Our Gluten Free Family spent the week between Christmas and New Year's in Mexico at Karisma's Azul Beach Resort. Excited about the vacation, but not really sure of what kind of GFCF items would be available to us in Mexico, after multiple correspondences with the resort's general manager, I packed a huge cooler of gluten free and casein free items to take with us, so we'd be assured of having lots of tasty treats (and some basic meals) in the event that the resort couldn't accommodate us. Note that while only my DS is gluten and casein free while the rest of our family is gluten free and "casein light", we usually try to plan meals around the lowest common denominator so everybody can eat together and we limit the risk of cross contamination at our own table. It may sound like a sacrifice, but it's such a joy to all be able to eat together and food is after all, a social activity--it's more fun to eat what other people are eating. And my GFCF food is usually pretty tasty so it's not a big deal. My DH--who hates even checking luggage--was less than excited, but completely supportive about taking the cooler on our trip. I purchased the Coleman 62-Quart Xtreme Wheeled Cooler on Amazon and with my Amazon Prime membership it cost $44.00 and I received the cooler in two days.
I packed a lot of food--packaged and homemade--that my kids like to eat at home--a batch of homemade waffles, Joan's Gluten Free Bagels, two Betty Crocker single layer chocolate cakes, two pans of Gluten Free Pantry Brownies, a jar of homemade chocolate buttercream, three loaves of Kinnikinnick yeast free tapioca bread, a package of Applegate Farms Organic Grass Fed Hot Dogs, several packages of Applegate Farms pepperoni, some english muffins, Kinnikinnick donuts, several pints of So Delicious Coconut Ice Cream and a few packages of Tinkiyada pasta.
Obviously, most of the stuff I packed was more kid-friendly than Mexican. This is the first time we were spending a week at a hotel since we have all been on gluten free diets and I was going to be prepared. Plus, we were traveling with two other families and brownies and chocolate cake were featured prominently on the kid's menu they emailed me in advance and when I showed it to my kids (the kid's menu--that is) that is what they requested. In the past, when I have relied on a hotel for gluten free food for my kids, I have had problems, so I figured I would be prepared.
Customs was okay with our giant cooler of homemade food, but they confiscated the hot dogs and pepperoni. Bringing any beef products into Mexico is forbidden. They didn't seem phased by the cakes and waffles wrapped in plastic.
From the website, we all knew (especially our 8 year old daughter) that kids were given a "special drink" upon check-in. Given her excitement and anticipation, we made sure to request, in advance, that a gluten and casein free drink could be presented, instead of the usual chocolate shake and hoped for the best. We weren't disappointed. They brought us a "crazy mango" drink (a tangy mango smoothy) upon arrival, which I thought was a good sign.
Our first dinner was amazing, Chef Luis, the executive chef of the three restaurants at the resort, had ordered tortilla chip's (labelled gluten free) for our family and had his soux chef prepare fresh dough for soft corn tortillas. We had homemade beef tacos that were out of this world and world at Chill, the Mexican restaurant. It took a while since they prepared everything from scratch for our family, but our table was outside overlooking the water and the kids got to hang out on the beach while we waited for our food. When the several plates of freshly prepared beef tacos with a tasty guacamole and a roasted salsa arrived at our table, our gluten free family enjoyed a delicious Mexican feast. The roasted salsa was the best I have ever tasted.
The chef then advised me to call him personally in advance of each meal to order food we might want so that they could prepare it in advance for our family. Then he or his soux chef, Sergio, would personally make our food. What a treat to have all our food prepared by the chef or soux chef. It was like having our own personal chef for a week! And they managed to make all this food for us in the middle of a preparing for a wedding and a New Year's Eve celebration that would both be taking place during the week of our vacation.
Not only did they make our food, but they often would make the food for the families we were traveling with so we could all eat together. We enjoyed paella for 10 (while the kids enjoyed hamburgers that they ground from fillet and freshly cut cucumbers and carrots!) and lobster tails and gluten free pasta as well as typical Mexican fare. The Mexican tacos from the first night were my favorites. My 8 year old's favorite meal was lobster and pasta and the third night I started ordering it for myself it looked so tasty!
The first morning was hard for the kids, because there were marshmallows and lollipops on the breakfast buffet as well as sugary cereals in little boxes. The chef brought me the marshmallow package and unfortunately it contained wheat starch (a lesson on not making any assumptions about marshmallows.) We were unsure about the lollipops, which turned out to be tootsi pops, but figured it just wasn't worth the risk. If you think your kids might be bummed out upon seeing this spread, you can prepare them in advance by either letting them know they won't be able to have these items and having them bring alternate treats or bringing some Kraft Marshmallows and some equally junky and off limit sugar cereal like Fruit Pebbles in plastic bags.
Azul Beach Hotel is a luxurious resort, but at the same time has a unique charm because it doesn't have that "cookie cutter" feel where you feel like you could be anywhere--you feel like you are in Mexico and your hosts really care about you on a personal level.
But aside from the marshmallows, our first family trip to a hotel (and another country) was a huge success. The only problem was how am I ever going to go anywhere else after spending a week at Azul Beach Hotel?
Here is a picture of us on the beach with Chef Luis when we said goodbye--check out the family friendly swing set on the beach in the background!