After Christmas, Brandon and I jetted off to Mexico for a two week vacation. We’ve been together 5 or 6 times, but this was the longest stay we’ve done so far. This particular trip was poised to be a change-up from our usual vacations in Mexico. We were going to an all-inclusive resort with 10 other friends for 5 days, followed by a two night stay at a luxury resort with family, and time in the town of Playa del Carmen in between. It was time to flex my “logistics of food prep” muscles.
Before we dive in, I am allergic to peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy protein, and legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas, some beans).
Our group learned a lesson about booking our NYE vacation late in the game, and ended up in a resort that was, shall we say, shockingly tired. The palapas shrouding the entryways sagged like the eyes of an elderly woman but lacked any vision of wisdom. At times the staff seemed resentful of the guests, one of whom left a review on Trip Advisor stating that this resort “is good if you are not at all picky”. I didn’t get the sense that detail-oriented allergy accommodations and customer service were a priority.
When I called the resort before leaving Toronto, to ask if they have an allergy policy, they left me on hold for about 15 minutes and then hung up. Meal prep and self catering would be required for this portion of the trip. I’m fortunate to have had a “home base” at my in-law’s condo in Playa del Carmen. I could not have done resort stays without it. As they arrived a few days before Brandon and I, they went to Costco in Cancun and picked up frozen meat, chicken, veggies, and fruit.
When we got to Mexico (we went a couple days before our friends arrived) we prepared all my meals for the week. Brandon grilled steaks on the BBQ, I steamed rice, and ensured I had enough safe granola bars and other snacks that I brought from home. Each meal was portioned and individually packed in a Ziploc bag. For breakfast I brought safe oatmeal cups, and I brought baby carrots and boiled eggs for lunches. My mother in-law also bought me a small hot plate, and I had my travel kettle. I borrowed one of her frying pans and some cutlery, and brought paper plates and cups. One suitcase and a small cooler were dedicated to my food.
I didn’t think drinks would be an issue at the resort, I mean, a beer in a bottle has always been a good option for me. But they only had one type of no-name beer on tap, and no bottles. I saw the bartender take dirty cups and swish them around in a bucket of yucky water before reusing them for other guests. Drinks were stricken from the list. This would be a bottled-water-only locale. I was a little disappointed.
Having a hot plate meant I got to enjoy a hot meal every day, a luxury not often afforded when self-catering in hotel rooms. I just ensured that I did not leave it plugged in and that I boxed it up and put it away after use. I also brought a little bottle of dish soap, a sponge, and a roll of paper towel. You may be wondering why I wouldn’t just use toilet paper to dry my hands and the pan, and that is because toiler paper in Mexico is always scented. The cooler happened to be colder than the fridge in our room, so I just replaced the ice every day and kept my food in there. Some days I made my lunch and brought it down to the pool to eat with my friends, but overall I just ate meals in my room. By the end of the resort stay, Brandon and I were itching to eat together.
There were some other allergies in our group of friends. One guy is allergic to almonds, so I was relieved to see a nut-free symbol next to some items on the menu. That being said, when they brought his dessert it had crumbled nuts on it and the waiter did not seem to know which nuts they were.
Travel to the Catalonian resort was a big challenge with food allergies. I would not recommend it unless you have a way to meal prep beforehand, otherwise you will be starving by the end of your trip. Despite the challenges I was there with my husband and a group of close friends so we had a fantastic time. Everyone knows me and my situation so there weren’t any awkward conversations or prying questions. I was able to relax and we even made a joke about Brandon ordering entrees for me (that I obviously wasn’t eating) and sharing them with everyone else. Hey, we had already paid for them so why not!
In the Town of Playa del Carmen
Brandon and I have visited the town several times over the last few years and we had a few favorite dining spots including a quiet restaurant that served amazing pasta, and a hipster bar that did a delicious vegetable ceviche and grilled octopus. Unfortunately both of them had closed! I was so disappointed to see that my go-to spots were no longer there. One of the things that made those places so great was that they had fluent English-speaking staff that were familiar with allergies and were willing to accommodate. I’ve eaten successfully at the popular El Diez, but only when we were seated with an English-speaking server and when the manager was able to visit the table. In my experience it’s best to stick to the high end restaurants because, just as it is here in Toronto, you often have to pay for diligent service. On past trips I had brought my allergy card (in Spanish) to small local taco or grill restaurants, but they told me straight up that they could not do it. Nuts are a big part of Mexican cuisine (take mole sauce, for example) and are often found in sauces/stews, meat dishes, desserts, and for snacking.
Rosewood Spa at Mayakoba
The Mayan Riviera is home to one of the world’s best spas - the Rosewood at Mayakoba. Mayakoba is a stunning and luxurious resort that’s carved out of the dense jungle expanse and dotted with rivers and streams. Six of us stepped away from the first all-inclusive resort to make use of the spa, for which you can book a day pass at a reasonable price. Sometimes spas can pose their own challenges in regards to food allergy, as massage oils, essential oils, soaps, lotions, etc. can be laden with allergens. In this case, we did the hydrotherapy circuit and the only questions I needed to ask were about the oil used in the steam room (rosemary oil) and the ingredients for the body scrub (I decided not to use it). Our group lounged around the grounds for the entire day and made the most of our time there. We didn’t end up ordering any food as they had an abundance of snacks available. The snacks were nutty granola, fruit, and cookies, so I just stuck to my own safely packaged granola bars. It was really enjoyable to participate in all the day’s activities, and it felt like I got to take a break from being an “allergy girl” for the afternoon. I highly recommend visiting the Rosewood Spa at Mayakoba if you get the chance.
Five Star Resort - The Grand at Moon Palace
In the second half of our trip we spent two nights at The Grand, the latest development at Moon Palace resorts. From the moment we entered the hotel, everything was seriously grand. It certainly lived up to its name. The resort is an all-inclusive and I felt optimistic about eating at least one meal in their restaurants. This place was extremely service oriented, and even gave me an allergy card at their “PR desk”. The PR rep seemed to understand food allergy and let me know that my meals may take a bit longer as they would have to be prepared in a separate area. I was hyped about finally getting to eat with everyone else at a resort! While at the PR desk I ordered a case of water and some fresh oranges and bananas to be sent to our room.
The room deserves a special mention as it was absolutely fabulous. We could have easily just spent a whole day in there, using our Jacuzzi, sitting on the patio, drinking Corona’s, and ordering scented pillows from room service.
Unfortunately the fruit and water never arrived, so I started to get a little curious. I decided that I would eat dinner in our room and scope out how the staff handled my sister in-law’s gluten intolerance before committing to a meal myself. That night dinner was at Habibi, a gorgeous Lebanese restaurant that served small plates to be shared among the table. There was some confusion about which items were actually gluten-free, as the information provided by the server differed from what was on the menu. When she asked for her dessert without nuts (her 4 year-old son has allergies too) it came with pistachios on top. The server did not seem to understand that these were nuts. My optimism about dining out sunk. Fortunately at this resort they provided fully loaded mini bars which included cans of Corona, so I finally got to have a drink!
I had meal prepped for this resort stay as well, so I stuck to my food routine. In the evening Brandon decided that he wanted to order room service and enjoy some food with me while I ate dinner in our room. The comfort level of this room made the eating experience infinitely better than at the other resort, and it felt good to not be eating alone. When he placed his room service order, the CS rep asked if there were any food allergies, to which Brandon said yes please no peanuts or nuts (he’s not comfortable eating them around me). You can imagine my surprise when his salad showed up with peanuts all over it! We were really disappointed by this, and he decided to not even remove the wrapping, and just left it untouched. Needless to say that I did not eat in the restaurant that night, and I contacted the hotel’s customer service department to let them know about the allergy issues I experienced.
Based on this experience it appears that allergy travel is difficult at luxury resorts too. I wonder if the service would have been different had I contacted the resort ahead of time. Although “food allergy” seemed to be a buzzword, and not something that sparked real action, I am still optimistic. At least it is on their radar. It’s a step in the right direction. I hope to visit again one day and have a successful dining experience.