We booked with Sunquest and flew on SkyService. Was not impressed at all with SkyService, as we arrived 4 hours early at the airport to get the ‘unreservable’ exit row seats, only to be abruptly removed from the ones we wanted, and were given, and told they were reserved for a VP of the airline. Whatever. Flight was unremarkable, food was pretty bad, flight staff was great. All I can say about Sunquest and SkyService is book early, and take advantage of the free early-book upgrade package. You can avoid paying the $10 for seat pre-selection and you get a coupon for headphones. Another note with regards to SkyService; they feel that a 50 minute wait for your bags to arrive in Vancouver after you get off the flight is not unreasonable.
Arrival: Landing in Cancun, we had to line up outside the airport for about 30 minutes before we were allowed into the immigration / customs hall. You have to fill out an immigration card before you can enter. Immigration was easy; they stamp your card in 2 places, your passport, tear the card in half, mumble something in Spanish at you and wave you on. Our bags were waiting for us in the customs hall, we avoided the baggage cart salesmen “It’s a long walk to the Sunquest bus” – It’s not. Maybe 200m. Customs was funny. Press a button, green light you go, red light you get searched.
Arriving at the bus area, we were able to find out which van we needed to get on easily, loaded our bags and found seats. Then we waited and waited and waited for the Sunquest rep to arrive. They never did, so our driver eventually left. The travel agent in Vancouver assured us our bags would be transferred to the hotel automatically, but this did not seem likely to happen.
Check-in: We arrived later in the evening, around 7pm local time. Check in was quick and painless. A short form to fill in, then we were given our wrist bands, towel cards, room key, and safe key. We were unable to locate the Sunquest rep anywhere in the hotel. This was to be the case for most of our stay.
A note here. We had called the hotel directly a few days before we left to check that our room preference requests had been passed on from the travel agency – Flight Centre – and found that they had not. The hotel was great at that time about accommodating all our requests.
Room: We got room 1417 on the east side, near the middle of the main building. The room was small, but clean and comfortable. Almost all the rooms on this floor are adjoining, and the walls are not very soundproof. The small child next door was noisy in the morning, and the people above walked around on the tiled floor in hard shoes late at night. There’s a switch on the balcony door that turns off the air conditioner when you open the door. However, this is not hard to bypass if you know what you’re doing. The bed was hard, but I like that. Extra blankets were in the closet. A door separated the bathroom, closet, minibar, and entry from the rest of the room. This door has a closer on it and is hard to wedge open. The cleaning staff wedged it for us with a matchbook on the 2nd day. Hot water pressure and availability was often very poor. If you want to shower before dinner, don’t bother between 4-6 unless you like a cold shower. I do, but my partner doesn’t. The view was fantastic, looking north and east. Rooms on the 13th floor have a concrete ledge, and I suspect that the downward view might not be as good.
Facilities: There were major problems with the elevators all week that we were there. They would not stop, get stuck, not move, etc. One in particular was very bad, and trapped people a couple of times. The beach was great. It varied from rocky with lots of fish at one end, to sand, sand, and sand, at the other. You could pick where you wanted to be, how much surf you wanted, etc. Parts of the beach and pools get shaded in the afternoon, but you can just move to the solarium on the roof of the ‘short wing’ or to the west end of the beach for all the sun you want. Snorkels and masks were free for the asking from the hotel, SCUBA was free in the pool, and it was too windy for sailing the week we were there. Lots of fish by the slab reef, and people were finding shells all over. People tended to reserve beach chairs with towels, but you can just remove them when you want to sit down, and put them back when you leave. There are signs everywhere asking people not to reserve the chairs so don’t feel bad about this. There are also stacks of more chairs so you can grab some if they’re all full. The pools were nice, clean, and cool. We stayed out of the “wet ‘n drinking”, or as we called it, the CessPool. It was obvious that people were just drinking and peeing in it. Also, the cigarette butts floating around were pretty ugly. The quiet pool on the east side was by far the nicest. The hot tub was not hot at all. We couldn’t find the heat control. It would have been nice on some of the cooler days.
There were lots of organized activities if you’re into volleyball and pool games. The staff did a good job of keeping people entertained.
Food: The food was not very good. I’d give it 3 out of 5 at best. Some items were great, but they tended to go very fast, with lines forming, and people hogging large portions. This happened with the prawns and the fresh calamari that I saw. Quantity does not equal quality. I was disappointed with the lack of fruit. Lots of melons, but no oranges, apples, grapes, or strawberries. You could not get fruit in your drinks, except bananas. I like drinks made with real fruit, not sugar syrups. At a 5-star, I expect a blender full of real fruit, served to me in a fresh coconut. However, I’ll make do with what’s available. All the beef at the buffets was soaked in some kind of tenderizer that had unpleasant effects on my digestion. The oil in the deep fryer needed changing badly, and was too hot; many items were coming out scorched. There was a reasonable assortment of vegetables, all boiled or fried with a lot of oil. In general, I found the the food to be very oily. You had to get up pretty early to make reservations at the Brazilian rodizo or the Japanese restaurants. The dress code was not enforced at either. The food in the rodizo was substantially similar to the main buffet. The food in the Japanese restaurant was better, but one thing I’ll say is that Mexican sushi is kind of funny. I think we’re spoiled here in Vancouver with so many great sushi places. The wait staff and bar staff were fantastic. Always smiling, always friendly. Willing to teach you a few new words of Spanish if you asked.
At the bars you had to ask for the premium liquors, otherwise you’d get whatever was in the well. A tip with your first drink would ensure you continue to get the good stuff without asking again. I found the bar staff to be friendly and engaging. They also work very hard, and appreciate the tips.
Overall, I’d say that I was very satisfied with this trip. The few inconveniences were far outweighed by the positive experiences. I don’t know that I’d stay at this hotel again, as I’m the kind of person that likes to try new things, and the food really turned me off. Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel were both highly recommended to me by other vacationers I met.
Cancun Tips: I travel a lot for work, however this was my first trip to Cancun. Here are some things I feel may make your trip a little easier. If you call your local bank, you can ask them to get some Mexican money in for you. Ask for small bills. 20s and 50s and 10 peso coins. We could only get coins from a money changer at the airport, but the small bills are handy. Change is not always available in Cancun, which I found odd, but that’s the way it is. You may find yourself getting a stack of ten 2 peso coins in a plastic roll rather than a 20 peso bill as change. Taking a big stack of US singles is good for tips as well. You can also get pesos directly out of bank machines in Cancun, using your Canadian bank card. The local bus service is great. It runs 24H and the busses are minutes apart. 6.5 pesos for as far as you want to ride. The drivers are very aggressive, and will accelerate and stop rapidly. Sit down quickly and hang on. Don’t worry about having exact change. The drivers can make change. Don’t give them big bills though. If you do take a taxi, ensure you agree on the price to the destination before you even get in. There are no meters in the taxis, and if you don’t have a clear agreement, you may get a nasty surprise at the end of your trip. I found the markets to be quite tedious. The merchandise was the same from stall to stall and the vendors were very pushy. Some of them actually tried to take my arm, and to haul me into their stalls. I had to warn a few people not to touch me. The prices and merchandise in the mall across the street from the hotel were about the same as the market, and the vendors don’t harass you. The marketplace in Cancun proper was much nicer than the one in the hotel zone. For example, no one there offered me ‘blow’ or ‘x’. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a stall. If you haggle well you can generally get the merchandise for about 30% of the initial price. I found that an easy way to blow off the timeshare salespeople is to tell them that you’re leaving later that day. The day trips that can he had are fantastic. Our trip to Xel-ha and Tulum was absolutely incredible. You can save a lot of money by simply going across the street to the mall and booking your trip there. The Sunquest rep in the hotel, once I was able to catch her not chatting on the phone, wanted $107USD each for that trip. I got it in the mall at Maro Travel for $65. If you’re going to Xel-Ha, make sure you bring “biodegradable” sunscreen. I can’t recommend this park enough. It was fantastic. Tulum is very cool as well. Walking amongst the ruins of a city that’s thousands of years old is not something you get to do every day. I wanted to go to Chichen Itza as well, but ran out of time. We were advised against Xcaret. Apparently it’s more for kids, and has a more ‘Disney’ feel to it. I don’t know. Parc Nizuc was lame. The only reason we went was so my partner could do the dolphin experience. You can’t bring in food or water from outside, and they search your bag coming in. Once you’re inside, everything is very expensive. Not at all worth the $29 entry fee. Definitely take a day and go to Isla Mujeres. I would avoid the package tours here. If you want to keep the cost down, you can take the city bus to the public ferry and pay $2.50 to cross. Rent a golf cart for $35-50 for the day and you’re set. There’s a lot to see and do there. The sea park, tortoise farm, a small Mayan ruin, and the downtown markets. Whatever you do, don’t miss “Playa Norte” This beach was incredible. Deep, soft sand and water the color of the sky and warm like a bath. I didn’t want to leave. The level of civil infrastructure on the island surprised me. I saw fibre optic splice containers and hybrid fibre/coax nodes on the poles. You can sip a corona and do email if you want.
Hope your trip is as pleasurable as ours was,