Months before exchanging wedding vows with my now wife Nellie Carroll, we decided that delaying our honeymoon until our one year anniversary would best allow the dust to settle and us to budget accordingly. The first few months seemed to fly and I thought it was cute when we would call out our ‘monthly anniversary’. We had been batting ideas around about exactly when and where but we needed to get our financial ducks in a row and make a decision.
Months prior to the wedding, while stopping at my local StateFarm agent’s office, I was recommended to contact Ketti Menne (see her site here), an experienced travel agent that had assisted. She had assisted my agent and got a good review so I gave it a shot. After an initial consult we began narrowing our travel scope and available budget. Eventually we booked a trip to Sunscape Dorado Pacifico in Ixtapa, Mexico.
This was to be an all-inclusive getaway that offered a beautiful getaway on the pacific side of Mexico. The price was very reasonable and our package included flights and ground transportation which can greatly reduce stress when in a foreign destination. With the arrangements made, the excitement began to build and soon we were counting down the days in till our trip.
We booked for a full 7 days and were both looking forward to that extended getaway. It was going to be a trip focused on celebration. Nellie had just converted to a FTE in her career at Prime Therapeutics, and I had just completed all my course work for graduate school and studied for and passed my CISSP (a gold standard exam for those in the IT Security profession). Let’s not forget that this was also about reconnecting with one another and sharing time discussing our first year of marriage. No marriage is perfect and we are not invincible from the harmful realities of demanding jobs, financial bumps, and daily temptations. But, we weathered the storm and deserved a celebration and it was now upon us. After a long weekend Saturday of shopping, thank you Macy’s, we had fresh new clothes for our getaway. We were ready; it was go time.
Once we had surpassed the Herculean task of packing, we departed early the morning of May 17th. Together and as a team we traveled from Minneapolis to Phoenix and eventually to Zihuatanejo/ Ixtapa, MX. Once we had finally arrived, we were escorted down a ramp of stairs from the plane onto the Tarmac and quickly into customs. At that moment we finally were able to get our first taste of the hot and humid weather that was to be our new paradise for the next week. Love it!
Once through customs, Nellie and I were quickly identified by an Apple Vacations representative that squared away our travel to Sunscape. As we began our travels through Zihuatanejo to the tourist sister city Ixtapa, it was obvious we were in a third world country. Things were visually much less developed; the city itself was nestled in a large valley and most houses were built into the steep sloping countryside. While the living conditions are at a much reduced convenience for most, our taxi driver assured us that the city offers electricity and large water-tank trucks would deliver water for a reasonable fee. Overall, it was a change of pace, but to the inhabitants this was home and they were very happy to share it with tourists like us.
Finally we arrived at our stacation destination, Sunscape Dorado Pacifico and were greeted with smiles from the concierge. We quickly checked in and were then requested to attend an informational meeting regarding all the available experiences available to us. There were several other Americans that had just arrived, initially we exchanged common salutations but didn’t realize we would end up experiencing much of our vacation with them as new friends. That was really great!
Note – Travelers beware, Emilio at the front desk will try to convince you into attending a two-hour meeting for $50-100 worth of pesos; however, he downplays that it is a really a pitch to sell time shares and pressure travelers. This definitely took away a bit of the ‘warm welcome’ that we received, but we didn’t fall for it.
While attending, our fantastic consultant, Roberto, explained what excursions were available for booking and what times throughout our stay that they would be available, which was very helpful. Once we had that foundation, Nell and I began tossing around comments on which we would both like to attend. By the end we were well-informed and able to knowingly have a minimal sight-seeing agenda that still allowed for enough poolside relaxing! Loving it even more! When we made it to our room we were welcomed with a ‘Honeymoon’ banner and a desert made specially for us. It was okay, but it was really the view that captured us, WOW!
The temperature outside was a steamy 93 degrees and sunny; we could not ask for better weather. Having barely survived a hellacious Minnesota winter, the tropical weather was more than welcomed. That said, while on this trip we were in swim attire the vast majority of the time. Prior to the trip, the wifey decided to take a chance and try out braids which were super cute and very functional. I loved them and she was instantly received as a model amongst the guests staying at the resort. We made our way downstairs and got a little time in at the poolside enjoying a drink and scoping out the resort. On our first night we kept things pretty casual and decided to do dinner at the Bluewater Grill which was quite good!
The next day we slept in and eventually made our way down to breakfast and enjoyed the buffet, Nellie especially liked their sugar doughnuts and decided to spoiled herself. We found everyone from the resort staff to the other vacationers to be extremely pleasant and more than willing to teach you spanish. Buenos Diaz! There was little to no language barrier at this destination which made things very convenient, and you could tell that the locals appreciated your attempts. It seemed that everyone enjoyed getting to know us and had curious questions to ask, like where we were from and whether we like Ixtapa very pleasant atmosphere!
After getting our fill, the whole day was dedicated to relaxing and spending time poolside lounging and swimming in the ocean. Often Nellie would be resting from shore as I would battle the strong waves along the ocean’s shore. They may have only been 6-8 feet waves but they were quite powerful. I am thankful that swimming is one of my strengths because the ocean current can be very formidable. Beyond being a total vegetable, there were several volleyball games hosted by the resorts entertainment crew (which were fantastic) that I was able to participate in. Actually during one of the games is when I ran back into one of the Americans we had met the day before, Jason, which was cool. I really started to absorb a lot of the Mexican sun and added a few shades to my complexion. Luckily, Nellie was great about keeping me covered in active sunscreen.
To cool off, we waded through the pool to the swim-up bar and ordered another round of drinks. I think we enjoyed a piña colada and a Bahama Momma as we chatted. Before we knew it the entertainment crew had sprung back into action, but this time it was an adults only drinking game. Essentially, they showed us some of their favorite Mexican shots and how to make them, of course they had to cap it off with a tequila shot at the end, yikes! The libations were all fantastic and it really opened up the group of us Americans into conversation and getting to know one another. From there we had many laughs and decided to all coordinate dinner.
For this night we were going to be checking out Da Mario, an Italian influenced restaurant. We got dressed up and were looking the part of a couple relaxed honeymooners and headed down. As always we are usually operating about twenty minutes behind schedule but oh well, its vacation and we didn’t take things too seriously. Afterwards we made our way outside where they had music playing and people were dancing and drinking well into the late hours! It was cool that each night offered a different music theme. Once we had our nightcap we went back to our air-conditioned room for some much-needed rest!
The next morning we woke up and headed down for a breakfast. I had finally gained my barring now as to the different accommodations and found that Coco Cafe made a really good Americano so I grabbed one on my way into Windows for a bite. We found our group and immediately were sat and served some tasty mimosas to get the day started. To that I say cheers!
Soon there after we were back into our swim attire and out enjoying the day. We had no difficulty finding different activities to get involved with. After having a couple of drinks we were feeling comfortable and really enjoying the weather I got intrigued by all of the vendors on the beach offering parasailing. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do and for only $20, I had to give it a chance!
When I returned, I found my wife being entertained by Gabriel who was leading a group of about fifteen people in water aerobics. It was so silly some of the things that they did, I was laughing so hard when I saw Nellie try to carry Gayle through the water in a buddy exercise.
Note – probably the most memorable experiences were only attainable with the fun and energy that the Entertainment Team brought to the table. You had 1) Carlos – a really great guy that was eager to play a game of volleyball, 2) Gabriel – this guy is probably the best dancer at the entire resort and knew how to make people smile, and 3) Blanca – a very outgoing woman who knew how to charm the crowd with her coconut bowling expertise and smile. They were so polite and gracious, I consider all of them to be my friends!
Earlier that day, I had checked the schedule and Carlos was scheduled to lead those interested on bike ride around the surrounding neighborhood. So we suited up and went for a nice hour-long bike ride and history lesson of the surrounding area. Lol, I recall the bikes being quite uncomfortable and squeaky, but we managed and I snapped a couple of bike selfies as we rode along.
It was a cool experience but by the time we got back we were a bit worn out and in need of more beverages. We got back grabbed some refreshments and made sure to meet up with Roberto so that we could finally book the excursions that interested us the most. Nellie wanted to do horseback riding and I wanted to go snorkeling and zipplining through the rain forest. She was much more open to adventure than I thought, which was really awesome! We booked them all and found that the rates were fairly reasonable. Overall we only had to spend about $300 on everything that we wanted to do including a day trip to Zihuatanejo to do some additional shopping on our last full day.
That night we once again got dressed up for another fantastic dinner with the group and even were able to enjoy some dancing afterwards. This was the first night that we really got it in and cut a rug until 2AM! It was a lot of fun dancing with Nellie and just letting go. There is no judgement when no one will remember you tomorrow or tell the stories back home, lol!
The next morning we had to wake up a bit earlier as we had scheduled a fun morning of horseback riding. So we enjoyed breakfast and rehydrated after a long night of drinking and partying. Thank you Coco Cafe for the caffeine; I quickly grabbed something to perk me up as we exited and hoped into a suburban that drove us to the horse ranch about 20 minutes away from the resort.
When we arrived we saw the horses and were quickly designated a suitable stallion. We mounted up and were escorted by a guide down a long road before heading onto the horse path that led out to the ocean. My horse liked to linger towards the rear of the posse which was okay with me as it allowed me to take some good pictures of Nellie and of the surrounding area. It was exciting to have the both of us experience something like this for the first time. It was great.
Probably my favorite moment here is when my horse decided to gallop on the beach. It was truly remarkable how strong they were and they made it seem effortless. We eventually turned off and made a loop through the rainforest before heading back. It was well worth it and we would love to do it again.
With our adventure over by no later than noon (to avoid the hottest part of the day), we were back in our swim wear and enjoying more of the resort. The rest of the day we enjoyed a wine tasting event put on by our favorite entertainment team and relaxed poolside. That night there were to be more dinner stories and dancing. This was a long and fun day and I couldn’t have had a better time swinging my girl around on the dance floor.
The next day we had planned an exciting day trip to Ixtapa Island where we would be able to enjoy their three main beaches. I was especially eager to go snorkeling as they have some of the better coral reef in the area to swim over and investigate. My wife Nellie was onboard for this adventure but also quite terrified as she cannot swim. I have to commend her on her bravery, because with only minor hesitation did she willingly strap on a life jacket and flippers and make our way to the ocean’s edge. Thankfully, my mom had provided us her set of snorkeling masks. The ‘tube’ or breathing apparatus with her set did a really great job at blocking water from accidentally going too far under and made expelling extra water really easy.
Nell got a bit more comfortable, she was able to participate and really enjoy herself and see all the beautiful fish and coral. Keep in mind that when she would panic she would grab my vest push down to get her head fully out of the water. This means that she essentially almost drown me like three or four times, but I was very understanding. It was also extremely cool of my brother Justin to borrow me his waterproof camera for this trip, which I wanted specifically for these pictures, enjoy!
After about 30 minutes of snorkeling we felt like it would be best to wade back into shore and enjoy some refreshments and partake in our group lunch. So funny, the folks that ordered the spicy fish didn’t know what they got themselves into… it was insanely spicy even for Nellie! We transitioned to the beach and enjoyed some fresh coconut water and caught some rays. While nellie was prancing around and hanging with the girls I was able to capture a few pics of her looking cute; she is a 10!
Before I had left on vacation I had also promised my little Peanut Butter (Madison) that I would bring her some sea shells back. Once again I grabbed my scuba gear and accomplished my mission and pocketed several nice ones and gave a few others to some of our travel companions. With our time nearing an end on the beach, I was able to successfully negotiate us a wave runner jet ski for about a half hour, costing us only $25. Having never been on one before, Nellie was overly cautious but I had a little fun opening her up on the straight aways. For some ominous reason I was always worried of falling off and having a shark take a nibble, yikes. Safely back we caught a couple of pics and said goodbye to the fantastic Ixtapa Island. I would not hesitate to recommend this place to travelers.
Later that night we got back and decided to catch dinner together at Gohan. This was a real treat as it was the first night that it was open since arriving and they served sushi. If you know my taste buds then you know that I am a sucker for sushi. I think it is just because you can eat as much as you want and never feel too full. So we smashed and then wandered over for a nightcap and dancing once again. Super fun!
The next day we woke up and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast, Nellie and her sugar doughnut and me with my Americano. Are you beginning to see a pattern happening here, lol? We had to get our energy up as we were about to embark on our last major excursion, zipplining through the Ixtapa jungle. Not really knowing what to expect, we kept an open mind and dressed comfortably. Soon our driver arrived and took us to a remote residential area on a hillside outside of the tourist city. Having been a little early we were able to jump right into our harnesses and get through a minor ropes course before we got onto the big stuff.
The guide took his time teaching us how to attach and detach to each safety wire and how to ensure that we always had a safety latch attached just incase. Now the equipment and wood planks and wiring at times looked a little suspect, we still continued on and enjoyed pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Nellie really took on this challenge and beat her fear of heights one step at a time. What transpired over the next hour was an amazing adventure of self exploration and daredevil adrenaline packed thrills weaving through the jungle trees. Here are some of my favorite pictures!
Generously we tipped our driver as we arrived back at the resort and bid our farewells. It was now time to relax by the pool, drink perhaps a bit too much rum and fall deeply asleep for a few hours, well at least I did. Nellie also found her R&R and after she woke me it was time for another dinner and dancing session. So we took a few pictures and made the most of the night. Gosh I love me some linen pants, so comfy!
With our trip nearing its completion, we had only one full day left to do some serious shopping. The next morning we embarked on a day trip to the main shoppes of Zihuatanejo During our shuttle ride we were given great insights by our driver as to what stores were the best places to buy goods. When we arrive we saw different types of textiles and wares for sale that were all so colorful. Quickly you realize that everything has a negotiable price, but the people were very friendly and wanted to do business. Together Nellie and I set out to buy a few dresses for Madison, some shot glasses for my neighbor Marcus, a decent picture frame for our home to remind us of this trip and of course a refrigerator magnet.
Our shopping didn’t stop until they drug us out at the last moment before our shuttle was about to leave to head back to our resort. All of the items we had desired to get were readily acquired at a fair price and I was also able to purchase a legit silver chain. With our bags in hand we boarded and left happily with lighter wallets; after all, we had little desire to bring any pesos back to the States with us!
The remainder of our stay was really about rest, relaxation and some one on one time with Mrs. Carroll. Though we decided to do a group dinner on our last evening, it really was all about us enjoying ourselves and watching our last Mexican sunset (at least for a while anyway). Happily our dinner host took some photos of us just prior to being seated. The night was perfect and allowed for some really great pics, take a look!
The next morning we finally have to wake up and pack our bags for our final departure. Thankfully our flight is not until later in the afternoon so there was no need to rush. We had one last resort breakfast and in the meantime I made sure to cash my last $50 into pesos and thankfully walked around and said my sincerest thankyous to the kind staff for their service and hospitality. A special thanks goes out to all those that were on the Entertainment Team (Carlos, Gabriel and Blanca), to our personal room attendant (Gloria), all the bar and restaurant staff, and the hotel concierge staff. It never felt better to give a little extra when nothing was expected, super thankful!
I took one last stroll on the beachfront and enjoyed my toes in the sand before having to return to the resort for our final departure. I was glad that all of our new comrades were leaving at the same time, it gave us a great opportunity to say our final farewells and to grab a couple of group selfies.
This concludes our most amazing and adventurous trip together ever. What a great way to mark our 1 year anniversary and honeymoon! May there be many more of years of happiness and trips such as this one! Thanks for joining us as I did my best to recapture this profound and exciting trip, god bless!