Southwest Vacations: When Getting There is Half the Fun (Cancun Day 1)

Shortly before Christmas, I was perusing through my  spam folder when I happened upon an email entitled “Southwest Vacations – Mexico Vacation Opportunity.”

I don’t know about you but I’m regularly “winning” the lottery and dream vacations so I almost automatically deleted it but I’m so glad I didn’t.  The email explained that Southwest Vacations® recently launched service to Mexico and the Caribbean and they were wondering if my entire family would consider taking a trip from Denver (one of their top departure cities) to Cancun.

View from the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort

Though I was obviously familiar with Southwest Airlines®, I had never heard of Southwest Vacations and a bit of research revealed they are directly affiliated with the affordable airline and offer complete vacation packages to Las Vegas, Disney World, Disneyland, Florida, California, New Orleans, Phoenix and other top US destinations.

Low-cost vacation packages that you do not have to plan yourself? Sign me up!

The process was embarrassingly easy, given the amount of research that usually goes into planning a trip and it was a comfort to know that all the services had already been vetted. At, I booked our direct flights, transfer information to-and-from the airport, hotel, excursions and paid my international taxes…all with a few simple clicks.

We surprised the kids with the news of our Cancun vacation on Christmas and they were thrilled. I usually spend the final weeks leading up to a major vacation stressing and planning but I literally had nothing to do because everything had already been confirmed. I started stressing over my lack of stress, which made me realize that maybe I have a problem with needing to feel stressed.

And then I got over it really quickly and decided for once, I would find out what it was like to have a stress-free Southwest Vacation.

The Flight

I checked our family into Southwest Airlines 24 hours before our flight to ensure an optimal boarding assignment. We have flown a number of times but have never had an international direct flight and it was a game-changer. Instead of wasting essentially two days to get there with our usual layovers, we gained an entire day to enjoy Cancun during our quick 3-night trip.

Say “yes” to Southwest’s direct flight from Denver to Cancun!

Our 3.5-hour flight went smoothly and upon arriving at the Cancun International Airport, we were greeted with a madhouse (apparently we weren’t the only ones who had opted for a long-weekend getaway during Martin Luther King Jr. Day). We eventually made it through Customs without a hitch…until we were randomly selected to have our bags searched. Seeing the wad of small bills for tips in my purse, the officer queried, “Ma’am, does this exceed $10,000?” I tried to stifle a laugh–it was like he totally knew me.

The instructions on our Southwest Vacations confirmation were to walk directly from Customs and not stop to talk to the multitude who was trying to sell timeshares. We quickly spotted our Lomas Travel representative and were mercifully whisked away in an air-conditioned shuttle.

The Resort

I had only been to Cancun once before on a brief stopover during a cruise and my first impression was not favorable. Though the Caribbean waters were undeniably beautiful, the hotel zone seemed like non-stop revelries and for a non-partier who craves outdoor adventure, I couldn’t figure out the allure.

When my family pulled up to the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort–a short drive from the airport but seemingly worlds away (40 minutes) from Cancun’s populous hotel zone–I caught a glimpse. A doting staff presented us with flowers, cool washcloths and we gratefully devoured a spread of snacks in the lobby during while singing, “I think I’m gonna like it here.”

Moon Palace is a sprawling all-inclusive resort, boasting 2,446 luxurious marble décor rooms and private balconies with three distinctive sections. We stayed at the more secluded and quiet Grand section, the expansive Sunrise is replete with activities and pools while the Nizuc section has exclusive concierge service with shuttles connecting them all. I love that despite the size (which seemed overwhelming at times), each area had its own personality and the cozy feel of the Grand perfectly suited us. We had one of their most basic rooms and it was anything but basic.

Our room’s private balcony overlooking the jungle

A double jacuzzi for one fully-clothed boy

A helpful concierge helped us narrow down their 13 restaurant choices and made us dinner reservations at the Brazillian steakhouse, Arrecifes. As we were walking the ocean-side path to dinner, we caught our first view of the water. My daughter begged, “The ocean is calling and I must go” (or something like unto it) but her killjoy parents’ stomachs were calling even louder so we forced dinner upon her. As she stuffed her face with delectable Bolinhos de arroz, acaraje, and empadinhas de palmito, we learned two things about the Moon Palace: 1) We were going to eat well and 2) We were going to eat a lot.

Following dinner, we hit the abandoned beach. Still in our dinner clothes, my husband and I initially cautioned them to merely walk in the sand. But of course, the kids needed to at least touch the water! And then you can’t expect them to merely wade! Before long, they were vacillating between being fully submerged and building sandcastles.

Jamie and I settled back on the beach and watched as the full moon burned down and Cancun glistened with silver lights like a galaxy of fallen stars.

Hadley looked at the horizon, that long line that cuts the world in two, and flung some sand toward it.

“Did you see that?” she squealed as she launched another handful. When it hit the dark ocean, the moon’s reflection lit up each grain of sand like a bioluminescent bay, a befitting touch of lunar magic in the hauntingly beautiful Moon Palace.

Just when we thought our trip to Southwest Vacations couldn’t get any better, it did just that.


Stay tuned for tomorrow for Southwest Vacations: The Flowrider’s Hilarity and Beach Bumming (Cancun Day 2).