My extended family and I—three generations, 15 of us in all—celebrated Christmas and New Year’s at the Iberostar Tucan near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It was the most convenient and most fun family vacation we’ve ever had. Would I recommend it for families or honeymooners traveling with children? Absolutely! I’d also suggest it for newlyweds seeking some romance and relaxation—with a few caveats.
The Iberostar Tucan is actually comprised of two separate hotels—the Tucan and the Iberostar Quetzal. The separate hotel “wings” of three-story buildings share the same pool, large buffet restaurant, a la carte restaurants, beach and evening entertainment, so I’m frankly not sure why they have different names.
Nonetheless, we booked one of the ocean-view junior suites on the Tucan side. Whether you’re traveling with children, or just the two of you, book the suites for the extra space and the fabulous view of the white-sand beach and turquoise ocean. We had two queen beds and there were two single day beds that the kids slept on (and served as couches, too).
The resort is part of a hotel strip called Playacar, south of the town of Playa del Carmen. A dozen or so all-inclusive resorts line the beach here, and the Playacar has its own little tourist market. It’s only a 30-minute walk (or cheap 5-minute taxi ride) into town, where there’s plenty of shopping, hair braiding that is loads cheaper than at Iberostar, and restaurants—including “Americanized” standbys like McDonald’s, Senor Frogs and Carlos & Charlie's. Head off the beaten path of Playa’s 5th Avenue to enjoy more authentic Mexican food.
But since our food was already paid for at Iberostar, we ate the large majority of our meals on property. We found plenty of items to our liking for breakfast at the plentiful buffet restaurant—pancakes, French toast, made-to-order omelettes, granola and cereals, and much, much more. Lunch was served at the beachside “fast-food” restaurant, and it typically offered hot dogs and hamburgers, French fries, a salad bar, pasta and at least one entrée that changed daily.
Buffet dinners, too, offered plenty of variety for us. My children especially loved that pizza and ice cream were available every night! But perhaps the highlight of our dining experience was our reservation at the a la carte Japanese restaurant. (The number of meals you are guaranteed at the a la carte restaurants depend on how long your stay at the resort is; we enjoyed four nights of off-the-menu dining at the Japanese, Tropical, Italian and Mexican restaurants.) The Japanese restaurant was fun because it's set up similarly to Benihana restaurants—patrons sit around a large cooktop to watch the chef put on a show as he or she stir-fries veggies, chicken, beef and even octopus. The food there was excellent.
The resort’s grounds are lovely. The walk from the main lobby and dining hall to your accommodations is through a jungle that was still recuperating from Hurricane Wilma when we visited at the end of 2005. And the lack of vegetation actually made it easier to view the dozens of animals that make their home there.
When we traveled over Christmas vacation, my children had a ball meeting other vacationing kids; they frolicked in the pool, built sand-castles on the beach and played in the relatively calm ocean (on one windy day, the waves really picked up). There is a popular on-site kids’ club, and the “Star Friends” (activity staff) is constantly holding limbo contests, water aerobics, beach Olympics, Spanish classes, soccer matches and volleyball games. Every day at noon and 4 p.m. the Star Friends perform a dance routine to two upbeat songs blasting through the poolside speakers Never a dull moment at the Iberostar Tucan!
Which leads to my caveats: If you and your new spouse are looking for a quiet, romantic resort to get away from it all, this may not be the property for you. It’s an active, fun place, with plenty of things to keep you busy at the hotel (borrow a catamaran, go snorkeling, ride jet ski). We traveled during a school vacation week, so it was packed with kids—if the resort appeals, and you don’t want to be overrun with small people, don’t book during the summer months or over the holidays.
That said, it is possible to chill out in a lounge chair under a thatched palapa on the beach, and just kick back and relax. You can have romantic evenings dining at a table for two. You can dance the night away in the disco, rent a car and explore nearby ruins, spend a morning getting pampering treatments at the on-site spa and go shopping together in Playa del Carmen. And if you book through Apple Vacations (see link below) honeymooners receive a bottle of domestic wine, fruit basket and two souvenir T-shirts.
But if it were my honeymoon, I think I’d also consider a more luxurious resort that caters a bit more to adults. On my walks along the beach, I passed by the Royal Hideaway Playacar, an adults-only all-inclusive (teenagers are allowed). This AAA five-diamond resort is on my list as an ideal grown-up getaway I’d like to enjoy… someday!