We tend not to spend a lot of money on "experiences" when we travel. We don't buy tours or pay for a lot of extras.
However when your one and only daughter turns 10 you have the perfect excuse to throw a little money at the day!
We chose Xplor Park for her special day and it was a brilliant decision.
This attraction is about 15 minutes outside of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, and capitalises on being directly in the impact zone of the asteroid that hit earth 65 million years ago, killing the dinosaurs.
It's a period of time that Ivy is fascinated by and seeing her face as we stood in the caves on that very spot was priceless. But that's not where the delights ended.
Xplor is an adrenaline fueled adventure with the main attractions being -
- Two 25 and 45 minute zipwire courses over and through the rainforest
- A hammock zip wire
- Driving a 4x4 through rough terrain
- Underground river swim
- Underground rafting
- Walking through caves festooned with stalactites and stalagmites
I typically don't do zipwires as I find tree climbing difficult. But at this park there's no need to worry. You need a certain amount of fitness to climb some stairs and there's a degree of walking but this is within most people's capability. Frankly if I can do it without much effort you probably can too.
You can get a better deal on ticket prices if you book in advance but we weren't that organised. A day ticket is $119 with a slight reduction if you book online. We booked online but couldn't print out our ticket as instructed as we have no printer in our AirBnB. But we called to explain and there was no problem. We brought our ID and the confirmation email on my phone and that was fine. Children are half price.
The ticket includes the all day buffet which was excellent and drinks anywhere on the site. You leave your belongings in a locker and don't need them again unless you want to change your clothes or shop.
I recommend bringing a few changes of clothes for the day. Ivy got very cold mid afternoon and we had to buy some long sleeved clothes for the second part of the day which added to our cost. You will be WET all day, even if it's warm and dry outside. You will be on waterslides and swimming in your clothes so a swimming costume underneath and shorts (you'll be in a harness which has straps around the legs so bare skin could be uncomfortable) plus a t-shirt is probably ideal. Swim shoes are an excellent choice too, far better than trainers. You need shoes that will stay on as you fly through the sky and when you swim. This is a useful page with more info about safety and what to bring - http://www.xplor.travel/safety-and-recomendations.php
If you get cold easily bring layers that you don't mind getting wet, and a few towels. Also make sure you have dry clothes for the journey home. For some reason I left my dry going-home clothes in the car so I had to wear my dripping wet shorts and swimming costume all the way to the car park and then get changed behind a tree. Don't be like me.
We started with the zip wires which was a good choice as being dry for that makes sense. The driving experience is also good to do dry. Ivy wasn't keen on the river swim which was pretty cold as all these underground rivers are. There's a 30 minute swim and a 10 minute one and we were right to do the 10 minute one. You are given a life jacket for this and if I had been on my own I would have done the longer swim but traveling alone with a small child means making a few concessions.
Xplor is ideal for one parent and one child. One parent and two or more children, especially if your kids are young, could be more tricky. You can go tandem on some of the ziplines and you can get 4 people in to the 4x4. The driver must be 18 or over. However, sometimes you and the kids will "travel" separately. If your children are nervous or too small to travel on their own you will have to go down the stairs for that part of the course. Check out the website for height and weight restrictions. http://www.xplor.travel/xplor-zip-lines.php.
If you have questions about how you will manage with more kids as a single parent call the helpline. We found them very helpful. I also found the staff very safety conscious. You are helped to be safe throughout and at no point did I feel we were taking big risks. I do often feel worried at theme parks (i.e. "If this rollercoaster stopped now we'd all fall out" or "If this ride comes off the rails now we're all dead!") so this was a great relief!
I highly recommend getting the photo package at the start of the day. It's $58 for two people but there are loads of cameras around the park to capture your special moments and it means you don't have to worry about getting your phone wet, dropping it in a river, or having to hold on to it as you slip down a waterslide. I saw a lot of people holidng their phone rather than holding on to their partner or to the straps on the zipwire and I did wonder about their priorities! If you have a GoPro you might want to get action shots and I saw some people had mounted their GoPro on their helmet which is cool! But I'd recommend the photo package anyway.
As for whether the park is educational, yes and no! Ivy now knows the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, has smelt sulphur, has seen the rainforest in the rain and read about the various ancient creatures that were found in these and other caves. It brings pre-history to life in a way that's far more compelling than books. At the same time though this isn't predominantly an educational day out.
What it is though is thrill after thrill. Increadible views over the rainforest, wonderful shared experiences, tonnes of laughter as you jump along in the 4x4, beautiful caves filled with natural wonders and a day you'll never forget. Even if it rains!
If you have been to Xplor please share your tips in the comments below!