We flew Skyservice from Toronto Jan 7, 2010 and lucked out by pre-selecting row 6 within 24 hours of flight for free. Loads of seat room. Breakfast was a egg mcmuffin that had been in a foil wrapper for too many hours. Hardly edible but I knew ahead that food could be iffy so we ate breakfast just before arriving at the airport. I won’t hold the breakfast against them, everyone’s trying to save money these days but I would rather have had cookies or peanuts. I’d also much rather have all the flight services together, then leave us alone to enjoy the bad movie or sleep. It seems that they prefer to interrupt you ever 30 minutes.
Your Arrival: Bus ride from Cancun airport is 90 minutes at least. We knew that and were prepared. Beer was $3. each on the bus and that helped. Problem is that Playa del Carmen is slow with traffic and will improve when the highway is finished. Also, it’s a long winding driveway for each resort you have to drop other guests off along the way, then the bus has to double back on the divided highway. Gran Bahia Principe is 3 large resorts in one complex: Tulum, Akumul, Coba. Tulum was built first but I would not consider it older or run-down at all. Tulum and Akumul are usually slightly higher in price as they are close to the beach and Coba is along walk or shuttle ride to the beach. Check-in was very fast. I asked about an upgrade to the Diamond Club but declined the extra cost. We were given free bath robes and slippers and it was a wonderful gesture even though we had brought our own. The first thing I noticed was that there were loads of staff everywhere and they were all working hard. Plates were cleared fast, staff were constantly smiling and cheerful. We’ve been to many resorts in DR and Cuba and we’re used to very slow service and tipping to get half-decent service – not here. If we tipped, we always got a friendly ‘thank-you’ if we didn’t, we felt we got the same quality of great service. It was rare that we came across a staff member who was not cheerful. When we asked directions a few times, they either escorted us to where we wanted to go or offered us a ride. The easiest way to know how the staff feel is to talk to them privately and to watch how they interact with each other. I owned a restaurant once and I could tell that these people cared about their work and took pride in serving you.
We paid extra for a guaranteed oceanview balcony and we had the best location and view possible. Building 12 on 3rd floor. Normally 3rd floor is a disadvantage but you wouldn’t see the ocean for the palm trees if you were lower. Also, no one above us to make noises on the marble floors. We were right above one pool, steps from the 24 hour bar/grill and a a few more steps (that’s steps, not a walk) to the beach. There were no units closer to the beach than ours – awesome. Room was much larger than expected, very nice decor and everything worked. We got a free safe for the week because the key was there but I know others paid for their safe. Stocked bar fridge. We just left the key in the fridge, why bother, who’s going to steal your water or beer at an AI??
Restaurants and Bars: We immediately booked our a-la-cartes upon arrival and had no problems. We went to the Mediterranean first and loved it. Buffet style apps and desserts but the rest is selected from the menu. Awesome service. Great food. Our waiter asked us if we would change some coins he had as tips from American or Canadian. Anyone leaving foreign coin tips in Mexico is a rude ignoramous. They can’t exchange the coins, banks won’t take foreign coins, it’s worthless. We did the exchange at a fair rate just because I was embarrassed that a fellow Canadian could be so rude in a foreign country. Next, we went to Don Pedro, the gourmet restaurant in Tulum section. The maitre d’ is Alberto and he visited each table numerous times. The service and the food were absolutely on par with any 5 star restaurant I’ve been to. My wife had rack of lamb and she rated it the best she ever had and I had surf & turf. We paid $20. for a bottle of fantastic Malbec. We had a conversation with Alberto and he was genuinely ensuring that every guest was treated as his own personal friend. We were given the opportunity to visit a second time and jumped at the chance. Alberto welcomed us (and a few others that came back) with a very beautiful line "welcome home, it’s so good to see you again" Very nice gesture that was genuine. Also, keep in mind that most of the world cooks differently than Canada & the US. You’re in a foreign country and food will always be prepared differently. That’s the joy of traveling. Some people don’t like the coffee because we drink weak garbage coffee. Most of the world savours rich, dark roasted coffee. We went to the Japanese (Mikado)and were disappointed. The couple beside us were very happy, we wished we had chosen the Brazilian. I’ve been to similar restaurants before. A good selection of apps: sushi, sushimi and grilled. My wife and I had a few spoonfuls of the soup and passed on it. Not my style, sorry. Entrees were grilled in front of you and you have the choice of chicken, seafood or beef. It was OK, more Chinese style than Japanese. Obviously the couple beside us were very happy so it just goes to show that 2 couples can share the same meal and have 2 outcomes. The service was excellent.
The buffet in Tulum section was HUGE. Loads of selection, too much for us. If you are accustomed to Caribbean buffets, you’ll be very happy. If not, do your research first and stop complaining and don’t go to an AI. Food is repetitious but the selection, quality, quantity and taste were WAY ABOVE anything we’ve had in Cuba or DR. Would I want to eat there every night – no. We actually went to some of the gourmet restaurants for lunch and enjoyed them better. They are open for breakfast and lunch as buffets and then dinner as a-la-cartes. Identical food but less selection and more to our liking.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Beaches were nice but we’ve been to better. You’ve got to remember that you’re located on the second largest reef in the world, there are lots of coral and rocky areas. Take swim shoes and it’s fine. The resort beach is nearly 2 miles long but everyone crowds in the Coba section – WHY??? Lots of beach bars, loads of empty loungers. A whole stretch on the northern section of Tulum is deserted. Very nice soft sand everywhere. A few last comments – sorry for the long review. Bahia Principe is a huge resort. We loved that and spent hours walking through all the sections, nothing is ‘out of bounds’ except some smaller pools are designated for Golden/Diamond or Premium clients. If you want to stay just in your own area, so be it, we love to explore. We very much appreciated having the disco in it’s own section, far removed from the rooms. We have bad memories at some resorts of being unable to sleep due to noise and vibration from the disco until 3 am. Not here. We did got to the disco for a few minutes and left before our ears fell off. Lots of younger people enjoying it. This resort tries to cater to all ages which is a tough job. There are always plenty of activities constantly going on. It’s up to you to check the ‘Activities Board’ to see what’s happening. You pass it on the way on the buffet so it’s your fault for not looking. The huge sand bags are on the beaches to protect the beach. Some complained about them. wow! Would you want a multi million dollar resort to lose it’s beach in one hurricane? That’s why they are there. Lots of kids enjoyed sliding off them and they certainly helped keep the water more calm for kiddies on rougher days.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We dropped into one entertainment night in the huge theater and it certainly appeared very professional. Way better than the ‘animation teams’ at other resorts we’ve been to. Not our thing but the place was full so it must have been good. We did a few days trips. Tulum ruins are very close at 59 pesos entrance fee. Simply walk out to the highway and flag down a Collectivo going South (they run constantly) cost is 25 pesos. They drop you off at Tulum and you walk 6 minutes to the ruins. A nice way to spend an hour or two. Guides are extra and we opted without. Very nice beach using stairway, washrooms stink – literally. Go to plaza near the highway and washrooms are nice and free (donation is appreciated by lady at the door). We bought the Coba tour and although overpriced and a long day, it was worth it. Coba ruins/temples are an absolute ‘must see’. They are the only ones that allow tourists to climb right to the top if you either have the guts or the stupidity. I went part way up and took the guide’s advice and stopped, sat down and looked around. I could not shake my mind of the thought that if any of the very overweight tourists above me slipped, it would be an incredible moment for CNN news. The steps are steep and uneven, one rope to hold onto for everyone and it is very, very high. This is the place were they chopped off the heads at the top and watch them roll all the way to the bottom – you get my thoughts? Lunch was provided in a restaurant at the Coba entrance. After Coba we went to a Mayan village. Many were very interested, we weren’t so excited. The guide went to great pains to explain that these people are poor but have everything they need and consider themselves as fortunate. The kids had Xboxes, the family had a Sony stereo and they were happy Many on the bus had trouble seeing that but it’s very true. Lots of natives living on reserves in Canada have less. We went to a Cenote for a swim but since the sun was just setting and it was chilly, we opted to stay dry. The ones that did go in were thrilled and enjoyed it. We also took the Collectivo to Playa del Carmen for 30 pesos each. It’s worth it when the weather prevents you from enjoying the beach at the resort. Lots of craft stores, bars, restaurants, junk stores and you name it. Get a google map before you go and it will help you find your way in the crowded streets. We sat on the beach at a bar watching the ferry go back & forth to Cozumel during sunset. Very nice. We’re not junk buyers but if that’s your thing, PdC is a must see.
A side trip to the beach at Akumel is a top priority. Once again, Collectivo North from resort about 5 minutes and then walk in to the beach. You can swim with the turtles and see coral, all for free. Beautiful beach but once again, you’re better with swim shoes. A few beach bars and lots of stuff to buy but cheaper to buy in PdC.
Other Comments: We flew back on Sunwing and although I’m a Sunwing fan, the seats are closer together than I’ve ever had with them. The guy in front of me moved his back which left me with knees pushing into the seat, then he kept bouncing and after a few of those I had to ask him to please stop crushing my knees. I hate Transat, had numerous bad experiences with them but if Sunwing keeps the seats that close, there’s no way I’d use them again. Dear Sunwing: I’m a human, not a sardine. For any vacation, do your homework. If you don’t, then you have no right to complain (IMHO). I went prepared with the resort map in my head (thanks Debbies), we knew which a-la-cartes we wanted to go to and all of our expectations were met or exceeded. Would I go again? Hmmm. We’ve never gone to a resort twice, I’m an explorer. I would certainly recommend this to friends or family without a doubt and if we return to the Mayan Riviera, I would come back here for sure. I would make a point of looking at other Bahia Prinicipe resorts in other locations. Is Mayan Riviera worth double the price of Puerto Plata or Cuba??? Hmmmm. Tough call. For us, it was. I’d rather spend one week here than 2 weeks in PP or Cuba for the same $$$. The Mayan/Mexican people were truly wonderful. We anticipated problems outside the resort and were delighted to find otherwise. Even shop vendors were always polite and smiled when you just smiled back, said "Hola, just looking". Not so in other countries. Would I rather spend one week here or go to Cuba or PP twice in the winter? Ouch, now I’m pushing it. Maybe if I spend extra money and treat ourselves to a few lobster dinners in Cuba instead of the resort food. One last comment that I’ve gotta say: I was truly shocked at the difference in the happiness and care the Mayan/Mexican people put into their work compared to Cuban resort workers. In Cuba you tip because you feel sorry for them (and to get any service) here, you tip because appreciate the great service. I know that will cause some to argue with me but it’s just so obvious to see that difference.