By Trina Hendry

It was at least 20 years ago that I vacationed in Cancun, Mexico, and I was amazed by how much the destination had changed when I returned recently for a mini-vacay. What struck me most was the shift in vibe from Spring Break party central to a welcoming destination for families of all shapes and sizes. That said, I’m sure Cancun has always been a getaway for families but its reputation certainly said otherwise. Today, with its vast selection of cultural activities and hotels geared specifically to families, it is clear that Cancun caters to just about everyone.

I recently had the pleasure of staying at the new Panama Jack Resort. Formerly known as the Gran Caribe, the Playa Resorts-owned hotel underwent a massive renovation, reopening as a 458-room, casual, beachy, all-inclusive vacation spot for families.  And it is fantastic!

Here are seven reasons why you should stay at Panama Jack Resort with your family:

1. The Vibe
If you’re wondering who Panama Jack is and if the resort was named after a real person, the answer is yes. Jack Katz is the man behind the Panama Jack brand that originally launched with sunscreen, evolved into beach attire and furniture and now includes two hotels—in Cancunand Playa del Carmen. The hotels truly embody how he lives and travels, and you can see his personal touches everywhere you look. For instance, throughout the resort, you will see numerous inspirational travel quotes written by him painted on the walls. He is also a collector and you will find many of his collectibles stationed around the hotel.

From the moment you step into the hotel,with the casually dressed staff and cool ocean breezes swirling through the lobby, you know this is a place where you can kick back, relax and enjoy acarefree vacation. At Panama Jack Resort, there are no strict rules and this family hotel is full of heart.

2. The Suites
In keeping with the rest of the hotel, the bright, spacious suites are casually appointed with a modern beachy feel. Crisp white linens pair perfectly with hints of turquoise and earthy tones, clearly inspired by the sun, sea and sand. Thoughtful amenities, which are included in all room types, include  a fully-stocked mini bar (it is all-inclusive, after all), turndown services, WiFi, private balconies with ocean, lagoon and garden views, butler service, and the usual stuff—AC, flat screen TV, coffee maker, hair dryer, and more.

There are many suite layouts to choose from—from a Standard Room to a Family Junior Suite that can accommodate two adults and three kids (complete with bunk beds for the kiddies) — making it easy to find accommodation that suits any family. There are also beachfront walkout suites, decadent swim-up suites and a fancy Presidential Suite.

What I loved most about the suite was the welcome amenity — a hand-painted turtle that is handcrafted by local artisans in Quintana Roo. Because they are hand painted, no two turtles are alike, making this an extra special touch keeping in line with the resort’s commitment to supporting the local community.

3. The Family-Friendly Amenities
Nowhere is it more obvious that Panama Jack is about family than at Camp Jack. Featuring a pirate-themed splash park with two splash zones, a pool with seven waterslides, a  family pool, a mini-putt course, a kids-only zone (seriously, parents are not allowed), movie nights at the beach, magic shows and live entertainment, Camp Jack is a resort playground like no other. Forteens, the #hashtag program is a place where they can gather, socialize and chill-out while enjoying various activities like Wii competitions.

The family suites directly adjacent to the camp allow for easy and unlimited access to a safe playground for the little ones. While still open for business, this area was being renovated at the time of my stay. No doubt it will be even more fabulous when the renos are complete.

While the kids are being, well, kids (under full supervision by the Camp Jack staff), parents can enjoy the numerous activities happening at the resort each day, from beach volleyball, yoga and cooking classes (you can learn how to make paella and authentic guacamole), to tequila tastings, mixology classes, Spanish lessons, dance lessons, and so much more.

4. The Food
With 13 restaurants, bars and lounges on site, plus in-suite dining, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to go hungry.  Dining options include: Panama Jack Coffee Co. (my personal fave) for THE best freshly made cinnamon rolls and cold brew coffee in Mexico; Deck 74, a waterfront grill that serves daily breakfast and a Caribbean, Mexican and Mongolian-themed dinner; Viaggio for Italian; Ventanas for breakfast and an international dinner menu; Case de Rosa for Mexican fiestas; Hot Diggity Dogs, a food cart at the kids’ pool, a chips and salsa snack bar, and the list goes on. Are you hungry yet? You should be because the food is delectable!

Kids young and old with a sweet tooth will appreciate the gigantic dessert display in the lobby every Wednesday evening, and there are entertainment shows every night in the Lobby Bar.

5. The Wellness Factor
Whether you are looking to be pampered, unwind from the stresses of daily life, or get in a daily workout, the resort has it all. Offered as an optional add-on, Aqua Spa is pure relaxation, with a full a menu of natural therapies and ancient treatments—like a warm Mayan mudwrap and chocolate therapy rituals, designed to leave body and mind rejuvenated. Guests can also sign up for beachside massages, participate in yoga classes, and work up a sweat in the fitness center.

6. They Give Back
One of the things I loved most about the resort is its commitment to giving back to the planet and the community. As a Green Globe-certified resort, the hotel incorporates a number of sustainability principles, including a sea-turtle release program, four on-site bee hives in partnership with Melipona Maya Bee Sanctuary, and initiatives to support the local community, including a Helping from the Heart donation box where guests can donate clothes, shoes and other items for the community, and a special Christmas breakfast and gift exchange at the hotel for needy kids.

7. Family Fun in the Mexican Sun
Perfectly situated in Cancun’s hotel zone on a pristine beach, Panama Jack Resort is the perfect launch pad for enjoying the numerous sites and destinations within the region, including the town of Playa del Carmen, the coastal Mayan ruins at Tulum, the ancient city of Chichen Itza, the island paradise of Isla-Mujeres, some 8,000 cenotes (underground freshwater swimming holes), Xcaret, an eco-archeological theme park, the Big Wheel Cancun, a giant ferris wheel right in the hotel zone, Museo Mayade Cancun, and so much more!

Cancun has become a family affair, and Panama Jack Resort is THE place to stay for a truly welcoming, genuine and relaxing family vacay.

About the author
When Los Angeles-based contributor Trina Hendry isn’t writing for Oh Travelissima and other lifestyle publications, she is busy exploring California and creating content for her Hello California blog and Instagram feed.

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