As a travel professional, I try really hard to manage my clients expectations. I want to ensure that you always get the absolute best value for your money and that the resort or hotel matches what you’re looking to get out of your vacations. A vacation match maker if you will. More than a travel love connection, my job is to educate and inspire you to see the world!
You may know already that I specialize in 4-5* resorts. In Mexico as an example, I generally knock off a star (*) when explaining the resort amenities to clients because the standards are different in Mexico compared to what we might expect in the US. This is especially true when it comes to all-inclusive resorts that tout 5 and even 6* service. How do you know if that resort really warrants that 5* price tag? What do you get for a 5* in Mexico?
Not all 5* resorts are created equal
This is my fourth visit to the Riviera Maya. In lieu of hiring a driver, I decided to rent a car and drive myself so I’d have more flexibility. I’ve driven in Mexico before but I’ve always been with other people. So this was the first time driving solo and I’ll admit, I was a little nervous. Plus, I speak very little to no espanol.
Thankfully, I read this article ahead of time to refresh my memory on driving etiquette so I felt good to go.
My first stop was the MOON PALACE, located just 5-10 min from the Cancun airport. This is a massive resort split into two sections – Sunrise and Nizuc. The Moon Palace is part of the Palace Resort group which has 7 resorts between Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. I’ve been to most of the Palace Resort but this was my first visit to Moon which touts itself as perfect for weddings and family groups. This resort does a ton of weddings and groups and I can see why. The FREE wedding package is of course a big draw. If you are planning a large event and want to have plenty of space for your group to spread out, several pools, restaurants or even conference space, the Moon Palace is an ideal choice. If you’re looking to celebrate a honeymoon and want something a bit quieter however, I’d pick some place else. Having to get from one end of the resort to the other by way of golf cart and sharing space with over 3000 guests is not my personal idea of a romantic and relaxing holiday. It really depends on the environment you’re looking for. There is also minimal greenery around which for some may not matter at all but if you like a more lush environment, the Moon Palace is a bit more sparse in this regard. The beach area is narrow and of course this year thanks to the weird seaweed phenomenon, pretty unusable. You also receive up to $1500 in resort credits that you can use towards upgrades, spa treatments, activities, specialty dinners etc. I have yet to have a client use all of their credits (If you have, email me because I want to hear about it!)
In a nutshell I think the resort is very nice, spacious and appealing for large groups. I think it’s a solid 4.5*.
My next stop was to Ocean Coral & Turquesa. This resort has been one of my go-to favorites for family groups. Their onsite staff is so friendly and communicative. It’s a moderately sized resort with about 500 rooms. This resort offers a very different vibe than other resorts in that it’s a character resort – not your cookie cutter cement blocks. There are four buildings in a horseshoe formation that curve around a pool in each area. All of the rooms are junior suites with either garden (1st or 2nd floor) or ocean views (3rd floor) OR their oceanfront master suites are very large and ideally located right in front of the beach area.
I love this resort for families with small kids. The Crib Club is a genius idea. A small area with cribs surrounded by mosquito netting next to the kiddie pool. So parents let the baby sleep nearby, play with the toddlers and enjoy pool bar service. Sounds pretty perfect. The kid’s club for older age kids is in the same area.
For a resort of this size there are also many restaurant choices, especially for dinner with no reservations required. There is no nightclub onsite but the central pool has live music and a DJ at night until 1AM which makes it a great resort for groups or friends traveling together that want a fun environment but within a smaller resort.
The Turquesa section of the resort is for those in the Privilege Club which offers upgraded mini bar amenities, private lounge and restaurant plus access to a row of beach cabanas. Average upgrade is about $55 per person, per night so I think it really depends on how much you think you’ll be using those amenities to determine if it’s worth it or not because the suites are identical.
I would say this resort is a moderate 4* that is full of charm.
My third stop was to the Marina El Cid in Puerto Morelos. Puerto Morelos is a small town between Cancun and Mayakoba. Mostly a local area with a handful of hotels in the middle of no where. If you’re looking for a resort closer to a town that is no where near as built up as Cancun or Playa del Carmen, this area would be an OK choice. There is a small open air market, many local food shops and a nice park area by the public beach access.
I’ve had my eye on this resort for a while now because they have family rooms that can accommodate a family of 5. My boys are too young yet to be in their own room and I don’t often have the budget to do a 2 bedroom suite so this resort seemed like the perfect solution! Of course when I got there I was told that the hotel was fully booked. After a bit more prodding it turns out 3 of the 4 buildings are closed for renovations (scheduled to be complete this December). That would explain the lack of bodies around the pool area. I actually really liked this resort for families even not seeing the rooms. So much so that I’m considering it for our winter vacation. There is a big waterslide + kid’s pool that I am pretty sure my boys would never leave. I like that all of the buildings are angled around the pool and activity zones. The beach here is small and there is a stone jetty so not ideal if you’re ocean swimmers but fine if you want to just play in the sand. So far this is one of my top picks for families looking for an affordable, all-inclusive beach resort.
Realistically I’d give this a 4* rating. Maybe higher had they shown me a room…
And finally, my home hotel the Occidental Grand Xcaret. I had stayed at this resort about 15 years ago when it first opened. I had heard from my rep that the resort just underwent some specific renovations a few years ago so I was excited to revisit this old favorite.
So today I should have managed my own expectations. I admit it, I’m a little spoiled. Generally when hotels know I’m traveling as an agent scouting hotels, they roll out the red carpet. A room upgrade or complimentary service is the norm. Afterall, how could I trust you (the hotel) with my clients if I’m not wowed and 100% sure you’ll take extra-special care of my VIP clients? (you’re all VIPs by the way…)
This hotel is a 3* at best. I have not been impressed by the service, food or accommodations thus far. The beds are like solid granite and my so called “deluxe” room overlooks a service road with golf carts zooming by every 5 min. I won’t go into too much more detail because I don’t want to be a negative nelly but if you’re thinking of this resort and want more info, feel free to contact me. I will say I’ve seen a ton of groups here though. Mostly younger singles/couples and one wedding group. If you’re a group on a tight budget and looking for very modest accommodations with no view – then this resort would likely be fine for you. I will caution you that there seem to be a lot of items NOT covered by the all-inclusive (internet at $15 p/day, fees for specialty sodas/coffees etc.). The only real highlight I think is the direct access to Xcaret and the large pool area surrounded by flora & fauna. Now for this trip I brought my mother who really didn’t know anything about the resort and she thinks it’s great. Expectations right?
[Update: OK, it’s day 2 and the resort is quite pretty. Very lush with all kinds of critters. I think if the hotel put some money into the rooms it would be a solid 4* property. A big negative I forgot to mention – there are no elevators! We originally had a room on third floor but the prospect of my older mother having to go up and down the stairs several times a day on top of all the walking required to get around this resort – we quickly switched rooms to a ground floor. We’re here in low season so switching rooms was not much of an issue since the hotel is no where near full. However for those traveling in peak season or with a large group that could be problematic for anyone with limited mobility. Just something to be aware of ]
Personally I think the fact that I am picky (ok, one might say a hotel snob) works in your favor! I have a ton of photos as well that I’ll try to organize in a slide show when I get home.
Stay tuned for day 2 !