Nadia: “Now that I'm done my MBA program, I want to go somewhere and just sit on a beach for a few days to recharge”. Good point. She's earned it. The question then is how to do this cost effectively (after all, we just paid for an MBA education!). Answer: use what you have. Flights courtesy of VISA Avion points, and a Short Stay accommodation using the timeshare we own (on a side note, maybe one day I'll write about my experiences with timeshares…in my own head it's amusing!).
Why Cancun? Easy answer: shortest flight to the warmest place that the timeshare exchange company website shows is available for our brief window of “no important meetings already booked in the calendar”. Five days at The Ocean Spa Resort it is. Ironically, it's cheaper and easier to fly to Cancun from Thunder Bay than it is to fly to Florida, where we actually own the timeshare (and flew right over top of on the way to Mexico).
The night before we left, I decided to actually see just where it was we were going. To my surprise, Cancun is only one timezone over from Thunder Bay, and according to Google Maps it's only about 300kms west of Havana, Cuba. This explains why flights are actually reasonable…we aren't going to Central America or anything like that (although I'll admit my ignorance on this one – thanks Google!). We have to change planes in Toronto on the way down, but it's even sweeter on the way back – direct flight from Cancun to Thunder Bay (although I still don't understand how that can be profitable???).
Day 1 – Spent Mostly at 30,000 Feet
Completely seamless! No checked baggage (this is a first for us…), so we checked in the night before online and just walked through security at the Thunder Bay airport. Arrived late to Toronto, so we pretty much walked straight off of one plane and on to the other (minor detour to Starbucks). Four hours later, we were on the ground in Cancun. 20 minutes to the resort, a minor delay in them finding our reservation (apparently the timeshare exchange company told them we were coming 3 days earlier so we had been put on the 'no show' list…), and a brief introduction to the resort from the concierge.
At this point, we were also invited to participate in a Timeshare presentation, for which we would receive free tickets to some attraction. Having been through timeshare presentations before, we graciously declined (if you have ever been through one before, you'll know what I mean…). It's just not worth the high-pressure sales tactics they use.
After dinner we decided to visit the concierge again to find out about things to do for the week…and got sucked into the timeshare presentation! I guess the accountant in me took over – we wanted to tour the Myan ruins, at a cost of $130 each…but if we attend the timeshare tour, they would comp us the tour, and throw in a couples massage at the spa. They promised to take up only one hour of our time, and do it over breakfast. What could possibly go wrong???
Day 2 – The Twilight Zone
Ever have one of those days that, at the end of it, you look back and can't imagine how you ever would have guessed how the day would actually go? That was today. If you have ever been to more than one timeshare presentation, you know that before you go to another, you and your spouse get prepped and agree “we are NOT buying anything from them!”. We did that. And failed. 7 hours into our 1 hour presentation, we walked out with accommodations for 65 weeks of vacations worldwide and 15 weeks of vacation in Cancun. But we got our free tour to the Myan ruins plus a couples massage at the spa, and Nadia convinced them to upgrade us to one of the better properties for the rest of the week. We also beat the guy up a bit and got him to throw in a free cruise and another free week of accommodations. Oh yeah, we walked out with a bottle of champagne too.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but its actually better for us than our current timeshare (soon to be found on eBay…) and will save us lots of money in the long run (think “travel with 5 kids”…not cheap!). And I'm proud that we didn't cave on their first offer to take us for $249,000 (don't worry, we didn't spend ANYWHERE near that…you'd be completely amazed how much their offer changed each time we said 'no'). It was actually kind of fun toying with them (in a sick sort of way!).
Anybody want to travel to Cancun with us??? 2 or 3 bedroom suites!
Day 3 – Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world…or so they told us (I'll have to Google that…). This was our free tour to the Myan ruins that we got for giving up 7 hours of our life to the timeshare folks. Unfortunately, it's located 2 1/2 hours from Cancun, so we had to spend 5 hours of our vacation crammed into a full size van with 9 other touristas…including one pair of ladies in their 50's, one of which proved it's possible to talk for 5 hours straight, and the other only opened her mouth to tell us she had once been to Toronto for an Alcoholics Anonymous convention, and that she was allergic to bread because it made her eat more bread…(stunned silence)
Aside from being a long day (leave at 7:30 am and return at 7:30 pm), it was an amazing place to visit. The main pyramid at the location was allegedly (according to Orlando, our Mexican tour guide) constructed to represent the Myan calendar, with 52 various levels and 91 steps on each side (91×4 = 364 plus the top = 365). It also has a few neat features whereby if you stand in front of it and clap, the echo sounds just like the chirp of a certain jungle bird, and twice a year on the equinox, the angle of the sun shining on the pyramid combined with the shadows creates the appearance of a snake slithering down one of the 4 sets of stairs on the pyramid. Apparently about 40,000 gather there to watch this every March.
Day 4 – Adventures in Watersports
How many tries does it take to learn how to windsurf? I don't know…I quit at about 30. I did windsurf one time about 10 years ago for about an hour, but apparently it's not like riding a bike. With that said, the audience was graceful…one tourist shouted out “it's harder than it looks” as I dragged the windsurfer back up the beach, and the recreation coordinator conveniently blamed the rough water for my difficulties. I thought they were all being quite flattering seeing as how a 50 foot yacht had to change course because of my outstanding performance.
But I had a chance to redeem myself on the Flyboard. From what I understand, this is a pretty new “extreme sport”. They take a waverunner/jet ski and divert the water output through a large firehose…to which they strap a pair of boots…into which you tie up tight! The result would make Tony Stark proud! You get to basically fly like Iron Man with the pressure of the water coming out at your feet. You also have hoses strapped to your arms as additional 'booster rockets' to help stabilize yourself. There's enough pressure and hose to get you up about 30 feet off the ground (have you ever belly flopped from 30 feet???).
The operator said that I was “not good”, to which I took great offense, but then he went on to clarify that I was “very good” for a first time Flyboarder. It took a few minutes to get used to it, but after that it was an amazing ride. Check out www.flyme.mx for the operator's website.
My tips for anyone who gets to try this for the first time:
- Prepare to get wet! You have to spend the first 10 minutes or so learning how to steer the flyboard while still in the water (because the flyboard hose is connected to the waverunner's water output, the waverunner has no power to move itself…you basically tow it around with you. For that reason, the operator needs to teach you the basics before you actually get to fly). During the learning phase, you spend a lot of time plowing through the water with just your head poking up into the waves (think “waterboarding”…). As long as you are OK with seawater being constantly splashed in your face, you'll do fine.
- Watch the falls. Think “belly flop from 30 feet”. Enough said.
- Don't be afraid to spend some time on your back. I gave the operator this feedback also. As they are teaching you, they only give you a little bit of water thrust from the board. With only a little thrust, it makes it quite hard to turn over onto your back because the life jacket is doing its job (keeping your face out of the water!). Instead of trying to turn on to your stomach and then moving, get the operator to let you start moving on your back, and then the flip to your stomach is quite natural.
- Make sure the gear fits. Boots, life jacket, helmet. If any one is loose, it's quite a handicap. I was OK with everything, but Nadia had a harder time because the life jacket was riding up, causing her head to be lower in the water, and also pushing the helmet over her eyes.
After the flyboarding it was off to the spa for our one hour couples massage (much needed at this point!), and then this fine day was then topped off with a few “miami vice” cocktails and watching the sunset from our nice comfy lounge chairs on the dock.
Day 5 – Homeward Bound
Have you ever woke up and couldn't figure out why everything hurt? And then you remembered trying some new sport the day before? At least it was a good kind of hurt…the satisfying kind where you know you are building up muscles you didn't even know you had.
We had to check out at 10am, but they let us keep the 'all inclusive' bracelets so we could eat and drink until our airport transportation came at 1:30. We were all set for an on-time departure, but some dude left his house keys on the shuttle bus from the terminal to the plane…one hour delay. And aside from the cup of orange juice I dumped right in my lap (with 1 1/2 hours still left in the flight…), all was well with the trip home.
And believe it or not, it was actually a completely full plane from Cancun to Thunder Bay (I learned afterwards that Westjet flies direct both ways between Thunder Bay and Cancun every Saturday, so I guess the full plane coming back is just all the folks they brought down there the week before)…I guess that's how they make it profitable!