By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Mar 09, 2022 at 7:15 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

We hear you had some snow in Milwaukee on Monday and that it’s been in the 20s and 30s for most of the week. Darn, March is a rough month. But maybe it will cheer you up to see what we’ve been up to in Mexico?  

Our very first OnMilwaukee OnVacay kicked off on March 5, as we ventured to Riviera Maya in Mexico with 20 lucky readers to spend a glorious seven days at the the El Dorado Casitas Royale, an adults-only gourmet all-inclusive resort.

Here are some of the things we’ve experienced thus far during our week long tropical vacation.

1. Magical sunrises (and sunsets) 

Sunrise at El Dorado Casitas Royale
Photo: Glen Ponczak
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First light in Riviera Maya hits at about 6:40 a.m., with sunrise around 7 a.m. Early birds have had the pleasure of watching the sun rise (and set) against the waters of the Caribbean.

2. Breakfast on our private Casitas' patios

Breakfast on the patioX

Each of our 700-plus square-foot Casitas featured a private balcony furnished with a daybed and outdoor dining table. It was the perfect spot to enjoy our morning coffee or a leisurely room service breakfast. 

3. Our fancy white-themed happy hour

White PartyX

Who doesn’t love happy hour on the white sands of a beach along the Caribbean? This golden hour gathering gave us time to get to know one another while enjoying refreshing drinks, the lingering sun and the tropical breeze.

4. Rappelling into the Cenote Maya

Rapelling in cenoteX

During a Tuesday excursion, our group “took the leap” and descended 12 meters into the cenote Maya (the largest vaulted cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula) to reach the limestone cave’s chilly clear limestone waters. Both myself as well as culture editor and FoodCrush cohost Matt Mueller found the drop exhilerating. But (for me, at least), it was also a bit horrifying, as I had to overcome my longtime fear of heights to get to the bottom of the cavern.

5. A Mayan blessing ceremony

Mayan ritualX

Ritual and ceremony continue to play an important role in the traditional customs and daily life of the people of Yucatan. We were privileged to take part in a ceremony led by a Mayan Wise Man (one level below a shaman), who burned copal, a resin based sacred incense and offered up prayers for our safety as we traveled to Ek Balam.

6. A tour of Ek Balam

A palace at Ek Balam
A palace at Ek Balam
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Unlike Tulum or Chichen Itza, Ek Balam has not yet become a tourist-heavy attraction, making it one of the best places to do a bit of hiking in the jungle, while exploring MesoAmerican culture. We were lucky enough to experience an exceptional tour led by an archaelogist from Alltournative Native Parks & Expeditions.

This long hidden Mayan city (which saw its peak between 770 to 840 CE) is among the most recently unearthed Mayan ruins in Mexico. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 30 to 40% of the city has been uncovered so far.

It’s not only an archeological gem, which is assisting in solving the mysteries of ancient Mayan culture, but it’s a magical place filled with stories of the lives of the Mayan elite, their steam baths (used largely for ritual purification), their ballgame courts where nobles toggled 9-pound rubber balls with their hips and elbows, and their “acropolis” (El Torre), which is one of the tallest Mayan structures in the Yucatan. 

Glyphs at Ek BalamX

Only a handful of our group were brave enough to climb it; it’s a long climb and a harrowing journey back down due to its narrow-but-tall rock "stairs." But those who did were rewarded with a glimpse at some amazingly well preserved glyphs (photo above) and a breathtaking view of the jungle and ruins below.

View from acropolis at Ek Balam
View from acropolis at Ek Balam
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7. Something new at every meal

Stuffed poblano pepper at La Isla
Stuffed poblano pepper at La Isla

El Dorado Casitas Royale is a "gourmet inclusive" resort, which means there is no lack of food for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Tandoori shrimp at Habb
Tandoori shrimp at Habb
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In fact, you can choose from 13 restaurants serving a variety of cuisines from Indian look and PanAsian to Italian and Mexican fare.

Udon noodles at Kanpai
Udon noodles at Kanpai
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8. So much fun at the pool(s)

Pool funX

Each of our casitas were just steps away from private swimming pools, complete with swim-up bars. And with 13 additional pools across the multi-resort campus, including a natural saltwater pool, you can imagine how we’ve been whiling away our afternoons. (Hint: drinking caipiríssimas.)

There was even a foam party at the main pool the day we arrived.

Foam partyX

Bonus: Little surprises every day

Towel sculpturesX

Among them were the towel sculptures left by our housekeeping staff who diligently restocked our complimentary mini bars and kept our rooms and patios tidy and fresh.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.