Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rocky Point/Puerto Penasco with Kids - Review and Tips

Our family spent the week before school starts down in Mexico at Rocky Point aka Puerto Penasco.  Rocky Point is a popular destination for Arizona desert dwellers as their beautiful white sand beaches are only a 4 hr drive away!  I still can't believe that this beautiful paradise is only a short road trip away.

We first discovered Rocky Point 7 years ago when our oldest was just a baby.  We stayed at Las Palomas Resort after seeing listings on VRBO.  We loved our week there so much that we returned for another week that summer only a month later!  We had planned on making it a yearly trip but were scared away for many years due to the increase in violence in the area as well as near the border. The risk didn't seem worth it to us.

Well fast forward 7 years and we were ready to try again.  The beauty of the location as well as the close proximity and budget prices helped motivate us to give Mexico another chance.

Although Rocky Point has many resorts and house rentals at or near the beach we have chosen to stay at Las Palomas Resort & Spa every time.   Las Palomas is rated #1 (out of 19) on Tripadvisor and once you've had the best why try something else? ;)

We selected our rooms each time by using VRBO.  The resort is a combination of hotel rooms and privately owned condo suites between 1-3 bedrooms for regular suites and there is at least one 4 bedroom 5000sf (!!!!) room as well.  By going through VRBO you can chose for yourself what room you want as well as the location in the buildings.  There are 2 Phases (a 3rd is being built right now).  Both Phases have ocean views but the pools are better in Phase 1 according to my girls (I agree).

Each Phase has a lazy river, swim up bar and infinity pool.  Phase 1 also has a splash/spray kids pool, regular pool and a slide (requires a tube to go down).  Phase 2 has a kids pool (super shallow) as well as a kids area with spraying animals.  

Note that the hotel DOES NOT provide inner tubes for the lazy river or any other pools.  You have to bring your own.  We did not realize this and had to buy 2 tubes from their little mini-mart store...for the low low price of $12 each.  Well worth the money and the kids were thrilled to have a couple souvenir tubes to take home.  I just wish I'd known to bring my favorite donut float. :)

  • A little tip: The store has an air pump near the register (by the ice cream freezer) that you can use to fill up the tubes MUCH quicker than the old fashioned way.  The store staff will probably not tell you about the pump, we were given the tip by another family watching my husband and I oh-so-slowly try to inflate ours poolside.

We selected a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom this trip (from VRBO listings) in the Topaz building in Phase 1.  The unit is owned by a family that happens to live near us in Phoenix.  I contacted her by email and she set up our reservation with Las Palomas.  Very simple!  You can also make reservations directly thru Las Palomas but I do not believe that you can request a specific unit, so it will be a surprise when you arrive (not our style).

Our unit was beautifully decorated with a modern beachy theme.  The unit had a master bedroom (with on-suite bathroom that included a soaking tub and separate shower), a guest room with bathroom next door, kitchen, utility room (washer & dryer), foyer (perfect for storing our inner tubes and beach toys), living room and dining room.  

The HUGE lanai had three sets of sliding doors to access it from both bedrooms and the living room.

My girls loved having their own room that just happened to include a flat screen tv with cable.  Ah heaven (we don't have cable at home).  This particular unit had 3 flat screen tvs with cable and dvd players.

Now for a little review of the resort (and traveling to Rocky Point) here is the good, bad and the ugly.

The good

  • Many sparkling clean pools and water attractions for kids (and grown ups too).
  • Warm water beach RIGHT there.
  • Every room has a view.
  • Large spacious suites with multiple bedrooms available (up to 5000 sq ft!!).
  • Large lanais, many with tables, sofas, etc.
  • Cable and wi-fi included.  Many rooms have dvd libraries.
  • No extra resort fees.
  • Covered parking in the buildings.
  • Pool hours are strictly enforced.
  • Property is clean and well maintained.
  • 2 for 1 happy hour drinks 2x a day! (2-3pm and 5-6pm)
  • You can pay for everything with American money, no need to bring or use Pesos. Also you can charge items to your room easily using the wristbands.

The bad

  • Our room had pretty cold showers.  We didn't bother asking for maintenance, so partly our fault. :)
  • Occasional rotten egg smells in our master bedroom (not sure if coming from the shower or overhead vents).  It didn't last long (just a few minutes) but we'd have to open the sliding door and turn on the fan to clear the smell.  So strange!
  • The border town as well as the area in Rocky Point leading up to the resort are run down with obvious poverty.  Once you get to the resort (through a guarded gate) everything is clean and immaculate and pretty luxe.  The contrast can be jarring and I will admit to feeling disheartened at the obvious differences between the "haves" and the "have nots".  Once you're in the resort this is easily forgotten (for better or worse) except for the prolific and polite people selling items to tourists on the beach in front of the hotel.
  • You have to wear wristbands the entire time in order to use the pools/beach and to charge to your room.  If you lose the bands they cost $10 to replace.  Broken bands can be turned in for a new band at no charge....which I happen to know since my girls broke 2 bands during the week.

The ugly

Some risk to traveling near the border; can get pulled over unnecessarily and require paying a cash "fine" to go on.  This has happened to our friends on a few occasions.  They are pulled over for "speeding" near the border crossing (Mexico side) and told that they have to pay a fine right then in order to continue.  My friends have emptied their wallets in order to keep moving, so I suggest carrying only $20 in your wallet and if you get pulled over inform the police officer that that is all you have.  It will most likely do the trick (did for my friends).

A few tips

I recommend going during the week and avoiding weekends if possible.  It was MUCH quieter and less crowded even though we were there during the high season (1st week of August).  By friday it had gotten much more crowded and the live music was LOUD although they did wind down by 10pm when the pools close.


Bring your own meals/food if possible.  The resort has a couple restaurants but since the rooms have full kitchens it is much cheaper (and easier) to just make your own.  Especially with kids b/c the kids meals are pretty limited.  I am not much of a meal planner but I did map out meals ahead and brought only the ingredients that I'd need.  I also included 3 Hello Fresh meals which were wonderful, made it soooo much easier and a little fun to try something new too.

  • A tip: Any unused fruit, vegetables and meat products brought into Mexico (or purchased there) cannot be brought back to the US.  According to the border agent "once they're in Mexico they're Mexican".  So just toss any leftovers before you head home. (If undeclared at the border and caught you risk fines).

We bought little multi-pack variety cereal boxes (I only buy them for vacations as a special treat) for breakfasts.  Also eggs, bacon and toast.  Now, coffee is a big deal to me.  I knew the room had a regular coffee maker (I'm normally a Keurig gal) so I brought some regular grounds for that but also my Starbucks Via iced coffee packs.  I found those worked best for me, super easy and only needed a bottle of water and a little creamer.  Plus iced coffee is better by the beach than hot anyway!

Speaking of bottled water; although the room had a tap with "filtered water" on the kitchen sink we decided to only drink our own bottled water (that we brought with us).  I froze a few bottles each night to use at the pool/beach the next day.  The water stayed cold and we were able to stay hydrated without buying poolside drinks (although I did get a few mommy frozen drinks at 2 for 1 happy hour!!).

  • A little tip: Don't forget to bring spices, olive oil, butter, salt & pepper and any other must-have condiments for your family.

If you eat at the poolside bar/restaurant I recommend the fish tacos, they're delicious and only $8!  For another $2 you can have a Mexican recipe coke. :)  

  • A little tip: Coke cans are only $1 in the resort store. 

The kids shared a rather large chicken nugget kid's meal (chicken and fries) for $6.  During lunchtime (12-1 I think?) they include ice-cream for free with the meal, although in our case the kids got a shirley temple since they were out of ice-cream.

A Coke with a view, now that's paradise!

The Beach

The resort has a beautiful white sand beach right on the property.  They have palm tree cabanas that are first come first serve.  I recommend going first thing in the morning as the there is more availability.  

  • A little tip: Before you drop all your belongings check out the lounge chairs, many of them are broken and don't recline correctly. 

There are many people selling items on the beach (although they have to stay outside of the boundaries the resort set up) including: sunglasses, jewelry, personalized bracelets, hair braiding, massages (RIGHT in front of everyone though, yikes!!), cigars, henna tattoos, temporary tattoos, coconut water, etc.   We noticed that there were about 4x as many people selling on the weekends as the weekdays. 

You can also have banana boat rides ($5 per person) or rent a wave runner for $40 a 1/2 hr.  7 years ago there were horse rides on the beach but during this last visit we didn't see any.

I had to wait until Friday (the weekend) to get the ice-cream popsicles that I'd remembered from 7 years ago.  They were worth the wait though!  Flavors like vanilla, strawberry, pineapple, chocolate covered, etc and only $1!!  

  • A little tip: They don't always make change so have the exact amount.  It should only be $1 each, they may try a higher amount first (happened to me). 

The beach has wonderful shells, lots of different varieties that my girls had the best time hunting for.  Beach combing is especially fun during the low tides.

They loved the "unicorn" shells the most.  They are pretty special, very different than the shells we see during our WA visits.
  • A little tip: The water is warm and shallow, which makes swimming easy and lovely no matter how far out or in the tide is!

Also Bring

  • flotation rings/devices
  • laundry soap
  • sunscreen (bring extra!)
  • Books/magazines (I recommend cheap books that you don't mind getting wet/sandy and leave them at the hotel when you're done).
  • Passports for adults and original (or certified) birth certificates for kids.
  • Mexican car insurance, can be purchased online or at towns on the way to the border.  Insurance is necessary and not very expensive.  Ours was just under $100 for 5 days (they are in 24 hr increments). 

So there you go, I hope my tips are helpful to you and your family.  We had such a great visit that we will be making this an annual event once again.

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