Now that our boys are 10 and 12 years old, we thought it was time to show them a new part of the world. The warm beaches of Mexico beckoned, so we decided that spring break would be the perfect opportunity for a family trip. But while upside down tequila shots and dance clubs thumping music well into the night might come to mind when picturing Cancun and college kids, words like “relaxing” and “rejuvenating” more aptly describe the laid-back island of Cozumel, no matter what time of year.
Getting there...and back
Getting a passport for your children is a little bit more cumbersome than getting one as an adult. Once you fill out the proper forms available on the US Department of State’s US Passports & International Travel website and have proof of their citizenship, then you need to take them to your local passport acceptance office, which is typically a post office or a sub courthouse. But here’s the kicker: both parents listed on the proof of citizenship must be present at the passport acceptance office. If that can’t happen, then visit www.travel.state.gov for more information. Once all the paperwork is accepted, plan for six to eight weeks before getting the passport; two to three weeks if you choose to have it expedited for an additional fee.
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When applying for a passport for children, both parents listed on the proof of citizenship must be present at the passport office.
Since we plan to do some more international travel in the next few years, we chose to also get enrolled in the Global Entry program, which allows expedited clearance for pre-approved travelers upon arrival into the United States. After an interview at the US Customs and Border Protection office, located in Terminal D at DFW Airport, we were cleared for Global Entry status, which also includes TSA Pre-Check expedited screening at all TSA security checkpoints. The cost for Global Entry is $100 and can be renewed every five years. If you’ve ever flown internationally through DFW Airport, you’ve probably experienced the long lines in the gargantuan customs area that await you when you return. With Global Entry, we not only zipped through a special lane with an automated security kiosk, but there’s also an expedited second lane after you get your baggage. The benefit was well worth the money, especially when travelling with tired kids.
On to the sun!
After a direct flight to the Cozumel airport, it was a short taxi ride to the Presidente Cozumel Resort & Spa. With an extensive renovation in 2016, the resort maintains its rank as one of the finest on the island. While its beach is unique - it’s separated into three parts with a pool, hot tub and restaurant palapa serving as the centerpiece - the star of the resort has to be the undersea world at its shores. We spent hours snorkeling around the various reefs and watched thousands of fish swim around us, many of them just as curious about us as we were about them. There’s also a sunken boat, which gave shelter to a couple huge King crabs and an octopus that we saw while we night snorkeled (I highly recommend bringing a few diving flashlights - the kids had the best time watching the underwater show after dark!)
If all-inclusive is more your style, then there’s the Allegro Cozumel and Occidental Cozumel. These sister resorts are owned by the Barcelo Hotel Group and both underwent major renovations in the fall of 2016. Cozumel is known for its world class scuba and snorkeling and most of the hotels have on-site dive centers. The Allegro Cozumel takes it one step further by offering the “Ultimate Dive Experience,” which includes an expedited check-in, private divers’ lounge, and the only dive concierge on the island. The resort also features a theater with shows every night, a teen’s club, and even a kids club where kids ages 4 to 12 can be dropped off while mom and dad go diving.
Tucked back in a sprawling mangrove, the Occidental Cozumel capitalizes on its Spanish Colonial architecture to give visitors a true feeling of tropical seclusion. While the resort was 90 percent full at the time we visited, you never saw any crowds or experienced long lines for drinks or at the restaurants. The Occidental Cozumel is geared for pampering its guests with amenities like room service and even a Royal Club that includes upgraded rooms, a private lounge and concierge service. Like the Allegro Cozumel, the Occidental Cozumel also has a teen club and kids club as well as a theater screen inside their disco for movie nights.
Food and fun
Cozumel may be laid-back, but that doesn’t mean people there don’t like to have a good time. There are several beach clubs on the island and we spent the afternoon with another family there on vacation at Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club. A one-time fee gets you all-inclusive drinks and food and access to several pools that feature swim up bars and a non-stop party atmosphere - think spring break for grown-ups.
Many activities are available, including an aquatic park, scuba and snorkeling trips, helmet diving and even sailboat regattas.
The beach is where it’s at for the kids here and, for an additional fee, they can experience the aquatic park, a series of inflatables including trampolines and climbing walls that will keep them occupied for hours. Other additional activities include horseback riding, ATV tours and massages that are, you guessed it, beachside.
A Cozumel vacation wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the downtown area. A must do during that visit is a meal at Pancho’s Backyard, a Mexican restaurant located in the patio of Los Cinco Soles historical building. Not only did Pancho’s serve up one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had, but the vegetables and fruits tasted like they were picked that day, and many probably were, according to proprietor Francisco Morales. Most of the menu items are familiar to us Texans, but Morales has made a conscious effort to make his dishes heart-healthy. However, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to leave without trying the margarita pie, which is their take on key lime pie. You may just need to jog along the bicycle route back to your hotel after devouring a slice!
While Cozumel is a mecca for all things underwater, there’s still plenty to do for families on the water as well. One of the most exhilarating things I’ve done in a while was the 12-meter sailboat regatta with Sand Dollar Sports. They offer many activities such as scuba and snorkeling trips and even helmet diving, but their most popular experience is crewing either the America’s Cup winning Stars & Stripes boat or the True North IV, as they race each other on a regatta course set up near the cruise ship terminal.Our experienced captain and crew had my boys and me grinding winches and trimming sails on Stars & Stripes in 18-knot winds, creating thrills that will long be relished. TripAdvisor has awarded the experience with their “Certificate of Excellence” for several years, and there’s little wonder why. It was the icing on the cake of our time in Cozumel. We will definitely be back to this sunny outpost where the people are warm, the adventures abound and the vast underwater world is ripe for explorers of all ages.
Links to know:
• Presidente Cozumel Resort & Spa
• Allegro Cozumel
• Occidental Cozumel
• Pancho’s Backyard
• Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club
• Sand Dollar Sports