It’s not every weekend we fly to Mexico, but this past weekend, the Iberostar in Playa del Carmen invited us to celebrate the grand opening of their new Star Camp kid’s program and to take advantage of their all-inclusive resort for the duration of our stay. Didn’t take me long to RSVP “yes” to that one! We arrived late Friday night and stayed through Tuesday, since the kids were off from school for President’s Day.

Saturday morning, we woke up, got dressed in our bathing suits and beach cover-ups (well, Mike wore a t-shirt and shorts) and headed straight to the breakfast buffet.

I mean, aren’t all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets half the point of going to an all-inclusive resort? Mike and I went straight for the omelette line (you might remember that Mike has very strict rules for how to successfully navigate a breakfast buffet) and the kids went straight for the chocolate croissants, doughnuts and Frosted Flakes (Zucaritas in Spanish), as kids do.

After clearing the entire place out of Zucaritos (not even an exaggeration), we put on our sunglasses and headed out to explore the hotel grounds and get a lay of the land. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could all feel as fabulous as Harlow walking out of a breakfast buffet with a doughnut to-go?

The Iberostar in Playa Del Carmen is a little confusing, because it is actually five hotels in one complex. We stayed in the Parasio Maya, which is adjacent to the Paraiso Lindo. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two of them is the lobby. You have access to all the same restaurants, the same beach, the same kid’s club, the same nightlife and the same pool. It was hard to tell where the Maya ended and the Lindo began, and we spent most days walking all over both. It seems like the Lindo has the better lobby (they have a pretty boardwalk over water and the main stage where all the shows were at night), but we really liked where our room was situated in the Maya— close to the pool and the beach.

The property is large (it includes a small waterpark, a shopping center and a disco) and you will definitely get exercise walking wherever you need to go, even if you never step inside of the gym, which was huge, looked brand new and like a fitness person’s dream whenever I passed it while riding in a golf cart. Ha! Don’t tell zengirlfitness.

Another thing you might see as you walk around the property are tons of different animals. On our first morning, a peacock crossed our path and then we saw another one in the lobby.

The one in the lobby didn’t have a colorful tail and Mazzy informed us that meant it was a female peacock. She said it is the male peacocks who have the pretty feathers. Where she learned this, I have no idea. Later, I found out, female peacocks aren’t even called peacocks, they are called peahens. Who knew? Harlow, upon learning about the bland colored peahens, said, “That’s not fair! The girl peacocks should have the colorful feathers!” And I said, “I think it’s so the males can attract the females.” Then Mazzy said, “But why would the males want to attract ugly colored peacocks?” “Maybe they like them for their personalities,” I replied. Then we all laughed. And that’s my peacock story.

We also saw a long tailed raccoon thing called a Coati and another large sized rodent that scared the life out of us called at Capybara (or possibly an Agouti, we’re not sure).

On my instagram story, some people thought the tail of the Coati was the head and holy shit that would be the most terrifying thing ever. Like a rodent dinosaur.

The other exciting animals we saw were the flamingos at the Paraiso del Mar (a short golf cart ride away from the Maya). They were so orange and perfect looking that people who saw them on my Instagram story weren’t sure they were real.

I had this great idea to take a photo of Harlow with her leg up like a flamingo, but the flamingos ran away and the photo magic didn’t exactly pan out as I intended.

Did I mention that Allie went to the same Iberostar with her mom and her friends for her 16th birthday? How great is that? She said that she could tell from my story that some parts have been updated and some parts are exactly the same. As a whole, the Iberostar is definitely not as sophisticated looking as the Fairmont Mayakoba (we went there last year but I never got around to writing about it), but it is colorful and very photogenic.

FYI, nine-year-olds may not smile with teeth but they are excellent at taking photo directions, like when you tell them to take two steps to the left and one half step back for optimal framing!

At 11:30am on Saturday, we arrived at Iberostar’s brand new Star Camp for their grand opening party. I have to say, in all seriousness, the Star Camp is by far and away the most impressive hotel resort Kid’s Club I have ever seen.

My kids have been to a few and it’s always an interesting balance between what is too advanced for Harlow and what feels too babyish for Mazzy. It can be hard to leave smaller kids on their own, but then it can also be hard to impress big kids, so the facility needs to be a pretty special place for everyone to be happy, and most resorts are not that focused on the kid experience. For instance, we LOVED the Fairmont Mayakoba, but their kid’s club felt more like a daycare. Somewhere you could put your kids to do a craft or watch a movie when you wanted some alone time as an adult. In contrast, the Star Camp at the Iberostar felt like a destination spot for kids. Honestly, I would go so far as to say that the Star Camp was the most impressive part of the entire resort.

The Star Camp has three different programs— Monkeys (4-7yos), Dolphins (8-12yos) and Eagles (13-17yos), with three separate rooms for each age group. The monkey room has a huge climbing structure with slides and swings.

The dolphin room has a trampoline gym with basket ball hoops, a lounge for movies and a climbing wall.

The Eagle room has a gaming section, foosball, and a professional looking DJ set-up.

In the camp, there is also an awesome kid’s kitchen for cooking lessons, an area for old school games and puzzles, an outdoor playground and a main stage with big beanbag chairs spread out in the audience.

But regardless of everything going on in the Star Camp building, most groups spend their days out and about. On her first day at the camp, Mazzy played beach soccer, pool basketball, went in the wave pool, competed in “Mission Possible,” rehearsed and performed in a show and went to a disco after party.

My one complaint, although I think this is really more of a family dynamic problem, is that Harlow was upset that she was in a different group than Mazzy, and ended up opting out of the camp altogether. Mazzy could have aged down and stayed in Harlow’s group, but Harlow wasn’t allowed to age up, which was understandable. Mazzy wanted to stay with the kids who were her own age, which was also understandable. So, Harlow opted to play in the Star Camp facility while I hung around, and then spent the rest of the day with Mike and me.

But that was okay because having a big kid super excited to do her own thing made me really appreciate pool time with my little one.

We fed the birds at the beach, got ice cream at the snack stand, went into the wave pool about thirty times and cuddled on a raft floating down the lazy river.

I’m got so much good quality Harlow time on this trip and she is at an age where she is so fun to be around. There is so much love and hilariousness coming out of her tiny little body and I truly hope she never stops aiming it in my direction.

One of my favorite moments was at the pool, when Mike said, “I think I’m going to get a snack.” Harlow replied, “Do whatever you want, you’re your own grown-up.” And that’s the attitude I am going to remember whenever I am faced with any life decision, big or small. Thanks, Harlow!

Also, she stole Mike’s glasses and hat for this picture.

The one time Harlow separated from me and Mike was for show rehearsal. The Star Camp puts on a show every night with a different theme and they rehearse every day for about twenty minutes in the afternoon. We had seen their Circus show the first night and it was pretty impressive what they accomplished in that 20 minute rehearsal! They even had costumes and make-up for all the kids, which made a big impression on the girls. After watching the Circus show, Mazzy and Harlow both very much wanted to participate the following night, which was something they called “Mini Musicals” which was going to combine songs from Cats, Shrek, Madagascar and High School Musical. How they arrived at that combo, I have NO CLUE.

At rehearsal, I sat in the audience to watch. One of the first things the director said was, “Who wants to be Sharpay for High School Musical?” To my surprise, Harlow bounded right to center stage and volunteered. As per usual, she is shy until she is NOT SHY AT ALL.

After rehearsal, Mazzy wanted to stay with the camp through dinner, while Harlow came with us. We had to meet back at the stage for costumes at 7:30am. I have never seen Harlow more concerned about being on time in my life.

The show was awesome, particularly the Cats part, but sadly, I have no good pictures because it was too dark and the girls changed into their High School Musical costumes before the end of the show. When the High School Musical section started, Harlow was all the way at the end of the line-up. There were probably about 25 kids on stage. This is the moment when Mazzy motioned for Harlow to get to center stage for the Sharpay part. SO FREAKIN’ CUTE.

“Being Sharpay” meant doing the same dance as everyone else except in the center and while mouthing the words to the song while holding a pretend microphone. Harlow rocked it.

After her part, Harlow went back to the end of the line and then started inching closer and closer to the center so that by the big finale, she was right up there with Mazzy. They took their bows, told the audience their names and where they were from and then invited all the parents to come onto the stage. Apparently, every night, after the kid’s show, all the parents must dance on stage to Gangnam Style. Yep. That happened. More than once, actually.

After that, the show directors lead everyone in the song “Won’t you be my girl” which seems to be the Iberostar theme song. The staff sings it everywhere (at the end of the show, at the pool, etc.) and have choreographed dance moves so that everyone can follow along. The whole place reminded me of the time I went to Club Med when I was fifteen— lots of group activities with a “we’re a big family” feeling amongst the staff and guests. Whether that kind of vibe is what you want on your vacation probably depends on the person.

If you are wondering about the food, I would say that is in line with what I have come to expect from all-inclusive resorts. Tons of options (we went almost exclusively to the buffet restaurants) with food that is all fine, but nothing you would write home about. Except the the chocolate fountain and the marshmallow skewers for dessert. Obviously, the girls couldn’t get enough of those.

I think my whole family would agree that breakfast is really where Iberostar really shined. The omelettes were perfect and Zucaritas were always on hand.

The last full day there, Mazzy and Harlow both opted to stick with Mike and me. We spent most of our time in the wave pool, which if anyone is considering whether or not to go to Iberostar, the wave pool should be the thing that throws you over the edge. It was a blast and I have never seen the kids happier than when they were jumping around in that thing.

It was wide but not long, so it was very easy to watch both Mazzy in the deep section and Harlow in the shallow section at once. It also only had waves at set times during the day (maybe five times a day?), for twenty minute intervals. So, it was easy to commit yourself to having an awesome time with your kids in the pool, knowing that it had a definitive start and finish.

I honestly don’t think it would have been nearly as meaningful or as much fun if it was just on all the time. Then everyone would have been fighting over when we went to the wave pool and when it was time to get out. Also, as someone who used to love jumping in the ocean as a kid, but is a total helicopter parent at the beach now and would never let my kids get really deep into the ocean on their own, it was so fun seeing them really experience big waves for the first time, without the risk.

We spent lots of time in the main pool as well, which was huge. Here is a photo of Mazzy and Harlow inching closer and closer to me until they finally screamed, “Mom! Get in the pool!!!”

I did get in the pool. I think I have spent more time in my bathing suit fully submerged in the water than any other trip. Usually, I’m a half-in kind of person but the wave pool really made that impossible. I jumped in the big waves with Mazzy. I let myself get taken down by the smaller waves in the shallow section with Harlow. I raced against Mike while the kids acted as our obstacles across the big pool. I let the kids hang on my neck as I swam through deep water to get to the pool bar and get everyone virgin strawberry daiquiris.

You know what? Vacation is so much more fun when you don’t care about getting your hair wet.

Speaking of hair, here is a photo that Harlow took of me donning my new vacation ‘do.

After years of trying to tame my frizzy hair in tropical locations, I am now officially a ponytail person. I do not know why I ever strived for something greater.

Also, Harlow is the only person who thought to take a solo photo of me on this trip, so she is now my designated Instagram photographer. All photos of me will be aimed at the underside of my chin from this point forward.

If you want to see video of my trip to the Iberostar in Playa del Carmen, check out my Mexico story highlight on Instagram!