I may have mentioned my fear of open water a couple of times. I’m sure it came up in my review of our Disney Cruise and again in my post on Elba Island. However, as a mom trying to do my damndest to be a brave, adventure-loving role model, I continue to try to conquer this fear. And what better way to do it than a catamaran cruise around Cozumel?
Isla de Cozumel is a 185 square mile island off the Yucatán Peninsula, opposite Playa del Carmen. It’s a popular destination for cruise ships and divers wanting to discover the wonders of the sea. The MesoAmerican Barrier Reef (the world’s second largest) surrounds the island and is ideal for snorkeling and exploring underwater life.
Our journey started with a ferry ride from Playa del Carmen to the island of Cozumel. We chose WinJet, a fast ferry that ran just about every hour and promised to be an easy, 45-minute jaunt to Cozumel. The first tipsy step I took onto the boat signaled to me that this ferry would be different from the other slow-moving ferries I’ve been on before. A little voice inside told me to take the Dramamine before it would be too late. I’m so happy I did.
As we took our seats and watched the ship start to push back from the dock, we tried to get comfortable. The boat was clean and mostly empty. The crew was friendly. The skies were blue. However, about five minutes into our journey, the rocking of the ship became almost unbearable. The kids started to turn green. The grown-ups estimated the time it would take to make it from their seats to the restroom. The crew calmly began to pass out barf bags like it was no big thing.
Through the boat’s bobbing and the passengers puking, we somehow made it to Cozumel only a little traumatized. But the last thing anyone wanted to do was get on another boat. Unfortunately, that was the only plan we had for the day and everyone had toughen up.
A quick taxi ride from the Cozumel port allowed us to air out and took us to our next destination: Marina Fonatur to board our private catamaran.
There are several options for a boat tour around Cozumel, most include rowdy twenty-somethings and yard-stick sized daiquiris. Since we were a group of three children and four (old and grumpy) adults, we wanted to avoid the booze cruises and crowds. Instead, we opted for our own private 35’ catamaran through Exclusive Cozumel Sailing that took us on a five-hour round trip ride to a sweet snorkeling spot in the reef and then to El Cielo, a heavenly crystal-clear sandbar accessible only by boat.
At the dock, our captain met us and took us to our ship. She was a new 35’ catamaran with two cabins, two bathrooms, and a dining room--plenty of room for our party of seven. In addition to a captain, we also had two first mates who tended to our every need. Life vests, paddle boards and all snorkeling equipment (for both kids and adults) were also provided.
The first hour was spent cruising along Cozumel to our snorkeling spot. The captain was informative and friendly while the first mates did everything from making drinks and delicious snacks to helping the kids get out into their snorkeling gear. As it was the first real snorkeling experience for most of us, there were some tears, but the crew made it so much fun that everyone eventually dove in...except me. The Jaws theme music played in my head every time I thought about dipping more than a toe.
After thirty minutes or so of snorkeling (I heard it was amazing!), we continued our journey. On our way to El Cielo, David, one of the first mates, jumped into the ocean after a beach hat that blew overboard. He snatched it in seconds flat. I’m telling you, these guys were amazing!
El Cielo is a sandbar accessible only by boat where the water is no more than waist deep and the sandy bottom is velvety soft. This was more my speed. I hopped on the paddle board with a couple of kids, cruised around our anchored ship and watched the stingrays slide by underneath. It was as close as I was willing to get to the sealife, and it was magical.
With the boat anchored and everyone enjoying the sandbar, the crew made lunch. We had fresh fruit, chips, guacamole, and quesadillas. The open bar included soft drinks, water, beer, liquor and wine.
We all complained on the way back that we didn’t want the day to end, but after five hours on the catamaran, we had to say goodbye. It was the perfect place to conquer my fear, a gorgeous boat surrounded by friends, family and knowledgeable experts. But, the fear lives to see another day and I don’t regret it. While I didn’t make it into the open waters this time, I still had an amazing adventure that no one in our party will soon forget.
What to do:
Take a private catamaran around Cozumel with Exclusive Cozumel Sailing
What to pack:
You won’t need anything else; Exclusive Cozumel Sailing has you covered.
I received an extra hour of sailing from Exclusive Cozumel Sailing in exchange for this post.
1. Bucky 40 Blinks Contoured No Pressure Sleep Mask- looks like a mini bra but fits your face like a dream on a long haul flight or in a hotel room.
2. All in one travel adapter- a must when traveling internationally. Mine has been to Finland, Iceland, Rome, Paris, Florence and London.
3. Passport Holder- nerdy yet functional. A great way to keep important docs at your fingertips and you from looking crazed as you frantically dig through a bottomless handbag filled with snacks and gum.
4. Trunki Ride-on-Suitcase- best way to keep little kids entertained and active through big airports.
5. BubbleBum Inflatable Car Seat- Goes everywhere and packs up small. Perfect for rental cars, airplanes, and taxis.
6. The Shrunks Inflatable Toddler Bed- Keeps your kid off gross hotel room floors and safely snug in a bed with inflatable rails.
7. No Roll Crayons- Awesome for airplanes and trains when you don’t want to be digging around the floor for a runaway crayon.
8. Take And Play Hangman- great game for the school-aged kids. Easy to store and pieces don’t get lost. Pro-tip: Give them their grade level sight word list and have them choose a word from there. They’ll be sure to spell it correctly (very important in hangman!) and get in some extra practice with sight words.
9. Maclaren Stroller Hands down the best travel stroller. I researched them all and found this to be the very best lightweight, easy to use stroller. Stands up against cobblestone and airports and crabby kids.
10. Kidz Gear Headphones- Comfy and lightweight, these headphones have held up for years, and they come in fun colors.
11. Burton Suitcase- This bag is the bomb. It fits everything a family of 4 could need on an extended trip and even separates into two suitcases to avoid overweight charges. It wheels like a champ through airports, around tight corners, and on even the busiest streets. It has handles on the front that make it easy to huck wherever your travels take you.
12. Travel Slippers- These are great for the plane, hotel rooms, and kicking around friends’ houses where shoes are not allowed. Just roll ‘em up and stuff them in your purse.
13. Over the Door Organizer- This packs up small but has BIG benefits. We’ve used ours in tiny European hotels and small cruise ship staterooms to organize sunscreen, shoes, wallets, phones, cords, and everything else.
14. KAVU Rope Bag- This shoulder sling is the perfect day pack for sightseeing. It easily fits everything you need for a day out and about--sanitizer, tissues, band aids, smart phone, Epi pens, lip balm, and sunscreen.
15. All Good Organic Sunscreen Butter- This is the smallest, easiest to pack sunscreen ever. A little goes a long way and it feels velvety soft on sensitive skin. One tin has lasted the three of us days at the beach.
16. Skip Hop Kids Backpack- There’s something to be said when your child can finally carry some of their own crap. This backpack is perfect for toddlers to kindergartners to carry their own snacks and small toys without it getting too heavy. The cute designs make them fun (and easy to spot) and the simple features makes it unfussy.
17. Lululemon Align Pant- You will forget you’re wearing pants. Really. Even after a twelve hour flight and multiple trips to the airplane bathroom with the kids, these pants feel amazing and the matte black are chic enough to wear in public.
18. E Marie Travel Blanket- It’s a scarf! A cape! A blanket! This travel blanket is the best for when you don’t want to use the junky one they provide on the plane. It’s also one of Oprah’s favorite things, so it must be good.
19. Skyn Eye Firming Gel- Eyes puffy from jetlag? Pop these genius gels in the refrigerator and then chill for 10 minutes while they work their magic.
20. It luggage- This 27.5 inch hardside spinner suitcase is the lightest, easiest to manuever suitcase that even your kids can manage.
21. Goodr Sunglasses- these inexpensive ($25!) sunglasses are amazing. "No slip. No bounce. All polarized. All fun." And it's all true, plus they come in every color combo imaginable.
After scorching on the streets of Rome, falling in love with Florence, and being attacked by bugs outside of Siena, it was time for the beach. We’d heard about Italian beaches--banana hammocks and big umbrellas packed like sardines on small stretches of sand. I’d researched the hell out of where to go with Skinny Jeans looking for a sandy spot, not too touristy and not too sharky. (Any vacation that includes the ocean would be amiss without an irrational fear of shark-infested waters.)
Enter in Elba Island.
Elba, located in the Tuscan Archipelago, is the third largest island in Italy. Its claim to fame dates back to 1814 when it was home to Napoleon during his exile. But its crystal clear, blue sea and beautiful beaches are Elba’s true treasures. A mix of leafy land and serene sea makes Elba the perfect destination for diving, snorkeling, mountain biking, or soaking up the sun (apparently Elba is exempt from sunscreen or skin cancer) like the rest of the Italians.
To get to Elba, we took a ferry from Porto Piombino. It was a slow-moving gigantic rig that allowed us to take our car with us and gave us gorgeous views of the island’s shores. From the port in Elba, we made our way to the southern end of the island, Lacona, where we’d rented a one-bedroom apartment from Mini Hotel. The fine, golden sand of Lacona beach was the perfect spot for Skinny Jeans to build a sand castle and the clear, warm, calm waters were perfect for me to keep an eye out for sharks. With no current or undertow, we spent hours splashing in the sea and floating on our newly purchased blow-up raft. With our toes danging off the edge and the warm water lazily lapping, I almost forgot we were in the ocean.
It wasn’t until a tanned man in a Speedo emerged from the waters holding a leggy octopus by its head that I remembered we were most definitely still in the sea. We gawked as he carelessly walked his catch to the shore, plopped it in a sand bucket full of salt water, and saved the creature for supper.
After a few days at Locona, we headed West to Fetovaia and spent a day at the stunning beach and at Hotel Montemerlo - Campo nell'Elba, a sister resort of MiniHotel. While much smaller than Lacona beach, the beach at Fetovaia is surrounded by cliffs that contrast with its blinding white sand and the water looks fake it’s so blue.
The thing about Elba that had me enthralled wasn’t the beach, wasn’t the grilled octopus I’d eaten for dinner (don’t worry, I didn’t take the one from the sand bucket), wasn’t the dangerous cliffs or the local aquarium highlighting just some of the strange sea creatures.
No, the thing about Elba is the women. The women walk the beaches in bikinis no matter their age, no matter their size, no matter how the tiger stripes stretch across their bellies or the dimples dot their thighs. In my stylish black one-piece suit, I stood out like a sore thumb. While I covered all my imperfections, they unapologetically put theirs on display. Sure, there were picture-perfect women wearing thong bottoms and nothing else, but for every one of them, there were three women--young, old, thin, thick--baring it all without a blink. And after a couple of days, this normalizing of bodies became so empowering that even I started to care less about what mine looked like and more about how beautiful and interesting the shapes and sizes made an already stunning shoreline look. As I watched Skinny Jeans skim the small waves, I couldn’t think of a better place for her to learn to love her own body and for me to appreciate mine.
Thank you, women of Elba, for showing this American how beautiful we all are.
Where to stay:
Mini Hotel, Lacona- all the necessities, large fully equipted kitchen, no pool, but close to beach and beachside parking available. The BEST hospitality from check-in (informative with loads of island discounts) to check-out (sent us with a parting gift of homemade jam).
Hotel Montemerlo, Fetovaia - with our stay at the Mini Hotel, we had access to this hotel’s amenities which included parking near the beach and a pool. The lunch we ate poolside was incredible.
Where to eat:
Bagni Orano di Enzo e Francesca- On Lacona beach. I recommend the grilled octopus!
Il Gelato Dell'Artista- great Lacona beachside gelato
Hotel Montemerlo - Campo nell'Elba did a great lunch next to the pool
What to do:
The Elba Aquarium- fascinating look at what lurks beneath
Lacona Beach- golden sand, calm waters, huge crowds
Fetovaia Beach- white sand, dramatic cliffs, blue waters, big crowds
Both the Lacona and Fetovaia beaches are great for small children!
I received a media rate stay at Mini Hotel in exchage for this post.
How we cut the cord on cable and never looked back. Thanks, Blunt Moms, for publishing this piece.
I romanticize. It’s true. It’s why I’ve ended up, more times than I can count, doing something that I’d convinced myself would be fabulous but would later discover is kind of terrible. Other people tend to see the writing on the wall, but I like to slap a thick coat of rose-colored paint over the message and call it an accent piece. It’s the kind of thinking that’s led me bounding towards a cruise ship dreaming of the glistening open seas, my turquoise sarong effortlessly tied (I mean, come on, already there’s a problem here) as I bask in the sun alongside a shimmering, crystal-clear pool. In reality, I find myself slightly sea-sick, desperately tugging at my wind-whipped cover-up as it flaps over my face and dragging a screaming child out of an onboard cesspool while wondering if I might have the symptoms for scurvy. It’s why I’ve found myself skiing slopes way too steep for an amateur or screeching down mountain bike trails I have no business walking let alone riding. It’s the wind in my hair, the gorgeous, sunny day, the careless put together image of myself that tends to wash over the real-life hot mess express I am typically running to catch.
This is the exact kind of thinking that landed me in the middle of Tuscany, 20 miles outside of Siena, on a farm known for its pigs and prosciutto, startled awake at one in the morning with a grasshopper the size of a stapler on my forehead and a mouse in my bed.
But let me back up.
Tenuta di Spannocchia
I’d heard about Tenuta di Spannocchia through endless Googling and researching. I wanted a true Italian agroturismo stay. I wanted to step away from the hustle and bustle of Florence and Rome and roll back into time. I wanted the picturesque rolling hills, the Tuscan sun, the Diane Lane. And Tenuta di Spannocchia promised to be all that and then some.
Settled on a 1100- acre organic farm, Tenuta di Spannocchia has been home to folks from all around the world. A muse for scholars, artists, musicians and environmentalists and a pillar for sustainable living. The farm produces certified organic olive oil and wine. The vegetable garden provides all the necessary ingredients for their authentic, rustic cuisine. And the farmhouses, available for rent, date back to the 12th Century. But it’s the pigs, the Cinta Senese, a heritage breed native to Tuscany that was almost extinct before Spannocchia started breeding them, that are the main attraction.
Obviously, the perfect spot for people who have no concept of farm life.
A Warm Welcome
Upon arriving, Casa Dami--the farm’s largest and oldest house-- had been prepared for us. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, it was plenty big for the four adults and three kids I had lured to the countryside. Three single beds for the kids were neatly set up in the main floor stone bedroom while a queen-sized bed was waiting in each of the rooms upstairs for the adults. A gigantic fireplace took center stage in the cozy living room and windows facing out to the rolling Tuscan hillside dotted the dining room. Our hosts had filled the farmhouse kitchen with an overflowing basket of vegetables from the garden, fresh eggs, warm bread, and a bottle of wine.
Outside, there was a lovely pool with a ping pong table and some shady trees--a fast favorite among us all. A small reception area sold wine and olive oil and other fruits of the farm and a large common space hosted a cocktail hour and delicious family-style welcome dinner for guests and interns alike.
Too Hot to Handle
But, as the temperatures rose (it got over 100 degrees), the heat began to burn the edges of the picture I’d been painting in my head. Words like rustic and secluded and authentic started to take on a different meaning. Rustic was code for sweat-through-the-mattress hot at night and bye-bye wifi. Secluded meant it would take 30 minutes just to find a market that wouldn’t have what you need. Authentic meant mosquito bites the size of quarters and grasshoppers so green they looked like they were radioactive.
And while our stay was everything it promised to be--rustic, secluded, authentic--and the pigs were exactly as described, and the farmhouse was just what I’d ordered, this farm just wasn’t for these city slickers.
So, when I awoke at one in the morning with a grasshopper the size of a small stapler on my forehead, jumped out of bed like a rocket, and ripped off the bed sheets (in search of the insect) only to find a trail of mouse poop, it was time to say goodbye.
Tenuta di Spannocchia was everything it said it would be. I, somehow, missed the message.
Where to Stay: Tenuta di Spannocchia
What to Do: Cinta Senese Tour, Siena
Where to Eat: Made our own meals at the farmhouse
I received a free Cinta Senese Pig Tour and Tasting for our group of seven in exchange for this post.
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