We went to Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun but very different from Cancun--small, relaxed vibe, and no real nightlife/club scene, at least not at the part of the island where our hotel was. We stayed at the Zoetry Villa Rolandi, where we found an awesome introductory rate because the Villa Rolandi was a previously independent hotel that was very recently bought by Zoetry. Until it was taken over, it was strictly adults-only; now it allows children but isn't really kid-friendly and we didn't see any kids staying there during our visit.
We picked the hotel based on a few criteria: we wanted a guaranteed oceanfront balcony (it is surprising how many hotels in Mexico won't let you book an oceanfront room, even if you're willing to pay extra for the guarantee), an all-inclusive resort that had actual good food and drinks, a swimmable beach, nice but not necessarily super luxury rooms, access through a direct flight, and still within our fairly modest budget. This hotel was all that and more. We LOVED it and will definitely stay there again if and when we go back to Isla Mujeres without the kids (if we go with the kids we would probably rent a house/condo or go to a different Mexico location with bigger resorts that have kids' activities and whatnot).
The whole trip was perfect. We spent every day except one at the hotel. They picked us up at the marina in Cancun and brought us over on the hotel boat so that we didn't have to mess around with ferries and taxis. The room was gorgeous, honestly way nicer than we were expecting - the hotel is not ultramodern; it's maybe 20 years old and has some character to it, but that isn't a euphemism for being run-down - it just truly is nice in a sort of mellow way? It has a Mediterranean feel to it. There were two restaurants, one open all day overlooking the water, and the other a fixed-menu dinner-only spot. Both were DELICIOUS, which is kind of amazing for an all-inclusive. The drinks were excellent, and Torsten discovered what is now his new favorite drink, a mango martini made with fresh mango puree. The service was top-notch - everyone was incredibly nice. The front desk guys even obtained a couple of rafts for us (which, for the beach, I highly recommend - it's so nice to bob around the gentle waves on a raft; we discovered this trick on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic and it was delightful).
And the pool! And the beach! And the poolside service! And the breakfast on the balcony! Just. All of it. As soon as we walked into our room and caught sight of the turquoise ocean out the giant glass wall? I swear both of us FELT our blood pressure drop.
When we did go out and about, we rented a golf cart (standard tourist conveyance) through our hotel and made a day of it, starting at Mango Cafe (definitely popular with the tourists but FOR GOOD REASON YUM), then heading down to Punta Sur, the easternmost point in Mexico where the Caribbean meets the bay, which was spectacular. We then did a quick stop by Tortugranja, the national sea turtle sanctuary, where we also saw an injured dolphin being rehabilitated, before heading north on the island to check out Playa Norte (actually we were kind of disappointed by it - definitely lovely but SO crowded and hot). We had lunch at a little mom and pop taqueria that was AMAZING and then wandered through El Centro, where we haggled for some souvenirs for the kids (and OK fine a couple for ourselves too) before nearly combusting from the heat and humidity. We spent the last hour just driving along the coastal roads taking in the view and marveling over the amazingness of it all.
The kids did great with my parents while we were gone--perfectly cheerful and happy, no meltdowns or acting out, so that was nice. Annika definitely did some testing and falling apart after we returned, but for my parents she was perfect. She's about the youngest that we are willing to leave her--we left Callum for the first time when he was about the same age and we went to Maine, and that worked out well, so we had some precedent. And oh, it was such a nice marital retreat, you know? We were so relaxed and we had so much time together and we were able to have so many good and important discussions, figure out some stuff about ourselves and our lives and some of the big things that we had kept meaning to discuss but just never thought about or had the energy for during the daily grind. We definitely came home feeling refreshed and decided on a few points, which was perfect.
If we come back with the kids and rent a house we would also rent a golf cart for the week so we could go out and about as much as we pleased, and try more restaurants (there were quite a few excellent-sounding ones on TripAdvisor and Yelp). We would also try snorkeling, possibly on a cool boat trip. This week was all about decompressing and moving as little as possible, so we skipped those things, but if we were to gird our loins for an active family trip, Isla Mujeres would be a great location for that too. I cannot wait to go back.