After spending a year dealing with crazy anxiety and riding the roller coaster of the pandemic, I was thrilled when we decided to travel to Mexico during COVID in May of 2021. Before you gasp, we were fully vaccinated for two full months before we planned our trip. We had been tossing around a weekend getaway with my sister and brother-in-law when her best girlfriends decided that they wanted to come, too. They thought we should go to Mexico, and one of them wanted to get married while we were there. Being ordained to officiate weddings, I was so happy to marry them. This was it. We picked a date, ordered passports, arranged childcare, and took off from work. Wedding/vaca here we come!
As a self-proclaimed travel guru, I went into planning mode. Goodness, I love travel planning, and I have missed it so much. I love researching and finding the jewels in every place we go to. I am a go-with-the-flow person, but I also don't want to miss out on something amazing if there is something amazing to see or do. I also love to find a good deal and even packing for trips is exciting. Yes, I am that person.
Before making a decision, I read about traveling during the pandemic and set realistic expectations. While I am a silver lining and glass-half-full person, I will share with you the pros and cons so that you can mentally prepare yourself. Let's be honest, so much of the world is scrambling to get back on their feet, especially the travel industry, so I knew there would be bumps in the road.
We decided to book a package through All Inclusive Outlet online. They are essentially an online travel agent. I read a few recent reviews from very upset people who had their trips cancelled because of the pandemic, but I also read a ton of great reviews pre-pandemic, so I felt good about this decision. We found an AMAZING deal with nonstop flights through Spirit Airlines, leaving early Friday morning and coming back Monday afternoon, staying at El Dorado Seaside Palms adult only, all-inclusive resort in premium swim out suites. Our group rapidly grew to sixteen with the wedding party and family. Quickly, we all were all booked and started a count down like our lives depended on it.
A few weeks later (less than a month from our travel date), Spirit cancelled our flights out of Austin. I immediately went into panic mode. I emailed All Inclusive Outlet and began to work with Allison. I explained that we were going for a wedding and celebrating anniversaries and birthdays and for the love of all things, we needed to get away so we had to figure this out. Allison quickly became my new BFF. We emailed or talked on the phone daily while we were trying to figure this mess out. First of all, she is the travel agent, and it was no fault of hers or the company she works for that Spirit cancelled all flights to Cancun from Austin for the entire month of May. She worked with the carrier, trying to get our flights moved to DFW. We live in Waco so it was the same distance to Austin as it is to Dallas, and honestly, I would have rode with the luggage if it got me there. Ha. No, seriously. Unfortunately, Spirit only offered AIO the option to move us and have us pay the difference. Well, y'all know how flights work. If you book a few months out, it is much cheaper, but when you book two weeks before, it's going to cost you. We would pay more for the new flight than our entire trip. That was not an option, so I went to plan B and contacted Spirit myself.
I have flown Spirit several times before, and I've never had a problem. When I fly my whole family to Disney, that is usually our go-to airline because it's so affordable. I called Spirit multiple times before I spoke with Matthew who was a travel angel sent from above. I won't waste time talking about the previous phone calls, but as a business owner, I do know this. Some people show up to a job and just do the job but don't actually care about your experience. I don't think that is what Spirit or any company wants from their employees, but they don't know unless we tell them. I wrote down every person's name and employee ID, and you bet I sent an email because we can't do better if we don't know better. Spirit responded immediately to my email, addressed my concerns, and apologized, which I appreciated. So, back to Matthew. Matthew cared that I was a hot mess, spewing drama of a cancelled wedding, living with an essential worker, the need to get the hell out of here for a hot minute, and on and on and on. Matthew didn't try to put me on a ridiculous flight or ask me to sell an organ to get on a flight. He was kind and patient and cared about making things right. We were on the phone for a good hour while he moved ALL 16 of us scheduled with Spirit to new, nonstop flights without charging us anything. God bless Matthew!
My advice to you if you ever get in this situation, first be kind. It's not their fault this is happening. Don't expect everyone to do the right thing. This is not Disney World, and every person who answers the phone isn't willing to make your day magical. Unfortunately, some customer service reps don't actually care about customers. But, there are people like Matthew who do care and that man hung the moon and the stars for me. Don't waste your time talking to people who aren't like Matthew. Just ask to be transferred to another supervisor and move on. Also, remember that we are still in a pandemic, and I'm quite sure the travel industry is turning their underwear inside out for longer use and all sharing a travel size tooth paste because they are still upside down and inside out with the daily changes. They have probably received more ugly phone calls and hate emails in the last year then the previous ten years combined. This situation sucks for everyone. Kindness goes a long way friends.
Will I book with All Inclusive Outlet again? Absolutely! Next time, I will be sure to get travel insurance. Will I fly Spirit again? Yup! Do I wish my life wasn't a complete meltdown for four entire days because of this bump in the road? Well, duh, but it all worked out, and I was so, so thankful.
Aside from passports, we had to fill out a Mexico tourist card online. Fill that out and print it. We also had to fill out a health questionnaire online, but you can't do that until it's within 12 hours of your flight. Do it BEFORE you get to the airport. It's all about COVID. They will not let you get your ticket without these two things. When you enter Mexico, they will stamp your tourist card. Put it in a safe place because you will need it when you leave. You will give it back to the airline attendant checking you in to head home. Go ahead and download the resort app while you have strong Wi-Fi (even though the resort Wi-Fi was pretty good). The app will show you specials for the spa, Bali bed packages, restaurant options and menus, room service menus, etc. It's very helpful.
We had a great flight and were ready to get our mini vaca on. I would encourage you to book transport to your resort before you get there because it's kinda crazy as soon as you step out the doors from the airport. Stay together and find your transporter. We booked with Lomas Travel, who is owned by the same company as our resort. We quickly got on a private little bus and off we went. Due to construction and being midday Friday, it took us an hour and a half to get to our resort. Luckily there was a cooler full of beer for those who wanted it on the bus. I'm not a beer drinker, but I think it helped a few others. (Our travel back only took about an hour because there was less traffic.)
When we arrived at El Dorado Seaside Palms, it was beautiful. There wasn't a long line for check in, and there was a bar right there with people handing out drinks. I'm am not a big drinker, but I won't turn away a pina colada in Mexico. Also, that is now a lie. I tried over a dozen drinks in three days. 🤣 When we checked in, we got the room we paid for but my sister did not. They were over booked for the swim out rooms. I had read in a Facebook fan page for the resort that this had happened to a few others. I can't imagine what it is like to run these large resorts when people book months in advance and they fluctuate between the amount of people they are allowed to have due to COVID numbers. Some weeks they are allowed 30% capacity, others (like ours), it was 60%. Of course it stinks to not get what you paid for, but I think we all have to be flexible until things get back to 100%. My sister was still in our building for that night but not with a swim out, so they just came down to our room to enter our pool. Roberto, the front desk manager, was very apologetic and promised to take care of us, and he absolutely did. The next day, they moved my sister and brother-in-law to a Presidential Suite for the next two nights to make it up to them. Y'all, this was a freaking house with it's own pool attached to our premium building. They were not disappointed!
We loved our room. It was huge. You could have a foam party in the bath tub; it was so big.😂 We had a couch and king size bed with a large flat screen tv, a table with two chairs, two closets, and a massive bathroom. We had a mini fridge full of water, soda, beer, and snacks. When stepping out of our sliding door, we had a huge couch where we could take naps on and two lounge chairs in the pool for sunbathing. We could step down into our building's pool (which honestly was only used by the people in our building) and swim a few steps over to our own swim up bar. It was AMAZING. This was worth the four days of travel stress. All forgiven. I was in heaven.
The premium building was right next to the town square, which is where the nightly entertainment is. It also included several local vendors who set up every night. My husband bought a few really good cigars. Friday night there was a mariachi band, flame throwers, etc. We met the famous Antonio who serves the most spectacular drinks out of an orange van. He has a gift! I don't really like alcohol, but he was a little magician in that van, and I didn't have one drink that I didn't love. Saturday night, there was a DJ playing rock tunes, and on Sunday night, there was a live band with a great singer. He was my favorite. I loved spending time with my forever date every night.
After we settled in on Friday, we hopped in a gazebo on the beach and had a short and sweet wedding service. Though this resort offers an amazing wedding ceremony package, we didn't need this. Our couple wanted short and simple, which is exactly what we did. I was so honored to help join these two families for their second chance at love, and it was the sweetest exchange of wedding vows. The pictures we took turned out beautiful too. I may start a new business. Need me to marry you in Mexico? I'm in! 💕
We arrived too late on Friday to make our reservations with the concierge, but I strongly suggest you do that as soon as you can. Because of COVID, you have to make restaurant reservations, though you could possibly walk in if they aren't booked, which is what we did Friday night. We only ate as a group once and otherwise split into smaller groups to do our own thing. We loved everywhere we ate. The portions are small, but they do that on purpose. It's all inclusive, so they expect you to order a few of everything, and you should because it's that good. The Culinarium was my favorite. Get the stone soup if you love seafood, and order the volcano dessert. Oh, and the steak will melt in your mouth. Klay Tay has amazing sushi. Definitely try the coconut crème brûlée. It is to die for! We were able to get a table for all 16 of us at Mi Casa, which is a wonderful Italian restaurant. I would consider all three of these fine dining. They have buffets, but we ate at the restaurants every night for a more high-end experience.
We ate at the Beach BBQ every day for lunch. I loved the ceviche, and my husband (not a seafood lover) ate hamburgers and meatloaf subs. Their Hawaiian wings are good, too. Next to the Beach BBQ, there is a great wood fire pizza place and a burrito place. If you want nachos, that's where you go. On Sunday, they had a seafood BBQ on the beach. You can get tacos for free but the lobster is a $30 up charge, but totally worth it. Everything is so fresh!
Room service is 24 hours a day. I loved their chicken and cheese quesadillas as a snack. It's not on the menu, but you can order chips and guacamole, and it's great. You can order any mixed drinks, too, but you have to order it with food. It took 30-45 minutes to get our order each time. You can also preorder a pot of coffee and breakfast the night before to be at your room at a specific time the next morning if you want a little breakfast in bed or need your coffee as soon as your eyes open. My husband loved the coffee. It was too strong for me.
We rented a Bali bed on Sunday. They are free, but it's first come, first serve. We chose the least expensive package for $56. It reserved a bed for us all day and gave us a beach butler, who delivered a huge cooler (actually it was this massive, fancy metal bowl) with beer, soda, and water. We also got a nice fruit bowl and bottle of champagne. It was totally worth it. My sister rented the bed next to us and our entire group hung out for the day.
The Palms side has the best beach. You really don't need water shoes unless you have sensitive feet. The initial walk in has a lot of tiny little shell pieces, but other than that, it's super soft sand and the water is so clear. I loved seeing such a beautiful habitat. Make sure you wear reef-friendly sun block to help preserve it. If you want to snorkel, it's a great place, but bring your own gear. Because of COVID, they don't provide it right now. We bounced between our pool and the beach, which was only a five-minute walk. It really was perfect.
Make sure you wander down the beach to check out the swings and hammocks. This is the one thing we didn't do that is on our list for next time. There has to be a next time!
Our pool didn't play music, so we brought out a Bluetooth speaker and stayed on one side of the pool. Another group had a speaker with their music on the other side. We all got along great and shared tons of laughs at the bar. Everyone was so friendly and fun. You won't meet a stranger! We didn't swim at night because it was a little too cold for my liking without the sun, and everyone lived their best life during the day, so we were safer out of the water at night.😂
The bartender at our pool calls it a night at 6:00 p.m., but you can swim 24/7. Just be mindful of the guests sleeping. If rowdy is your scene, there is definitely a place for that at the late night bar. The famous Antonio makes drinks in the square until 10:00 p.m., and if you are ready to get your twerk on, or wobble in my 40-year-old case, there is a bar right next to beach volleyball that is open until 2:00 a.m. We never made it past 11:30 p.m., but I felt like that was a win considering we are usually in bed by 9:00 p.m. each night. Ha! They have fun swings you can sit on and a dance floor that stayed busy. Just know that if you aren't used to dropping it like it's hot, you may need some ibuprofen the next morning…or so I heard from a friend. 😉
My husband and brother-in-law had never had a massage, so we had to put an end to that nonsense. We booked early morning couples massages on the beach. It was perfection. First of all, no one is awake at 8:00 a.m. Second, the breeze and the sound of the waves brings your experience to a whole ‘nother level. This was a splurge worth it times a million. I have a feeling this will not be the last time our fellas get a massage. Also, I'm quite sure they will want these robes for Father's Day this year because they didn't want to take them off. 😂
We purchased the couples spa package that gave you a 50-minute massage, plus 15 minutes of reflexology on your feet at the beach. It also came with an hour of hydro massage. Usually, you would do that first to get you nice and relaxed, but the schedule didn't allow for that so we had to do the hydro experience after our massage on the beach. For that, you first go into a steam room that smells heavenly and rub a mud mask on your body. After ten minutes, you rinse yourself off with hot water. It opens your pores and is so relaxing. Then, you move to a cold room that has a different smell but equally heavenly. Next, you move on to a small pool that has all of these water features and jets to loosen up your muscles. Last, you hop between three small tubs that are cool, hot, then cold. I definitely can see how this prepares your body for the most relaxing massage. If we weren't booking for the next day with limited times, we definitely would have done the hydro experience first.
Now, a splurge we decided was not worth doing was the private dinner on the beach. It's pretty pricey but I'm a sucker for sweet, romantic experiences. We sat in these lit tp things at sunset which were really pretty but the food was not good and it took foreverrrr. We expected since we were paying so much extra for this meal, the portions would not be teeny tiny….yeah, no. The orders were initially incorrect. My husband's food was cooked wrong, and it took another half hour for him to get his meal, and by then we were all done because it was literally four bites. The music was comical. It was classic hits but basically sung by karaoke bands. We turned it into a game…who actually sings this tragic song? Luckily, we had a back up plan and also made dinner reservations for later that night for sushi and dessert, which we definitely needed. So, maybe skip that and just do a walk on the beach at sunset and take pictures. Spend your money at the spa instead.
We did have to get a COVID test. I have been tested eight or so times at home because my asthma issues mimic COVID symptoms, and I will say that this was a little worse. I felt like their q-tips were smaller and they went further up, but it was over in two minutes, and I lived to drink another drink. Ha. Luckily, this is a service our resort offered and paid for. I definitely would make sure you stay somewhere that also offers this service because that could be a huge time suck if you have to leave your resort to wait in line somewhere to get tested.
We thought if we got there early, we would get out early. Nope. They go in order and it's a waste of time to be there a minute before you are supposed to (which I also appreciated). Also worth mentioning, make sure you schedule your test as soon as you arrive so you get a time, and if you don't receive an email that day, follow up with someone. We had a few in our group that didn't do that, and they had to come at the end of testing for an all-call and that was stressful. You have to test within 72 hours before boarding your flight home, so make sure you get that scheduled ASAP and within that window. They only test on Monday-Saturday. This was a little complicated for our large group because testing on Saturday was our only option to make our flights on Monday, but it all worked out.
Monday morning came and none of us wanted to leave. Because we were flying internationally and because of COVID, we had to leave for the airport four hours early. On your way to the airport, go ahead and fill out that Health Questionnaire because you will need it again to leave Mexico. Hopefully your resort emailed you your COVID results. At the bottom is a QR code. You don't need to print it off; just show it on your phone. The airport will scan that when they check you in. Have a pen ready, too, because you will have to fill out a quick form stating that you took the test yourself, and you were not exposed to anyone with symptoms. Then at security, you will need your health questionnaire email and passport. The more organized you are, the faster it will go. Something else I loved about our resort is that they had scales in the bathroom, which I assume is for your luggage because who cares about anything else on vaca. Clearly not us. I gained seven pounds and my husband gained ten. 🤣 But, we probably consumed more calories with all those frozen drinks in one day than we do in a week at home. Our bodies were definitely freaking out. Ha. Our suitcase was overweight going home, but we were fine with that.
The airport does have a pretty great duty-free store, so try to leave room in your backpack or carry on if you want to shop. We bought a few bottles of Havana Club Rum because you can't buy that in the U.S., and it's a favorite of my husbands.
My overall tips for traveling:
It's totally worth it to go all inclusive, and if you need a break from kids (no judgement), go adults only.
Ask for premium liquors. They have them and will use them. I really don't know the difference because at home, I rarely drink, but my sister schooled me.
Eat all the things. Definitely go outside of the box. Try one of everything. We found so many amazing new foods this way. The seafood was so fresh, so if you are a seafood lover, wear elastic lol. Oh, and eat the coconut ice cream. Yum!
Pick a few things to splurge on. The spa and bali beds were a major win for us.
Tip well. These people work so hard and depend on it. I know it's all-inclusive, but they go above and beyond to treat you like kings and queens. Bring those dollar bills, y'all!
Don't overpack. You seriously need a bathing suit and cover up for each day and a nice night outfit. Bring more than one swimsuit because if you swim in the morning, you don't want to get in a cold suit later that night. Pack a bag for all of your wet clothes when you travel home, too.
Get out of your comfort zone. I wore several high wasted bikinis and a night outfit that showed some of my stomach. You will never see me in that at home, but when in Mexico, who cares. Live it up! I purchased all of my trip clothes from SHEIN. Make sure you have accurate measurements and read reviews. They are incredibly affordable and so stinking cute.
If you want a cocktail, drink a dang cocktail. My favs: pina colada, superman, dirty monkey (it's frozen and tastes like banana and a little chocolate), mud slide, mermaid, chocolate martini, mango margarita, snickers shot, slippery nipple shot, green eyes….clearly you can see how I gained seven pounds. Ha! Between the drink sampling and gourmet food, I was doomed.
Don't arrive early for your COVID test. Yes, it sucks but just suck it up. Be nice to the testers, too. It's not their fault we have to do this. I was appalled at how rude people can be. Also, can we talk about how everyone on the plane had to have a negative test, but we all still had to wear masks? Things that make you go hmmmm.
Bring your own party or make one. Meaning, if you are flying solo, make friends. Don't be upset that things aren't lively enough for you if you choose to sit there. Just get up and dance. No one cares if you don't have rhythm.
I would say have realistic expectations, but I think it's better to not set expectations. Obviously we spend our hard earned money on a trip and want it to be perfect, but right now, our world is anything but perfect. I don't know about you, but I think I have said that I feel like we are living in a movie exactly one million times throughout the last year. So, your trip will be what you make of it. And if it is becoming a little bit of a mess, grab a drink from the list above and go put your toes in the clean, white sand or dive into the beautiful ocean.
Our resort had three sections. Palms, which is where we stayed and never ventured out of, Seaside, which has different food and entertainment options, and Hidden Beach, which is truly hidden because I never even noticed it was there. It's for the free spirits of the world and clothing is not optional. Not my scene, but it's an option.
From before we boarded the flight to Cancun until we got back to our car to head home, I felt completely safe. Everyone is still taking COVID seriously. There was even someone in the bathroom cleaning each toilet before the next person used it at the DFW airport. All employees wore masks everywhere we went in the U.S. and in Mexico. There were sanitation stations and signs for social distancing. People who wanted to wear masks on the beach, did.
I look forward to traveling again with an understanding that people are just doing the best they can. All the bumps in the road were totally worth it, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. When you feel safe, book a trip. Get on the plane and make some memories. Support your local businesses and support those far away, too. We have all been through a lot during the last year and deserve a “get out of jail” card. Who knew a weekend in Mexico would be the thing to give me so much life back? It wasn't perfection, but it was oh, so perfect!
But seriously, when can we go back?✈🏖☀😎🍹
Also, thank you to my parents for keeping Bennett for four nights, so we could escape and fill our cups (literally) with much needed peace and joy. We appreciate you!
**All of these opinions are my own. This was not a hosted travel experience, and we paid for everything. Some photos are from El Dorado Seaside's Facebook page because I was too busy being present on this personal trip than taking all the pics. More than anything, I want to share my experiences to hopefully show you that these options exist and could be an option for you this year. I hope you do plan the trip and start making up for lost time. You won't regret it! Please feel to reach out if you have any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy travels!