What do you get when you combine Dora the Explorer, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob SquarePants, and a gorgeous all-inclusive beach resort in Mexico?
You get the Nickelodeon Experience.
This new hotel concept is the brainchild of Karisma Hotels & Resorts, which teamed up with the Nickelodeon to create an immersive family-friendly experience that recently rolled out at two neighboring properties on the Mayan Riviera: the Azul Sensatori Mexico and the Azul Beach Hotel.
Photo (modified) by RDPixelShop/Flickr. Design by Lauren DeLuca for Yahoo Travel.
Next June, Nickelodeon and Karisma will join forces again to create the 204-suite Nickelodeon Punta Cana, an all-Nick all-the-time resort, complete with its own waterpark and character-filled village.
My two-year-old daughter Lucy happily joined me for a visit to the Azul Sensatori to get the inside scoop on the new Nickelodeon Experience.
Here are the 12 reasons why we loved it — and you will, too.
1. You Can Dance With the Turtles
Rocking out with Michelangelo. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
To be honest, when Lucy first got near the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles she burst out in tears. The next time she saw them, she hid under the table. And she can’t quite pronounce their name; she calls them the Jinja Men. No matter. By the end of our visit, she was high-fiving the pizza-obsessed turtles at the character breakfast (more on that in a few) and boogying with them at the weekly dance party. Oh, and in case you haven’t checked in lately, saying “Cowabunga” is totally passé, so if you run into a green turtle in the hallway, do your best power pose and shout, “Booyakasha.” (What that means is beyond me!)
2. You Get to Have Breakfast With the Characters
I’m ready! (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
What could be better than waking up to your favorite Nickelodeon friends? At one breakfast, Dora the Explorer and Boots kicked off the festivities with a dance performance, followed by Patrick and SpongeBob SquarePants. The four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had their own high-octane morning, and I’m here to tell you: they’re a lot friendlier in real life than their bad-boy looks would suggest.
Pancakes with a smile. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
One of the hallmarks of Karisma hotels is something that the group has branded “Gourmet Inclusive” cuisine. In other words, good food — a rarity at most all-inclusive resorts. Even at the breakfast, the food was delicious (loved the juice “shooters”) and fun (check out the fruit “face” on the pancakes).
3. You Get to Walk the “Orange” Carpet
Smile for the cameras. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Anyone who has watched Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards has seen celebs like Pharrell Williams, Ariana Grande, and Iggy Azalea strutting their stuff on the legendary Orange Carpet. At the Nickelodeon Experience, the characters walk the Orange Carpet — and you get to join them for a spin in front of the paparazzi.
A piece of advice: try to line up early and you might be able to score a second round. We went down the carpet twice, once with Dora, and once with Boots.
After all the kids experienced the Orange Carpet, the place turned into one huge dance party, characters and kids alike.
4. Kids Get Special Gifts
Lucy, opening her backpack. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Upon arrival at the resort, kids are greeted with a neon-green Slime Smoothie and an iPad loaded with Nickelodeon games. Sadly, Lucy didn’t get to keep the iPad, as she would have liked. But there’s a Nick Toy Lending Library where kids can check out toys for their stay. Parents can also sign up for a backpack filled with goodies (Lucy loved the detachable mini backpack that matched the one that Dora herself was wearing). I only wish I had sprung for the Fancy Nick Knack Pack, which comes with a personalized bathrobe. Lucy needs a personalized bathrobe.
There’s also a fantastic Nickelodeon gift shop, filled with all the branded merch you could ever want. Word to the wise: we didn’t discover that the Bubble Guppies Sing & Sparkle doll only sang in Spanish, until Lucy had opened it. I look at it as free Spanish lessons.
5. You Get Slimed!
It’s not easy being green. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Ok, let’s take a poll: who hasn’t wanted to get slimed? And who hasn’t wondered what the slime actually feels like? You’ll need to book a trip to Mexico to find out. Trust me: worth every peso.
6. Characters Make Surprise Appearances
One-on-one with Dora. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
I’m going to admit something: I cheated. I heard about the surprise character appearances and that at one of them Dora will read to your child. I knew this would make Lucy’s life complete. And I’m not a person who is willing to risk missing out on Every Single Experience. So I convinced someone at the hotel to tell me when Dora would be doing one of her pop-ups.
Now that I’ve written about this, I’m sure all the staffers will be on lockdown. But take my advice and try to find out when your favorite characters are popping up. Ask anyone. It is worth it to “casually” bump into SpongeBob roaming around the lobby.
7. It’s All-Inclusive (Mom Loved That!)
Zocalo, home to awesomely authentic Mexican food. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
One of the things that always bugs me at all-inclusives is when you’re issued a wristband to identify you as a guest. I mean, talk about a downer if you want to get a tan. At the Azul Sensatori, you can roam freely — no offending cheap plastic wristband.
And whatever you want to eat, you’ll find it here, even Gerber Baby Food for the littlest ones. I sampled almost all of the seven restaurants, but my favorite — no surprise — was Zocalo, the Mexican restaurant, where a local woman makes authentic tacos. The cochinita pibil was some of the best I’ve ever had.
The best spot for lunch is the BBQ Grill, a seaside barbecue with tables right on the sand and a jungle gym for kids to play on while you eat.
8. There are Tons of Pools
A view from my room. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Pools, pools, pools! This hotel does not lack for pools — or loungers, solving that other resort problem of people getting up early to reserve a chair. Not here. Everywhere you look, you’ll see a pool. Some of the suites even open up right onto a pool. And there are separate spaces for grownups who don’t want to be around kids, or kids who just want to be around kids. The kiddie pool has a water slide and an adjacent splash area.
9. The Staff Makes Towel Animals — and Pizza!
You can make towel animals, too! (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Lucy and I were delighted by the menagerie of animals that greeted us every night in our room. My favorite had to be the monkey, hanging off the side of the crib. The resort even offers towel animal-making classes, though I convinced one of the housekeepers to show us her towel-making skills.
Another fun element: a replica of the pizza parlor from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with New York-style pies and tons of different toppings. And don’t forget — it’s all you can eat.
10. The Kids’ Club Rocks
The open and airy kids’ club. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Included in the rate is access to the Azulitos Playhouse by Nickelodeon, for kids ages 4-12 (though parents or caregivers can bring younger children). The space itself is expansive, built around a sunny play area with rolling mats and foam gymnasium blocks and wedges. Throughout the day, there are tons of classes and special activities, like water-balloon tossing and coconut-tree planting.
I left Lucy at the kids’ club with a babysitter one afternoon while I went and got a massage at the equally dazzling spa. I came back to find that she had befriended all the other kids, had her face painted, and was decorating ice-cream. She didn’t miss me for a minute.
11. Your Kids Will Make Great Friends
Friends! (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)
Did I mention all the friends Lucy made?
12. In the words of Dora the Explorer…
Dora is the ultimate traveler, and throughout the stay, the words to one of her songs rang in our ears: “We’re all on vacation! We’re on a trip!” I couldn’t have said it better.
All photographs and video footage shot with a Canon 70D.
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