This will not be a traditional trip report; others have done those very well. We used a lot of what we learned from those reports for our trip. Thanks to all that posted their trip reports.
When my wife and I were looking for info on our first Isla vacation we found a lot of great info and suggestions about Isla on this site. What we did not find was much info about traveling to and staying on Isla with small children.
We are a family of six. My wife, Michelle, the domestic goddess, my four boys, ages 10, 8, 7, (his birthday was while on Isla) 5, (and me, Bill.)
Before we left on our trip there was a posting from a family of six with some of the same questions that we had. I said that when we returned that I would share our experiences on Isla. So here goes with apologies on my grammar etc. I am not good at typing; I am the only person in Alaska that needs a hunting license to type with. Some of the suggestions may seem obvious so my apologies for that. Most of the following will be in no particular order.
If you are wondering if you should take your kids… DO IT, we had a wonderful time. The second day there our boys wanted to know if I would please get a job on Isla so we could move there. On our last day on Isla they all thought of jobs that they could get so we could stay. Help clean the pool at the hotel, feed the dogs, shoo the cats away from the restaurants, (then feed them later), and help the housekeepers make up rooms.
We spent one month on Isla, I wish we could have stayed longer but we were at the mercy of frequent flyer mileage tickets and a budget.
This was the first time our boys have been out of Alaska (two went out of state when they were babies, that doesn’t count). They have only flown on small single engine airplanes so this was a real adventure for them.
Their idea of swimming at a beach is a gravel bar on the Deshka River water temperature 58 degrees. We had shown them pics of the beaches on Isla. They said “Oh that looks nice”. They had no clue.
We left Anchorage a little after midnight. The flight down took about 15 hours including a stopover and airplane change in Los Angles.
Thanks to Alaska Airlines Digiplayers and my wife packing snacks, CD players, coloring books, games, etc. the boys did great on the flights down and back. If your airline has Digiplayers rent them, $10 each with earphones. Take a standard splitter and two can watch on one player, if you can’t get these players buy and take or rent DVD players. Make sure that the batteries will last several hours. Keep the kids entertained and fed on the flight. Our boys did not fall asleep until about half an hour out of Cancun.
Each of our boys had their own carry on rolling backpack with their own stuff to keep them entertained. They each took a stuffed animal, a small pillow, and small blanket, all of which were good ideas, (thanks to my very smart wife). They also carried their own snorkeling gear, which we did not want to loose if all our baggage did not make it. We put it in checked baggage for the trip back.
Buy good snorkeling gear including fins. “Water shoes” are also a must. You will use both a lot. Get GOOD quality flip-flops and break them in well before you go or you will get blisters. You live in flip-flops. Consider extras if you have some one that is hard on shoes. Our 8 year old went through two pairs. I will have suggestions for what to pack later.
If you have younger kids and they announce pre-boarding don’t be shy go first. We did and no one complained and it is a lot easier. We were always the first on and the last off the airplane. That worked for us.
On the flight to Cancun boy # 3 asked my wife if she was going to go topless on the beach. Michelle thought he said tropical and said yes. He told her that he didn’t think that she should go topless. She finally understood what he said and assured him that she was not going to go topless. He said “ thank goodness”. She wasn’t quite sure how to take it.
When you go through customs in Cancun and there is a long line, have every one go to the bathroom BEFORE you get in line. We didn’t and of course half an hour into about an hour wait the two youngest had to go and “I can’t hold it”. Dad said, “ we have to go through customs as a family, do you really want all of us to get out of line and have to start over?”, pointing to the very long line behind us. They decided that they could hold it. They did but it was close. Go to the bathroom first. Next was picking up our baggage this was not too hard they have free carts. Then through the baggage search area. All baggage is x-rayed. We got the green light. Every one in customs was extremely helpful and patient with us.
Hire a service to take you to the ferry. We used AGI Tours. They were great. When you leave the airport ignore the “salesmen” on the way out of the airport. The will tell you anything to get you to go with them including, in our case, that they were AGI Tours. AGI warned us of this and they were waiting outside the terminal in uniform as they said they would be. We used them on another excursion and to go back to the airport. They were always on time and treated us great. At the ferry dock there is bellmen to help with the baggage to get it to the ferry. Have several $1s and fives with you for tips. In fact take a couple hundred dollars in 20s, 10s, 5s, and 1s.
When you get to Isla there will be gentlemen with tricycles that will take your luggage to your hotel if you are staying on that end of the island. Use them, tip them well. The day before we left one of them showed up at the hotel and asked what time we needed to be at the ferry the next day. We told him and he said he would be there on time the next day, he was. I don’t know how he knew when we were leaving. It’s a great service.
We used atm debit cards at the bank that is just across the street from the ferry dock on Isla. Activate your card for Mexico a few days before you leave home. We did not have any trouble with our atm cards. We took two from different credit unions just in case there was a problem with one account or card.
We spent about $60-100. USD per day depending on how many meals, snacks and ice cream we ate.
We stayed at Hotel Plaza Almendros. We highly recommend it. We booked through Lost Oasis. For our family it was perfect. We had two side-by-side double rooms, lower level #S 15 and 16. The rooms were a few steps away from the shallow part of the pool. The pool was wonderful for our boys. If we weren’t at the beach the boys were in the pool. The rooms were great, the staff was great, and the location was great. On the main street next to and across the street from great restaurants. Cool ice cream right next door. (We were there every day!) A laundry half a block away. Five minute walk to the beach. We did not have a problem with noise from the street. At night after the kids were asleep one of us would go to one of the restaurants or the tequila bar and get a couple of mojitos or margaritas-to-go to enjoy on our patio. “Bring the glasses back tomorrow”. We could hear live music from our patio just loud enough. When we closed the door to our room it would shut out any outside noise. We got a pump for 20 liter water bottles (ask at the front desk) the water is available at the store across the street. $5. deposit $2.10 for five gallons. We went through one every two days. We met a lot of great people from around the world and quite a few Mexican families. Instant playmates, and our boys picked up a lot of Spanish. We met MommaDe, John, and family. MommaDe you have a wonderful family it was great to meet you all!
We went to North Beach until it was suggested that we go to the beach that is on the right side of the bridge that goes to Avalon. We loved this beach, not too crowded, shallow, good snorkeling, and tide pools. Also a lot of local families go there. Sunday was “family fun day” for the locals. Again instant playmates and Spanish lessons. After tropical storm Dolly North Beach was full of seaweed that took several days to clean up. This beach did not have any seaweed after the storm. For “tide pooling” water shoes are a must.
We also spent a day at Hotel Garrafon at the beach. It was nice. Our boys still preferred the beach by the bridge.
We ate dinner out in restaurants almost every night. A few lunches while at the beach and a few breakfasts. We normally ate breakfast and lunch at our room, (quicker to get to the beach or in the pool). We bought food for the room at the “Super Express” market.
We did not have a bad meal at any restaurant. Our kid’s favorites were Angelo’s, Sancochos, Miguel’s Moonlight, (yes the pomegranate margaritas are GREAT!), the rib guy, and Mininos. Breakfast favorites were Alexia y Giovanni’s, La Cazuela M&J, and Elements of the Islands. As I said before we did not have a bad meal. All the staff at all the restaurants was excellent. We rarely spent more than $35 .including drinks and tip for breakfast or lunch, between $45-70 for supper including appetizers, drinks, (two-for-one), and tip. This is feeding two adults and four hungry boys. This has spoiled going out to eat for us. Our apologies to all the restaurants in Alaska, we have eaten in the best that Alaska has and it doesn’t compare.
We never rented a golf cart. We were happy to walk or use taxies, ($ 5-6, to the far end of the Island). We spent much of our time on the beach. On recommendation of Kathryn, on this board, we called Plutarco, Senor Plu, 998-145-9747 for taxi service. We called him to take our donations and us to the English school. We ended up on a two and half hour tour of the island with him. Then we had dinner at Ballpark Tacos with him and his wonderful family. So if you need a taxi call Plu. Take an island tour with him. He is honest and will give you a local’s education on living on Isla.
Now some suggestions:
Don’t take too many clothes. The boys, dad included, wore only shorts, swimsuits, and tee shirts. Don’t take too much you can have laundry done there, drop off at noon pick up at six. Let mom take what she wants. Michelle had a lot of warm weather clothes that she doesn’t get to wear in Alaska. I enjoyed seeing her wear them too.
Do make room for donations for the Little Yellow School house and the English School.
Volunteer to teach at the English school. (See the web sites).
Take two or three cheep folding camp chairs. Great for extras at the hotel and for the beach. Leave them with a local family when you leave.
Take your own snorkeling gear and water shoes.
Go with Capt. Tony to Contoy. It’s a great trip. He is wonderful with kids.
Do a snorkeling trip to the light house reef.
Take a tour of the island with senor Plu.
Learn some Spanish. Have your kids learn some Spanish. Especially the polite words. Try speaking Spanish don’t be shy try it. The locals will appreciate you trying. We had several different people teach us a word a day. By the time we left our boys were speaking Spanish quite well.
Do not be ugly Americans. We are the guests. Treat everyone with respect. Be polite. Getting to know the local people is the best part of traveling. Make sure that your kids are polite and that they behave. This is not the USA, Alaska, New York, California, etc. They don’t care how you do it at home. This is their home do it their way. Lighten up, relax, and slow down.
Take enough prescri-ption medications if you need them. Take children’s meds, Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, Imodium, etc. All our boys ended up with a 24-hour flu bug with a fever, sore throat, and upset stomach.
Sun block, sun block, sun block. Sunburn cream, sunburn cream, sunburn cream. The sun is brutal. They say Alaskans don’t tan they thaw. Well… we thaw… then we burn.
Eat dinner after sun down. Less / no flies.
Bring cheep beach toys. Leave them with a local family when you leave.
Let your kids stay up late. Dinner is best at 7-8 pm. Walk around downtown hang out where the fountain and basketball court are. Let them stay up and listen to the live bands. Several knew “Born to be wild” one of our boy’s favorite.
Take your own vacation. Try out suggestions from others but don’t feel like you have to do it all. Do what you like. You can’t eat in all the restaurants. If you have a favorite go back. You will be treated better each time. The third time we went to some of the restaurants the portions got bigger and we got a lot of free food and drinks.
Explain to your young kids that they will be around different people and cultures. They will see topless woman at the beach. Before we went we told our boys that there will be woman that will be topless. Our youngest asked why they only have legs? One night at the dinner table we were quizzing them on manners. I asked what they should do if they see a woman that is topless. Silence, then boy # 3 says “ I don’t know. Stare?
Well that’s about all I can think of now. Hope this is helpful If any one has questions please email us and we will try to answer them. hogfamily@ gci.net
The Jones Gang.