Wholesaler: Nolitours (Cameleon Select, standard Club Room) Airline: Air Transat (direct flight Vancouver-Cancun)
About Us: We are a laid-back, self-employed, well travelled professional couple, age bracket early 60s. 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. Although we prefer to vacation in late November, we chose this particular time period to coincide with a birthday celebration and the resort was offered at a good price. I do all of my own research and book on-line.
Unfortunately, the weather was less than idea with several very cloudy days. This was our first visit to the Catalonia Yucatan but not our first time in the Mayan Riviera or Mexico.
As experienced travelers we have flown Air Transat many times. Flight was on time both coming and going and actually arrived early at destination due to a strong tail wind. I had opted to pay extra and pre-booked our 2×2 seats at the rear of the aircraft. Hot meal, which included a glass of red or white wine, was decent for airline food compared to the cold sandwich they used to serve. All onboard purchases (snacks, bar, duty free) must be made by credit card only. Flight staff were extremely friendly and professional. No complaints!
Our flight arrived 45 minutes early! Going through immigration and customs was painless. I knew to head straight for the exit doors to find our Nolitours 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 45 minute wait for people who never showed up. I wish people would have the courtesy to let the rep. know if they plan to take a taxi instead of the bus! Our bus was to drop vacationers off at 2 resorts- the Catalonia Yucatan/Riviera Maya (where most of us got off) and then on to Catalonia Royal Tulum. Trip from the airport to the resort took about 75 minutes. Beer (Corona) was offered for sale on the bus. We arrived at the resort shortly before dinner time.
Resort Overview: For those who are unfamiliar with this resort, you should be aware that it’s actually two resorts in one, the Yucatan side (CYB with 205 rooms) and the Riviera Maya side (CRM with 395+ rooms). Collectively the resort is often referred to as the CAT. A small service road separates the two but it’s quite unobtrusive as everything flows together nicely. Guests are able to use all of the amenities at both resorts as well as the Alegria Spa. The Yucatan side is a U-shaped, 4 storey building with all balconies facing towards the pools. The Riviera Maya side is comprised of several buildings of varying heights/views and also contains the Privileged suites section. The rooms on this side are apparently renovated and nicer than those on the Yucatan side. The resort offers adjoining rooms and also a few for handicapped guests in wheelchairs or other mobility problems. Many areas of the resort are non smoking, including all of the eateries, both lobbies, theater, indoor bars and the spa. The resort was at full capacity during our stay. This can greatly affect the atmosphere! Guests were predominantly Canadians (more than 50% were from Quebec), some Americans, a few from the UK & continental Europe, and a couple of Mexican families. We observed guests from every age group-infant to 80+ – and in all shapes & sizes. The resort also hosted seven weddings during our stay and from our vantage point, it appeared that one wedding was nicer than the next. Check-in was a breeze and seemed reasonably efficient considering the large number of newly arrived guests. I suppose it helped to be at the front of the line! There is no bar in the lobby but a welcome drink is offered. The check-in pouch contained the room key cards, 3 a la carte restaurant vouchers, general resort info including a resort map, and several $10 discount coupons for the spa. Our beach towels were already waiting in the room. Towels can be changed daily at the hut on the beach and lost towels are subject to a $30US penalty. The in-room, electronic safe (you chose your own code) costs $3 per day in the standard rooms but is included at no charge in some of the upgraded room categories. Don’t lose the activation pin for the safe! Charge for unreturned pins is $25. WiFi is available at no extra charge throughout the resort and worked well in our room. It’s a bit slow but the price is right! Set up your account/password at the front desk. We had difficulty setting up our account initially as we are Linux users and the system is set up for Microsoft IE. Computer stations next to the front desk are charged at $7US for half hour of use.
Hats off to the Catalonia! They have implemented many environmental/ecology policies and practices which we fully support. These include reusing your towels and bedding for more than one day to cut down on laundry, saving water by turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, cutting back on using the air conditioner and turning off lights. What pleased us the most was the sign posted on the beach by the dive shop which reminded guests to respect the marine ecosystem and to not touch or stand on the reef. Unfortunately, too many people ignore this! The reef directly off shore is in very poor condition and guests are continuing to feed bread and bananas from the buffet to the fish. This has caused the fish to become habituated to handouts, has made them quite aggressive and most importantly, has distracted the reef fish from doing what nature intended them to do which is eat the detritus from the corals to keep the reef healthy. Please do not feed the fish! We hope that our discussions with management and the Nolitours rep. will yield the promised result of more signs being posted, especially near the lagoon. Further information on reef conservation can be found at www.reef.org.
Nolitours offers the Yucatan Beach exclusively in Canada. There is a large Nolitours presence at the resort which includes 4 reps as well as a Cameleon concierge. They are all friendly, approachable, professional and very helpful! I highly recommend you attend the welcome briefing. Numerous tours are available to book through the Nolitours reps for all ages, interests and budgets.
Rooms: I had booked a Cameleon Club room (lowest & least expensive category) on the Yucatan side which is a basic/standard room. I am not in the habit of contacting the resort in advance to request a specific room or location. I did however make a notation in the comments box of my on-line booking for a quiet location with a king size bed. We were delighted to have been placed on the fourth floor of the CYB with a partial view of the ocean. I understand that some guests who had booked the Yucatan side were placed in the Riviera Maya section. Since I had also indicated that we were there to celebrate a birthday, we found the door to our room decorated with a birthday banner. Nice touch! The Club rooms are basic and a bit dated but spotless! We use our room to shower and sleep and didn’t feel we needed anything fancy. Doors open with a key card. Our king size bed had a newer pillow-top mattress which was very comfortable. The cotton chenille bedspread as well as the curtains appeared to be newer. Closet was of a generous size with mirrored doors. Several wire shelves inside for folded clothing and plenty of hangers as well as extra pillows and a blanket on the top rack. The resort offers a laundry service but no dry cleaning. A bag with prices is in the closet. There is an electronic safe which you programme with your own code. The safe is quite large so no problem accommodating our netbook, other electronics, camera equipment, money pouches and travel documents. The more expensive room categories offer the safe for free as well as a stocked mini-fridge, coffee maker and a few other perks. TV with remote sits on the corner of the desk/ mirrored dressing table which has 3 generous sized side drawers. Several english channels available as well as DeutscheWelle (german) and BBC World. There is also a small table with two upholstered chairs in the corner. Plenty of lighting in the form of ceiling potlights and wall mounted bedside lamps above the bedside tables. There is no alarm clock so bring your own. Voltage in Mexico and at this resort is 110V with electrical plug configurations the same as Canada- two flat prongs, so no voltage converter is required.
Air conditioner worked great, however there was no ceiling fan which we prefer to use in lieu of A/C. Sliding door opens onto a small balcony with two plastic chairs and a matching table. There is no screen on the door. No problem with the door lock. The air conditioning does not cut out when the patio door is open.
Bathroom was pretty standard:-tub (non-slip) with regular shower head, vanity with one sink and no exhaust fan so the mirror fogs up and takes a couple of minutes to clear after showering. Water pressure was good and we never had a lack of hot water. There is a 1600 watt, two speed, wall mounted hair dryer which I found to be very adequate for my short but thick hair. Bath and hand towels as well as face clothes and a bath mat are provided. There is a handy retractable clothesline above the tub. Small basket on the counter contains small shampoo, lotion, shower cap and soaps. Facial tissues are provided. We prefer to bring our own toiletry supplies. Two large bottles of water are provided but they are not replenished so fill them at the bars or buffets. Tap water is safe for brushing teeth and showering. Others have complained about the lack of soundproofing between rooms and we found this to be true as well. Thankfully we always bring along some ear plugs and they were needed! A family with two young children next door to us provided wakeup service at about 5:45AM the morning after they arrived! Perhaps management might consider placing only adults on the upper floor? The elevator on our side of the resort was restricted to service use only so we always used the stairs. We did notice that the elevator on the other side of the resort had no such restriction. The bathroom door could have used a fresh coat of paint and some minor repair. Otherwise, no complaints about the room!
Restaurants: All of the restaurants are no smoking areas! There are 2 buffets available, one on each side. Hours are the same for both:- breakfast 7-11am, lunch 12:30-3:30pm and dinner 6:30-10:30pm. A hostess will take you to an available table and seat you. This efficient system is great as it gives the staff a chance to clear and reset the table before you sit down! Never more than a 5 minute wait. El Mercado on the Yucatan side is enclosed, air conditioned, smaller, quieter and with slightly fewer offerings however we found more than enough choices to tempt us and to be honest, we enjoyed this venue more than the other buffet. Hot food seemed to be kept hotter here as well. La Brisa buffet on the Riviera Maya side is open air, with netting to keep the birds out, but it was dark and seemed far less inviting despite the bigger selection of food items. Being louder and noisier, it also had a cafeteria atmosphere to it. Service was so-so to very good at either buffet depending on how busy it was. With the resort at full capacity, the staff were always hustling. Neither the white or red wine served in the buffets appealed to us. We always found more than enough choices available and enjoyed the meals. What was lacking in selection was more than made up for in the quality of the food- tasty & well prepared, especially the salad bar, dessert selection and always freshly baked breads/rolls. The pastry chef/baker at this resort is top notch! For those who have recently complained, you’ll be pleased to know that bacon was indeed available at El Mercado every morning for breakfast.
The a la carte restaurants: There are 5 a la carte restaurants to chose from, located on the Riviera Maya side of the resort and open from 6pm onward. Each restaurant is closed one night per week, so check for this. Our room category entitled us to 3 reservations. First come, first served policy for the a la cartes and how long you’ll have to wait depends somewhat on the popularity of the restaurant and at what time you like to eat. The new policy seems to be the source of many complaints! The later you eat, the better your chances of getting in more quickly. We waited over an hour for the Japanese (Mikado) and ate at 8pm. The quality of your experience here will depend greatly on the other 12 people you will be seated with! The first time we tried to get into the Italian (Bellavista) the wait was well over an hour so we decided to hit the buffet and try again the next day. Lined up at 5:15 to get in at 6:20pm. Same deal to get into the Mexican (Alebrijes) but got in right at 6pm because we were at the front of the line and it’s not as popular. We didn’t eat at the Terrace Tapas Food but did manage an extra meal at the steakhouse (Bamboleo Grill) due to a special, private dinner set up by “Pablo” as a travel forum meet & greet event which included management as well. This dinner coincided with my husband’s birthday and was topped off with an amazing cake! It was a pleasure to put some faces to forum names/handles and despite his reluctance, my husband very much enjoyed the evening. Thanks again to Pablo who organized this event! During the day, the Bamboleo Grill does double duty as a poolside snack bar. On offer are hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, fries, nachos and all the fixings along with a limited selection of desserts and coffee. Food at the a la cartes was very good to excellent! Presentation of food was top notch, classy and of 5 star quality. Personally, we prefer the reservation system, but then we always showed up or cancelled in advance if we knew we couldn’t make it. Too many people didn’t show this courtesy which is why they changed the policy to first come, first served. At least now all of the tables are full and everyone has an equal chance! We are beach people and tend to stay at the beach until sunset so to be honest, it was a pain to leave the beach early, get ready and then lineup. With the cooler, cloudy weather for several days of our one week vacation, making the effort to eat a la carte wasn’t too much of a sacrifice. They do have a bar available at the a la carte venues, so you can have some pre-dinner drinks while you wait. Dress code for the restaurants is officially "Casual elegance". This seemed open to wide interpretation! Did see a few men in beach shorts and flip flops.
The Creperie (5-10:30pm) does not require reservations, has limited seating and seems to be very popular. It’s located on an open terrace above the El Mercado buffet and because it can get a bit breezy, bringing along a cardigan is recommended. There was often a wait to get a table and given the overall space available at this venue, more tables could easily be accommodated although this could well affect the efficiency of the staff. Both savoury & sweet crepes are available as well as ice cream treats such as banana splits, milkshakes and sodas. Definitely worthwhile!
Bars: Given the size and layout of this resort, there sure were a lot of bars to chose from! We counted at least 9. We aren’t heavy drinkers nor vacationers who make it their mission to drink their all-inclusive money’s worth so it took us all week to discover where all of the watering holes were located and even then, we probably missed some. The Tequila (YBR side) & Margaritas (RM side) bars with the swim up areas appeared to be especially popular! Since we spent most of our time at the beach on the Yucatan side, we prefered the Pure Chill Out bar which played more subdued music throughout the day. Drink service directly to your lounger at the beach was available for those who wanted it. The El Abuelo bar just outside of the theater was very crowded and with slow service but this was to be expected as people waited for the evening show to start. The snack bar and buffets also had bar service available. For those undecided or unsure of what to order, an extensive cocktail menu is available at all of the bars. We always bring along our own 16 ounce stainless steel thermal drink container but for those who don’t, reusable, 8 ounce plastic tumblers are used for drinks at the beach. My husband enjoyed the dark beer (cervesa obscura) available on tap at most of the bars although they did run out of it on one occasion. As is always the case, some bar staff are better at making certain cocktails than others depending on what you order. Didn’t take long to find our favourite bartenders. Overall the service was friendly, efficient and good to very good at all of the bars. Tips were appreciated but in no way affected the overall service. The Pure Chill Out and Tequila bars are open from 10 am until midnight, however the Pure is often used for private/closed events such as wedding receptions. Lovely venue for a wedding reception!
Only complaint about the Tequila bar would be the level of noise from very happy/intoxicated guests coming from this area very late in the evening. This is beyond the resort’s control. Given the Ushape configuration of the resort and the echoing effect, we found it impossible to sleep with our patio door open in lieu of using the A/C and using ear plugs became a necessity. We appreciated not having a room allocation any closer to the bar!
Beach: I specifically chose this resort for the direct, off the beach snorkeling opportunities. We are beach people! Although I had viewed some photos of the beach area in advance of booking, I quickly came to appreciate the very crowded feel once we actually arrived and found the resort at full capacity. Finding a quiet, more private spot with a bit of shade was a challenge! We spent most of our time near the Pure Chill Out bar area close to the water and further away from the very active beach volleyball area. Heads up! The protected, cove like beach is shared with the Dreams resort but the CAT has the longer, nicer section and a very protected lagoon area on the Riviera Maya side which is perfect for young children and to use on windy days when there is a bit of surf. This is not an ideal swimmer’s beach due to the rocky entry in most areas, so water shoes are highly recommended. We didn’t find walking along the water’s edge over to the lagoon to be a problem. The beach was cleaned regularly. We observed no topless sunbathing. On the Yucatan side, the palapas & loungers are placed four or so rows deep and directly on gently sloping sand whereas the Riviera Maya had a large portion of their loungers (several rows deep as well) on an upper level, man-made sand area with a high retaining wall and boardwalk in front. The water’s edge in this area was accessible from the stairs off the boardwalk. The stairs are slippery, especially at high tide, so be very careful! The beach flattens out and is very nice by the lagoon. Perfect area for young children! Due to erosion, a low berm of sandbags has been constructed. Signs are clearly posted asking guests to refrain from “reserving” palapas/loungers but as is usually the case, the signs were ignored. There was no shortage of loungers and we did see staff bringing more when they noticed people sitting on their towels directly on the sand. Despite some less than ideal weather conditions, we managed to snorkel at least once every day. We were determined to check out all of the reef/rocky areas up to and slightly beyond the buoys which marked off the safe swimming area, as well as the entire lagoon. Under low tide conditions, many parts of the reef stick out of the water making it dangerous to negotiate the area in a meaningful way so we waited until high tide. Most days the water was quite murky. Sadly, the reef is pretty much dead with the exception of a few, still healthy brain coral and the odd sponge. Given the high traffic of novice snorkelers and so many people standing on the formations, I doubt this reef will ever recover. Despite this, we did find a remarkable number of diverse fish species. The more common ones were Blue Tangs, Permit Jacks, Sergeant Majors, Grunts, various Wrasses especially Blueheaded, some Damselfish including a Yellowtail, Parrotfish, Halfbeaks and the odd Butterflyfish. The highlights for us were a very large Queen Angelfish, 4 Spotted Trunkfish of varying sizes, a Smooth Trunkfish, a group of 8 Reef Squid, the largest Stoplight Parrotfish we’ve ever seen, a Puffcheek Blenny and a Fairy Basslet. There is nothing more relaxing than just quietly hovering over the reef and observing. Small reef fish such as Wrasses, Blenny and Damsels tend to be timid! In the lagoon, we spotted a barracuda about 2 feet long, but nothing else of particular interest. It was annoying to be swarmed by schools of Permit Jacks, Grunts and Sergeant Majors when we swam through the opening of the lagoon. The fish are especially habituated and tend to hang out in this area expecting handouts rather than spending their time feeding on the reef.
Overall, and in our opinion, the snorkeling in front of the resorts was just barely so-so, however for novices, seeing any marine fish in its natural habit would be a huge thrill.
Pools: We are not pool people and didn’t use any of the pools during our stay. Both resorts have large free form pools with swim-up bars, a shallow kiddie area as well as other depth levels and areas for pool volleyball etc. There are plenty of loungers and some sun umbrellas although we did notice many loungers being “reserved” early with orphaned towels sunning themselves for hours. Outdoor showers are available near the beach end of the pools. The pools are cleaned early in the morning and sometimes throughout the day. They are closed in the early evening and chemically treated at this time. Signs are posted when this is done.
The pool on the Yucatan side was much quieter. The Riviera Maya side is used for most of the animation staff’s afternoon activities (games, dance lessons, kareoke, etc) and louder music is also played throughout the day.
Activities: There is so much to chose from that I can’t imagine anyone getting bored! Beach volleyball was very popular! An activities listings board, with days/times, is set up at both resorts near the buffets. The animation staff never seemed to sit still! All were very friendly and professional yet never overbearing. While we personally did not participate, it was a hoot watching some of the pool side activites in the late afternoon from our vantage point at the snack bar. Bicycles are available for free use at the hut on the outside roadway between the two lobbies. Hobie Cat rides with staff at the helm are offered weather permitting and guests may also use the kayaks. Lifejackets in varying sizes are available, however if I were traveling with a young child, I would bring along my own to be sure of a proper fit. A Kid’s Club for ages 4-12 is available during the day with further activities such as a mini-disco in the early evening. The pinata party was fun to observe and the children’s participation in the Lion King evening show was exceptional. Nice playground for the kids on the Yucatan side. At 7pm in the theatre, a family friendly movie is featured and the evening shows begin at 9:30pm. To be honest, we usually don’t bother with resort evening shows as drinking contests and audience participation shenanigans are not our cup of tea. We’re glad that we did check out a couple of shows (Prehistorica & Lion King) because they were very well done with professional presentation. A beach party was also featured one evening. Disco La Pinata, located on the Yucatan side, gets going after the evening show (11pm-2 am). From our location in area #4 of the YBR, we never heard any noise from the disco. The resort also offers a well equipped gym, a sports bar which is open from 4-11pm and a spa which offers a wide variety of massages, body treatments such as facials and a beauty parlor for manicures/pedicures and hair braiding. We did not use any of these facilities/services but I do have a spa price list for those who might be interested. Shops are available for purchasing sundry and souvenir items. There is also a boutique as well as a medical centre on the RM side.
A dive shop is located next to the towel hut near the bocce ball area adjacent to the beach volleyball court. Beginner scuba lessons were given daily in the Yucatan pool.
Off Resort: The resort is beachfront within the gated community of Puerto Aventuras. We felt very safe at all times! It’s a short 5 minute walk into town and well worth the effort. Lots of shops, cafes, restaurants to explore as well as a marina and dolphinarium where they also feature manatees, a shark, rays and seals in very small, inadequate pens (our humble opinion!). Many guests go to swim with the “trained” dolphins which is an activity we are vehemently opposed to for personal and philosophical reasons. Puerto Aventuras is exceptionally clean and well kept and features a golf course, racquet ball, tennis courts as well as numerous condo complexes and other expensive properties available for sale or rent. Just outside the main gates (about a 15 minute pleasant & shaded walk from the resort), and across the highway (accessible by a pedestrian overpass) is a newly opened grocery/general merchandise store called Chendraui. Next to the Pemex gas station is an HSBC ATM machine although there are private ATMs available elsewhere including directly on the resort (below the CRM lobby area).
Collectivo stops are also just outside the gates and this is by far the most economical way to get to Tulum or Playa del Carmen. The resort no longer offers the free shuttle service into Playa del Carmen.
Conclusions: We very much enjoyed our first vacation at the Yucatan Beach Resort and will definitely return to this family friendly, something for all age groups, exceptionally well managed resort. It’s a solid 4 star resort with many 5 star features. We were impressed with the well keep grounds and the very visible on going maintenance in every corner of the property. It’s easy to understand why so many people return to the CAT! The food was the best we have experienced at any of the many other 4 star all-inclusive resorts we have visited. Next time, we will however go during shoulder season as we found it a bit too crowded for our liking. Highly recommended!! Thanks for reading!