Apr 13, 2014

The Perfect Spring Break Family Vacation in Los Cabos, Mexico

Last week we were in Los Cabos for the kids' spring break.  Our two criteria for a spring break vacation were 1) Warm weather, and 2) Relative close proximity to San Francisco.

One year we went to San Diego and nearly froze.  We found out that San Diego weather in March is not much different than San Francisco's.  Surprisingly, we were told by the locals that Los Angeles to the north was warmer in March.  Who knew?! However, given that we were just there (Disneyland) last June, we didn't want to return again so soon.

That left us with Mexico or Hawaii.

We chose Mexico because it's much closer than Hawaii (2.5 hour flight vs. a 5 hour flight!) and we already had passports so why not??

I booked in January through Expedia and was shocked by its affordability.  We booked our lodging and flight together. Nonstop roundtrip flights for 4 people from SFO to SJD on Virgin America Airlines and 5 nights at an all-inclusive resort on a swimmable* beach was only $3,186.00.  !!!!

*Most beaches in the Los Cabos area are not safe for swimming due to strong currents and powerful undertows.

There are several family-friendly all-inclusive resorts in the Los Cabos area so deciding on one was tough!  After exhaustive research, I finally settled on the Melia Cabo Real Golf & Beach Resort. It is a relatively small resort (306 rooms vs. 500+ at some of the other family-friendly all-inclusive resorts), has a kids' club, is closer to San Jose del Cabo rather than Cabo San Lucas (we were a little worried about drunken partying college kids in Cabo San Lucas), and - very important for us - on a beach that was safe for swimming.

Source: Melia.com

The Melia is on the "Tourist Corridor" (i.e. on the highway between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas) and not walking distance to any restaurants.  As a result, it was important for us to be at an all-inclusive since we would be eating many meals at the resort rather than in town.  And we definitely didn't want to be in town much for fear of rowdy partiers.

There are two full-service restaurants on-site, one Mediterranean (La Terazza) and one Japanese (Kujira) that require reservations, as well as a buffet and a poolside snack bar.  We ate dinner at the reservations-required restaurants one time each, ate lunch at the snack bar once, and had all other meals at the buffet restaurant.  The kids were in heaven!  They had never been to a buffet before and loved that they could get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.  Of course, they were most impressed with the dessert table.

The buffet is completely open-air with stunning, unobstructed views of the ocean.  One morning while eating breakfast we spotted whales!

The food at the full-service restaurants was very good but the food at the buffet was hit-and-miss.  However, there was lots of variety.  The breakfasts were the most impressive with its oatmeal bar, smoothie bar, juice bar, fixings for mimosas, made-to-order grill, fresh fruit, salads, pancakes & waffles, chilequiles.  With my mostly paleo diet, it was easy for me to work within my diet constraints.  I am not a regular coffee drinker and am not a connoisseur by any means and yet I found the coffee to be pretty bad: weak and lacking flavor.  Fortunately, I brought a few packets of Starbucks instant coffee and used that a couple times.

We spent two of our 4 full days at the pool and beach.  I packed Gumby's life jacket so it was really nice to snap it on and then relax knowing she was not going to drown if I turned my back for a second.  Crumpet's a strong swimmer so I didn't have to worry about him at all.  Plus, the entire large pool was fairly shallow; almost-10-year-old Crumpet could touch the bottom everywhere.  It was sweet when they took off together swimming to explore the pool.

And I loved the swim-up bar!  Pina coladas or margaritas for me; Shirley Temples and virgin pina coladas for the kids.

Source: Melia.com

In addition to the kids club, there were planned kid activities at 8 pm every night.  One night there was a piñata, another night we watched the movie "Frozen" under the stars, and on another night there was a disco dance contest (everyone won and got prizes).  The kids really looked forward to these activities every night.

Adult shows & entertainment were scheduled at 9 pm every night.  We only attended one show, the Mexican dancing performance, and really enjoyed it.

We went whale watching one day.  Humpback whales begin their migration back to Alaska in mid-April so we were at the tail end of the whale watching season... and that meant we would be seeing babies! Gumby was especially excited about that.

We had originally wanted to do a tour on the pirate ship Buccaneer Queen but found they had already closed down tours for the whale watching season.  The activities agent at the resort recommended a whale watching tour with Ocean Riders.  We had a blast!

The ride was nearly as fun as the whale sightings!  It was high-speed and very much like a roller coaster.  On the way out to the whales, we stopped by El Arco (The Arch) and Playa del Amor (Lover's Beach) for photo opportunities.

In front of El Arco
Lover's Beach
We saw several groups of three whales: Baby, mama, and another adult guardian.  We were able to get pretty close to a couple of the groups.  The small boats we were in almost made it seems like we were swimming with them.  Very exciting.

3 whales and a whale-watching boat

Another day we took the rental car into Cabo San Lucas to explore.  We didn't do much other than walk the streets, check out the natural history museum in the town square, briefly browse the fancy mall, and eat lunch.

The kids with beautiful birds on the marina

On our very last day and on our way to the airport, the kids did the Dolphin Kids dolphin encounter with Cabo Dolphins in San Jose del Cabo.  This was awesome!

In this small group session, the kids got to "train", feed, dance with, kiss, pose for pictures, and swim with their dolphin, Tlatoani.  We splurged on this "once in a lifetime" experience.  The session was a total of 30 minutes: 10 minutes of instruction and 20 minutes in the water with the dolphin.  If you decide to do this, know that you will have to buy the professional photos if you want the experience documented.  All non-participants are required to stay in a waiting area next to the pool and it is impossible to get good photos from there.  We bought the entire CD of photos plus the video on DVD.  The photos turned out really well; it was hard to choose our favorites!

Rental Car:
Rental cars are deceptively cheap in Los Cabos.  When I originally booked, I reserved through Thrifty for $12/day.  Could that be true?  According to my research on Trip Advisor, it was not.  Mexico law requires everyone to have "supplemental liability insurance" even if you pay with a credit card.  In the United States, our credit card covered liability insurance when renting cars.  In Mexico, the supplemental insurance will double or even triple the quoted rental cost and is a surprise cost when you actually show up to check out the car.  I ended up cancelling with Thrifty and booking through BBB Rentacar mainly because the owner, Gary, is very honest and is one of the only companies that provides a "what you see if what you get" quote that includes the supplemental insurance.  A 5-day rental including supplemental insurance was $216 and change with BBB.  I was quoted $87 at Thrifty, which didn't include insurance (and who knows how much that would have cost??).

BBB is conveniently located near the airport.  Gary doesn't provide a shuttle but he does pay for the cab to get to the office... and after your vacation he personally drives you to the airport *in the rental car* so that you don't have to hassle with unpacking and repacking luggage.  I thought that was a nice touch.

We could not have asked for better weather.  During the first half of our trip we enjoyed gorgeous crystal clear blue skies with high temps in the 80s, lows in the 60s.  During the second half of the trip the skies were partly cloudy but the temps remained the same.  I think spring is the perfect time to visit Los Cabos because of the impeccable weather.  I've heard from friends that it gets very hot in the summer, especially in August.

What We Packed:
I know, I know.  I can't talk about a vacation without talking about what & how we packed.  Packing was simple for a short warm-weather vacation such as this.  As usual, we each brought one carry-on.  Along with the standard warm weather clothing and basic hygiene items, we also brought two bathing suits each and a small bottle of SPF 50 sunblock lotion each.  The kids and I brought long-sleeved rash guards - our first time using them - and didn't get sunburned.  Mars did not bring one and got sunburned.  I packed Gumby's life jacket so that I wouldn't have to worry about Gumby's safety; this was a must!  I don't know what we would have done without it.  I also brought a few individual-serving packets of Starbucks decaf coffee (I used 2 or 3 packets) and a few granola bars in case the kids got hungry (we didn't use them).  Gumby and I each brought a cotton dress to use as a pool/beach cover-up.  Of course, everyone brought flip-flops for using at the pool and beach.  And it goes without saying that Mars and I brought sunglasses.  The resort provided beach towels so we didn't have to pack those.

All in all, we had such an amazing time that we are now planning to go back to Los Cabos every year for spring break.  It's an easy, inexpensive vacation that is sure to please.

Where do you vacation for spring break?  If you've been to Los Cabos, where do you stay and what activities have you done?

I am not affiliated with Expedia, Melia Cabo Real Golf & Beach Resort, Virgin America, BBB Rentacar, Ocean Rider, or Cabo Dolphins and was not paid or compensated in any way to publish my opinion.

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