Date of Vacation: Nov. 27-Dec. 4, 2009 Wholesaler: Signature Vacations Airline: Air Transat (direct flight Vancouver-Cancun)
We are a laid-back, self-employed, professional couple, age bracket 55-60. We tend to favour casual resorts which offer good off beach snorkeling opportunities as we are very avid snorkelers. Large, fancy resorts with amenities we are unlikely to use do not appeal to us. We prefer small resorts on a nice beach and it goes without saying that cleanliness is paramount.
We have vacationed at the Akumal Beach resort previously and were very anxious to return. This trip was a family vacation which included our 5 year old grandson, our son & daughter-in-law. This was their first experience to the Mayan Riviera and the little fellow’s first tropical vacation and trip on an airplane.
As experienced travelers we have flown Air Transat many times. Flight was on time both coming and going and actually arrived early at destination both ways. I had opted to pay extra and pre-booked our seats so we would be seated close to one other near the rear of the aircraft. Both hubbie and son are tall so I made sure they had aisle seats. Everyone was reasonably comfortable considering the 6 hour flight and of course I was well prepared with on board snacks, although some snacks are offered for purchase. Effective Dec. 1, Air Transat is again offering hot meal service so we enjoyed this on the flight home. Choice of two meals, which included a tiny glass of red or white wine, was decent for airline food compared to the cold sandwich offered on the way to Cancun. Flight staff were extremely friendly and professional. No complaints!
In advance of the trip, I had signed our grandson up for the Air Transat Kid’s Club membership. No charge for this and some worthwhile perks are offered for the child & his immediate family. The Kid’s Activity packages handed out by in-flight staff were a big hit and even I was surprised at the decent quality of the toys included in the package. Full marks to Air Transat! Our grandson’s first air travel experience was very positive and he can’t wait to do it again.
Your Arrival: Our flight arrived 30 minutes early in Cancun at about 8:30AM. Going through immigration and customs was a bit of a wait but otherwise painless. I knew to head straight for the exit doors to find our Signature rep. so the time share sharks had no opportunity to distract or detain us. We had no problem finding the bus which was to take us to the resort but as most often seems to be the case, we had a fair wait for stragglers. Our bus was to drop vacationers off at 4 resorts, and Akumal Beach Resort (ABR) was stop #2 after the Barcelo complex. Trip from the airport to the resort took about 95 minutes. Our little guy slept for a good part of the way while the big guys enjoyed a beer (Corona) offered for sale on the bus. We arrived at the resort shortly before lunch. Considering the amazing price I had gotten for this resort, I was very surprised that our family members were the only guests on the bus going to ABR.
Walking into the spacious, open air lobby with it’s quaint wooden plank floor and thatched roof (which leaks in some places when it rains!) was welcoming. Check-in was a breeze and even though check-in time is usually 3 PM, our rooms were ready when we arrived before noon. The check-in envelope contains the lock/key for your in-room safe, a room key on a lanyard, towel cards and a pamphlet outlining the resort amenities. Please note that your room number is engraved on the key so anyone finding your key can access your room. Although we had no theft issues, and I didn’t hear of any either, I suggest you always keep your room and safe key separate! WiFi is available in the lobby area at a cost of $25US per week for those who travel with their laptop/netbooks. Computer stations are charged at $10US for one hour of use.
We had booked gardenview rooms, hoping to again be placed in building #1 which has some adjoining rooms. The resort was at extremely low capacity during our stay. We were assigned rooms on the ground floor of building #6 . Buildings 5,6 & 7 house the superior rooms at this resort, so we received an upgrade. Except for a few select rooms, buildings 1,2,3 & 7 were not being used. Room 604 had a king size bed while #603 had two doubles. We had also been assigned #609 which is a handicapped room with a king size bed. This room was absolutely not suitable. Any showering would have immediately flooded the floor and a longer shower curtain was apparently not available. When we were informed by the front desk that we could not be relocated to another room, we opted not to use #609 although we had paid for it. Odd considering the very high vacancy rate during our stay!! I’m sure the maid didn’t mind having one less room to clean. The furnishings are basic and many complain about the beds being hard but we prefer a firm mattress so no issues on that account. Extra pillows are in the closet. The mattress and box spring had however seen better days and need to be replaced! We always take our own travel alarm clock. Just as well since none are provided. We did miss not having a mini-fridge, which we had in our room on previous visits. There are no coffee makers, iron/ironing boards or radios provided. All of the lights worked and no lamp shades were missing. In my first review of this resort back in 2003, I dubbed the decor “mexicano rustico”, and it still is! The bathrooms have a shower only, separated from the WC and vanity area. No water pressure problems and plenty of hot water. Vanity area is large, 1600 watt, two speed hairdryer is provided as is an ice bucket and a small thermal jug for bottled water (which is available from the dispenser in the main hallway on every floor in each building), face cloths, hand & bath towels, box of kleenex and small containers of shampoo, lotion & soap. We prefer to bring our own toiletries. Very large mirror with decent lighting but the mirror has seen better days. The retractable clothesline in the shower is handy! Across from the vanity area is a large clothes closet with double doors made of bamboo sticks (some missing!) and beside that is a narrower door which opens to four shelves. The closet floor was spacious enough to accommodate our empty suitcases placed flat and side by side so we didn’t use the luggage stand provided. The no extra charge in-room safe (lock & key operated), is located on one of the shelves. There is no dresser in the room but the shelves are more than adequate. I pack my hubbie’s cotton shirts on their hangers and bring along a few extras, so we never worry about a shortage of hangers. TV (cable, not satellite) is wall mounted. The remote control in our room was fine, but the one in our son’s room fell apart as soon as it was picked up. A couple of elastic bands solved this problem. The A/C was adequate albeit a bit noisy.We prefer not to use air conditioning and appreciated the screen on the patio door. The door sweep on the entry door is a bonus as it prevented critters from entering the room. A note of caution:- the patio door locks easily so don’t close the door behind you when going out on the balcony! A desk with chair, along with one other chair round out the room furnishings. Two plastic chairs and a small table are on the balcony/patio. We noticed that a few balcony chairs in building #5 rooms had some nice blue cushions. Our son’s room patio door didn’t lock properly and he had no hot water. These issues were repaired/resolved very quickly and satisfactorily. We were alarmed to find yellow caution tape around our balcony railings! I can’t explain the logic in assigning this room with a very unsafe railing to a family with a young child except to say that one can safely presume a young child will not have an accident due to being intoxicated. It was only
Restaurants and Bars:
Restaurants & Bars:- Travel brochures list the resort as featuring one buffet, one snack bar, 2 a la carte restaurants (Mexican & Italian) and a specialty restaurant which requires payment. In previous visits, the a la carte restaurants were set up in larger allocated areas between buildings 2 & 3. Sadly, this area was dark and abandoned. For this visit, a small separate area next to the buffet was used as the a la carte venue. They alternated nightly between Mexican & Italian. A la carte restaurants are not available on Sundays. We did not dine a la carte for this visit so I can’t comment any further. Several years ago, a fire damaged the buffet restaurant extensively but it has been rebuilt. Although not air conditioned, it sits virtually right on the beach and large opening windows provide plenty of fresh air and a fabulous view. Service was adequate to excellent. Many of the reviews posted before our departure complained about the food offerings- or lack thereof. We were more than happy with the selection and presentation considering this is a 3 star resort. They have labels telling you what the dish is! At every meal, we always found plenty which appealed to all of us- yes, even the 5 year old!- and the breads/pastry selection was especially fresh and delicious. Some of the hot dishes could have been hotter but this is a common problem at many resorts. A custom omelette station is available at breakfast . Only incident I can recall as being negative (but with a positive outcome!), was that a box of pre-packaged, sugar coated breakfast cereal our grandson selected was stale, so he didn’t eat it. While many vacationers enjoy being served and expect this, we have no problem getting our own beverages or refills. Our son loved the self serve beer tap! Water/juice/soft drinks/milk/wine dispensers are all available in the buffet. The coffee machine was quite another matter. Coffee was horrible and the wine not much better! Explains why so many people arrived for dinner with their own bottle of wine in hand. I need my morning java fix and found it available at the main bar which opens at 8 AM around the corner from the buffet restaurant. The snack bar near the pool always offered fresh, oven baked pizza with various toppings as well as nachos with fabulous fresh salsa and guacamole. Hot dogs and custom cooked burgers were available upon request and one day they also had onion rings. The availability of chicken wings or fries was intermittent. Our family found the snack bar, which is open until 6 pm to be especially handy as it provided a late afternoon snack option for our grandson who would otherwise have been very hungry (and cranky!) by the time the dinner buffet opened shortly before 7 pm. Again, the self serve beer tap was a welcome addition to the snack bar area as was the water/lemonade dispenser. Alcoholic drinks were offered at the bar around the corner. There are 3 bars at this resort, the most interesting being the Moonrise close to building #1 as it features swing seating. The resort uses only domestic brands of alcohol, probably the least expensive brands available, but they do NOT water it down. We aren’t big boozers but I sure do look forward to having a few tropical cocktails when I’m on vacation. This was a disappointment and a surprise change from our last visit! Compared to the lovely cocktails I’ve been spoiled with at Cuban resorts, where they use juices, this resort uses overly sweet and sickly syrups. Pina coladas were questionable and while I did enjoy a couple of daiquiris, I found myself ordering gin and tonic for most of the week. My son ordered a Caesars from the main bar one evening and it was undrinkable but hubbie had better luck with the Bloody Mary he ordered. It helped that he carefully supervised the bartender every step of the way. All of the bartenders were very friendly and accommodating, a few of them exceptionally so, and it was a real pleasure to deal with them. At no time did w
Beach:- The beach, with it’s amazing directly off the shore snorkeling opportunities, is what keeps us and many others coming back to the Akumal Beach Resort! For a resort of this size, the beach is reasonably long and quite wide with white, powdery soft sand. Plenty of white, plastic beach loungers and palapas or palm trees for shade. A sign is posted asking guests not to “reserve” their loungers by placing personal effects or towels on them at the crack of dawn or the night before, so none of those dreaded “towel wars” many resorts have problems with. I can’t say for sure this doesn’t happen at the Akumal Beach resort, but with such very low occupancy during our stay, it wasn’t an issue this time nor on previous vacations. The beach is well suited for young children and our grandson really appreciated the few sand toys I had brought along for him. Entry to the ocean is quite gradual, there is no erosion, very few rocks in most places so water shoes are unnecessary and the reef formation keeps the water relatively calm. No jet skis or parasailing! We did have a couple of very windy days (red flags) which kicked up some waves but nothing too intense or dangerous, so our grandson was still able to frolic in the ocean close to shore. Of course, he wore his lifejacket at all times! Some of the fish seem to have been habituated to expect food from guests who enjoy wading beyond knee depth water or they are exceptionally curious. It took no time at all for us to be surrounded by a bout 8-10 pompano fish (possibly Trachinotus falcatus) swimming in and around our legs as we stood in the ocean supervising our grandson. One fish even snuck up the leg of his bathing trunks and this momentarily frighten/startled him. He soon enjoyed the interaction with the fish, attracting them by snapping his fingers underwater, but I can well imagine other children and adults not reacting positively. The major attraction at Akumal are the sea turtles, rays and accessible reef formations; truly a snorkeler’s paradise! Although the weather and visibility were not as good this time, we spent many enjoyable hours snorkeling to our heart’s content. Bonus was being able to take a hot shower in the area behind the resort’s dive centre when we come out of the ocean. Pool:- We rarely use resort swimming pools. Due to a couple of very windy days at the beach and because our grandson loves to swim, we spent quite a bit of time in the pool. A pathway separates the pool from the beach so getting away from the wind completely isn’t possible but the view of the turquoise blue ocean is wonderful. The pool offers a toddler area and whirlpool section. Water was reasonably warm and clean although some areas of the pool had a nasty algae build up on the sides. We observed staff making an effort to scrub the sides, especially in the deeper pool which leads to the whirlpool area. A complete draining of the pool, followed by a thorough cleaning and a coat of light blue paint on the bottom would do wonders! Plenty of loungers and some umbrellas are available around the pool. The towel exchange counter is located by the pool, along with a small souvenir kiosk. A dive shop, the pool bar and the snack bar are just a stone’s throw away.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
Activities:- The resort offers a variety of daytime activities and a nightly show in the theatre located across the walkway from the lobby. They have an animation staff and a list of daily activities is posted on the outside wall of the main bar area facing toward the gift shop. The few times that we did inquire about a certain activity, it either didn’t happen or the staff were not at the venue at the time indicated. This is often the case when a resort is at low capacity. Animation staff were present around the resort and often engaged guests in conversation but more often than not, they were chatting amongst themselves at their station, listening to/playing music or busy preparing for the evening show. We did observe frequent beach volleyball games and once we were fortunate enough to convince a staff member to let us use the shuffleboard equipment after she finished playing with other guests. The equipment needs to be returned to the animation station when you’re finished and they appreciate you doing so in a timely fashion. We had been looking forward to playing chess on the large outdoor board near the buffet entrance, as well as some bocce. When we inquired about using this equipment, we were told it was not available. Perhaps it’s broken? A games rooms with a pool table and table tennis are located in the area behind where the Mexican a la carte used to be set up. There were no paddles available for the table tennis and the pool cues were in pretty rough shape with the set of balls also incomplete. It should be noted that a fitness room- very small and with aging/outdated equipment- is also located in this area as well as a medical/first aid centre which was abandoned with an emergency telephone number posted on the door. The resort has two tennis courts which appeared to be in good condition, although we never saw anyone using them. No idea where one could get some racquets but I’m guessing that many tennis playing guests probably bring their own equipment. I recall that a tennis pro used to be on staff and perhaps one of the animation team specializes in tennis. While I enjoy playing tennis at home, the tropical heat always overwhelms me, so I rarely play while on vacation. Archery is set up in an area next to the theatre. This was something that especially interested me but no one was around at the time posted for the activity and the equipment shed was locked. I was aware of the child size bows since I had seen them being used by children on a previous visit. After making an inquiry with one of the animation staff, we were directed to go to the archery centre with our grandson for a specific time so he could try it. We arrived 15 minutes early, found two staff sitting and chatting but were told that sorry, they were closing up, please come back some other time. I did try to convince the girls to at least let us see the child size equipment and perhaps try it even just one time, but to no avail. My grandson was especially disappointed and we were leaving the next morning, so we never did get to try the archery despite our four attempts. The Kid’s Club, which we went to check out daily, was always closed which made the small fenced off playground unavailable. Just as well as there were a lot of mosquitoes in this area! There were several families with young children at the resort during our stay. We all seemed content to supervise our little ones and let them play on the beach. For us, this was a family vacation so dropping our little fellow off at the Kid’s Club regularly was never part of the equation. It should be noted that an ATM machine is on site by the large gate near the Kid’s Club area, but it wasn’t working. The evening shows offered at most all-inclusive resorts are something people either really enjoy or take a pass on. We enjoy shows with a cultural theme or good comedy well presented, but we don’t bother with audience participation/shenanigans types of shows. We made the effort to go for t
Conclusions:- Having previously vacationed at Akumal Beach Resort, we were a bit shocked at the deteriorated condition of the resort when we arrived. Those who know me from my countless years of travel forum participation are aware of my high praise and recommendation to visit the Akumal Beach Resort. VentaClub, who were most recently managing this resort, did it no favours and thankfully they are now out of the picture. Shortly after returning from our vacation, I found out that the resort management has been taken over by the owners with a promise that things would improve quickly. I can happily report, based on information gained directly from the new manager, that improvements to the quality of alcohol, coffee in the buffet, condition of the rooms, repairs to the balconies and changes to the entertainment have already been made. I am very optimistic that the Akumal Beach Resort will once again be returned to its solid, 3 star resort status. For those who enjoy a basic resort with great friendly staff located on a 5 star beach with snorkeling directly off the beach, put the Akumal Beach Resort on your vacation list. Our family definitely plans to return again! If our 5 year old grandson had his way, it would be tomorrow! Thanks for reading, Cristal (YVRck)