Tag Archives: cancun

The Casual Hotel Critic visits Hyatt Zilara in Cancun, Mexico

The Casual Hotel Critic doesn’t show up as often on this website as the Casual Restaurant Critic, but occasionally he pops in and offers observations on a hotel or two, which might or might not help you with your travel planning.

This time, the Casual Hotel Critic and his lovely Better Half – yes, like the Casual Restaurant Critic – this one also has a Better Half – visited the number three hotel in Cancun on TripAdvisor, as numbers one and two were already booked due to it being Semana Santa aka Easter break. The hotel, formerly called The Royal, is now the Hyatt Zilara and the overall impression is positive.

For the money, this hotel should be perfect. And in many aspects, it is.

A positive, no kids. Nothing against the little critters, but the CHC has been there and done that and occasionally he likes to relax in an adult environment, devoid of screaming, crying and whining by the kids, followed by reprimanding, cajoling and wimpy caving in by exhausted parents.

It’s all inclusive. Normally the Critic eschews this kind of accommodation, but when all one wants to do is vegetate in the sun and eat and drink at will, not having to fish out a wallet or sign a bill is very welcome indeed. And the Hyatt Zilara offers up quality drinks (would that restaurants in Merida understand how to prepare a decent mojito like the one served here) and tasty, quality food, from its silly little billiard room where people are playing Jenga that offers a delicious chili that would do well in the Merida English Library’s Chili Cookoff competition to the Chefs Plate restaurant (more on that later).

Large Asian clientele. You can’t help but notice that you are surrounded by young Asian couples, mostly Japanese and Korean. A waiter informs the CHC that the hotel is a destination for honeymooners from Asia and that all the people one sees are on their honeymoon. This is an advantage because they are not raucous and screaming, although there were some partiers from Quebec at the beach who insisted on screaming their French Canadian jokes across five beach cabañas and would follow up each ‘joke’ with loud nasal cackles not unlike a gaggle of geese discovering a previously unseen dish of corn feed.

Hands on hearts. One is taken aback at first but comes to expect it from even the gardener or the painter who is touching up some railings. Each greeting and question is answered with a slight downward nod of the head and a hand placed over the employees heart. In some cases it works, while in others it seems a little forced and still others forget to put their hands on their hearts when they say ‘hola’ as they pass you by. Apparently this is to convey to you, the honored guest, the sincerity of their commitment to you. Again, sometimes believable, other times not so much.

A fantastic beach. When you come to Cancun you don’t come to experience the noise of the Kukulkan boulevard with its polluting noisy buses racing side by side cutting off little green and white Tsuru taxis with their fist-banging, head-shaking irate drivers. You come for the beach, which is what Cancun was all about back in the day before the spring breakers came and it went from ‘exclusive destination’ to Daytona Beach with chiles. And the Hyatt Zilara still has that beach. The entire front of the hotel is beach and it is carefully tractored and groomed each morning so that people will not find any nasty seaweed as they make their way, like baby turtles, to the waves crashing out front. It’s mostly too rough to swim, but there are lifeguards and one can wade out a little and getting refreshingly battered by the waves that, once, they have reached the shore, come back with equal strength the other way, challenging you to keep your footing and not get sucked out to sea. A lifeguard watches this and will blast a short whistle if you get anywhere near waist-deep.

Good food. It’s always a toss-up as to whether or not one will get decent food at an all-inclusive, but the CHC is happy to say that the CRC would be happy and well, there would be happiness all around. Good food. Not over-the-top unbelievable, but good. There are several restaurants to choose from:

Spice is the go to buffet standby when everything else is booked, closed or too fancy. It’s not Caesars Palace and the Bacchanal Buffet by any remote, way off-in-the-distance stretch of the imagination, but there is a small variety of items that are of acceptable quality.

Asiana has – you guessed it – Asian food and a teppan-yaki ‘show’ that is borderline cheesy but the honeymooners seemed to enjoy it. Sushi is available as an appetizer before the teppan-yaki but this is nothing to send pigeons home about. Mostly rice with a hint of fish, it made the CHC almost cringe in embarrassment for the Asian couples around him and Better Half. What were they thinking? The final product is a lot of food so don’t overdo it on the rice-y sushi.

Pelicanos is the casual all-purpose restaurant on the beach, with a great view and great staff. Very attentive, the food is very good and with that view, it’s a winner. Portions are small so you can order lots if you are hungry and try many different items from the short but varied menu.

Chef’s Plate is the other high end restaurant that, along with Asiana’s teppan yaki show, one needs reservations for. In either case, the CHC and BH just showed up and waited for no-shows which was the case on both nights, so they got in with no difficulty. Ladies, wear dressy sandals at least for the Chef’s Plate as you won’t get in with flip flops. They are trying to maintain a certain decorum here. This restaurant was the best of the bunch. A long table for about 20 people, and a tasting menu featuring fish, duck, salad, dessert and a few more plates. The menu was explained by a talented Porfirio who spoke English, Spanish and Japanese to his guests and, as each dish was served to the diners, he would then explain what the ingredients were and how it was made, again in three languages.

Special shout out to believe it was Jennifer at the front desk who seemed genuinely concerned about everything to do with the CHC and BH’s stay, especially after finding out that the room she had assigned had a ladder in front of it and was obviously being maintained. She later approached BH and offered a spa treatment which was quite nice.

It is a very expensive hotel and so, one notices these little details a bit more. Great stay though if you can swing it or find a good promo.

Website and more info here: http://cancun.zilara.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html

A Tourist Arrives in Cancun – Welcome To Mexico!

Better Half and I, fresh off the plane in Cancun from a relaxing work-related week in eastern Canada, encountered what most tourists probably encounter upon leaving the confines of their Air Canada jet and stepping into the thankfully air conditioned Cancun airport terminal.

As an ardent fan of the great amounts of money being spent on promotion at foreign tourism fairs where our elected representatives spend our tax pesos on gourmet meals, fine wines and luxurious accommodation to “promote” tourism to our area, it was a great pleasure to experience Cancun from the tourists standpoint.


There was one flight and yet, several lineups for the always entertaining immigration procedure. In front of us, an elderly and apparently non-Semitic man was asked – no told – “JEW GLASSES” by a squat immigration agent who was obviously enamoured of her importance in the world. The tourist eventually got the idea – after a second and sterner “JEW GLASSES!!!” that he had to remove his dark prescription glasses (they were thick) so that SquatLady could carefully check his eye color against that in the passport photo.

When it was our turn we tried to make friendly small talk to no avail. Eyebrows raised and tongue pointing firmly inside one cheek to the point that it was pushed out (try it now you will get the idea), she was not to be deterred from her enormous responsibility and simply uttered one word: “passport” in spite of the fact that it was already laid out before her. She took it and carefully examined Better Halfs eye color before proceeding to stamp away. When examining my FM format and passport, she again did the eye check and asked if I spoke Spanish. “Yes” I answered. She proceeded to ask what I did, where I lived etc. etc. and finally sent us on our way. It’s not that she was rude, but if this is your first contact with a Mexican, it is less than welcoming. She also warned me that my passport was just one bended corner away from being unacceptable to the fastidious Mexican authorities who have no qualms about being anally-retentive about such things – when they feel like it.

Then to the luggage carousel where we waited for our bags. You would think Cancun would have a lot of these carousels but no, there are only a few. I popped into the bathroom while Better Half waited.

In the bathroom the tourist is greeted with a cleaning person who has obviously moved in, claimed the area as his own and is now in complete command of this portion of the airport. With a one-handed flourish reminiscent of El Zorro, he motions you to the urinal. When you are done, another extravagant flourish directs your gaze to the sink area where you are shown how to turn on the water, in case you haven’t been in an airport bathroom in the last 20 years. Before you know it, paper towels are thrust towards you to save you the extra three steps to the dispenser. You dry your hands and throw the towels in the garbage whereupon the little man turns into one of those monkeys that dances to an accordion-wielding bearded eastern European on a street in Hungary somewhere and bows his head, turning both hands palms up towards you. In one hand there is a coin. In other words, he awaits a tip for his tremendous and indispensable “service”. The coin, by the way, is Canadian. The man has done his homework and knows that this flight came from Toronto.

Welcome to Mexico.

All the Mexican clichés are coming true for the tourist as he exits the bathroom and proceeds to the streamlined and Swiss-modern customs area, where you must take all your luggage AND HOIST IT YOURSELF ONTO A CONVEYOR BELT SO IT CAN BE SCANNED. Yes, you read that right. And there is only one belt/scanner working. An employee sits, slouchily watching a screen and moving the luggage along on the belt with her on/off switch. If someone is slow in retrieving their luggage, he or she will get yelled at. Something like “PEEK APP JEWER LAGGAGE” (go ahead, say it out loud) emerges from her mouth as she angrily turns from the screen to the collisions ocurring on the other side of the scanner. Other employees, some customs, others from the SAGARPA which is a government agency in charge of controlling plant and animal entry to the country, stand around – dead eyed – like sopilotes waiting for roadkill.

The lady is struggling with her suitcase to get it on the belt? Whatever.

We’ll just stand here and watch.

Welcome to Mexico.

Why are they even scanning the luggage? What is it that is so delicate and special that the TSA people in the US and Canada are not picking up? Your bags have just come off a plane from an international destination and they have been scanned and checked by people far more professional and efficient than any of these poorly trained individuals. What exactly are they looking for? Aha! We found an AK-47 that somehow was missed by security in Canada! We are chingones!!

Once through the scanners, the luggage must be replaced on the cart you hopefully secured beforehand and now comes the Las Vegas part. A random push-the-button system is presented to you. You give the uniformed individual your customs form and they indicate that you must push a button to see if you will get checked to see if you are lying or not. A green light means you are free to go, unless of course the SAGARPA man decides you can’t and he wants to check your luggage for trees or live chickens. A red light means HA! Go over to the tables and a rubber-gloved individual will go through all your luggage to see if you are bringing in any contraband Barbie dolls or porno mags or anything else that might be deemed detrimental to the fragile moral health of the nation. The nation that features beheadings on a regular basis, where porn is available steps from the cathedral in the former white city of Merida and where … ah yes, so many contradictions.

Welcome to Mexico.

Once out of the small ring immigration and customs circus, you enter the big tent aka the gauntlet, where yelling uniformed “tourism” representatives are vying for your transportation dollar. Taxi? Taxi? TAXI?

There is no place that is obvious to the tourist arriving in Cancun for taking a taxi. Most airports have signs and such that lead one to a place where there is a lineup of taxis. Not in Cancun, where unions rule, taxis have apparently been banned and each and every visitor is a potential victim to be exploited. You will be led by a person claiming to be able to procure for you a cab and will find yourself waiting for a van in the van and private transportation area, filled with all manner of dubious subjects all out to get as much money as quickly as possible from their marks. The fact that the person was writing out a transportation order was an indication that we were not getting a cab, but a van which in fact arrived a moment or two later in the form of a 12-passenger Chevrolet Express van for the two of us which indicates to me anyway that the environment is also high on their priority list here in sunny Cancun. The price? $65 according to a laminated color chart presented to us. No problem, I give him a $200 peso bill.

No señor” says Mr. ChartHolder “Ees sisty fie dolla

“Are you f’ing kidding me” I think to myself but hey we are already in the van and what are you going to do. Our Cancun economics teacher informs us that cabs from downtown to the airport are cheaper, but from the airport to downtown, it is more expensive. No kidding – it’s double what paid to get here last week. We pay.

Jew can tip dee driver” says ChartHolder/Economics Teacher and we are off to our downtown destination. Maybe Jew can, but I am not going to.

Welcome to Mexico.

How Mexicana Changed My Travel Plans

Because people asked.

So there I was, happily esconced at a friends place in Vancouver, enjoying the cool, sunny weather of a British Columbia fall, when I got the news that Mexicana went from the suspending a few flights (Vancouver-Houston had been un-affected up to this point) to a complete shut-down, due to, as their website blurb pointed out, a failure in reaching agreements with certain sectors (nudge nudge wink wink; read unions).

I returned my rental vehicle to the Vancouver airport on September 2, as scheduled and looked for the lonely Mexicana counter, tucked in forlornly among the myriad Cathay Pacific and China Air counters, where I found about 4 people standing around, all Mexicans, waiting on someone to help them. When asked, the Vancouver airport information desk person stated that she had received word that no one would be in from Mexicana that day but, the Mexican in me said, let’s go have a coffee and think about this and someone will probably show up. And they did.

Two non-uniformed employees of Mexicana, who make up the backbone of the airlines operations in Vancouver I was told later, helped the 4 Mexicans get flights home via Air Canada and American Airlines, who were the only companies helping Mexicana out. When it came to my turn, I was informed that there was an option via Air Canada but that would mean flying to Toronto and then on to Mexico somewhere. Toronto! Flying across the continent was not appealing to me at all and I mentioned that I was in no rush (it was still sunny in Vancouver after all) and so I got a voucher for American Airlines to fly Vancouver-Dallas/Ft Worth-Mexico City on September 4, 2 days later. I was to be at the airport at 8:30, 3 hours before the flight. OK. I went back to my friends place to enjoythe sun.

On September 4, I arrived at 9:00 AM at the American Airlines counter to find it closed. What? Asking again at the information desk, the nice lady told me that the flight had already left at 10:00. Now I was confused. Had it left early or what? There was no time on the travel voucher given to me and so I trundled off with my very overstuffed, overweight luggage to the Mexicana counter which, this time, was closed. After considering my dilemma, I asked the nice folks at China Air where the Mexicana people were and was told that no, they were not coming in today but did I know that they had an office right behind the counters, just over there? No, I did not. In I went, luggage in tow and found the man who had helped me on September 2.

“Que le paso?” he exclaimed upon seeing me again.

I explained and he said no, no, no, he had told me that the FLIGHT was at 8:30 AM and to be 3 hours before that. Obviously I had misunderstood him and MISSED MY FLIGHT.

Was there another option, I asked. No, we are quickly running out of alternatives and even Air Canada has pulled the plug on us. You will have to go to American Airlines and see if they can accommodate you on another flight using that voucher.

Off I go to American Airlines to see what they can do. After standing in line for a while (they were checking in their afternoon flight now) the counter lady tells me “Well, that voucher is good for 24 hours only and today is completely booked and it looks like tomorrow is as well”.

Mussing my hair up discreetly, I tell her that I am really getting exhausted from sleeping at the airport and could she please pretty please check again, I would really appreciate it. Lo and behold, a spot comes up and she tells me to come back tomorrow at 10:45 AM to check in for their 2:05 PM flight to Dallas and then on to DF. After making her repeat the time I needed to be there about seventeen times I get on my knees and thank her. Not really, but I was extremely grateful and told her so.

On September 5, my dear friend once again drove me to the airport,luggage and all and this time I was first in line at the American Airlines counter at 10:00 AM sharp. At 11:00 AM, there were many folks behind me, all coming from the Alaska cruise (which departs from Vancouver) and all with some sort of respiratory infection they caught on the ship. Another reason to stay away from cruiseships, I thought.

The counter person, to whom I explained my sad (sort of) situation (again) took pity on me and did not charge the $100 USD overweight baggage charge, saying only that he would tag it as ‘heavy’ and that I had been through enough grief. The truth is that I had not really been at all stressed; what with no where to go, no where to be and a very comfortable bed at my friends place and did I mention that it had been sunny up to that point? Nevertheless, I appreciated the gesture greatly since it left some room on the credit card which I immediately put to good use in the fancy-pants restaurant and my long-suffering friend and I had a great breakfast.

Once on the plane, aisle seat, emergency exit with lots of leg room (!) I texted home to say I was finally on my way.

In Dallas, a two hour layover allowed me to sample Cousins Barbeque before getting back on the plane to DF. I missed the free WiFi that Vancouver International Airport offers it’s visitors however; call it socialism, you Republican freaks of nature, but it is very comforting to be able to communicate with loved ones from the airport and is just a NICE gesture. In Dallas/Ft Worth, no free WiFi thank you very much.

Finally, after bumping along for 2 hours or so in the midst of a cloud bank that never went away, the plane touched down in Mexico City. Mexicana of course had no one at their counters since it was after midnite and so I checked into the hotel across the way, the Camino Real with the intention of heading over first thing in the morning to see about getting to Merida.

At 7:30 I was talking to a Mexicana rep who told me that there was nothing they could do for me and to go to Aeromexico, who were offering a special rate for passengers affected by the Mexicana debacle. The Aeromexico counter person informed me that no, there was nothing going to Merida that had any space on it. What about Cancun, I asked hopefully, crossing my fingers. Yes, there was a flight at 8:30 AM and I could go on that. Do it, I said.

Rushed back to the hotel, combed my hair, got the luggage, and checked out. Terminal 2 was quite a hike the receptionist informed me – would I like to take the shuttle? It was standing outside, ready to go. OK.

Arriving at Terminal 2, a spectacular new building, I rushed to the gate. The wheelchair person (all the ticket checkers at the entrance to the secured areas are in wheelchairs it seems) asks me “Are you planning to take that suitcase on board?” Shit! With time running out, I race back to the check in counter where I find a long lineup for Aeromexico flights. I will never make this, I think to myself and text home saying that I may be coming home soon but then again, maybe not. Suddenly, an announcement comes over the PA system indicating that passengers on the Cancun flight are to report to a special window set up just for them as the flight is about to begin boarding. Rushing over, I am helped quickly enough, only I need to get in this other line-up to pay for the grossly overweight luggage I plan to take with me. Once this is done, I am issued a boarding pass and run back to my wheelchair friends who look me over and wave me through.

As I arrive at the gate, the boarding announcement is made and once I am actually on the plane, I phone home to say that yes, I will be getting there – almost – soon. Almost because I will be arriving in Cancun, not Merida. Aisle seat, emergency exit, lots of leg room. Coincidence? Who knows.

In Cancun, I am assaulted by the humidity and heat as I drag myself and my luggage outside to consider my next move. There is the ADO bus to Merida which is comfy but which means I need to move my heavy junk to the shuttle to downtown and then negotiate the lines downtown to get my Merida ticket. OR, I could take the ADO shuttle from the airport itself which goes straight to Altabrisa mall in Merida. I decide on the latter. I will be taking the Sprinter, I am informed upon paying my 450 pesos or so, in cash: thankfully I have saved a $500 peso bill for whatever reason.

Now I understood that the Sprinter meant the actual Sprinter, a small bus made by Renault, Peugeot or one of those French companies that is actually called a Sprinter. Alas, no such animal awaited me; rather it was a Nissan Urvan van, which seats 2 comfortably and 9 really uncomfortably. On this trip there were 11 of us, not counting the driver. “But you will stop in Valladolid”, the fellow at the airport says “for a bathroom stop”. I look forward to having a Donia Tere taco and a decent coffee at the Italian Coffee location on the way, as I accommodate my knees up around my ears and settle in.

The driver, unfortunately has no such plans and two hours later zips by the Isla de Servicios on the way to Merida. I wistfully look back at Donia Tere and hunker down for another hour and a half of this fun ride.

Finally, I arrive at the Altabrisa ADO mini-station where the driver pops the trunk and leaves us. We are to unload the luggage ourselves which we do, rather stiffly, in the wet heat of a sunny Merida afternoon.

We are home.

Tulum is a Dream!

Wow. I admit I am out of the loop and the news that all those little eco-hotels and boutique-y palapa hotels in the Sian Kaan reserve at Tulum are gorgeous will come as no surprise to fans of Quintana Roo beaches, but I was impressed! The place is a fantasy island far removed from giant impersonal AI’s and the overbuilt and underwhelming Cancun hotel zone. I will never go to Cancun or the Riviera Maya again!

These are all iPhone photos; there are lots more on Facebook in an album with the original name of… Tulum.