Viva Cancun - Traveling with Friends

My husband and I spent five nights in Cancun with a couple friend of ours. How does one plan a trip for four people with different travel expectations? And if the trip itinerary fails, would we still all be friends at the end?


"The Seven"

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Princess00 on August 31, 2010

Over the years, the authenticity of Cancun has been replaced with a very Americanized city which caters to their northern border neighbors. If you are seeking a more authentic Mexican experience, it is better found in the downtown Cancun area or farther south or inland. But, if you, like many other visitors to Cancun, are looking for a fun beach vacation in a foreign country but don’t want to feel like a foreigner, Cancun is the place to visit. It is very friendly to American tourists as most locals speak English and take the American dollar in addition to the Mexican Peso.

The geography of Cancun is essentially described as a "Seven". Looking at the city of Cancun on a map, the coastline stretches north and south with the Gulf of Mexico on its eastward coastline and a freshwater lagoon on its westward coastline. Then, the land curves westward for a shorter distance, forming a ‘seven’. The seven shaped area is casually known as the "Cancun Hotel Zone" as most of the resort hotels in Cancun are located along this stretch of land. If you travel westward past the top of the ‘seven’, you will eventually end up in the downtown Cancun area. The beaches in the Cancun Hotel Zone vary depending on your hotel location. Along the long end of the seven, you will find the whitest and prettiest stretch of sand and water; however, you will also find stronger surf which will take the strongest hit during a heavy storm. During a prior trip, I stayed at the Royal Sands Hotel along this long stretch and enjoyed wide shores of beautiful sandy white beach (pre-Wilma). During my seven day stay, there was only one day with a green flag which indicated safe swimming conditions. Further, shoreline along the longer stretch is very transient – one day it could be a wide stretch of white powder and the next – it could be almost missing with only the hotel’s bulkhead and a few resort chairs perched precariously on a toothpick sized plot of sand. The local tourist agencies in Cancun are committed to ensuring that these beaches remain protected and are quickly rebuilt after a strong storm washes them away. Along the top end of the beach, the sand and water is not as "pretty" as the further east towards downtown, the salt ocean water begins to mix with the freshwater of the lagoon. However, La Mujeres island is located just offshore of the point of the seven (where our hotel FAGCB was located) and buffers the stronger surf which dominates the long end of the seven. Therefore, surf on the short end of the seven is typically calmer and the sandy shoreline is generally more predictable as it is less likely to wash away from a hurricane.

Transportation in Cancun is efficient, easy, and cheap. The local bus service runs regularly at all hours along the Cancun Hotel Zone and certain routes will also take a tourist to the downtown Cancun area. One way service cost approximately $0.40 during our visit (June 2008), making it a very reasonable mode of transportation. The buses are not air conditioned; however, you typically do not ride on them for very long before finding your destination. Cab service is also available and recommended if traveling downtown. It is a little bit more costly than the bus, but for safety purposes, recommended IMO. Other modes of transportation include booking a private car tour which is helpful if one is interested in visiting areas south of Cancun. A tour operator we used to visit Tulum which we recommend is
Entertainment Plus (http://www.entertainment-plus.net/index.cfm). They offer a variety of different tour options for visiting areas outside of Cancun.

Cancun is located within close proximity to a number of different tourist attractions, allowing a traveler to escape the area for a day trip and explore some of the great historical sites that Mexico has to offer. Most notably – Tulum, Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Coba. Within a day trip, travelers can also visit one of two ecological water parks Xel-ha and Xcaret. The city of Cancun also contains options for golf, shopping, dining, and entertainment. Most of the shopping malls contain the standard retail fare that you would see in an American shopping mall. Located in the corner of the seven is a local flea market where one can pick up Mexican pottery, blankets, or vanilla. Hair braiding and henna tattoos are readily available within most of the local shopping areas. A particular favorite shopping mall of ours was La Isla Shopping Village which was located on the lagoon side and artfully designed with water from the lagoon flowing from canals and lined by retail stores.


Our Accommodations


Excellent Service! Great Beach and Hotel!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Princess00 on December 28, 2008

My husband and I visited the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach with a couple friend from June 13-June 18, 2008. I will preface my review to say that I have stayed at a few nice hotels in my time (the Ritz Carlton Tokyo being tops) and a small number of Caribbean resorts. I will compare this hotel with what I am familiar with.

Rooms: We booked a Junior Partial Ocean View suite with a non-smoking room and king bed. Upon arrival, we were informed that a king bed was not available and we could either wait about an hour for a room to be ready or take a double bed. The reservation desk, as a consolation, offered us a room on a higher floor that was considered an Ocean View. We gladly took the double bed on a higher floor. Upon arriving at the room, we were pleased with the accommodations. The rooms were clean with marble floors and bath and a little sitting area that leads out onto a balcony. This hotel was built in the 90s, I think. Although I felt like the rooms were lovely to look at, it is clear that they will need to make a few updates to the rooms to keep up with some of the newer hotels. My only complaint for the room was the shower area, which did have a slightly larger than standard tub, but when the curtain was closed, the area felt unusually dark. Additionally, the lighting fixtures in the shower area and vanity area need some update.

View: Now, I have no complaints about our view because we booked a Partial Ocean View. The view, if standing in the room staring straight out, all you could see was the resort’s coral colored units on the other side of the building. However, if you stepped out onto the balcony, you could see the entire ocean, pool, and beach below. Being a partial ocean view, I was very satisfied with the view. If it was a full ocean view, I might have been disappointed to not be able to view the ocean when standing inside the suite.

Balcony: The balcony was a nice size with little chairs to sit at night.

Beach: If you are looking for a great beach, check out this hotel. The beach was pristine with a large stretch of powdery white sand. Every day we were there, a yellow flag was flying. The waves were calm (as being broken by the reef offshore) and it was easy to swim and float in the water. We even saw some friendly locals swimming at the FAGCB beach which I took as an obvious sign that this is a good place to be. My last visit to Cancun (pre-Wilma), we stayed at the Royal Sands which is on the long stretch of the seven. The one comparison that I can make between the long end of the 7 and the FAGCB that no one has previously mentioned is the fact that not once during our stay did we see anyone ‘peddling’ things on the beach. In my previous visit to Cancun on the long end of the 7, I was constantly bothered by someone trying to sell me something, which after a while, got tiresome.

Pool: My husband and I are beach people. Our couple friends are pool people. Both of us, though, can say that the FAGCB is absolutely splendid. It is actually 4 pools combined into one pool with little waterfalls that separate each. There is one pool with a playground area nearby where most families sat. There is a small pool with a volleyball net over the water for activities. There is the Grand Club Pool, which most of the chairs are reserved for priority guests. And then there was the pool we used. It had a lovely infinity edge that stretched out about 3-4 feet where you could lounge in about 1 inch of water and look out onto the beach. Or, you could stretch your arms over the edge of the infinity pool and look out at the crashing waves. It was so relaxing. The little waterfalls that connect each pool were wonderful as you could climb up on the steps and sit and let the water rush over you – very relaxing. Oh, and the pool bathroom … no one ever mentioned this, but it was clean and as nice as the bathroom in your suite. They even provided hand towels instead of the normal paper product and a little thing of lotion and soap for you to use. Very well thought extra touch.

Food: We ate breakfast one morning and ate at the pool bar twice. Breakfast – one of us got the buffet and 2 of us ordered a la carte. We have no complaints. I think if you are hungry and can enjoy the quantity of food at the buffet, it is worth the $30 price tag. If you are not that hungry, order a la carte and get just what you want. Both are very good. As for the pool bar – this is my ONE complaint of the whole hotel where I believe it does not live up to its status. In my opinion (as well as my traveling companions), the food was TERRIBLE. I know pool food is not usually good, but given how amazing everything else is, it was blatantly obvious how off it was. Do not get the chicken burger. I guess I was expecting a piece of grilled or fried chicken or maybe even something processed like McDonald’s. Well, to compare … I don’t know if it was chicken – it didn’t taste like chicken – and I would rather have eaten at McDonald’s. If you are expecting good pool food and want to eat there every day, you will likely be disappointed.

Service: The service at FAGCB is what puts this hotel above anything I have stayed at before (besides the Tokyo Ritz). The people of Mexico are so helpful and polite. Upon arrival, we received a nice cold towel and a fresh glass of fruit juice. Then, we were greeted by the bellman who took our bags immediately to our room upon checkout, explaining the resort as we went. The maid service was quick and efficient, even taking the time to stack my husband’s golf tees that he had left out on the dresser. They have a nightly turndown service. The maid service always happened to stop by our room for turn down when we were in the room cleaning up from the pool and getting ready to head out for dinner. After a few nights of noting that we were in our room, they made a special effort to time the turn down on our last night at a time they knew we would be out. Soft lights, a chocolate candy, etc. it was a wonderful touch, and expected for a 5 diamond hotel. Another nice touch were the many bellmen waiting at the front door of the hotel to sweep open the door for anyone arriving or departing. I got so spoiled with not having to open a door when we exited, I kept wondering if one of the bellmen has every forgotten to open a door and witnessed a guest smack right into the glass!

Taxi’s! Here is a really great service that the hotel offers. When we arranged a cab to take us downtown for dinner at La Parilla (yummy!), our cab driver arrived with a brand new taxi cab. One of my traveling companions began to ask him about his car and he explained his cab by pointing at the five diamonds in the side window of the car. He further explained that only a select number of cabs are able to pick up any guests at the FAGCB and the taxi cab and driver must meet very high standard qualifications to obtain the 5 diamond. Without that sticker, they are not permitted to transmit guests of the hotel. When we asked our driver to come pick us up after dinner, he was very happy to oblige and was waiting for us at the designated time and location we requested him to pick us up about 2 hours later. It is the little things that make the amenities at this hotel top notch.

Concierge: We made dinner reservations off site for all of our evenings. The concierge booked all of our reservations with no difficulties prior to our arrival via email, providing us with an itinerary with confirmation number and various pertinent information. We experienced no problems with this service.

Many people might complain about the cost of items at the hotel. Hotel food and water is expensive at any hotel you visit. If you want water or food, walk out the hotel door to a liquor store right across the street that also has water for about $1.5 for a 2L bottle.
Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach
BLVD KUKULCAN KM 9 5 LOTE 6
Cancun, Mexico, 77500
52-9988813200


Dining


Hidden Gem in La Isla

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Princess00 on September 1, 2010

Prior to visiting Cancun, my husband and I received recommendations for dining from friends and family who had traveled to Mexico in the past. One of the highly praised restaurant referrals was Thai Lounge ("Thai"). We were initially skeptical because we could not imagine eating Thai food in Mexico, much less expecting it to be as ‘fantastic’ and ‘amazing’ as our friends indicated. However, we took their recommendation and made a reservation at Thai for our anniversary dinner while our traveling companions remained at the hotel and dined on room service.

Reservation
We made a reservation through our hotel concierge and specified an over the water palapa at 7:30pm. There are various seating areas within the restaurant and the over the water palapas are typically the most coveted due to their location on the lagoon with views of the sunset. If you are interested in booking one of these palapas, I would highly recommend booking in advance and specifying this location.

Location
Thai is located in the La Isla Shopping Center within the heart of Cancun which is easily accessible from any hotel within the "Cancun Hotel Zone" via the public bus transportation. Once you enter La Isla, the actual location of the restaurant can be difficult to find as it is situated in the far back near the Interactive Aquarium on the lagoon. If you are facing the Interactive Aquarium ticket counter, walk to your left and around the corner of the building and you will find the entrance to the restaurant. Once located, a diner can then understand why it is situated in such a remote location.

Atmosphere
Even though La Isla is an active tourist mall, Thai is intended to isolate itself from this hustle and bustle and provide sanctuary, peace, and romance to every diner. Thai’s atmosphere is incomparable. It is romantic, serene, calm, tropical, trendy, earthy, lush, and private. When we arrived, we were immediately seated at our "over the water palapa", as requested. On the way to our table, we were guided through the remainder of the restaurant which allowed us to casually survey the other table options throughout the dining area. As we walked through the main dining area, I noted individual walkways leading to three sided tiki huts made out of teak wood and covered with a thatch roof. Each table within the huts is similarly built using teak wood. With the exception of the main seating area and the huts, the remainder of the restaurant is ‘open’ air. All throughout the open air section of the dining area are multiple palm trees and tropical plants (all living and natural) which create a lush, green, earthy feel to the restaurant juxtaposed against the soft wood of the huts. After surveying the main dining area, IMO, there is no ‘bad’ seat in the restaurant. Each hut is private and secluded; however, we preferred the over the water palapas over the main dining area. Of particular note, there is one ‘special’ table in the main dining area which is different from the remainder of the huts. This table is built low to the ground as an open sided square which can seat a larger party. It was not private as it was situated near the hostess station, but the lack of privacy was countered by the ambiance. Directly above this table is a large glass window that diners could view the dolphins swimming at the Interactive Aquarium. My sister, who recommended this restaurant, dined with her husband and two children at this table and stated that the kids enjoyed watching the playful dolphins swim across the illuminated glass. As with the over the water palapas, this table needs to be specified when making a reservation.

We then left the main dining area and were escorted across a small walkway to the over the water palapas. Our over the water palapa was similarly designed like the huts in the main dining area except it was larger and contained two open walls with a sloping roof making up the other two sides. Inside the palapa is a small table for two diners and a twin sized sofa with tons of comfy pillows for lounging. The sofa creates a very decadent vibe, encouraging diners to enjoy their meal with leisure and even linger into the evening hours with an after dinner cocktail or coffee. We arrived prior to sunset and were able to watch the sun set over the lagoon, illuminating the water and sky in purples, reds, and oranges.

Service
Because the palapas are located a small distance from the rest of the dining area, waiters and waitresses are provided their own stand to manage tickets, water, etc. which is situated on the walkway over the lagoon area. As with all restaurants in Cancun, the dining experience was paced on the slow side, but was not so slow that we found ourselves impatient for the next course. Our server was extremely polite, attentive, and helpful with recommending certain dishes from the menu. Given our location, one could easily get overlooked when it comes to placing orders, filling water glasses, or delivering food. However, we did not have any issues with service during our visit.

Menu
Thai’s menu contains almost 100 different dishes and can be ordered mild, medium, or spicy. All dishes are served "family" style which allows for sharing and sampling. For even the non-adventurous eater, I believe that any diner could find something on the menu that would be pleasing to the palette as most of the dishes are interesting but not so unusual that it would deter someone new to Thai food. However, do not come expecting to order a hamburger or a taco as all of the dishes are rice or noodle based Asian cuisine. Each item on the menu contains the name of the dish in Thai designated by a number and a description. The number is helpful in ordering and the descriptions are thorough enough to prevent any unexpected ‘surprises’. Finally, I have a minor peanut allergy and was pleased to note that the menu was very specific to note when peanuts were included on a dish. Further, after I mentioned this to our server, she was helpful to ensure that the dishes we ordered did not include peanuts. (I am not severely allergic – use your judgment on this).

Food
My husband and I ordered an appetizer, two main dishes, and two desserts and left with very full tummies. I do not believe that one main dish would be big enough to share, but the portions are large enough to satisfy a hungry diner. For an appetizer, we ordered their chicken and vegetable spring rolls (#6) which were served with a sweet and sour chili sauce. They were tasty, and we had not complaints. I would not say that there was anything unique or special about them, though. For our main dishes, we ordered the Shrimp with Basil (#62) and the Red Curried Duck (#44). Both were served with a side of jasmine rice. Each dish was delicious and tasty. The shrimp was plentiful and perfectly cooked throughout the dish. The basil nicely complimented the brown soy based sauce and the vegetables were crispy, not mushy. It was colorful, light, and fresh. Our red curried duck was rich and decadent and a nice complement to our lighter shrimp dish. The red curry coconut sauce was creamy and spicy, but not so hot that you could not taste anything else. The duck was delicious. We lapped up each dish and could not decide which item we preferred as both were so well prepared and delightfully enjoyable. We finished our meal with dessert. My husband loves ice cream and ordered the coconut ice cream which was so good he would only let me have one bite. He still talks about the creamy and flavorful coconut ice cream that Thai served. I ordered the mango and sticky rice (#92). I have enjoyed pistachio sticky rice at our Thai food restaurant in Dallas so I knew that I would enjoy this dessert. Sticky rice is served warm and most closely resembles rice pudding except the rice stays more intact. Thai’s sticky rice was sweet and the texture was perfect. The mango, a must in Mexico, was sweet and perfectly ripe.

Overall
We were extremely pleased with the service, food, and atmosphere at this restaurant and would highly recommend it to anyone intending to visit the Cancun area. Don’t miss this ‘hidden’ gem in La Isla Shopping Mall!
Thai Lounge
Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 12.5 Zona Hotelera, La Isla Shopping Village
Cancun, Mexico
01 998 176 8070

Awesome lunch spot - tasty food, dreamy ocean view

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Princess00 on September 30, 2010

Upon arrival in Cancun, we checked into our hotel and headed outdoors to locate a place to eat lunch. As it was mid-afternoon, we were starving and had received multiple recommendations to try a restaurant located near our hotel called Mocambo. Mocambo is part of the La Parilla Group, which owns a number of local authentic Mexican restaurants in the Cancun area. Mocambo serves lunch and dinner, but we only dined during lunchtime as we intended to dine at La Parilla, Mocambo’s sister restaurant, later that week for dinner.

Location: Mocambo was a VERY short walk from the Fiesta Americana Grand Beach hotel. Travelers not staying on the point of the ‘seven’ can also easily reach this restaurant via Cancun’s local bus system. As we exited the hotel, we took a right and a sign directed us to a non-descript concrete building with a sign that contained the Mocambo logo. After we walked to the back of the building (which is actually the front of the restaurant), we realized we had found an amazing dining spot. Mocambo is one of the only restaurants located on the ocean side of the Cancun Hotel Zone (versus the lagoon side).

Atmosphere: The restaurant is an open aired space covered by a thatched roof which offers shade but does not obstruct a cool salty ocean breeze. When entering the restaurant, all we could do was exhale in happy satisfaction at the view. Located directly on the ocean, every table offered a stunning setting of Cancun’s turquoise ocean splendor. The restaurant’s atmosphere is beach casual and if you have a t-shirt/cover-up and shoes, you are welcomed to dine here. It is a great place for beachgoers looking to escape the sand and sun but still enjoy the ocean. We quickly decided that even if the food was terrible, the atmosphere could quite possible make up for it. However …

Food: The food was as delicious as the view. We all ordered Mocambo's fish tacos, which were battered fried fish on top of corn tortillas simply topped with cabbage and a tangy mayo based sauce. They were delectable and burst in your mouth with flavor. The white fish was mild, flaky, and sweet. The batter was not overly heavy or overfried. The mayo based sauce was a nice compliment that did not overpower the mild fish, and the corn tortillas were steamy fresh. We devoured these tacos, deciding that we could possibly eat this tasty meal for lunch every day during our vacation. And we almost did. We returned to Mocambo multiple occasions for lunch during our trip and never had a bad meal. Our traveling companions branched out beyond the fish tacos on occasion and stated that everything they had was just as delectable. But I could not escape the fish tacos … they continued to beckon me each time we returned. Served with the tacos was a small cup of broth-based tortilla soup which was spicy and contained tangy Mexican green chiles. Also served with the meal was the standard chips and salsa. The chips were hot and appropriately salted, and the salsa was spicy and flavorful. The meal was light, but filling, and a perfect bite to eat before returning to the beach.

Service: As we dined at Mocambo on multiple occasions during lunch, we had different service experiences each time. We figured out during our stay that the hostess would happily seat us wherever we requested. We had the same server a couple of times during our stay and he actually began to recognize us after our second visit. He was friendly and remembered my love for the delicious fish tacos. Service at Mocambo was slow paced. This is not a place where one rushes in or rushes out. Diners are encouraged to sit and relax and enjoy the view. Our servers never pushed us to make a decision when reviewing the menu nor were we hovered over during our meal. Each time we visited, we were greeted warmly at the front of the restaurant and treated respectfully during our meal. The servers struggled a little bit with their English (more so than other more ‘Americanized’ Hotel Zone dining establishments), but it was not difficult to communicate with anyone. Our drink glasses were always kept full and our food was delivered hot and in a timely manner.

Overall, the food was tasty, the atmosphere was dreamy, and the service was friendly. Mocambo’s website boasts "the best of the sea with Mexican style", and we agree wholeheartedly! We loved Mocambo and would very highly recommend every IGOUGO traveler visiting Cancun to try this restaurant.
Mocambo Restaurant
Zona Hotelera, In Front Of Plaza Caracol, By The Beach
Cancun, Mexico
(998) 883 0398


Activities


Pretty Beach - Hot! Hot! Hot!

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Princess00 on December 28, 2008

Visited Tulum on 6/14/08 during our trip to Cancun (6/13-6/18). We are active people and were looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Hotel Zone to see some important sites in the area. We booked a private tour to Tulum from Cancun using Entertainment-Plus (who we highly recommend). It took around 1 1/2-2 hours to get to Tulum from Cancun which was mostly filled with highway driving past many of the all-inclusive resorts located along the Mayan Riviera.

The outside area of the ruins of Tulum are a place to watch out for scams. No matter what mode of transportation you use, you will be dropped off at the edge of the property where then, you can take a small train up the road about a 1/2 mile or walk up to the entrance of Tulum where you buy tickets. Immediately where they will drop you off, you will see a re-creation of a "mayan village' to your right with some guys climbing a totem pole and playing a flute. Keep walking ! There are signs stating you can buy tours there and everything looks very official ... well, one of my traveling companions decided to take a photo of the men on the totem pole. Within seconds of snapping the photo, the guy with the flute was coming up to her telling her that would be a dollar for the photo. they then gave him a dollar upon which he then started to ask them for more money. he followed us for a short while before then turning back to his next victim. no where did it say that you would be charged for taking a photo of these men and we knew it was a scam. also, if you are booking a tour, walk all the way up the road to where you will buy tickets to the entrance of tulum. you will see very nice men and women dressed in official shirts standing directly outside the entrance to the ruins with clearly stated prices for the tours. it costs $40 for 4 people to take a tour. IMO, i thought the tour was shorter than we would have liked; however, it was worth it to have someone pointing out what each building was. there were many carvings and drawings on the ruins that we would have easily missed had we not had someone there to point them out to us.

just a note, tulum is hot in the middle of June. the only relief was when you are up at the top of the coastline and can catch a nice open breeze. Bring lots of water and good walking shoes. Dress light.

All in all, the ruins were interesting, but the heat only permitted us to tour the ruins for about an hour. Go early in the morning. After that point, we were all ready to head back to the car and get back to our resort pool/beach to cool off. So, for us, spending 3 hours in a car and 1-1 1/2 hours visiting an activity was not a good enough use of our vacation time considering that we spent most of the trip extremely hot and tired.

The ruins are really lovely and the view of the beach in that area is great. If I could have planned it differently, we woule have brought our swimsuits and taken a dip in the ocean for a short while to extend our day and make the trip more enjoyable.

I'm not knocking the ruins, which are a great historical site for the area. But, given the heat and the travel time from Cancun, next time, we'll likely visit Isla Mujeres just off shore from the hotel zone.

Oh, and don't sit on the benches of that little Mayan village outside the ruins either. On our way back to the car, we saw the man in the flute charging an unsuspecting tourist for sitting on their bench, as well.

Tulum Mayan Ruins

Tulum, Mexico

A fun filled afternoon with Dolphins!

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Princess00 on September 1, 2010

I have always wanted to swim with dolphins. They are such intelligent, gentle creatures. However, on most trips that my husband and I have taken, we never had the opportunity or the time to try this activity. Particularly since my husband was not overly interested in swimming with dolphins and I was not particularly interested in swimming with them on my own. When planning our trip to Cancun, I was attempting to satisfy the wishes of all traveling companions – me, my husband, and our couple friends. So, when our traveling companions expressed a desire to swim with dolphins, I happily booked the activity. We were referred to Interactive Aquarium ("IA") by a friend who had booked the experience on a prior trip to Cancun.

Disclaimer
Please note that this review does not discuss the political merits of a captive dolphin program. For purposes of this review, I will assume that the dolphins are happy and healthy in their environment as I had no basis to determine otherwise during my visit to Interactive Aquarium.

Location
Interactive Aquarium is located in La Isla Shopping Village, which is a short bus ride from most hotels in the Cancun "hotel zone." IA offers a variety of different activities including a 13 tank aquarium of tropical fish, a swim with shark encounter, and swimming with dolphin encounters. Interactive Aquarium offers three swim with dolphin encounters – the Education Program, the Advanced Program, and Trainer for a Day. We booked the Advanced Program which includes a 60 minute swim with the dolphins.

Other Interactive Aquarium Activities
Although not advertised, also included in the Advance Program is general admission to the aquarium section of the facility. We were asked to arrive early to our scheduled swim time and prior to our dolphin encounter, we mingled throughout the aquarium looking at the fish tanks, watching a swim with shark encounter, and listening in on the dolphin education program. The aquarium contains about 13 tanks with tropical fish and sea creatures. A few of the tanks are interactive which allows visitors to touch certain sea creatures including a sting ray, some starfish, and a turtle or two. Overall, the aquarium was decent to look at while waiting to swim with dolphins. Admission to the aquarium is approximately $10/pp to view the aquarium and may be a nice option if one is seeking an activity on a rainy day in Cancun when the beach is inaccessible. The swim with shark encounter is basically a large indoor tank which contains the sharks. A visitor who pays for this encounter is lowered down in a glass cage where the sharks swim around him (and an IA employee). Then, they are allowed to extend a stick with food into the water and watch the sharks eat. Our group decided after watching this encounter that it did not look all that exciting as the tank was rather small and uninteresting. IMO – if you are going to swim with sharks, this is not the best place to do it.

Swim with Dolphins
We then returned to the outdoor area at one of the large pools where the dolphins reside to wait for our names to be called for our swim with dolphin experience. Once called, we were then escorted to another large pool area where we were asked to sit on elevated stadium type benches while the IA employees explained the ‘rules’. Basically, no jewelry, no cameras, no sunscreen in the water with the dolphins. If you book the Advance Program, do not bring any of these items with you or you will be asked to leave them on the benches while you are in the water (I am not a fan of leaving my personal belongings unattended). My husband had abstained from booking the Advance Program; however, he agreed to watch us in the pool and take photos during our encounter. A nice service of IA is that they permitted my husband to access the Advance Program area to watch the three of us who had paid for the experience. Further, he was permitted to take photos with our digital camera and even allowed to walk around the pool area (within reason) to get closer shots of us in the pool. He was allowed access with the standard $10 aquarium admission price. If you do not have someone to take photos, IA also offers a DVD/CD of photos taken during the program which you can purchase for a fee in the gift shop.

After explaining the rules, those wearing sunscreen were then escorted to a shower area where we were asked to wash off. The shower area was clean and there were plenty of stalls (with curtains) for those with sunscreen to wash off (myself included). Then, it was time to get into the water, which is a shock to the system – it is COLD! Freezing cold! Note – do not book this adventure on a cooler day. Since it is Mexico in June, it was hot outside so we managed to adjust to the water’s temperature and it soon felt refreshing. However, none of us expected it to be so ice cold. I will make one comment regarding the pool area – I recommend wearing an older swim suit. At one point, the dolphin pooped in the pool and it floated for a bit while the staff member retrieved something to clean it out. The water was clear and not cloudy, but the little bits of ‘stuff’ – not sure what it was exactly – floating around made it less than pristine clean. If this bothers you, do not book this activity. I ignored it and chalk it up to the fact you are swimming with live animals that eat and move and poop like the rest of us. The first part of the swim, we were encouraged to spread out in one third of the pool area as the dolphins swam around us. The staff members informed us that we could put our hands out and touch/pet them as they swam by. Dolphins are such beautiful and friendly creatures and it was amazing just being in the water with them. After a short period, we then lined up along the edge of the pool and each person was asked one at a time to move into the middle of the pool and hold out their hands. The dolphin would then swim up to you and give you a ‘handshake’. After each person had their time with the dolphin, it was time for the foot push. Once again, we lined up on the wall and waited our turn. Once it was time, we were instructed to hold our hands out and keep our feet straight behind us. Then, the dolphin would come up from behind and push our feet. If you keep ‘board straight’, the dolphin’s swimming power would push you completely out of the water. It was an exhilarating experience. Note – after you are elevated out of the water, the dolphin releases and returns to the front of the pool, leaving you to ‘face plant’ into the water. I was thankful not to be the first person at this task as I was able to note what happened and closed my eyes and held my nose during my turn as I got to the end of the pool area. After the foot push, we moved to another corner of the pool where the dolphin would give each of us a kiss. The IA staff also takes a photo during this time which you can purchase for a fee in the gift shop. Finally, the dolphins performed a mini show of sorts by swimming across the water and doing all sorts of tricks.

Value
The cost of the Advance Program is approximately $130/pp for an hour of activity. Given that we were permitted to access the aquarium on this fee as well, I believe it was a good value for the price. The interactive activities with the dolphins were exactly as advertised. We spent the majority of the hour in the pool and although our session was full with visitors which required some wait between activities, I felt as if I had ample time with the dolphins during the hour.

Overall
The three of us left happy and satisfied with our experience. Dolphins are amazing creatures and it was a great way to spend an afternoon in Cancun. We were looking for fun and entertaining activity with dolphins and the Advance Program met our expectations. It was not overly educational, but that was not part of our criteria when seeking a swim with dolphin experience. Overall, I would recommend this activity to other IGOUGO travelers.
Interactive Aquarium
La Isla Shopping Village Boulevard Kukulcan Km. 12.6
Cancun, Mexico

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