Cancun, Mexico, Travel

Kicking Winter to the Curb… for a Weekend Anyway

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I’ve always thought of Cancun as a true Spring-Break-Only type of destination, filled with cheaper resorts, catering to those that are seeking a place to crash at night, not really caring about the type of food or alcohol they are consuming.  In October, when I was looking for a potential weekend getaway spot for January, I was told over and over again to check out the Hard Rock Hotel, and that I would not be disappointed.  I’m glad I listened.

Booking the Trip

First, I’m a deal hunter.  I never believe in paying full price for anything, ever.  I scoured the usual sites, comparing one deal against another, finally turning to United Vacations (I’m a United Chase Card Member) to see if their prices would be any different (I was assuming far more expensive).  Sure enough, it ended up being the cheapest price – $1600 per person, including airfare to and from Cancun (from DCA), three nights in the Rock Royalty Level (more on that later), transportation to and from Cancun airport, all taxes, and because we are in the dead of winter, trip insurance (which I never get but why take chances?).

Now before you potentially balk at the cost, I should explain that when I go on vacation, I like an EXPERIENCE.  There’s a great big world out there and I like to see different places every year.  It’s rare for me to go to the same place twice, unless I’m visiting friends.  Thus, I believe in the best experience possible, knowing that it might be the only experience in that particular locale.  And, given that that level of room is usually starting at $900/night, it was too good to pass up.

So once the vacation was booked, the Rock Royalty Level (RRL) Concierge emailed me, to thank me for booking my trip, and to ask me if I had any requests.  Why yes, yes I did.  To start, it was my boyfriend’s birthday AND he happened to announce his departure from a firm, to embark upon being his own boss – both GREAT reasons to celebrate!  They offered a bottle of champagne and a mini cake at no extra cost.  I then scheduled two additional services, based on the $550 credits I now had with the hotel – a private dinner on the beach and a couple’s massage.

The day finally came to travel…

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Flying to Cancun, IAH’s United Club – Is it Worth It?

We flew from DCA to IAH for a SIX HOUR layover, before we could land in Cancun.  In order for us to get this deal, we were limited on flights that flew in and out of locations that didn’t get plagued by snow.  Thus, it was either take what was available, take the risk of our flight being canceled because of inclement weather, or pay a lot more.  So, I used my United Club passes to at least give us a comfortable place to pass the time.

For anyone who has ever used the United Club at E Terminal at IAH, it’s a bit disappointing.  For as large as the space is, it tends to be over crowded, mainly because they have too many work desks and not enough comfortable chairs.  That, and the food are mostly snacks, much of which were not gluten-free.  (If you Google reviews on this United Club, you will see I’m not alone in my disappointment.)

Customs and Transportation

I’ve flown all over the world and usually, when you cross international borders, you are handed customs forms to fill out – that are in English, unless you request Spanish, or that country’s language.  For some odd reason, all of Mexico’s were in Spanish, and every single passenger on the plane either had to know Spanish (like me) or had to fudge it along.  It was odd.  Still, the customs agents couldn’t have been nicer in helping people fill them out, so the travelers could go on their way. Pro tip: Bring along a pocket Spanish guide if you do not know Spanish!

Once outside of the Cancun airport, if you have never been there, it is nothing but transportation agents, ready to take you to your vehicle for your ride to your resort.  This is absolutely, hands down, the best way to do this.  It’s safe, secure, trustworthy, and cheaper.  Usually, when you book a vacation, you can book transportation, either with the package or with the hotel.  Lomas Travel was the preferred partner with Hard Rock Hotel.  Pro tip: I highly suggest booking a shuttle, prior to starting your trip.

The Hard Rock Experience Begins

Imagine being the world’s biggest celeb, the minute you step out of the car, and there are (what seems like) a million people there to greet you and help you, pretty much making any wish come true.  It is the exact feeling I got the minute I stepped out of the shuttle.  In a well orchestrated series of maneuvers, the gate guard radioed up to the bellboys and greeters that we were arriving.  We step out of the van, and were immediately greeted by name, given ice cold towels, drinks, a beaded bracelet for me (to denote Rock Royalty), other refreshments, and an orientation on the resort.  From there, we were introduced to our check-in representative, who led us to a separate room for a special check-in, including another drink (a special waiter for that as well), and finally, an introduction to our butler.  Yes, we had a private butler.

When we were all checked in (and had our bracelets that would be attached all weekend), our butler took us up to our room on the 11th floor, and opened up the door to our suite, which was decked out in a fun streamer for my boyfriend’s birthday. But, when we stepped in, I was speechless.  Not only had they made good on the champagne and mini cake, but they also filled the room with balloons and rose petals, and gifted us a beautiful beach bag.

 

Still, that wasn’t even the half of what this room held.  The balcony, overlooking the entire resort and the ocean, was exactly what I needed (although it was pouring rain that night), and of course the over-sized jacuzzi tub, large enough to hold a small family. But, what sat behind two cabinet doors was the best thing I had ever seen: Premium liquor taps and plenty of mixers in the fridge.  All of a sudden, we felt like spring breakers 🙂

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But before we could celebrate with self-made cocktails,  we had barely eaten all day and were eager to grab some food. We chose the Brazilian Steakhouse, Ipanema, for our first meal.  And, it absolutely did NOT disappoint.  Given that I’ve been to other all-inclusives, who have offered less-than-mediocre fare, I was completely delighted by the food, the service, and the five-star atmosphere.

The First Morning and the Private Dining Experience

Waking up at 7:30am for a sunrise, while on vacation, would seem ridiculous to most, given that most people want to sleep in.  I am quite the opposite, likening myself more to a kid on Christmas morning.  Why?  Because everything at first light looks absolutely magical.  It’s a moment where I feel completely at peace – a moment where I don’t think about a thing, have no cares in the world – I feel completely free (see my entire European trip last summer for more on that).

Much to his demise, my other half got up with me to at least pretend to enjoy what I was seeing.  And to reward him, I ordered breakfast to our room, so we could sit on the balcony and enjoy the already 75 degree warmth.

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Shortly after, we were racing out the door to grab two chairs by the infinity pool, which was already more than half full at 9am!  But, being that we’re active people, we started wandering around, re-locating to the beach for a bit.

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Since we had (what I thought) was a 5:30pm private dinner on the beach, we decided to head back, grab lunch at the market (make your own ice cream sundaes!), and take a nap.  However, it occurred to me that at check-in, no one mentioned the two reservations I had made and thus, wasn’t sure if that dinner was still on.  We talked to the concierge, who didn’t know of them, who talked to the travel planner, who was supposed to hand us our vouchers for both.  We then called the travel planner one hour later, and she told us our vouchers were with the concierge.  Sigh.  This had to have been the biggest (and really my only) frustration – lack of communication ONCE a guest is fully checked in.  Still, we received our vouchers and continued on.

Private Dinner NOT On the Beach

Unfortunately, it dumped rain from late afternoon until 30 minutes before our dinner, which I was almost positive was going to get canceled.  Instead, they tried to set up a “romantic” dinner for us in a ballroom, cut down to a smaller size.  And, it wasn’t just us – there was another couple there, who just got married, and looked rather unhappy they had another couple in the same room.  Still, given the circumstances, and while overly cheesy, it was fun to have a privately catered meal, as well as a few other little surprises.

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Day Two – All About RELAXATION

Now that I’ve seen the sunrise over the ocean, I was good with sleeping in and grabbing breakfast out, before hitting the gym (after all of that food and alcohol, we had to do something).  And that’s when my faith was restored in the customer service… one of our butlers saw us, called us by name, and ushered us to another restaurant (Zen) for breakfast because there were no lines.  He had us seated immediately.  Out of the thousand or so people staying at the resort, I was floored he had remembered us.

After our breakfast, we headed over to Body Rock (gym), and sweated it out for a good hour.  Interestingly, the gym is by the very front of the cul-de-sac that takes you to the lobby entrance, as though it was an afterthought when the resort was renovated.  Every place I’ve ever stayed at on the beach, has a gym with sweeping views of the beach, so it was a bit confusing to trek to a remote place to go workout.  Still, we got in what we needed to and headed back to change and try to snag some chairs. Pro tip: Claim your chairs in the morning and come back.  It’s no joke that they fill up, starting at 8am.  So, we claimed one chair and walked along the beach for a bit before grabbing lunch, a quick nap, and then off to our massage, which was utterly amazing.

That evening, we chose Ciao for dinner.  If there is one place to have a five-star dining experience through and through, it was this restaurant.  Had we known how amazing it was, we would have canceled the romantic dinner the first night and ate there all three nights.

Our Sad Goodbye… at 5:10am

Yep, it was a super short trip but a great one!  The check out was efficient, and a bit sad as they snipped off our wristbands.  Our shuttle arrived on time, we took the 20 minute trek back to the Cancun airport and began our journey back (this time opting for a wine bar at IAH, as opposed to the United Club) and got home, just in time for the epic snow blizzard that tackled DC.

While I have pointed out some of the flaws in our trip, I still 100% recommend Hard Rock to anyone, looking for a great experience in Cancun.  We both agreed that it was a perfect mini-vacation but next time, we’re going to take more time off 🙂

More pictures are in the slideshow below.

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Cancun, Mexico, Travel

El Vacacion de Cancun

I LOVE travel – the ability to experience new cultures, speak new languages and otherwise detach myself from everyday life.

From August 21 – 25, myself and two of my wonderful friends headed to Cancun or rather, Isla Mujeres – the island off of Cancun’s mainland.  Below is a recap of our awesome vacation, including where we stayed, what we did and what I bought!

Accomodations

It’s off season in Cancun right now so packaged all-inclusive deals are CHEAP!  After much research, we selected three-year-old Privliges Aluxes Isla Mjueres resort.  It’s situated towards the west end of the six-mile island with beautiful blue water and plenty of white sand.  Upon arrival (think two airplane rides, a shuttle, a ferry and walking two blocks to get there), we were greeted with champagne and… UPGRADES!  Our friend Michael was upgraded to a beautiful Premium room, complete with three-person jacuzzi tub on his balcony.  Kate and I were upgraded to a Deluxe Suite (almost 1000 sq. ft.), with an expansive living room, full kitchen and gorgeous spa bathroom.  Our view was just as amazing.

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Restaurants

There are three restaurants on the property.  Since it’s all-inclusive, we had our choice of those three options, room service and of course, all we could drink as well.  We found Sabor to be best for desserts and breakfast, as they had a great buffet, as well as dinner.  Cafe de la Mer, which sat directly on the beach was great for lunch (think awesome guacamole) and day drinks (as was the swim up bar).  The other option, Satay, was Asian fusion and not very good.  This was the only restaurant that took reservations and we were far from impressed.  My suggestion, at least have lunch off-property at some of the amazing restaurants this island has to offer!

View of Sabor, Courtesy of Michael Woestehoff
Dessert at Sabor
Dinner at Cafe de la Mer
View from Cafe de la Mer

What we Did

Watched Incredible Sunsets

I’ve seen some beautiful sunsets in my day but to see such a large, red fireball dip into the ocean never gets old.  It also makes for some great lighting, during an impromptu photo shoot 🙂

Photo Courtesy of Michael Woestehoff
Photo Courtesy of Michael Woestehoff

Visiting the Mayan Ruins

More than plenty of time was spent by/in the pool, over the course of our time there.  However, our second full day in and we made some new friends.  We agreed that we needed to go explore and thus decided to take a taxi cab ride to the other end of the island to go find the Mayan ruins.  As it turns out, the ruins are a bit harder to find and they are significantly less impressive than those you see in other parts of Mexico.  The site we ended up visiting was Goddess of Ixchel.  It looked more like a fort than anything else.  Thus, Michael and I took to an impromptu photo shoot while our friends visited the gift shop.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Woestehoff

Turning into Nocturnal Amphibious Creatures

After a long day out with our friends and dinner, we all agreed that a night swim in the ocean would be perfect.  It’s something I’ve never done before, mostly out of fear of getting “nipped” and not seeing what did it.  Yet, that night, it was so perfect – the water so warm (and yes, I survived without a single scrape).  This was followed by “sneaking” into one of the massive hidden hot tubs to relax before turning in for the night.

A Day in the Town

One of things I love best about Isla Mujeres is that it is not commercialized.  You can’t find a single Starbucks, Burger King or other fast food/dining establishment.  The closest thing to it was the 7-11 on one of the corners.  In addition, most of the people can speak (broken) English but it gave me a chance to use the Spanish I know to get around.  Kate, myself and our new friends set off, in search of food and after speaking with their diving instructors, were given a recommendation to try El Poc Chuc.  This is definitely a must-eat.  Everything down to the corn tortillas was hand-made.  The food was so delicious that we wish we had tried it sooner.

Photo Courtesy of Kate Michael
Kate, myself and our new friends!

After we ate, we decided to do a little shopping/haggling (something else I don’t get to practice much).  After visiting MANY jewelry and specialty stores, I settled on a place called Paw-Pao for a commissioned pendant.  I fell in love with the intricacies of the Aztec calendar and found many sterling silver pendants, encased in gold plating.  After a lot of negotiating, I had them encase the pendant in 14K gold instead.  It’s such a beautiful piece.  To read more about the Aztec calendar, click here.

The shopping wasn’t complete though – I also bought an abalone Mayan mask.  According to history, these masks represented functional and ceremonial purposes, such as protection in battle, weddings and birth celebrations.

My final purchase: a marble jewelry box that when opened, features two kissing seals.

Adios Mexico

Four nights and four days is plenty of time to do what you want on the island.  It was an amazing vacation with some incredible people!  Check out some more photos below.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Woestehoff
Heat lighting, courtesy of Michael Woestehoff
A mariachi band, walking the beach. Courtesy of Kate Michael
An old and beautiful cemetery.