I've only been married almost 2 months, but i guess better late than never!!
Ok, first off, let me start with saying that it is a very nice resort, and the people who work there are extremely friendly and helpful. We found out it is a Mexican owned chain, and they hire all local labour â€“ so I am sure that has something to do with it. That also explains the atmosphere of the resort. You feel like you are in Mexico. Things are done a bit differently there. It is very casual and relaxed. It is not â€œAmericanizedâ€ like most of the larger resorts are. You donâ€™t feel like you could be anywhere in the world. You KNOW you are in Mexico, and for us, this made it more of an authentic experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
All of the main hotel staff (waiters, bartenders, concierge, etc.) spoke English very well. Some of the other staff, such as housekeeping or groundskeepers did not speak as much. I was okay with that, because I still felt I could communicate my basic needs if necessary. I certainly wasnâ€™t offended that some of them had not bothered to learn MY language since I was in their home country. I really felt like I should have made more of an effort and I wish I had. I would have loved to brush up on my Spanish before going, but I was super busy and I just never got around to it, so I was stuck at â€œconversation with a 4 year oldâ€ level, and it was my own fault.
Now, having said that, I am going to review everything â€“ good and bad, so that you can each decide on your own. Things that bothered me might not bother someone else, but things that werenâ€™t that big of a deal to me might really bother a different person. To each their own, right? This review is kind of all over the place, but I think I have covered everything. If not â€“ please let me know!!
The resort itself is beautiful â€“ but it is an older resort and there are parts of it that look a little worn. You canâ€™t expect much else in such an unforgiving climate, between hurricane season and the constant heat and humidity. If you want perfection, you are probably better off at a brand new resort or one that has undergone major renos very recently or a super high end place like the Mandarin Oriental.
Arrival: Check in was smooth and uneventful. We checked in at the same time with the couple we arrived with - Best Man and his wife. We were given cold drinks (sparkling wine) and the ladies were given flowers. After checking in and receiving our keys, we were asked to sit down with one of the hotel representatives (not the timeshare thing) to go over the details of the resort â€“ what activities were available and when and where, the restaurants, the included tours, etc. This took about 20 minutes or so, but perhaps it would have been longer if we hadnâ€™t been in such a hurry. (It was a long flight and we were starving and wanted to get cleaned up and go to dinner!) She did ask us to make an appointment for a timeshare meeting, but didnâ€™t press too hard. (We did not end up going, but a couple we met diving later in our trip went and they actually signed up because once you do the math, if you are big vacationers, it is a pretty good deal.)
So, we get to our room (we had requested the north side, because everyone recommended it, saying the south side was noisy and the â€œpartyâ€ side) and immediately there were some bizarre issues: the air conditioner was broken. It was set to 65 degrees F and could not be turned any warmer! The minibar was warm. There was no hot water in the bathroom. So, the maintenance guy came and took apart the air conditioner and fixed that. He pulled out the fridge and realized it wasnâ€™t even plugged in, so that was easy enough. The hot water, we didnâ€™t realize until after he left, so we just took cool showers and went to dinner and decided to deal with it the next day.
Well, the first full day we were in Mexico there was a monsoon. (I believe it was the remnants of Hurricane Marco, just the edge of the storm skirting the Mayan Riviera on its way past.) We woke up that morning to a flood in our room!!! Apparently the seal on the patio door was bad because there was water streaming in under the door. Luckily it was just our scuba gear in the bags by the door, so no harm was done. We called the front desk and they were extremely apologetic and asked for a few hours to get a new room cleaned and set up and moved us â€“ no questions asked. They even offered us a suite on the south side, which we stupidly turned down because our guests were on the north side.
So we moved and all was goodâ€¦ until our next set of guests arrived. When they checked in, they were assigned rooms on the south side. As we were discussing getting them moved to the north side with the rest of us (as was requested when the rooms were booked), we went over to their room to get something and were STUNNED to see how much nicer and more modern their room was! So we figured â€“ this is OUR wedding and honeymoon, we want a nicer room too! So we went to the front desk and asked to be moved to the south side â€“ which they did without hesitation. They even let us go look at the new rooms first to make sure we liked them. (There were only 6 of us, so 3 rooms, and the resort was only at 30% occupancy.) So to say I was impressed with the customer service there is an understatement. It seemed like whatever we asked for, someone was willing to make it happen.
As for the rooms themselves â€“ they were actually all pretty much the same â€“ king size bed (or two doubles if that is what you requested), Jacuzzi tub, dresser, desk/table, bedside tables, minibar, liquor dispenser, TV and safe. The big differences between the north side and south side rooms (at least in the buildings we were in â€“ La Trompeta on the north and Accordion on the south) were: the south side had wall mounted flat screen TVs, instead of the monster taking up the entire counter, the liquor dispenser was under the cabinet on the north side and wall mounted on the south (which was A LOT easier for pouring drinks!) and the safe was a newer, larger electronic safe (which fit EVERYTHING including our laptop) on the south side, versus the old much smaller steel trap with removable lock on the north side â€“ which our laptop would not fit in.
Ok, so we got moved to our new room and got all settled in and were much happier with the conditions. Because occupancy was so low while we were there, we had NO problems whatsoever regarding noise from the pool and such. Our next door neighbours were completely obnoxious (coming in at 3 a.m. yelling and slamming doors, really loud porn star type sex noises that sounded embarrassingly fake) â€“ but that is no reflection on the resort, just luck of the draw â€“ like bad neighbours in an apartment.
Anyway â€“ on to the resort itself.
The restaurants were fair to great â€“ depending on which one you went to.
Breakfast was pretty much the same no matter where you went. Once on the south side, we went to Mundaca pretty much every day. It was right by our building. On the north side, it was MoMoNoHana. They were both buffet type breakfasts â€“ with omelet and pancake/waffle/French toast stations. The buffets were massive â€“ pretty much anything you could possibly want was there â€“ from cereal (but you have to like whole milk) and pastries to a full Mexican meal. The food was pretty good â€“ even though some of it was WAY different than what most of us would typically eat for breakfast (shredded pork and cactus seemed a bit heavy for a first meal of the day!) I am a very picky eater and I cook a lot at home, so I like good quality ingredients and the only thing I complained about regularly was that they used canned mushrooms at the omelet station. Not a big deal, just one of my pet peeves. I am sure it was a freshness/availability issue and something most people wouldnâ€™t even think twice about. I believe you could also get breakfast at Sweets & Coffee, but we never did. They had some incredible crepes there â€“ we just didnâ€™t have them for breakfast. Room service was also available for breakfast.
Lunch was also either buffet or room service or bar food. The pool bars served made to order pub type food â€“ sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, nachosâ€¦ Or you could go back to Mundaca where they had set up a full taco/fajita station (in addition to the lunch buffet â€“ which was just as extensive as the breakfast buffet.) The taco/fajita station had handmade tortillas, salsa, and guacamole plus several different types EACH of chicken, pork or beef and all the accompaniments. Not to mention the grill where you could get steak and chicken and veggies and pretty much anything else you could imagine. I think the lunch buffet was at El Greco on the north side.
Dinner was different every night. You had your choice of several different restaurants, (most of which required slacks for the men â€“ word of warning that went unheeded by one of our friends.) We tried them all.
Our favourite was the Mexican restaurant â€“ La Hacienda. The food was good, the dÃ©cor was â€˜authenticâ€™ â€“ you should expect good Mexican food in Mexico, so this was a no-brainer. The tortilla soup was incredible. And the Mariachi guys were great â€“ very talented and not annoying and loud and in your face.
Mundaca was the Argentinean steakhouse. It was good. The meat was good quality, seasoned well, and it always came out just as I ordered it (well done for me â€“ though friends said theirs was over cooked when they ordered medium). The salad bar was a bit underwhelming, but I think that is just a cultural difference â€“ the produce was always fresh, there just wasnâ€™t a lot of variety that you typically think of when you hear â€œsalad barâ€. (It was literally lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and some shredded carrots if I recall correctly.)
Ventanas was in the south lobby. It was closed for A/C repairs the first week we were there, but reopened the second week. It was a combo pizza/pasta/buffet place. You could get pre-made pizza by the slice, or you could make your own using the individual pizza crusts and ingredients provided and they would cook it for you. Same for the pasta â€“ there were multiple options on the buffet, or you could go to the fresh station and choose your pasta, then pick your ingredients and sauce and she would sautÃ© it up for you. They had a roving violinist who was very good. Again, he was subtle â€“ not in your face and annoying while you were trying to eat. Nice atmosphere, romantic.
La Trattoria was the Italian place. It was good. It wasnâ€™t the best or most authentic Italian I have ever had, but it certainly wasnâ€™t bad.
La Huerta was billed as â€œCalifornia Lightâ€ and to be honest, we only went there once. I couldnâ€™t tell you what I ordered. I believe it was a chicken dish. It was completely un-memorable. I wouldnâ€™t say it was bad â€“ but it just wasnâ€™t good enough to want to go back. Blah was how we described the menu.
MoMoNoHana was the Oriental restaurant, which was an odd place. It was a fusion of all types of Asian cuisine mixed. Some of the dishes were downright gross (sushi in Mexico is not a good idea!) and some were good, but just plain weird because of the combos. For example â€“ the curry was neither a Thai curry nor an Indian curry. It did have a distinctly curry flavour, but that was where the similarities ended. It tasted fine, but like I said â€“ odd. We didnâ€™t go there until the last week. (We live in Vancouver. There is a large Chinese population here, so the Chinese food is incredible. We are a bit spoiled by it.) My new husband really liked the fact that you could get sake there though. It was a nice change from beer or mixed drinks.
El Greco was the Mediterranean restaurant. We went there once and it was enough. I didnâ€™t like a single thing I ordered. The risotto was just rice smushed into a disk like shape with very little flavour. The prawns were so overcooked they were mushy. It was our least favourite restaurant. We fed most of our dinner to Garfield â€“ the well-fed restaurant mascot. (Note: watch your fingers if you decide to feed any of the cats. They are very friendly, but greedy enough to take the fingers with any offerings of food!)
Word of warning â€“ we like wine, but we have never really considered ourselves wine snobs until this trip. The wine was bad. Bad to the point that I just stopped drinking it. If you are big wine drinkers, this would probably be one of the strikes against the resort.
If I were rating the restaurants on a 1-5 scale, on food alone, it would go something like this: La Hacienda â€“ 5, La Tratorria â€“ 3, Ventanas â€“ 4, El Greco â€“ 1, Mundaca â€“ 4, La Huerta â€“ 2, MoMoNoHana â€“ 3. On service- they would ALL get 5s. One word of caution â€“ I know it is Mexico, but make sure you bring a sweater for dinner â€“ because ALL of the restaurants were freezing!!!
Room Service â€“ we ordered a few times, and it was fine. Nothing to write home about, but okay. Word of warning â€“ the food is not piping hot by the time it gets to you. Realistically, the resort is sooo massive, it just cools quickly before it gets to your room. I donâ€™t think it is the fault of anyone in particular, just a hazard of the size of the resort. The food was always warm-ish when it arrived, so if you are particular about this â€“ beware. But you would ALWAYS get a call within 10 minutes of receiving your order making sure you got your food and checking to see if you needed anything else. It was a nice touch â€“ especially if you needed, say, ketchup for your fries or something.
The service was truly impeccable everywhere you went in the resort â€“ from the restaurants and bars to the towel huts. The people who worked at the resort seemed to take great pride in doing their jobs well and taking care of the guests. It showed in their attitudes and the constant smiles on their faces. And it didnâ€™t appear to be an act, like we have all seen in various hotels or restaurants where the wait-staff donâ€™t want to be bothered and are just waiting for something better to come along.
Bars: the bars were fairly standard. You could get the same drinks just about anywhere and they were generally strong enough. If not, just ask for more booze and no problem. The resort beer is Dos Equis. That is what is served from the tap and that is what is in the fridge in your room, along with Tecate Light of which I was not a fan. The Pina Coladas were divine, and I am usually not much of a â€˜girlyâ€™ drink kind of girl.
The only bar that really stood out was the Thai Lounge. Jose is the man in charge there and he was WONDERFUL. The first week, we were pretty much the only people in there â€“ our group and a few friends we made while there. That man seriously ENJOYS his job and it shows. He is quick with a recommendation, if you arenâ€™t sure, and can pretty much make anything. He makes a fabulous mojito. One thing I did notice the second week when it started to get a bit busy was that he has very little patience for jerks â€“ and I canâ€™t say I blamed him. When we were there, we were chatting to him and he was telling us about his family and asking all about us â€“ and making different fancy drinks every few minutes for us to try out. Every night when we came in, he greeted us warmly â€“ and if we missed a night â€“ the next time we came in, he was ecstatic to see us â€œOh, my friends from Vancouver! I thought you had left me! How are you?â€ The second week though, we skipped a few nights because we were diving the next day and had to get up early (and not hungover). When we went back in, he still greeted us the same way. But we noticed he did not seem overly thrilled with a few of the other patrons. As we moved down the bar a bit and could hear them, we understood why. These were some of the rudest most â€œentitledâ€ people - yelling drink orders at him and slamming their hands on the bar to get his attention. (There were only about 20 people in the bar, and most were at the tables and already had drinks, so it wasnâ€™t like they were going to have to wait long â€“ they were just being idiots.) He still made fancy drinks and chatted with us, but every time he was interrupted by them, you could tell he just REALLY wanted them to go away. And I didnâ€™t blame him one bit. Yes it was his job to make them drinks â€“ but a little bit of respect goes a LONG way. And considering how nice he was to us every time we were there, I am certain it was not Jose with the bad attitude.
That was one thing I noticed at the resort that really annoyed me. There were a lot of Americans there â€“ and a large proportion of them were southerners. Now, donâ€™t misunderstand this as American bashing. I am American AND from the south â€“ I just happened to marry a Canadian. But the rudest, most obnoxious people there seemed to be the southerners!! They were completely disrespectful of the employees and seemed to think it was cute to treat people badly â€“ as if they had paid for the privilege of being jerks. I was horrified and I was ashamed to be one of them. I now understand why the rest of the world sees Americans with such scorn â€“ not because of the majority, but because of the loudest most offensive minority. I would never treat someone as badly as these people treated the employees at the resort â€“ I was raised better than that. Just because it is their job to serve you does not make you any better than them. I have a healthy respect for people in the service profession because I know I couldnâ€™t do it, and I greatly appreciate the ones who are good at their jobs and do it with smiles on their faces. And those were the people who worked at this resort.
Anyway, I digressâ€¦ Next, on to the grounds. The resort was very well maintained. The pools were immaculate, the plant life perfectly groomed. The place was HUGE. There is no other way to describe it. That being said, depending on which building you are in, it is very easy to get around. When we were on the north side, I had a hard time getting around by myself. I have a bad (ok, terrible!) sense of direction and there were just too many twists and turns. Luckily, my husband has a built in compass, so he can get us anywhere! Once we moved to the south side though, our building was very centrally located and everything was very easy to find. We were even situated in such a way that the walk to either lobby was easy and short, so we rarely took advantage of the golf carts that are always available to drive you from lobby to lobby. That being said â€“ if you arenâ€™t big walkers, there is always a ride to be found!
The pools were amazing at the resort â€“ and there was pretty much something for everyone. There was a swim-up bar on each side (north and south) as well as activity pools. But there were also plenty of casual relaxing pools. There were jetted â€œcoolâ€ tubs â€“ like a hot tub but cool water, not hot. There was a current pool way over on the edge of the north side. There was a separate pool for dive instruction. There was water ping pong as well as volleyball. Also on the north side, there was a cooler indoor pool and two large hot tubs â€“ one was hot, one was even hotter!
While we were there, it was low season, and as mentioned previously, the resort was only at about 30% occupancy, so we never EVER had a hard time finding chairs â€“ in the sun or the shade, whichever was preferable. We generally had a palapa in the shade and loungers at the waterâ€™s edge. There were plenty of palapas by the pool, as well as numerous options available down below at the lagoons.
Now, the lagoonsâ€¦ There was nothing wrong with the lagoons. The water was clean and clear and not stinky and stagnant as some people have mentioned in a few reviews I read before going. I didnâ€™t spend much time in the lagoons simply because there was nothing to see. Yes, you could kayak and snorkel, but aside from the school of generic white fish, there just wasnâ€™t much going on in the lagoon as far as sea life. If you want sand, you have to hang out by the lagoons. Otherwise, thereâ€™s not much going on. Again, there are plenty of chairs and palapas available.
Activities at the Resort:
There are some activities mentioned on the Palace website. We didnâ€™t partake of a lot of them, but here are my experiences, nonetheless.
The rock climbing wall â€“ looked interesting enough if you are a beginner and looking for something to do. I kind of wanted to try it, but the week before the wedding I didnâ€™t want to risk the bumps and bruises and broken fingernails, and then we just never got around to it during our â€œhoneymoonâ€ week.
Obstacle course â€“ we played around on it, but it is nothing serious.
We found the sweat lodge during one of our last days. This is part of one of the spa/cleansing rituals (youâ€™ll see the ad on the in-room television station whenever you turn it on.) Interesting set up, but we didnâ€™t do the spa package.
We also located the yoga hut, which looked quite nice, but neither of us are into yoga.
One of the funniest things to me was the hedge maze the website talks about. I guess maybe I watch too much television, but I had a labyrinth-type thing in my mind, where you need a guide or a map or something and it is really challenging. The one at ASP is literally knee high! I donâ€™t know why that was so funny to me, but it made me laugh every time we walked by.
They had â€œActivity Coordinatorsâ€ at each pool who were always coming by with trivia questions and trying to get people involved in whatever games were going on, but they were really polite and not annoying. If you were at the activity pool, they tried a bit harder to get you to participate, but they only came by the other pools a couple of times and didnâ€™t pester you if you werenâ€™t interested. I canâ€™t speak for the activities, because we really werenâ€™t interested, but whenever we walked by, the people participating always seemed to be having a great time.
There were also nightly activities in the lobby, or various places. I canâ€™t quite remember them all, but the best one by far (we went twice) was the fire show. If you get a chance to see it â€“ GO! The performers were truly amazing and very talented. (I am pretty sure if I tried even a fraction of the stunts they were performing, I would end up in a burn unit at the local hospital!) The first week it was outside by the lagoon and was awesome. The second week, it was inside the south lobby due to the weather (wind) and while it was still impressive, it was very subdued â€“ not to mention the fumes that built up in the lobby were nauseating!
Oh â€“ there are iguanas everywhere. This was surprising to me (I donâ€™t come from a place with iguanas) but not bothersome in the least. They were fairly interesting, just make sure you watch where you are walking at night! We came upon some unexpectedly a few times and they quite startled me! They werenâ€™t vicious or attacking or anything like that â€“ just when you are walking along minding your own business and this massive lizard comes out of nowhere in the dark, it is a little unnerving. Of course, I am sure they think the same thing about us! And apparently they like hot dogs (which we learned from some lady by the lagoon who was feeding them.) They will come quite close if you feed them hot dogs. Nothing says healthy like processed meat for the local wildlife.
We didnâ€™t have time to do a lot of the tours, so I can only comment on Tulum. The ruins were fascinating. The tour guide was so knowledgeable and truly passionate about the Mayan culture. That was really neat, and very informative. It took about Â½ an hour, maybe 45 minutes to get there. Then the tour was maybe an hour and a half, two hours. Then you got to spend some time at the beach or at the village doing some sightseeing/shopping. The beach was beautiful â€“ but because it was part of a tour (and every other resort in the area was also there) it was pretty crowded and not terribly relaxing. The village was interesting and the shopping was typical tourist stuff. Make sure you bring insect repellant and sunscreen (because there is NO shade during the tour). Some wet wipes wouldnâ€™t be a bad idea either â€“ we definitely used ours!
Oh â€“ the only bad part was the detour on the way back to the resort. They force you to stop at a local Mayan market. And yes, I do mean FORCE. You are told to leave the bus â€œfor your own safetyâ€ â€“ which we found quite laughable since the bus is parked literally 3 feet from the front door. Then you are followed around by the salespeople and harassed for about 45 minutes. (I found the best way to get them to leave me alone without being rude was just to smile and shake my head.) Maybe some people would be interested in this, but our group was not and I felt like the whole thing was a bit sneaky. You are not allowed back on the bus, so after about 10 minutes our entire busload of people found ourselves just standing on the porch watching it rain for the next half hour and grumbling about wanting to get back to the resort.
We heard from various other people that we met that the Chichen Itza trip, though LONG was amazing. Coba was supposed to be great too.
We will go back at some point and try to see everything we missed on this trip.
There are also several other excursions that you have to pay for. Our friends went on the dolphin discovery/ swim with the dolphins thing and loved it. (We went to the port where the dolphins are when we were scuba diving and after seeing the conditions the dolphins live in, I donâ€™t think I would ever give money to an organization like that. The dolphins looked miserable and were in these tiny little pens where they could only swim from end to end and back all day every day. It didnâ€™t look like a very good quality of life and kind of made me a bit sad for them.)
We are scuba divers and bought new equipment for our honeymoon, so we spent most of the week after the wedding diving. The dive organization affiliated with the resort is one that I had researched on-line before deciding on a resort. Dive Aventuras was great. Their divemasters were very knowledgeable and helpful. The shop was sparse â€“ as most dive shops are, but the boats were good and the staff was great. Carlos was probably the best divemaster I have ever dove with, so if you go â€“ request him. We also did a day of cenote diving with Mario, which was a first for me. I am great with the open water diving in the ocean, but have a tendency to get a bit claustrophobic when I am feeling boxed in â€“ and let me tell you, there were a few tight spots where there was just enough space to squeeze through with all of your gear without scraping the top or bottom of the cavern! It was a bit unnerving at first, but Mario was so knowledgeable about the caverns that I was totally comfortable with him. If we hadnâ€™t had such a great divemaster, I donâ€™t think I would have gone for the second dive. (We did one dive, came up to change tanks and have a brief rest and then went down for the second dive.) I donâ€™t think I would go back because unlike the ocean, there isnâ€™t a lot going on in the cenotes, so if youâ€™ve seen it once, youâ€™ve pretty much seen it all. But that could be just my interpretation. I like the variety of sea life in open water â€“ and never knowing quite what you will see next.
I got my nails done for the wedding. The salon was your typical salon. Both the manicure and pedicure were nice, but nothing to write home about. My MOH got her hair done and she liked it just fine, but be forewarned â€“ it took a LONG time for her to get the idea of what she wanted across. The communication barrier was very noticeable there. As long as you are prepared for that (or have a picture of exactly what you are looking for), you should be fine.
All spa packages include the hydrotherapy. This was actually the part I was looking forward to the most. However, it was so disorganized, I felt more stressed when I left the hydrotherapy portion, than when I got there.
After you check in for your massage (or whatever), you go in (an hour before your treatment) and you are directed to the change rooms and someone walks you to the sauna. She asked me how long I would like to stay, and I told her, assuming this meant she would come back and get me when the time was up, since I obviously was not wearing a watch and there was no clock in the sauna. Well, she never came back and I finally got up and left only to realize I had been in there twice as long as I was supposed to! Then I spent a few minutes walking around looking for someone to direct me where to go next. Luckily, there were some resort guests who had been a few times and they told me. Finally I spotted the woman who had left me in the sauna and she said â€œoh, you finished?â€ (Seriously lady?!) Anyway, the facilities were REALLY nice and the whole experience should have been very relaxing, but being left in the sauna and not knowing where I needed to go next kind of bothered me, so I did not enjoy it like I should have. It would be better if they had a clock in the sauna and if there were signs with directions. Anyway, then we went for our romantic couples massage (the hydrotherapy is segregated, and then you meet back up in a different waiting room). The massage was really nice â€“ very relaxing. I would have called this one more of a sensual rubdown, because I prefer a more aggressive deep tissue massage â€“ but that is me. It was nice, just not quite what I was expecting. The spa facilities are very nice though and the staff, again, were all very friendly and helpful.
There is a gift shop in each lobby as well as a spa shop in the north lobby â€“ and jewelers. They have pretty much everything you could possibly want and then some. Of course, they are full of souvenir type stuff â€“ as well as over-the-counter medications, sunscreen, nail polish remover, etc. Yes, a lot of the stuff is pretty expensive, so just beware.
In the evenings, there is a guy with a table set up outside the gift shop in the south lobby doing finger paintings on ceramic tiles. He was really good and very interesting to watch. We bought one and had him put our wedding date on itâ€¦ Itâ€™s about an 8x10 and cost $20 I think.
There is a doctor on-call 24/7 at the resort, in the event of any medical emergencies.
We went into Playa del Carmen one day. We took a cab to and from the Playacar Palace because it is a set rate for the taxi, rather than taking our chances on grabbing one on the street, since we heard some stories about cab drivers charging unsuspecting tourists WAY too much for a cab ride. I think it was $18, so not bad. We walked down to 5th Avenue from there.
As an aside â€“ Playacar Palace is incredible. It was very new and modern and fancy and just plain gorgeous. We had lunch there, and by the time we were finished eating, we were ready to go! We chose Aventura because it was adults only (which apparently, unfortunately, is changing.) I donâ€™t like kids much, (though there are exceptions), especially the over privileged whiny obnoxious ones that seemed to fill the restaurant at Playacar where we had lunch. If you donâ€™t mind kids, it was a really nice place â€“ right on the beach, just off 5th Ave. and absolutely beautiful.
Okay, 2 last things about the resort:
We were kind of on the fence about this one when we got there. There is the one school of thought that yes, it is all-inclusive and you are not obligated to tip. But then there is the other school that says you are tipping for service and the employees donâ€™t see much in the way of tips that are â€œincludedâ€.
We ended up tipping for most things. Not because we felt obligated, but because the employees at the resort went out of their way to do whatever they could to make us feel welcome and special and make sure we were enjoying ourselves. Their attitudes are what encouraged us to tip â€“ not the expectation. I canâ€™t think of a single time someone expected a tip, and most times they were surprised â€“ and always very grateful. We were there 2 full weeks and probably spent, on average, about $10-15 a day in tips, sometimes more, sometimes less.
Like I said, we were there for 2 full weeks. On the Friday before we were scheduled to leave, a very large conference arrived, taking the capacity from 30% to 75% overnight and WOW what a difference it made! I LOVED being at the resort and at the pool and the restaurants when it wasnâ€™t busy. That last day and night, not so much. The pools got crazy crowded. The restaurants were bursting at the seams and LOUD. The bars were super busy and the wait staff just couldnâ€™t keep up, and I found myself being glad we were leaving the next day. When we moved over to the south side, I didnâ€™t really understand why people had complained about it being so loud, but I can see how it would be during the busy season. We didnâ€™t really spend a lot of time in our room during the day, but I am pretty sure it would not have been very enjoyable if the resort had been that crowded the whole time we were there.
I honestly canâ€™t say I would recommend the resort during busy season, because I felt like we were truly pampered when it was so empty and it probably spoiled me! Plus, for me, a vacation is supposed to be relaxing and I donâ€™t find crowds and noise very relaxing or enjoyable â€“ especially when you mix in free booze!
Checkout was quick and easy. The transport back to the airport was a bit chaotic, but that had nothing to do with the resort and everything to do with booking through Air Canada Vacations.
Now â€“ for the wedding review!!
Ok, from start to finish, these are my experiences/impressions.
Some people seem to be having issues with getting their weddings scheduled and not having a very communicative planner. I didnâ€™t have that experience at all. My off-site coordinator was very helpful in the months leading up to the wedding, always available and always answering my questions (via e-mail) within 24 hours. If she didnâ€™t know the answer, she responded to let me know she was checking on it â€“ and got back to me quickly once she had the answer or had someone at the resort e-mail me.
Some time before the wedding (I canâ€™t remember the exact timing), I was transferred to the on-site coordinator, and it was much the same - very helpful and quick to answer all of my questions.
Once we got to the resort, we met with our WC and did our blood tests and submitted all of our paperwork and picked flowers and cake, etc. It was all quick and relatively easy. She did seem to be a bit disorganized, but it didnâ€™t hurt anything.
The blood tests were easy and pretty painless. (Note to self: donâ€™t try making small talk with the phlebotomist. She did not speak any English at all, and it seemed to kind of stress her out a bit when my husband was asking questions.) In this case â€“ if they donâ€™t call you to tell you the wedding is off, no news = good news.
The flowers â€“ I got a simple bouquet of white roses. My dress was blue, so white was perfect. The flowers were so fresh and so lovely, they were still alive and looking gorgeous when we left 10 days later!
There are two wedding gazebos at the resort. The north side one is at the very edge of the resort â€“ very secluded and private. We originally chose this one, because it sounded perfect. (Part of the reason we planned our wedding as we did was because we didnâ€™t want to be the center of attention.) The south side gazebo was gorgeous â€“ stunning â€“ but right in the middle of the pool zone and overlooking the lagoon. (After we left the honeymooners office, we went and checked out the gazebos and immediately called the WC and changed our location. The north side, while secluded, is literally on the edge of the resort. As in, it is right next to a HUGE fence. There were also some garbage cans lined up along the fence that would have looked just great in the wedding photos.)
She did a quick run-through of what would happen the day of, but I didnâ€™t leave there feeling like I knew what to do. I quizzed her a few times on the way to the gazebo the day of and you can even see in the DVD where I asked her â€“ â€œwhere do I go now?!â€ We laugh at this, but if it stresses you out, maybe you should take notes. I probably would have been smarter to do so, but in the end I figured I would be able to see him and even if I didnâ€™t go the right path at the right time, I could get there and would still get married!
We also picked our cake at this point. I donâ€™t like cake, so we ordered a cheesecake. I donâ€™t really know what flavour it was, but the cake we cut during the ceremony was NOT a cheesecake. However, it was delicious, so we didnâ€™t complain because it was really very tasty and moist. (I noticed a few things like this while we were in Mexico. The translation of certain things just donâ€™t quite come out right.) No big deal â€“ we just kind of rolled with it, and everything worked out fine. We did laugh about the cake though because we had a long discussion with the WC about New York Cheesecake vs. Italian Cheesecake and explaining the difference to her. I realize now she had no idea what we were talking about, but just went along with it because she didnâ€™t want to upset us.
Also, you pick the restaurant for the wedding dinner. We originally chose the Italian restaurant, but we changed it to the Mexican one because the food was really good and we liked the atmosphere. We also chose the menu for the day after the wedding â€“ for your breakfast in bed. The room service was great but holy moly â€“ we couldnâ€™t eat even half of what they delivered. There wasnâ€™t enough room on our table for it all!!!
We chose the large photo album, mostly because we wanted the photos on disk to be able to do what we pleased and it was the best deal. I was very pleased with the photographer. He took some incredible shots and I am overall very happy with them. One thing that kind of bothered me was that you donâ€™t get to look at the photos first and pick which ones you want in the album. He uses his own discretion for the album, and I donâ€™t love some of the ones he picked. I may at some point change them out, but I just havenâ€™t gotten around to it yet.
The best part of the optional stuff was the video. I cannot recommend the DVD highly enough. I repeat, I CANNOT RECOMMEND THE DVD HIGHLY ENOUGH! We really debated the DVD, because wedding DVDs are usually painful and boring and you watch it once and then it gets shoved on a shelf, never to be seen again and is really a waste of money. But in the end, we decided to get one because we opted to have a VERY small wedding (just inviting our two best friends and their significant others.) So for all of the family and friends that werenâ€™t there, we wanted to have the video to show them, so that hopefully they wouldnâ€™t feel as left out.
After the meeting with the WC, we went to the Honeymooners Office where we got our honeymooners t-shirt and set up our spot for the Honeymooners reception and dinner. Iâ€™ll get to that, but first, the ceremony.
The day of the wedding was perfect â€“ the weather was just slightly overcast, which was the perfect condition for photos, and there was a nice breeze blowing, which helped keep it a bit cooler (though it was still extremely hot and humid â€“ so be prepared if you decide to put your guys in tuxes or if you wear the big dress!) The WC arrived at our room with the photographer and videographer and we did some pre-wedding photos. (The guys had to be at the gazebo 20 minutes before to do a run through and get some photos.) We took a golf cart to the gazebo. (You have the option of the horse drawn carriage, but thatâ€™s not really my thing.) There are some stairs when you get to the gazebo for your entrance â€“ something to take note of if you are wobbly in your shoes or have to worry about tripping in your dress!
By the way â€“ they cut off your bracelet before the wedding, so you donâ€™t have to worry about that in the photos. That was a huge concern for us because there is nothing more lovely than a big yellow (in our case) band for your wedding pics! You get a new one after the ceremony. Your guests have the option of cutting theirs, but you are warned that the resort MAY charge a $15 change fee. They didnâ€™t charge either of ours that cut theirs. For one of the girls, I got her a wrist corsage that covered it up perfectly (even if it kind of resembled a scrunchy around her wrist! Luckily it was covered by the flowers.)
My intro song was â€œJust the Way You Areâ€ by Billy Joel. I love Billy Joel and told my husband that we had to include at least one song. He picked this one and it was perfect. He teared up. (I didnâ€™t â€“ but my face hurt already from the huge smile I couldnâ€™t wipe off my face â€“ even though the photographer kept asking for a â€œseriousâ€ face.)
The ceremony started with the JP talking a bit about marriage and reading a poem from a Mexican philosopher. It was nice. Then we do the thing and exchange vows. And then the paperwork. Okay, so the song we picked for the paperwork was â€œFriendshipâ€ by Tenacious D. We are all big rock fans and this was both funny and appropriate since the signing was all about the friends we had brought down with us to witness the wedding. And it would have been perfect except for one thingâ€¦ We didnâ€™t realize there would be 6 (I think â€“ could have been 5) documents for each person to sign, so the process took FOREVER, and because it is a short song (2 Â½ minutes), it ended up looping 4 times! If we had realized how long the signing would take, we would have picked a MUCH longer song!
Anyway, so the signing is finally over and I think this is where we exchange rings and do our toast and cut the cake. (I should probably be watching the video while writing this, but I am too lazy to go get it.) We made a total mess of the cake cutting. I wasnâ€™t really expecting this â€“ because I have never seen it done during the ceremony, so it was kind of weird. But she said cut the cake, so we rather awkwardly cut a line down one side. We figured it was just a symbolic thing for photos, but no we were supposed to cut a full piece and feed it to each other. I found that whole thing weird and awkward. You do it once with the fork â€“ which my husband rammed the fork into my teeth and dropped the cake. Once we stopped laughing, we had to do it again using our fingers. Then we did a toast. That first sip of Mexican champagne was a shocker â€“ nasty brutal stuff. Our song for the cake/toast was â€œFinally Foreverâ€ by Chris Cornell, which also worked out really well and goes amazingly well with that portion of the video.
As our exit song, we chose Paul McCartneyâ€™s â€œSilly Love Songsâ€ â€“ it was fun and upbeat and the perfect ending.
Then we went and did a bunch of photos â€“ group shots and then a bunch more of just us by the water, and then some inside.
Our ceremony was a late afternoon one, so once photos were over, we had a drink and then went to dinner at the Mexican restaurant. It was great â€“ the waiters were wonderful. We had wedding cake for dessert. We had nightcaps at the Thai Lounge with Jose. It was about as close to perfect as any day could be.
About the DVD: The resort DVD was amazing! The videographer was incredible. Our wedding was very casual and relaxed and we laughed and had fun during the whole thing. He somehow managed to capture the exact mood of the wedding and it is so overwhelmingly, absolutely perfect. We have watched it a dozen times or more since we have been home.
I have 2 complaints â€“ First, it would be much nicer in Hi-Def, but I think that is just me being spoiled by technology. My only other complaint is the music. For the actual ceremony part of the video, he uses the songs you chose for the wedding. But there are a lot of sections of the video, like the candid pre-ceremony stuff and the photo session after the ceremony where he uses his own songs. Most of them are okay, even if they werenâ€™t songs I would have picked (â€œUnforgettableâ€ â€“ Nat King Cole, â€œFields of Goldâ€ â€“ some random female version I have never heard), but the first song on the DVD may be one of the worst songs I have ever heard. It is like a Barbara Streisand knock-off and it is HORRIBLE! I screamed at the television during the whole thing and was panicking because I was afraid the whole video would be like that. I was so upset. Luckily it was only for the first few minutes, but if I had known then what I know now, I would have armed myself with a few more songs to provide to the videographer. I still hope to, at some point, dub a copy with some more acceptable music, but I can live with it for now, especially since the initial shock has worn off. Just a word of warning to anyone considering the DVD, especially if the music selection is important to you.
One last thingâ€¦ The weekly honeymooners /newlywed reception. It was BRUTAL. My husband and I are fairly sociable people, but this was justâ€¦ indescribably awkward. Picture your first junior high danceâ€¦ at a new school, where you have only made one friend and donâ€™t know a single other person. It was in the convention centre with all of the newlywed couples (I would estimate around 100 people), and everyone just stood around awkwardly not talking to anyone else. We stayed for all of 20 minutes and then left and went to dinner on our own â€“ and it turned out to be one of the best dinners we had the whole time.