Meant to post this a couple of weeks back, then forgot about it! We had a great week in Mexico staying at Sandos Playacar – and a these are a few things that we couldn’t find the answers to before we went. Just in case there are others wondering, I figured I’d stick the info up on here 🙂
We flew Thomas Cook (package deal – was *much* cheaper than anything else we could find – most flights were around the price we paid for the entire holiday!). Flight out wasn’t great. Up over the top – Greenland, Canada and then all down the US through the gulf stream so an hour or so of fairly grim turbulance. Total flight time around 12 hours.
Entertainment on the plane was a bit hit and miss – the A330-200s that Thomas Cook have are showing their age a bit and could really do with a refurb. Still, they were cheap. I was suprised with the leg room though – in economy I found it fine (not masses, but I’ve flown with much less!).
Arrival at Cancun was easy enough but make sure you’ve filled out the immigration card on the plane. If you haven’t then it’s back to the end of the queue with a new one…
All fairly efficient, through immigration and then onto customs. Here you have the normal “anything to declare” type questions, and then one person from each family has to press a button. Green light and you walk through, red light and you get your bags searched. We had two families, one got green, the other red. Search was all very efficient and only delayed us a minute or two.
Once out of there you are in timeshare hell – just ignore them, walk straight down the middle and a “no thanks!” and they largely leave you alone without problem. Show an interest however and you have them attached to you… There are hire car company desks here if that’s what you want, and also Santander ATMs if you want some local cash.
Finding the correct bus (transfers were included) was easy enough although the drivers didn’t seem too sure there were plenty of TC reps around who check you off on their list.
Transfer to Sandos Playacar was around an hour or so – not too bad but check-in was a bit chaotic and took ages.
When we’d booked, we had been told by Thomas Cook that we would be in the large area at the rear of the hotel, with the large pool overlooking the forest. When we checked in we were told this was now adult only and that we were in the middle bit (I’ve a map somewhere that I’ll try to find and upload and this will make more sense!). Anyway, this means that the large pool at the rear of the complex is out of bounds if you have kids…not a massive problem, but not what TC advertise so beware.
We were in the Riviera section, in a suite overlooking the forrest. Room was fine (although the sheer number of light switches is bewildering – one we never found what it did!). Balcony looking into the rain forest was lovely.
We thought we’d spend much of our time in the main pool (given we couldn’t use the rear pool as we expected) but actually, we ended up never going in it once! The Riviera pool is bigger than it looks on the map, and was nearly empty all the time we were there. We never failed to find 6 sun loungers all together, and frequently we were the only poeple actually in the pool! The large pool nearer the beach is much busier, and also hosts most of the “pool games”. As I say, we didn’t bother.
The walk to the main part of the resort was fine – well under 10 mins and we weren’t in a hurry. That’s one thing that tripadvisor reviews often have as a negative but it seems to be an American thing to not want to walk anywhere. We found the walk quite pleasant and usually got to see some wildlife along the way. Plenty of Agoutis and iguanas (two foot long ones that don’t like moving out of your way!). Also a fair few Coatis although they tended to keep out of the way of people a bit more! Still, if the walk really is too much then there are frequent golf buggies that dash around the place giving you a lift around the site. We never used them but there seemed to be loads.
There are two reception areas to the resort – one in the newer riviera part (and where we were dropped off) and the second down in the older part of the site. This one has been rebranded as “The Meeting Place” and is a pleasant place to sit and people watch but there isn’t much else there. It’s also where you’ll find the various reps and where you can book excursions etc.
We only did one excursion (to Talum and Xelha – will post something about that separately), and oddly the price appeared to be the same wherever it was booked. Unusual…
The riviera reception also has a bar that was always nice and quiet. A pleasant place to sit with a cocktail as it was airconditioned unlike most of the bars which are openair!
Food was ok, several buffet restaurants all normal all inclusive type stuff. The largest (the Festival Buffet) had a different theme each night which made things a bit more interesting. Some authentic mexican food available, the normal burgers and chips but also plenty of other food. Despite a couple of fussy eaters we always found plenty of stuff. If you want anything other than their house wine with you meal you need to pay extra – one of the few things that wasn’t included. We didn’t bother so can’t report what the prices were like!
The All inclusive includes everything including the Minibar in your room and the room service – things that are often extras in other places.
They have a standard cocktail menu throughout the resort, but the best fruit cocktails were down at the beach from the little hut. This was the only place that was all fresh fruit. Most of the other bars had some fruit, but it was mixed with syrups. If you are drinking tequila then the measures are *very* generous!
No one in the resort seems to expect a tip (unlike the bus drivers who do!) but the Americans seem to constantly leave dollar bills on the bar where the staff leave them. At some points there were many dollars sticking out from under the bar mats! We took a load of dollar bills and tipped at times but it was nice not to feel that you had to.
Beach was fantastic, but windy (not unusual apparently). We swam in the sea pretty much every day but it was no where near as calm as the Red Sea when we were in Sharm. Also, nothing much to snorkel for – the reefs are a bit further south. There is an artificial reef a couple of hundred yards south of the resort but we didn’t go out to it. From what people were saying it’s still a few years off being properly established so I don’t think we missed much. I did wander up there and got a fair few bites from the sandflies (or noseeums as they are called locally it seems!). Kinda like bigger more irritating mozzie bites. Didn’t notice any mosquitos while we were there. Plenty of bats flying around in the evening, but no biting insects 🙂
On the Monday night they have a Mexican themed evening. A “street market” is set up around the resort with all sorts of local souvenirs for sale. Some nice stuff, but the prices are sky high to start with and you need to barter heavily. For example, little animal models made from seed pods were 2 for $20 – the exact same things were 5 for $10 at the airport (hardly the cheapest place!).
Just up the road from the hotel (out of the entrance, turn right and it’s a few mins walk) is a little shopping arcade. Plenty of local souviners here at rather better prices. Even cheaper if you head into Playa Del Carmen town (get a cab from the meeting place, only 70-80 pesos).
Despite reading before we left that there had been a crack down on places accepting US dollars and that you should take Mexican Pesos we didn’t find that at all. In fact, most tourist places/shops were all priced in dollars and they had to convert to pesos with a calculator! One thing that can be confusing is they use the $ sign for Pesos as well as Dollars. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is surprisingly cheap or surprisingly expensive – we found both! If you wanted to get cash out of ATMs the hotel machines only give out Dollars (reception will change them, and appeared to be offering good exchange rates strangely). The little shopping arcade I mentioned also has a cash machine – one that dispenses pesos, and one for dollars.
On leaving we had premium seats (where scheduled airlines would have first class 🙂 ) which gave a bit more room. One big plus of this was at check in where were had a separate queue (*much shorter*) and also we could pay our exit fee at the counter. The normal queue you had to pay your fee to a woman sat at a card table with a cardboard box containing literally thousands of pounds worth of currency. Weird. The exit fee is one thing that can’t be paid in dollars – Mexican Pesos or UK pounds (at a pretty poor exchange rate). When we flew out (Apr 2013) the exit fee was 780 pesos or 45 quid each. Cash only…
Flight home much quicker (9 hours?). Straight out over Cuba and home to a drizzly gatwick 🙁
Right, that’s enough for now – hopefully this will be useful to answer a few peoples questions