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Gluten-free Adventures in Mexico


Mexico - Gluten free
For last year’s March Break vacation, we decided to go to Mexico. We booked an all-inclusive holiday with Sunwing Vacations. The resort we chose was the Grand Sunset Princess All Suites and Spa Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera. Part of the reason we selected this resort was because we read some good reviews about their gluten-free options on travel sites such as Trip Advisor Canada.

Getting there

We flew on Sunwing airlines and were disappointed with the gluten-free snack offerings on board. While there were some limited GF options, they ran out quickly, so there wasn’t a lot for my son to eat. Luckily it wasn’t a very long flight, so it wasn’t a huge issue, but something to note if you have a child with celiac disease who you know will need to eat on the flight.

During the flight, you could read about the different excursions available from Sunwing Experiences and even purchase the tours from the flight attendants! We decided to book a half-day excursion to Tulum to see some Mayan ruins. I’ll tell you more about that later.

When we arrived, we quickly found our tour bus after dodging several men eager to help us all with our bags (for a fee of course!). They can be fairly pushy and we cautioned our kids not to let anyone grab their bag, even if they looked like official tour guides.

The bus ride was comfortable and didn’t feel too long. It took less than 1 hour to get to our resort.

Grand Sunset Princess All Suites and Spa Resort

When we arrived, we were greeted with a tropical non-alcoholic beverage that everyone in the family could enjoy.

Our room was comfortable with 2 double beds, plus a cot (perfect for accommodating our changing needs now that we are travelling with a “tween” and teenager) and a good-sized bathroom with double sinks and an enclosed toilet.

The other thing I liked about our room location was that it was close to the main building where most of the restaurants and shops were. It meant a bit of a walk to the beach – but no one minded going for a stroll in that paradise-like setting.
  
The resort seemed to be on some sort of nature preserve and boasted a variety of wildlife including iguanas, Coati (which we called “Lemur-varks” because they looked like a cross between a Lemur and an Aardvark), alligators (which disappointingly… or maybe luckily?!... we never saw) and MONKEYS!! There were also wild cats roaming the resort and our kids loved making friends with them.

Dining Options

Now, I’m sure you’re curious about whether the reviews I read before booking were true. I’m pleased to report that they were! Our first night there we went to the buffet and let the waitstaff know that our son could not have gluten. They immediately told us that they would get the chef to come to our table.

It took a bit of a wait, but when the chef came he was very nice and gave my son and I a tour of the buffet pointing out what was safe and what wasn’t. There was even a small section dedicated to gluten-free breads and desserts such as carrot cake, brownies and muffins. The chef also said that if there was anything special that our son wanted, he could make a gluten-free version for him. Needless to say, it was a very encouraging start to our stay!

In contrast, we learned that the Sports Bar and pool-side food stands did not have any gluten-free options, so we planned our pool and beach time around meals. While we didn’t use it all that often, I found that having a photo of the Spanish Gluten Free Restaurant Card from www.celiactravel.com on my phone was helpful for clarifying with restaurant staff whether they had offerings that were safe for my son.

The Grand Sunset Princess has a sister-resort on the same grounds – the Grand Riviera. The resorts are basically mirror images of each other and each has their own buffet restaurant which guests of either resort could enjoy. Each night the buffets had a different dinner theme including: Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Caribbean and Asian. There were also eight a la carte restaurants which were included in our stay. While we found that buffet dining suited our family’s varied palates the best, we did try two of the a la carte restaurants: La Hacienda (Mexican) and La Vaqueria Steakhouse.

We had so much fun at La Hacienda! First off, all their tortillas were made with corn flour and therefore safe for our son to enjoy. Once we had established that, almost the whole menu seemed to open up for him and he was thrilled. Our family loves Mexican cuisine, so we all ate well that night! In addition, our waiter was great and made sure we got photos in some of the sombreros they had dotted around the restaurant specifically for that purpose – a sure way to please families and selfie-loving “tweens” alike!

La Vaqueria Steakhouse was also a hit with the whole family and, again, had enough gluten-free options that my son was spoiled for choice.
   
Interestingly enough, we ate most of our meals at the buffet and, in spite of knowing that the chef could make him something special if he wanted a certain item gluten-free, my son never asked for a specially-made meal. When I asked him why not, he told me, “there were so many great gluten-free options at the buffet already, I never wanted to ask for anything else.”

Site-seeing and Entertainment

Our tour of Tulum was the perfect length of time for our family. It was a half-day excursion which departed from the resort at 7:30 in the morning and had us back in time for a 1pm lunch. There were a lot of amazing add on options for the afternoon, like visiting Xel-Há (pronounced “Shell-hah”) which sounded like a beautiful snorkeling and adventure destination. We could have also done a full-day excursion to Chichén Itzá. We didn’t choose these options this time, as I know the limits of our kids’ (and my) patience – and now we have an excuse to go back again! 😉

Now, let me tell you about the trip we actually did take. The tour of Tulum was an awesome experience. Even the road trip there gave our kids a chance to see where Mexican people in the area lived and worked. Once we arrived it was a short walk from the tour bus drop-off to the ruins themselves. Our tour guide, Lei, was great. She was an engaging speaker and gave us so much interesting information about Tulum and the people who lived there when it was a bustling Mayan city in the period 800 AD to 1550 AD. It was the only known walled Mayan city along the sea and played an important role in Mayan maritime trade routes. Both our kids asked questions during the tour, which was a sure sign that the tour held their attention and a testament to how engaging our tour guide really was.

In spite of how much they enjoyed the tour, our kids loved being in the water at the resort the best. Whether it was the pool or the ocean, it didn’t matter, as long as they were playing in the pool or jumping in the waves, they were happy. The sandcastle building contest and foam party on the beach were also big hits with the kids.

At night, the resort had lots of entertainment. The kids loved the show that demonstrated different dances from various regions in Mexico and the night market was also fun with everyone purchasing a little item to remember our trip by.


Other Misadventures

The one dark cloud on our trip was that one of our cell phones was stolen from our room. One of the kids tucked theirs into their bag instead of taking it with them when we left the room, so bad on us for not ensuring all valuables were in the safe. They aren’t kidding when they recommend you use the safe for all valuables. This was our first trip with the kids having electronics with them, as we had purchased them for safety reasons when they started walking home from school on their own at the start of the school year and thought it would be nice for them to have them to take photos on the trip. For our next trip we will be sure to do a better job keeping track of all our valuable electronics – it was certainly an expensive lesson to learn!
On the day we were to head home, our flight was delayed, so we opted to “make lemonade”, or perhaps more appropriately “tequila” as per the sign in the resort’s gift shop, and head back to the pool for a last swim before departing for the airport.

Final thoughts

Overall, our family had a fantastic time in Mexico and Grand Sunset Princess All-Suites and Spa Resort definitely gets points for providing a great variety of gluten-free options to keep celiac kids and adults alike well fed and happy during their stay!

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