Have you ever been awarded an all-expense paid trip to paradise; where all you had to do was show up at the airport with your passport and luggage? No? Neither had I until I won the chance of a lifetime for three nights, four days in the beautiful Cancún Mexico from our in-house employee incentive program. The entire trip was planned and organized by our executive travel account team, leaving me with a worry free vacation. The only thing left for me to do was to sip on a frozen drink under a white linen lined wrapped pergola by the refreshingly warm crystal clear ocean.
Lucky for me, I work at Incentive Solutions, where we practice what we preach. We are all about rewarding star employees with incentive travel trips to unforgettable places all over the world. I got to experience first-hand what it was like to have an incentive travel trip, where I was taken care of by the travel team down to the last decimal. For this particular reward, Incentive Solutions paired with Iberostar Golf Club and Spa Resort in the beautifully sunny Cancún, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula that borders the Caribbean Sea, to offer me an experience that would inevitably change the way I travel forever.
Before the Trip
Before learning that I won the trip, I had stressed over planning a trip for myself for my vacation this year. I had to book the flights, the hotel, activities, and transportation. I had always dreamt of traveling outside of the country but have never been, and my passport was beginning to burn a hole in my pocket. When I won, I thought to myself. “Okay great, now what.” Well, that is not entirely true, my first thought was “Oh my goodness, I cannot believe I won! Are you serious an all-expenses paid trip to Mexico for two,” and then called my mama. However, shortly after the excitement of winning faded reality began to set in. I was going to have to coordinate an entire international trip by myself and while knowing nothing about the destination I was going except for, the beach, the sun, and Mexico. “Do I need pesos? Will I be able to navigate the signs to get to my hotel? Will my Spanglish get me far enough not to get lost or kidnapped?” Real fears. After panicking slightly to myself, our travel liaison simple said, “Which days would you like to travel? When you decide, let us know and tell us which time of day you would like to fly and we will take care of the rest.” So with that, my adventure began.
So here’s the spiel, I told our incentive travel team my preferred dates, and my flight preferences and waited, by weeks end, I was all set to go. I could not believe it; I truly had to do nothing. When I had questions about how I would get from the airport, I was told. “That has been taken care of; there will be a private shuttle service awaiting your arrival in Mexico to take you to the resort. They will also be there to pick you up two hours before your flight when it is time to depart.” Naturally, I was relieved to hear that, but I still had a few more questions. “What am I supposed to do for food and drinks, will I need to exchange currency before leaving the states?” He smiled and simply said “Your resort is all-inclusive, all of your food and drinks are paid for with your stay. We have even set up an excursion for you while you are there. All you will need to do is tell the resort which day you would like to go and there will be a shuttle to take you to and from.” I was pumped, and I could not wait to go on my incentives trip.
A short two-hour plane ride from Atlanta placed my plus one and me in a culture lover's paradise. Too excited to sleep on the plane, as we began our descent into Mexico, I had the chance to witness the bluest ocean Central America has to offer.
Once through customs, security, and baggage claim, we walked into the beautiful sunshine of Mexico. And as promised, a friendly, prompt, local shuttle service, stood outside with a sign with my name on it. Impressive! He escorted us into a private, air-conditioned black suburban and we were off to the all-inclusive resort. It was already off to a good start, palm trees lined the streets, and the green grass of the golf course of the various properties was as far stretched out as you could imagine. When we arrived at our long weekend paradise, I was in awe of the front entrance to the resort. Two security guards stood in front of an immaculate grand view of the star water fountain. The lusciously green lawn had shading palm trees surrounding all pathways and sidewalks up to the entrance of the 109,000 square foot property.
At the Hotel
As we stood in line to check into our room, we were greeted with blended drinks and a warm smile. All of the Iberostar staff was friendly and helpful offering us drinks while we waited and invited us to take part of activities throughout the property. The resort was beautiful with marble floors, and brilliant views of the beach from the main entrance to the dining areas. We thought the gorgeous views would have stopped there but by golly, how wrong we were. Our room was ready upon arrival, as they were expecting us; and when I opened the door to the room, I could not believe the view. A floor to ceiling window with a sliding glass door showcasing the view of the ocean and multiple infinity pools. The room had tile floors, a separate bathroom, double queen beds, a 40" flat screen TV, and fully stocked mini bar. I knew from that moment on, looking out into that clear blue ocean from my room, that the ora of vacation was cast upon me.
The Iberostar resort felt like my paradise, and we felt like royalty. When they say, something is all-inclusive they mean, ALL-INCLUSIVE. All you can eat and drink, for the length of your stay. The mini-bar, snacks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, everything! All foodies can agree that fresh guacamole with no extra charge is heaven but pairing it with thinly sliced flavorful Carna Asada tacos on warm homemade flour tortillas are Nirvana. Even the shows are included with your stay; each night the resort hosted various shows for all the guest to attend in their “Tiki Hunt Theater.” Each night was something different, ranging from magic, breakdancing performances, Frozen for the kiddos, to couples night starting after sun down. We got free rifle shooting lessons and a complimentary professional edited photo shoot of us around the grounds during our stay. It amazes me how warm weather, whisking ocean breeze, and a swim-up bar can still manage to peel people away from that resort. But our vacation was just beginning, and it was far from over.
Day three meant it was excursion time, and we had a full day planned for us in Tulum, which is just over an hour south of Cancún. Tulum is the largest community in the municipality of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is known for the archaeological ruins of the Mayan’s who lived there what seems like many eons ago. Another place in Mexico where the magic happens. Before walking through the wildlife and into the Mayan city of Tulum, I got the chance to discover rich Mexican cultures. Local music from the natives filled the beaten streets as we walked past natural wildlife handlers who will let you pet and even hold their iguanas, spider monkeys, and toucans. There were even some men dressed in full Mayan traditional ornamental feather headdresses. Tulum was also a great place to pick up souvenirs or a sombrero while bartering with pesos. Personally, I was most excited about getting fresh cut mangos with limón and chili seasoning. I will say this, although the sun was high and hot, the short train ride or five minutes’ or so walk before getting into Tulum was worth it. Crossing through the trees, low-bearing stone formations, and steps the site was exceptional. Everything was well preserved and full of history. The best part was the chance to discover the most beautiful untouched white sand beach, where the waves crashed against the rocks and stone. Our tour guide retold the story of the Mayan people and what they do to keep up with the preservation of the last city.
To be fair, it was scorching, because the sun in Mexico is partially unbearable, which made the second part of our excursion that much more fun. You cannot fully experience Tulum until you emerge yourself underground and inside the Gran Cenote. A limestone cenote and cavern perfect for snorkeling with its clear, cool water in the middle of a protected jungle. To get to the cenote, we had to drive about 30 minutes with our guide deep into the jungle, which means bumpy roads, no street signs and lots and lots of trees. However, the jungle is great for rappelling, zip lining, and quick zip in your ATVs. We had the chance to bust out the ATVs to get some great shots of the wildlife, swim with the baby catfishes in the cenote and have authentic Mexican cuisine from a local restaurant. The best way to end a fun full day like that was with a cold lemonade while my feet in the sand at the resort.
Looking back now, I could not tell you which part of my trip was the most magical. It could have been the beautiful views from the resort, or the rich culture and wonder of Tulum. The delicious food or the moment before all of our island life adventures began when my guest asked me to marry him. The afternoon sun, the breaking waves from the ocean, my best friend and I fingers laced, side by side on a new world adventure all wrapped into this perfect long weekend getaway. I couldn’t have asked for a better first international time in Cancún. I got to pet and feed an iguana a banana, had a pretty intense stare down with a crazy angry cat while out having lunch. Had a photo-op with a tiny spider monkey while he played in my hair, and put my feet in the Caribbean Ocean for the first time. I could not have imagined a better way to spend my summer. Taking back with me my sun-kissed skin, a camera full of memories and an engagement ring on my finger, it’s hard to single out any particular moment.
With our bags packed and our vacation over, I had to come to terms with reality; it was time to go home. After all, a long weekend is always followed by a Monday. I’ve never in all my years had that much fun on vacation, while not having to shell out a dime. Pure happiness does exist, and I have to thank my job, yes my job, for showing me how to vacation the right way. So, when they asked me if I would do it again? I had no hesitation when I said, “Absolutely!”