burgers, water-balloon fights on the beach, and proximity to a live volcano (about a one-hour drive inland). Plus, the resort was filled with kids.
What did the grownups do? Blissfully, nothing much interrupted only by visits to the spa.
Most parents know the term “kid friendly” can mean “adult unfriendly.” But Karmina Palace made us grownups happy, too.
Situated on Manzanillo Bay, the resort overlooks the Santiago Peninsula, where the Moorish-looking Las Hadas and a few luxury condos all painted white cling to the cliffside in a way that makes this Pacific Coast spot look an awful lot like Greece.
The architecture at Karmina Palace is pure Mayan, however, with wall carvings modeled after the ruins of Chiapas and an arched lobby ceiling that gives new arrivals their first of many fabulous views. Built five years ago by American entrepreneur Robert Woolley, founder of the Embassy Suites brand, the resort is popular with families from the Guadalajara region, as well as Canadian and U.S. travelers looking for a relaxed, small-town Mexico experience.
We were greeted with deliciously cold towels and chilled mango juice after the steamy 40-minute drive from Manzanillo airport. At check-in, the entire family received plastic hospital-style bracelets that we were instructed to wear during our stay; these were our passports to the many all-inclusive activities. Our 3,000-square-foot master suite had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a kitchen area, dining table and living room with much to the children’s delight a big-screen TV. On one side, a large, shaded terrace overlooked the bay. A second terrace revealed a small plunge pool (some suites have Jacuzzis). Because guests at all-inclusives tend not to want to leave their cash-free environs, Karmina Palace offers plenty of on-site fun. There was a full range of watersports, from kayaking tours to snorkeling in the tiny protected cove (a great place for a child’s first snorkeling lesson). Activities included volleyball, Latin dancing and aerobics, and guests could also sweat it out in the fully equipped fitness center.
For my husband and me, the highlight was the spa, where our cares were pummeled away. The hot-stone treatment a massage using heated rocks was particularly soothing, except when the rocks slid off my oiled back and clattered to the floor.
The three restaurants offered plenty of choices for our young picky eaters. Breakfast was the highlight at Bugambilias, with its variety of hot Mexican dishes, pancakes, pastries and fresh fruit. The Grill, nestled amongst the pools, offered standard baked chicken, steak and fish options, as well as made-to-order sandwiches, a salad bar and terrific cracker-thin-crust pizzas. Dinner is best spent at Carioca, set in a palapa by the bay, where higher-end a la carte dining is available (and still included except for wine by the bottle, which costs extra).
Nightly entertainment at the Mayan Amphitheater was surprisingly professional, with dancers lip-syncing hits by Madonna and Elvis. Our two boys loved the dinner-theater night, where we dined under the stars while dancers performed songs from Disney hits, “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” in Spanish. Our children begged to return to Kids Camp, after their first morning spent swimming and playing water basketball and video games. The staff throughout the resort spoke fluent English, and the Kids Camp counselors helped the children make friends with other campers.
The kids grumbled mightily when I forced them to leave the resort for a few hours to tour the Turtle Camp at nearby Cuyutlan, where volunteers gather sea turtle eggs, hatch them and return the turtles safely to the sea. Nevertheless, they were thrilled to hold tiny baby turtles, as well as visit the giant adult turtles, a skittish iguana and a massive crocodile. The tour includes a short panga ride on the Palo Verde lagoon, where we spotted pelicans, white heron and other exotic birds.
Considering Manzanillo is a 3½-hour direct flight from Los Angeles, this was a terrific long weekend away. The kids got to see that Mexico is more than a nation of cool waterslides, and we adults got what we came for: a chance to savor time together as a family.
Hits: A good choice for multi-generational family travel or business clients traveling with family. Friendly and energetic staff. Kids Club for 4-12 year olds is included.
Misses: Though the view from the resort is beautiful, it is marred by thick smoke from a power plant on the other side of the bay. The dishes at Carioca merit a nice glass of wine, but bottles cost extra (at inflated American prices) and only a mediocre house wine is available by the glass.
Be Aware: Spa treatments, golf and tennis require extra fees. Clients with small children should be advised to bring water shoes, as the flagstone around the pool can get slippery when wet.
Plugging In: Free high-speed wireless Internet access is available in all public areas and most guestrooms.
Rates: Winter Web rates through April 3 start at $168 per person for a garden-view room and go up to $884 for a two-bedroom oceanfront suite with a pool. In spring, rates range from $143 to $780 (April 4 to July 6).Two children, age 8 and under, eat and stay free when sharing a room with their parents, and kids 9-17 get 50 percent off.
Commission: 10 percent; agent rate of $70 per person available