The occupancy in mid-January 2009 in Cancun was 78 percent – a bit better than the previous year, according to Cancun tourism director Arturo Escaip Manzur. Although a lion’s share of visitors filling the 33,000 Cancun hotel beds each and every evening are heat-seeking travelers from North America, there is a growing interest from the local Mexican and South Americans looking for five-star hotels in a peso-based economy.
Manzur assured me that Cancun no longer considers college students as a primary source of revenue. This market was a temporary rest-stop on an otherwise stellar strategy that has created some of the most remarkable government/private sector designed tourism-destinations on the planet. Students on charter flights still select Cancun as their destination of choice, but like seeks like, and folks staying at the luxury and branded hotels will find a quiet and refined atmosphere that justifies spending hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars a day.
What is the Attraction?
At the moment it is NOT the beach. Hurricanes and global climate changes have eroded the beaches along the hotel corridor, exposing rocks that make it dangerous for swimming. To get into the water for a swim, travelers find their way onto a chartered yacht or join a snorkeling and scuba diving group and head to sea.
Beaches Return, Starting in March
The good news: the beach issue is being addressed, and starting in March 2009. Engineers are setting out to replace sand and are creating artificial reefs – similar to a Dubai project. The expectation is that the beach will ultimately be restored, and the claims of white sandy beaches (along with blue- green water) will once again become a reality and not a historical fact.
So – If Not the Beach, What Is It?
Well, it is NOT shopping! There are very attractive shopping malls, with top of the line brands that can be found at retail outlets around the world and online –at better prices. The silver shops – from trinket to exclusive, are not presenting merchandise that separates them from cutting edge designers in Hamburg, New York, Vancouver or Knoxville, Tennessee. Retailers are still in the same-same mode and have not acknowledged a change in shopping behavior.
What is it that makes Cancun such a desirable destination? It is the hotels! And, my top choices are the Ritz Carlton and the two Marriotts.
Ritz Carton Secrets
Don’t look for wide-spread publicity about two new programs at the Ritz. The Culinary Center and Wine Classes are designed to come in “under the radar screen.” These special Cancun moments are limited to a very few – who really are into food and wines.
The Ritz recruited the attractive and charming Rory Dunaway as the Chef de Cuisine, a world-class gourmet who has the skill and personality to teach even the most intractable visitor how to cook. The $500,000 Culinary Center presents hands-on classes with Viking appliances, Dudson UK china-ware, plus German-made Grohe fixtures, Blanco sinks, Hepp flatware and Riedel glassware. The classes in this state-of-the art, “to die” for kitchen are set against an ocean view that is so seductive that it is only the fun everyone is having in the kitchen that keeps students from cutting class.
In keeping with the “grand gourmet” focus of the elegant Ritz Carlton persona, wine tastings are offered to a small number of guests and their very best friends. While the wines of the world can be integrated into the tasting, a special treat is to arrange a Mexican wine tasting where a bottle of the countries very best can run in excess of $100. Reservations for the private tastings and cooking classes must be made in advance by contacting Eduardo Ramirez the Captain de Banquetes.
Celebrity executive chef Rainer Zinngrebe keeps all gourmet, foodies and special diet guests enthralled with his global understanding and artistic presentation of food. Having fed international movers and shakers in five-star luxury hotels and restaurants in Europe, and Asia, Zinngrebe has published two best-selling cookbooks. Look for this charmer on the cooking channels as he talks about his world vision of dining, and an incredibly patient understanding of guests’ food allergies, preferences and whims.
The Ritz presents that perfect ambiance for nurturing a winter – tested love interest, especially for those not quite expert in making romantic gestures (or too busy to think about love). Time – pressed lovers contact the hotels’ Romance Concierge who assists in bringing seduction back into focus. From rose petals in the bath to the correct music and lighting, nothing is left to chance.
Two Marriott’s (JW Marriott Cancun Resort and Spa; Marriott CasaMagna)
Would you believe that there is only one indoor pool in Cancun – and I discovered it at the Marriott? Whether the skies are grey and cloudy, or another minute of sun will turn you into a well-done roast beef, the allure of an indoor pool is very seductive to visitors who do not want to give up their daily exercise routine. In addition to the indoor (and of course outdoor) pools, the JW Marriott boasts a state-of-art exercise room with a wide – range of machines that more than satisfy exercise fanatics. With scheduled classes and private instructors, plus a charming staff, diet-focused snacks and beverages, and a full range of massage services, I could spend a large portion of my life at this property.
Look for new social networking opportunities in the Marriott lobbies. Wave bye-bye to the boring, dead, tomb – like atmosphere currently popular in most hotels and say hello to “social zones” where you can use your computer, sip a latte, meet with friends, sip a cognac – be alone or together – the lobby is being turned into a major social center.
The architecture and interior design is very trendy, the environment – tranquil, and the staff eager to please. The hotel boasts restaurants (5) plus a separate club for elite guests reserving one of the 29 Aqua Club Rooms. VIP privileges include an exclusive lounge with a media and reading room plus a telescope for looking – wherever; complimentary continental breakfasts and hors d’oeuvres, an honor bar, butler service, concierge and private registration desk round-out the special services. The hotel boasts many pools that are reported to be heated; however, a quick scan of tripadvisor.com indicates that the heat/no heat amenity is questionable. If a daily swim in a heated pool is a necessity – be cautious.
This hotel sets the bar for ambiance for an all-inclusive adult (18+) hotel. The dining focus is on quality (not quantity), premium branded beverages, fitness center, yoga and Pilates classes, and outdoor pools (3) plus a spa (extra services/additional fees).
Me by Melia
This is a property that captures an avant-garde look and all metrosexuals will feel immediately at home. A big attraction is the weekend on-the-beach jazz brunch where the very pretty people from all parts of Cancun mix sun and tequila at this very hot spot. The other pulsing options at Me are the Rose Bar, the eLounge and Salt for dining. If you are (or wish to be) a rock star, 90210 plastic surgeon or international spy – this is the hotel for you (or ME).
Zoetry: Paraiso de la Bonita
At this boutique property guests reserve accommodations that are suite-size with optional (awesome) sea-views. A holiday welcome starts with a medical consultation with a licensed physician and a psychological chat with Dr. Charles the Wellness Director. Known as an anti-aging center the hotel offers medical services as well as Holistic medicine that include nutrition counseling, fitness, massage therapy, acupuncture and native Mayan treatments.
Hilton Cancun Golf and Spa Resort
Hilton is selected by visitors who love golf at least as much as they love their families. Guests schlep clubs from all over the planet in order to t-up at the Hilton. Visitors make fast friends with conference attendees who spend more time roaming from meeting room to conference room, then enjoying the pyramid shaped property. Caution: unheated pools, a small/ uncomfortable fitness center and a marginal dining experience.
Two By Sea
Since there is no Cancun beach (at the moment) – and the sea beckons visitors can snorkel and SCUBA by reserving boat space with Marina Solo Buceo. More than a dive shop, this dive master caters to international movie stars, and heads of government – but the celebrity status has not changed this casual dive venue. The owners know where the fish are and where to find the wrecks that keep the most jaded divers enthralled.
Cancun Airport Nightmare
There usually is competition for the best airports on the planet, in the case of Cancun – this airport is a strong contender for the worst airport – anywhere. Be prepared to deal with chaos and confusion as visitors maneuver through the airport to immigration trying to protect their skins from life-threatening time-share hustlers and taxi drivers. There is almost no “best way” to get through this nightmare since VIP services that meet/greet passengers as they disembark the plane are not permitted.
Taxi fees: $50 – $85 for a 15-minute trip to the hotel zone. Don’t waste time negotiating; the drivers could care-less. If you don’t reserve hotel-van transport in advance – there is no other choice for getting luggage, the clubs and the kids to the hotel. It is best to be safe and spend a few extra dollars to use the hotel-designated van service outside vendors are not dependable.
Rules for carry-on amenities are arbitrary and capricious. Just because it left the USA in hand-luggage does not mean the Mexican security will see it the same way. There are no signs declaring what is in or out – so – place as much as you can in the checked luggage and pray. Many airport security employees appear to be on a power-trip and like the adrenalin rush of saying “no” and “throw it away” to the harried traveler.
There is a reason this airline is often less expensive than Jet Blue or Aero Mexico, the folks are totally clueless about what customer service really means. The good news: Food is included in the ticket price as is permission to check one bag.
Don’t look for a charming town (i.e. Puerto Vallarta) – there is none, don’t look for sidewalk cafes (few and far between)… the reason for visiting Cancun is the wonderful selection of properties and the excellence of service and amenities that are available. Cancun is a hotel-specific destination. Adult visitors who pick the right property will believe that everything is right with the world and make reservations for a return – as they check out.