We took our velvet-covered, straight-backed seats and looked around the auditorium. People streamed in the doorways, ribbons of colour; no narrow demographic here. They were young, old, white, black, businessmen in suits and ties, and purple-haired teenagers in leggings and grimy converse runners.
A lady in her mid-fifties took the seat next to mine. A woman with an asymmetric pixie cut and severe black glasses sat in the row in front. I leaned back and enjoyed the slow wooden percussion of seats being pulled down, the rustle of people settling in, ready for the show. Behind us, a girl in her twenties bounced into her seat clutching a bag of merchandise, her parents behind her beaming with joy. The lights dimmed. The theatre quietened. The music kicked in.
As the opening song came to an end, I was already twitching in my seat. The girl behind us had turned into a musical echo, muttering every lyric just slightly out of time. Her words, breathed out in an awed whisper just loud enough to be heard over the music from the stage, were distracting to the point of physical discomfort. When the closing line of “ALEXANDER HAMILTON!” was parroted behind us in a hissed, urgent whisper, my shoulders snapped up into a defensive posture of displeasure.
There was a blessed millisecond of silence.
I rolled my shoulders, trying to coax them back down from my earlobes.
The auditorium erupted into ecstatic applause. The girl, unfettered by the roar of noise around her, leapt to her feet and proceeded to give a standing ovation of rapturous enthusiasm.
“WHOOOOOOOOO!” She bellowed. “WHOOOOOOO! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
My fingernails dug into the velvet pile. I resisted the urge to grab her plastic bag of merchandise and pull it over her head.
The next song started and she sat back down, leaning all the way forward until her face came to a stop unsettlingly close to Scrubs’ ear. She whispered her way through the next song, pausing at:
“I was seeking an accelerated course of study When I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours; I may have punched him… it’s a blur, sir. He handles the financials?”
“You punched the bursar?”
It’s no exaggeration to say she almost choked with laughter.
The rest of the song alternated between whispered rapping and hysterical laughter at every mildly amusing line. At one point, unable to restrain myself any longer, I turned in my seat to stare at this Hamiloonie. Her lips were parted and her eyes were shining – shining! – with euphoria. She looked for all the world like one of those children you see in the Disneyworld ads, with the slow-motion fireworks reflected in their eyeballs as their mouths form tiny Os of wonder.
Giving her up as a lost cause, I turned my gaze to her parents, who were smiling adoringly at their (presumably only) child as she clutched her bag of Hamilton t-shirts and pins and phone covers and booklets and muttered along in hushed tones that were not nearly hushed enough for anybody in a five seat radius. I narrowed my eyes. I tried to glare daggers. I tried to glare daggers with inscriptions on them that read, ‘CONTROL YOUR CHILD. CONTROL YOUR ADULT CHILD BEFORE I STRANGLE HER WITH A HAMILTON LANYARD.”
They didn’t blink. They deflected my eyeball daggers with a strong force-field of love for their daughter, ignorance of my plight and stratospheric levels of self-absorption.
By ‘You’ll Be Back,’ my boiling rage had turned to a simmer. Her delirious laughter had dulled my senses and a small and uncharitable part of me had started to believe she wasn’t all there. ‘Poor thing,’ I thought, tilting my head away from the mumbling so that I looked like a King Charles Spaniel with a neck deformity. ‘This is probably her one supervised day out from the musical addiction rehab facility.‘
Her enthusiasm for each and every line of the performance was both commendable and impressive, but it was (unfortunately) definitely not infectious.
As somebody who had purchased tickets for this show over a year in advance, and who had listened to the soundtrack multiple times, I considered myself, you know, a fan. I think Hamilton is an extremely well-crafted musical! The lyrics are sharp, the melodies are catchy, and the characters are memorable. All of this to say, I didn’t enter the Victoria Palace Theatre with an indifferent attitude. I arrived ready to enjoy myself.
I was not ready, however, for the back of my head to be pummeled by the waves of exhilaration coming off this girl in the seat behind us. I was not ready to simultaneously experience Hamilton: The Musical and also Hamilton: The Breathily-Whispered Performance From a Seated Position in the Upper Balcony. I was not ready to have the amusement of every mildly funny line cut through with screaming, manic laughter, or to have every tender scene building up to a moment of sorrow hijacked by loud, hacking sobs.
When we reached the interval, Scrubs and I practically sprinted to the relative tranquility of the corridor – the only place we could find blissful silence – to shakily recover from the assault on our senses.
I started the second half of the musical in a dull, numb stage of acceptance. Clearly there was no saving this experience. I thought about asking her to be quiet, but one look at her face told me I couldn’t bring myself to be the one to pull her down from her personal Nirvana. From the looks I shared with the middle-aged lady beside me, I obviously wasn’t the only one with the same thought. During particularly enthusiastic mumbling from the back, she glanced at the girl, raised her eyebrows at me and shrugged her shoulders. ‘At least she’s enjoying herself,‘ I could hear her thinking.
I shrugged back, a silent gesture encompassing a multitude of emotions.
Towards the end of the play, (SPOILER ALERT) Alexander’s life comes to its inevitable end. You know it’s coming from the moment the play begins and still, it’s sad. It gets pretty emotional. When I listen to the soundtrack, I often skip over the ending because I don’t want to feel heartbroken for Eliza Hamilton.
On this occasion skipping the ending wasn’t really an option.
This time the sniffles started long before the sad notes kicked in. Our friend from the row behind was suffering well before anything tragic had taken place. As the music slowed and things started to take a dark turn, the sniffles grew to whimpers, and by the time an emotional blow had actually been dealt, the whimpers had become full, seat-clutching, body-wracking sobs. Her howls of sadness were punctured only by gasps as she desperately inhaled so as not to drown on her own tears.
I tried – I swear to God I tried – to stop myself, but I couldn’t help it.
I started to giggle.
And then I couldn’t stop.
My shoulders shook as I bit down on my lip in an attempt to stifle the laughter. I covered half my face with my hand, stealing a glance at the lovely woman beside me to see how she was faring. To my relief, she was just far enough away from the girl to have escaped this latest explosion of emotion. She was absorbed in the musical, her eyes wide and glinting with tears.
A keening wail erupted behind me. I snorted with laughter, then swallowed it down awkwardly in an attempt to make it sound like a choking sob. I was desperate to hide my laughter because it felt disrespectful, like giggling at a wake.
Unfortunately, it was a relentless assault; the girl was inconsolable.
If she had been Eliza Hamilton herself, she could not have been more earnestly devastated by Alexander’s death. Each sound, each distraught utterance from behind us sent me into a fresh wave of convulsions. I hunched over, hiding my face, hoping my shaking shoulders just made me look like any other member of the audience overcome with emotion, weeping into my hands.
Honestly I think my hysteria was partly fueled by the relief of knowing that our ordeal was almost over.
I turned away from the lady beside me – hoping to spare her the realisation that I was in fits of giggles – only to bump shaking shoulders with Scrubs, who by now was himself silently laughing into a tightly clenched fist. I looked up at him, he looked down at me, and that was a mistake of course, like throwing petrol on a fire. It only made things that much worse. I started crying with laughter from the effort of hiding it. There we were, both of us in tears, surrounded by people crying from actual emotion.
I felt like a terrible person.
By the time the cast had taken their bows and left the stage (to a standing ovation – they really were amazing), Scrubs and I were desperate to escape. We left the building in a sort of traumatised silence, breathing the night air in with gulping breaths, afraid to say a word until we’d left the theatre far behind us.
We decompressed with some wine and late-night pizza in the only place we found open. There was less discussion about the musical itself than there was about that girl’s slow but relentless goal to drive us all the way around the bend and back again. The show was great, but it just could not compete with the drama taking place in the row behind us.
Now that some time has passed, what did I think of Hamilton the Musical?
When Scrubs and I walked out of Cancun airport, we were completely unprepared for the heat. I was wearing a thick grey woollen jumper and jeans and immediately started panting like a fat King Charles Spaniel. In hindsight it would have made a lot of sense to have changed into something summery on the plane. However, I’m basically myopic when it comes to looking ahead so instead I took off my jumper, stuffed it under my arm, and greedily gulped at the bottle of water I’d been carrying ever since we left Manchester. Looking up, I snapped a photo of the palm tree overhead and felt a deep calm wash over me.
A smiling man with our names on a sheet of paper led us to a large taxi, where a driver was waiting to take us to our hotel. Located just outside of Tulum, it took an hour to reach the resort from the airport. I spent most of that hour in an exhausted but excited stupor, staring out the window at the tropical flora that lined the motorway. Every once in a while the giant gates of a resort would loom out of the greenery, looking like cheesy Disneyfied versions of Maya architecture, before receding back into thick jungle for another few kilometres.
Our resort had – thankfully – no giant fake huts or Mayan pyramids adorning the gate. A large stone arch led down a narrow, tree-lined road down to a pavilion, where our friendly driver dropped off our bags and we got our first look at where we were staying. Our hotel, the Sensimar Seaside Suites, turned out to be part of a complex housing three different (but connected) adult-only hotels.
Sensimar, to the right, was a complex full of little condos. It housed about six restaurants, had multiple swimming pools with swim-up bars, a few thatched cocktail bars, and a long expanse of beach. It was also populated almost exclusively by European tourists.
To the left lay El Dorado, the hotel that catered to American tourists. El Dorado was one large rectangular hotel block, with its own swimming pool and restaurant but not much of a beach. The people staying at this hotel could – and often did – spend their days and nights roaming Sensimar where they had more options, more food, and actual sand.
… And then, tucked away neatly in the middle behind a large white wall with a wooden door, was Hidden Beach, a small, boutique, nude resort. According to the googling I did about this place, it’s one of the nicest nudist hotels in Mexico, so. You know, if you’re looking for a place to get a tan where you don’t need to worry about tan lines…! I didn’t venture in, mostly because I read some reviews by grumpy nudists giving out about people popping in to have a look IN THEIR SWIMSUITS. THE VERY NERVE! I wasn’t prepared to strip down again just to have a nosy, so I decided to leave the wooden door unopened.
On arrival, we were presented with glasses of prosecco, which was nice, although really all I needed at that stage was a change of clothes and about five gallons of water. We were given a mercifully brief explanation of the facilities available, and told that there would be a more extensive talk at 9am the next morning with our personal concierge. At this, Scrubs and I immediately shot each other the universal look for ‘No way in hell are we doing that,’ and then we smiled at the nice man as he gave us our key and directions to our suite.
Our suite was lovely.
We stayed in a premium suite, so we had one of those bathrooms with two washbasins, a jacuzzi, and separate little rooms for our shower and toilet. Whenever I see a bathroom with two washbasins I always wonder who are these desperately busy people that can’t stand waiting to use the sink while the other person brushes their teeth? I’m really not convinced there’s ever truly a need for two sinks in one bathroom, but I do concede that it gives me a lot of counter space on which I can spread every unnecessary item I own, so I’m not complaining.
We also had robes and slippers in the room, which I love … even though for some reason all robes seem sized for giants so I always look like I’m being kidnapped by an expanse of white cotton.
After setting down our stuff and changing into clothes that didn’t feel like thermal underwear, we unpacked the essentials (Scrubs unpacked suncream and sandals, I unpacked my inflatable donut and snorkel) and set out to explore the place. It was a bit cloudy that evening, but after picking up a cocktail from the bar we watched the sunset and agreed that it was a beautiful place.
The resort is really spectacular. It never felt crowded, each little path was hidden between large patches of leafy vegetation, and it’s all-inclusive so as you can imagine there were many, many cocktails consumed.
Here is a hideously unflattering photo of me fresh out of the sea doing just that:
The Sensimar has hammocks strung up around the place where you can read or worry about the coconuts overhead, a beach volleyball area, a ping pong table, and also a giant chess set for the less athletically inclined (me). We spent most of our days on the beach, because I am a sea baby through and through and God knows we don’t see much of the sun back in Ireland.
Also, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the beach when it looked like this:
On our second day, when we returned to our room, I found a towel animal on the bed. I can’t fully express my excitement at finding this towel animal, except to say that I made a noise that sounded not dissimilar to what I imagine a surprised chimp might sound like. I took a photo of it and then very carefully lifted it off the bed and moved it to the table in the corner of the room.
I then wrote a note for housekeeping asking them to please not remove Towelephant, because I loved him. I mean, just look at him. He’s adorable!
Housekeeping not only honoured my wish, but the next day when they did up the room they left me another towel animal! I’ll leave my disproportionate levels of enthusiasm to your imagination. I carefully scooped up Towel Rabbit and placed him on the table next to Towelephant.
This continued for each day that we were there. Not only did housekeeping not say anything about my growing menagerie of Towel Animals, they actively encouraged it by making me a different animal every day. On the last day I made a little conga line on the floor and photographed them, so here the rest of them are for your viewing pleasure:
We tried most of the restaurants. They all had decent food, although the one night we had booked for the fancy asian fusion place I was feeling pretty rough thanks to serious dehydration, so I didn’t get to enjoy the food there as much as I would have liked. The buffet breakfasts were my favourite though. There are few things better than hotel breakfasts; you can get first breakfast (cereal), then second breakfast (yogurt and waffles with maple syrup … or fruit, I suppose, if you’re so inclined), then third breakfast (custom omelette and toast), and just keep going until you have to roll yourself out to the Balinese beds to digest under the sun.
I loved the wildlife around the place – iguanas, Fiddler crabs, geckos, coati, agouti – they could all be spotted around the resort. One of the days they even had some casual hawks just… around the place, chilling on their perches, looking very disgruntled (although I think that’s just their usual expression).
The swimming pools were also incredible, although we didn’t actually use any of them.
… Sea baby, like I told you.
Even when it was cloudy, like it was on the day we were leaving, it was still a beautiful place.
What else is there to say about Sensimar… The location is great; Tulum ruins and town centre are only a $4 colectivo away. If you want to eat at either of the two restaurants that take bookings, try to make the booking as soon as you arrive (or even before) because they seem to book out about four days in advance. Definitely drop by the personal concierge because they will swap out your pillows (if you prefer them softer or firmer or whatever you’re into yourself), and they will also change the contents of your minibar if you want less beer or more juice or extra packets of crisps. They’re really nice. Actually that goes for everyone who works there; the staff were amazing, and I don’t just mean housekeeping. They are the loveliest people and their curiosity about you is genuine.
Also, and this is more of a general Mexico rule, if you do go, don’t bother bringing a hair straightener. I’d straighten my hair, and five minutes later it looked like this:
That’s after just eating breakfast! Three hours later I looked like a Springer Spaniel.
If all-inclusive is your thing, I would definitely recommend this place. It’s beautiful, it’s spotless, the drinks are delicious, there’s plenty to do, and – obviously – towel animals. We got a great deal on flights and the hotel with TUI and I think these deals come around pretty often, so could be worth checking. That was my first time at an all-inclusive place and I have to say that, going forward, I’m not sure it’s for me. I felt it really limited us in terms of exploring, since anytime we thought about going for a drink or a bite to eat in Tulum we would think, ‘OR we could just stay here and have it for free‘ which is what we would inevitably end up doing.
The other thing is that they had these (very lovely) reps going around every morning trying to recruit you for group activities like beach volleyball, or table-tennis tournaments, which made me feel like I was in a modern version of Kellerman’s from Dirty Dancing. I am not about group activities. I am not even really about activity in general. I think I prefer hotels in which I have to actively seek out things to do rather than feeling like I’m being conscripted into some sort of cheerful chain gang.
Still, it was a beautiful place to spend a few days. I had a brilliant time! I ate myself silly, I tried almost every cocktail on the menu, I got pretty close to petting an iguana, and I successfully avoided participating in any group activities.
I hate being asked to retweet/regram/re-whatever accounts when I want to enter a giveaway so I’ve decided I’m not doing that, but I did make a facebook page (I know, look at me and my notions) for my blog, so I’d really appreciate it if you’d hit the ‘like’ button! I haven’t decided how I’m going to do the giveaway, although I’m toying with just entering anyone who comments on my Friday post… What do you guys think? On one hand I run the risk of leaving out lurkers, but on the other hand, I’d like whoever wins the giveaway to be someone who engages with me because then I can tailor the little package a bit, you know?
Has anyone else done a giveaway? How did you do it?