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Hurricane Wilma Hits the Riviera Maya!

Author: Jennifer Wemhoff
Date of Trip: October 2005

My husband and I visited the Riviera Maya for our honeymoon in mid-October 2005 and stayed at the Iberostar Paraiso del Mar. We arrived on October 17.

The resort was fabulous! We enjoyed walking around the lush grounds, looking at the beautiful flowers and landscaping. The beach was beautiful (though I would recommend water shoes because it was a bit rocky in the shallow water) and the unique winding pool, complete with waterfall, was great to relax in.

The food was good. There was a variety on the daily buffets, great snacky foods down by the beach, and wonderful specialty restaurants. We thoroughly enjoyed the all-inclusive nature of the resort, getting our fill of food and drinks! Plus, the resort staff were all so very friendly and helpful.

We took a trip to Chicen Itza and though it rained most of the day, the place was awesome and the view from the top of the pyramid was well worth the excursion. Unfortunately, we only had a couple of days to truly enjoy the resort and the area before Hurricane Wilma interrupted our vacation.

We reported to the resort’s hurricane shelter, the on-site convention center, with the 1,200 or so other resort guests (the Paraiso del Mar is one of four Iberostar resorts sharing the convention center facility) on October 20 around 8:00 in the evening. Wilma lingered over us for what seemed like an eternity! We were finally able to return to our rooms around 11:00 p.m. on October 22. Though the shelter was hot, stinky, sticky and cramped, we were safe and had food, water and bathrooms (albeit without running water most of the time).

The resort’s staff was amazing while we were in the shelter – they kept calm, even when guests’ tempers flared, and were always busy cleaning and smiling. The frustrating part was the lack of information. We were literally cut off from the outside world, so it was hard to know what was happening with the storm, even though we were in the thick of it.

The day after Wilma passed we walked around the resort and surveyed the damage – the lush landscape was completely transformed. Palm trees were snapped in half, the flowers were gone, the beautiful pool was filled with debris and murky water, countless windows were blown out, and some thatched roofs were torn off or collapsed. The beach looked nothing like it did just days before. Huge rocks protruded from the beach, sand was swept hundreds of yards back from the shoreline, all the beachfront buildings and shade huts were covered in sand or destroyed, and the first floor of the beachfront guest buildings were half to three-fourths full of sand. However, the resort quickly sprung into action, cleaning up debris and ruined landscape, and repairing roofs and damages to buildings. I was amazed at what they accomplished in a short time.

We were originally scheduled to go home on October 22, but the Cancun airport was severely damaged and we had no phones, internet, or other means of communication to get in touch with our families at home. After much stress, worry, and several trips into Playa del Carmen (where phone service was up and running) we made it home in the wee hours of October 29, after our vacation company, GoGo Vacations, sent a chartered plane to retrieve us and its other customers in the area.

Truly, the resort was wonderful. My husband and I plan to go back to the same resort in the future to really enjoy it and the area. Iberostar was so good to us during those extra days we were there and generously didn’t charge us for the six extra days of lodging, food and drinks. They even offered nightly shows (like before the hurricane) for the stranded guests.

I would recommend the Paraiso del Mar to anyone! Ironically, I booked our honeymoon while the area was being battered by Hurricane Emily in July 2005, and I asked my travel agent if we needed to worry about hurricanes during our trip in October. “Oh no,” she said. “It will be beautiful there during that time!” I think she was wrong, though the weather after the hurricane was spectacular.

Basically, my advice to anyone traveling to a hurricane zone during hurricane season is this – plan ahead! Check weather reports before you go. We were busy getting married so we didn’t check the weather, and had no idea what was in store for us, though I think we still might have gone even if we knew there was the possibility of a hurricane since storm prediction isn’t an exact science. And if its hurricane season, it’s definitely a possibility! I know my husband and I likely won’t plan a vacation to an area such as this during hurricane season. It was an experience of a lifetime, and we’re hoping it was just ONCE in a lifetime!

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