Date of Trip: September 2007
Sun Palace Resort, Cancun, Mexico. Sept. 23-29, 2007
Summary: Since we didn’t see the ruins or go on exotic tours, I am starting with the summary first. We asked our travel agent to find us a vacation under $3,000 and she did a great job recommending the Sun Palace Resort, all-inclusive. The Cancun Hotel Zone is very expensive and unless you want to eat fast food everyday come prepared to spend lots of money or stay at an all-inclusive. The US dollar is very weak, so Americans should bring even more. I was really surprised that considering the free alcohol everyone was in control of themselves. Maybe the better halves had something to do with it. Hurray for couples only resorts. There is so much of the world that we still want to see, but we would return here in a heartbeat. Maybe next time we will do the tourist thing and visit the ruins. A big Thank You to everyone on Trip Advisor and The Independent Traveler for the wonderful advice. Our travel agent had just returned from visiting the Palace Resorts in the area and knew the couples only setting of the Sun would be to our liking. We had just returned from our NYC trip a few months earlier and just wanted a place to relax. We had gone on a few cruises before our New York vacation and enjoyed the being spoiled treatment one gets on cruises. The Sun Palace and I’m sure this is true of other all-inclusives is that you can truly leave your wallet at home. No soda cards, no bar tabs, and no tipping. Everything we wanted at the resort was included. Of course, the spa treatments are extra, but we never use spa centers at home so it wasn’t a big deal. We had a great time and by traveling late in September we missed the big hurricanes. I wrote a review of the resort in Trip Advisor. Now, on with the details.
We flew Continental Airlines on the 23rd from Portland to Houston and then from Houston to Cancun. Our flight was delayed leaving Portland, because of a broken chair. The chair was repaired in about 15 minutes, but it took 30 minutes to get the paperwork delivered. The pilot radioed for electric carts to be ready at the gate and without them we would have missed our flight. We landed in terminal-C and flew out from terminal-E. They look close on a map, but it seemed like a mile between gates. We pushed away from the gate on-time five minutes after we boarded. Too close for comfort. We landed in Cancun on time and getting through immigration and customs was unbelievably quick. There’s a button you push before leaving customs and if you get a Green light there’s no inspection and if you get a Red light then your bags get searched. The Cancun Airport Terminal we flew to and from (#2) looked new and in very good condition. There’s a row of time share vendors before you exit; they’re not allowed to approach you, but they do call out. All hotel transfers are done outside the airport so it’s best to ignore those hawkers. Best Day Travel handled our transfer to the hotel and we waited about 15 minutes for the van to arrive. It just stopped raining from a major storm going through so it was very humid. We went to the hotel zone with one other couple and were at the resort by 19:30. There is no time change between Houston and Cancun. We really liked flying Continental and the fact that they served meals is a big plus with us.
We were welcomed at the lobby with champagne, a carnation, and a cool cloth. We were the only ones registering so getting signed in was quick. Palace Resorts use towel cards and you get these and a wrist band during registration. There is a stiff fee if lose the cards or the band. There are different colored bands to indicate if you’re a member or use a travel agent. The silver band folks seem to get a little better treatment, we were yellow. We next had to visit with our hotel representative (salesman) who explained the available tours, location of the different restaurants, and, of course, the sales-pitch. The lobby level has the Bistro and Italian restaurants, the ballroom, stores, spa, and four of the five pools. The pools are actually down a few stairs from the lobby level. None of the pools are very large or very deep. The first floor is above the lobby level. The Thai restaurant/Oriental Lounge is on the first floor. The fitness room is on the second floor and close to the elevators.
Sales-pitch: Palace resorts sells blocks of weeks that can be used over a period time. Members still have to pay for their weeks stay, but at a reduced rate. The price for the block of weeks is not fixed and it’s up to you to try and get as many extras as possible. The sales-pitch is actually at the Cancun Palace (up the road a few miles) and they do offer lots of incentives to go, but we didn’t. Members are allowed to sell their weeks. The pros and cons are in a thread on a Trip Advisor forum.
Tours: Palace Resorts offer several tours for free if you stay a set period of days. This is a great deal if you want to get out and see the ruins or to snorkel; other tours are available for a fee. The resort also has an Avis representative. Bull fighting is done in the winter months. The tours are arranged through your representative. It seems like representatives are assigned to you when you arrive. Some are nice and won’t bother you once you tell them not to call your room. We had to get in our reps face a few times. We talked to a couple staying at the Cancun Palace and they were getting calls at 7:30am asking if they wanted to go on any tours or to attend the sales-pitch meeting.
Tipping: We read several reviews on Trip Advisor of people tipping everyone. We tipped when a staff member went beyond the norm and we tipped the band when we were serenaded. Tipping someone at this resort for doing their job doesn’t make sense. America is different from other countries, because most states have different labor laws for people that get tips. A waitress making $3 an hour in Arizona depends on tips.
Sunday Night: We were shown to our room and instructed on how to use the safe, tub, and lights. Power to the room is supplied when the room key (card) is inserted in a holder. The AC turns off when the balcony door is open. We ate dinner at the Mexican restaurant and my chicken mole was great and my DW’s carne Azteca was delicious. The salad they served was a bit too spicy for us. The serving sizes are smaller than most US meals, but here you are expected to eat five courses. They always bring out the appetizer of the day and then from the menu you can choose another appetizer, salad, soup, entrée, and, later, a dessert. They are so eager to please that when I didn’t order a soup, they asked if something was wrong or if they could bring something else. I was so full when we finished I couldn’t eat anything else.
Monday: Weather was the best. The humidity had dropped and the sun was out. We ate at the breakfast buffet and I really liked ordering a three egg omelet with items I chose myself, it hung over the plate. My DW liked the French toast and fruit. We explored the grounds and found a few hideouts. The Sun Palace has a good size beach and the waves were never that bad. The life guard will setup an umbrella and the waiters are quick with the drink. There were very few vendors along the beach. We had lunch at the pool grill, had a great Philly cheese steak, and played Bingo. We ate at the Thai restaurant for dinner and the food was good. Thai food isn’t our favorite, but we’re willing to try the restaurants once. The Thai restaurant is outside and on the first floor, north end. Tonight we enjoyed the International dance show. The resort has professional dancers come in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to provide entertainment in the ballroom.
PA music: Music played in the Bistro and infinity pools during the day are songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Music at the activity pool area is more current and lively. Music is the fitness room when I was there was high tempo Latin. Don’t know about the spa.
Tuesday: Downpour in the morning. Overcast in the afternoon. We went swimming in the pool everyday, except when we went on a tour. The sun leaves the infinity pool area around 15:00 and the beach around 17:00. The pools are closer to the building than other resorts so the shadow comes earlier in the day. The activities pool is in the south wing area and has the swim-up bar, volleyball net, and an underwater bench along the edge for sitting. The pool grill is also in this area. There are two walkways to the beach: below the Oriental Lounge and near the activities pool. We ate at the Mexican restaurant again and enjoyed it. Tonight was karaoke in the lobby bar and the singing was a group effort, lots of fun.
Wednesday: A wonderful day for shopping. We exchanged some of our dollars for pesos at the front desk and headed for the bus stop. We had heard that Market-28 was a good place to go shopping, but we decided to stay inside the Hotel Zone. Many of the buses had Market-28 listed on them as a stop, so it probably would have been easy to get there. We stopped at Margaritaville for a margarita, of course, and some souvenirs. Our next stop was Hard Rock Café for more of the same. There is a small flea market outside the Forum Plaza that was fun to shop around and haggle. The food and drinks were more expensive than expected so I’m glad we were at an all-inclusive. We didn’t experience any rain, but about an hour after we got back to the resort a couple had just returned from the same area and was caught in a downpour. We decided to try the La Tratto Italian restaurant tonight and what a mistake. The La Tratto has window tables overlooking the ocean and even though several of these tables were available we were seated in the middle of the room. I thought it strange, but maybe those were reserved. The jazz band started to play as our waiter was coming with the appetizer and we couldn’t hear a word he said. We both decided to leave La Tratto and went the Steak restaurant. We could hear the jazz band until we were inside the Bistro. We never returned to La Tratto, if we wanted loud music there were plenty of clubs up the road. The Steak restaurant menu was like an American restaurant. They had Caesar and green salads, onion and cream soups, and fish and meats. I had the grilled grouper with a baked potato and my DW had the beef fillet. Everything we tried here was excellent. We saw the Cabaret show after dinner in the ballroom and it, too, was very good.
Thursday: Did we do anything today besides eat and swim? Oh yea, we talked to the rep about going on the Isla Mujeres tour on Friday. He suggested that we try the Japanese teppanyaki style restaurant at the Cancun Palace tonight. We decided to give it a try since we love sushi and the teppan style of cooking. This afternoon we went to the seldom used fifth pool. What a treasure. It’s a spa type pool with back jets. Its shape is like a semi-circle ring and it’s located in the Oriental Lounge area. The only way to it is up an outside flight of stairs. The first floor door is kept locked during the day because this side of the hotel has no staff operations and someone could walk up from the beach and into the hotel. The jets were turned off and we asked a staff member to turn them on. We were alone in our private hot tub with a view of the Caribbean, not even the waiters come up here. All the pools feel warm, except the covered pool near the spa felt cold. We took the bus to the Cancun Palace for dinner and did some exploring. The beach here was actually smaller. I walked into the Italian restaurant and what a difference. It was large, well appointed, great menu items, and quiet. So many restaurants, so little time. We waited in the bar for the other table guests to arrive and we were given a delicious sampler tray. Try the sake margarita, it’s so good. The cook put on a good show and the food (steak, shrimp, and chicken) was excellent. The Japanese restaurant has both the teppan tables and regular dining tables. The Cancun Palace looked like a very nice place to stay. It was casino night back at the Sun, but we decided to call it a night since we had to wake up for the tour. This vacation was so different from NYC and port intensive cruises where we had to wake up early almost every day. Do Nothing vacations are in a class by themselves.
Friday: Up early with a 7am room service breakfast. Our first room service meal was very good. There’s a card we filled out the night before with what we wanted to eat. It was about 6:45 when they called to clarify the order. Ugh!
We were on the tour van at 9:15 and on our way to Isla Mujeres. We made a few stops at other hotels to pick up people before stopping at Senor Frogs to catch the boat. People from other Palaces and resorts were already there. The dolphin tour offered as an incentive is on Isla Mujeres. This is one big party boat. The tour staff made for a great trip in both directions. Senor Frogs is on the lagoon side and as we sailed out of the lagoon we had a good view of the resorts. We didn’t go on any additional tours and spent our time lying on the beach and floating in the sea.
We were at the Isla Mujeres Palace Resort for our stay and it is a nice resort, except the buffet was open-air and there were flies. The resort had showers in the change room and after a few hours in the sun we were ready for lunch. The buffet food was very good, especially the cheese burgers. We left the dock at 14:15 for a stop in town to shop. I think we spent too much time at this stop. We left the city dock at 16:30 and had a wild time coming back. We arrived back at the Sun near 18:00 and it was time for our last dinner. We chose the Steak. The T-bone I had and the beef tenderloin my DW had were delicious. We really didn’t what to miss the Circus dance show, but we had lots to pack.
Saturday: Darn it all. I hate writing the final chapter. Our flight is to leave at 12:30 and our transfer arrives at 9:30. Another early wakeup, but this time we would have breakfast in the buffet. We called the bellhop at 8:30 and he tagged our bags for the Best Day Travel van. I did the express check out thing the evening before, but didn’t really need to. There were no express checkout lines now so we could have taken care of the charges at this time. Maybe during the peak season it would be different. I had my final omelet and my DW her final waffle. We said our goodbyes to the staff (they were such a great group) and boarded the van. It was pretty full and I got the feeling nobody wanted to leave. There weren’t too many people at the Continental desk and checking in was quick, except for the weight of my suitcase, 53 pounds. Ugh! There was a scale for people to use before getting to the counter, but it just didn’t feel that heavy. Luckily I was able to get under the limit by removing things from the outside pockets. Sorry to the folks behind us in line. The prices of food and drinks inside this airport are the highest I’ve ever seen. Be prepared to drop a $20 at Starbucks. Our gate was close to the stores and a large open area where Mexican dancers and cowboys performed. The hour and a half wait went by very quickly. We left on-time at 12:30 and arrived at IAH about 14:30. I hope I never have to do an international flight to this airport again. I am basing that opinion on what I’ve been through at LAX, ORD, and PHL. The very long walk to a totally disorganized immigration area (citizens and non-citizens in the same lines) where half the counters were closed was just too much. At least, getting our bags, going through customs, and rechecking the bags went quick. Fortunately, our gate was in Terminal-E and close to the security checkpoint. The two hour wait for our next flight went very slow. Our bodies were in Houston, but our spirits were lying in the Cancun sun. We arrived in Portland on time to a cold, wet night. We drove home with happy memories dancing in our heads.