It took me four months to write this post after visiting Cancun Mexico back in January 2016 with my mom. We took off just days after my emcee gig in Las Vegas, and I’ve been crazy busy ever since, but I hope the lessons we learned during our trip may help others who are planning to visit Cancun (or any resort in Mexico) save some money.
- Booking online may be less expensive than using a travel agency or group rate.
- Stay/park at a hotel the night before to save airport parking costs and time.
- Save money on conversions fees – just don’t do it.
- Save money on tourist attractions and excursions.
- Inquire about free hotel credits and entertainment.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Booking online may be less expensive than using a travel agency or group rate.
My mother was invited to take a trip through one of the companies that her employers works with. While my mother’s trip was paid for, I had to pay my own way as her guest, which I was fine with. But after I paid my share through the travel agency that the company used, I searched Bookit. I searched the exact dates and same hotel we were going to stay at, and the cost was one-third of what I had just paid! Mind you, our group rate did include some extras like transportation to/from the hotel and few other perks, but after doing the whole “company” trip, Mom and I decided that if we went on another trip, we would book it ourselves. That way it would not only be less expensive, but then we could do anything we wanted on our own schedules.
Stay/park at a hotel the night before to save airport parking costs and time.
If you have a long drive to the airport and/or an early flight (we had both), consider getting a hotel room near the airport the night before. We found a hotel that was only $64 per night and offered free shuttles to and from the airport. Our car was able to stay in the hotel parking lot while we were gone, so we didn’t have to pay to park at the airport. Parking would’ve cost more than $64! So at 4 am, we got a free continental breakfast and free ride to our departing gate. Then they picked us up again on our return flight home and dropped us off right at our car!
Inquire with your cellphone carrier beforehand.
My mom and I both have Verizon and wanted to make sure we weren’t docked if we used our cellphones outside of our nationwide plan. We both signed up to pay $2 per day that we were outside the plan perimeters. $10 for five days didn’t seems like a bad deal. I’d heard nightmares of others getting their bills after the fact, so I wanted to be proactive. If the cost would’ve been too high, I would’ve been happy to just use wi-fi to communicate with my family, but my mom gabs more than me.
Save money on conversions fees – just don’t do it.
There is no need to change dollars to pesos, so you can avoid the change over fee. We found that staff members and shops/boutiques actually preferred if you paid in American dollars instead of pesos. If you have bigger bills that you want to break, ask the hotel to change them into $1 bills. Our waiters were more than happy to do this for us, and it warranted them an extra $1 tip.
When using your credit card in foreign countries, ask them to run the card as American dollars to avoid the conversion fees. This is an international tip, not just with pesos. I learned this when I visited London.
We stayed at the Hard Rock Cancun which was quite pleasant. The grounds and staff were all nice, clean and friendly. The resort was “all inclusive” meaning that all the food and beverages (including alcohol) were included the price (we still tipped the wait staff). The hotel had several restaurants of different cuisines; my favorite was the Brazilian steakhouse (can you believe it wasn’t the pizza place?). My palate isn’t as expanded as my mother’s, so we compromised and mostly ate at the buffet or ordered room service (my mom had never experienced room service, so that was a treat). Diet Coke was labeled Coca-Cola Light, and our favorite blended drink was a Dirty Monkey, also called a Dirty Banana. I need to try to replicate this at home.
Save money on tourist attractions and excursions.
We had a few choices ahead of time to book excursions through the travel agency (which we paid extra for). Afterwards, I saw we could’ve booked the same trip online for less. I met the people from Experiencias Xcaret just days before our trip when I was in Vegas. If only I had met them sooner. Anyway, the trips we signed up for were:
- Captain Hook Dinner Cruise – It was very cold and windy that day, so it was not a good day to set sail. Plus both my mom and ended up getting sea sick (her much worse than I). If the weather had been better (and we hadn’t gotten sick), we may have enjoyed it. I think my kids (and other teens and millennials) would’ve appreciated the entertainment more. Although my daughter Mallory wouldn’t have been able to tolerate the strobe lights (they set off her epilepsy). We did have to pay an extra $12 docking fee that was included in our ticket price.
- Maroma Private Island – We could’ve paid extra to swim the dolphins, go snorkeling or parasailing, camel back riding or deep sea fishing, but my mom and I decided to just enjoy relaxing (and not spend more money, although my mom got ripped off buying us sun visors). We read books while sunbathing and walked up and down the beach where we saw an old castle with guards which was neat to see. After other people in the group complained about how expensive the food and drinks were (and after we already bought some ourselves), the company stepped up and bought all of the group wristbands for $45 each for the all-you-can-eat buffet and drinks. We did not get our money’s worth at all! Those that did extra activities had to pay an extra reef tax as well. They really got you on the “extra” fees.
- Isla Mujeres – We missed the bus to get to the ferry as the coordinators had changed the departing time from the printed itinerary and didn’t bother to let everyone know. But I think we had more fun lining up our own Mexico transportation by taking a taxi and drinking daiquiris waiting for the next fairy. On the island, we paid a cab driver $20 to drive us around and give us “tour” which despite the language barrier, turned out to be quite informative. We also got quick $10 massages on the beach – the spur of the moment spontaneous activities are the most fun!
Inquire about free hotel credits and entertainment.
During our free time, we decided we wanted to do some kind of excursion. We looked into taking a trip to Tulum. We inquired with the event coordinator of the travel agency, and the price was quite expensive, plus we would’ve had to get commitments from two other people which wasn’t an easy task. We decided to ask the Concierge who suggested we use our “free credit” with the vacation planners at the hotel. It turned out we got so many free reward credits as part of our vacation package, and we could apply those credits towards anything at the hotel, including tours! I think we ended up paying under $20. So, definitely check to see if you have free hotel credits.
We got quite the history lesson on the Mayan culture as our Tulum tour guide was of Mayan descent and quite proud of his heritage. If we would’ve had more time, I would’ve liked to travel a bit further to see the Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen Itza which is one of the seven wonders of the world.
The hotel also had an outdoor covered theater and bar with different entertainment every night that were totally free. We were available to take in two shows, a magic show and a fire show. Both were entertaining, and you couldn’t beat the price!
One of the couples in our group took a time share tour of the resort in exchange for free tickets to go the see the Kukulkan Pyramid. Talking to them afterwards, they said it took several hours and the sales people were really pushy to get them to buy a time share and were mad that they didn’t buy in. So I wouldn’t suggest this route unless you truly are interested in a timeshare opportunity. And if you are, definitely barter with them, as the couple said they came way down in price during their sales pitch.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
We saw several pharmacies offering free medical consultations. I had heard of others bringing back cheap medications from Mexico, so Mom and I walked to a pharmacy near the hotel to check it out. There were several medications, like antibiotics available. When I inquired about some specific medicines, they said I needed a prescription, but I could go next door to see the doctor for free to get one! I didn’t have any ailments, and was basically too scared to see what a doctor would diagnose me with! After googling whether or not buying prescriptions from Mexico was legal, we decided not to chance it and walked away with nothing.
We did walk away with a lot of laughs and good memories though! I hope these tips help you (or someone) plan a Mexican vacation so you can get the best bang for your buck to enjoy your vacation!
Now where should my mom and I go next? I’m thinking a Mediterranean cruise!