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The Quintana Roo Series - Day 1
Our Quest for the Grand Luxxe OR Cussing a Blue Streak in Mexico
So, what jackass would visit Belize and the Yucatan in the course of a year and never set foot near a Mayan ruin? Answer: This jackass. Somewhere in a draft, yet to be published, about my trip to Belize is a promise to go to a Mayan Ruin when I got back to the area. I did get some good inside scoop about these sites on this trip, but due to our schedule and a little bit of weather, I will have to put off the experience a wee bit longer. Hang in there. This is not our last trip to the region.
Before I begin my tale, I have a request. If someone in the airline industry reads this, perhaps you can enlighten us in the mysteries of airline scheduling and pricing. On a very nice Saturday morning, we made our way to Richmond airport for our flight to Cancun with a short layover in Dulles. Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendant announced, "Welcome once again to United Flight number 5993. We've reached our cruising altitude and the captain has turn off the fasten seat belt light…annnnd…he's turned it back on since we are on final approach. Please stow your trays and place your seats in the upright and locked position." Really?! We could have taxied to Dulles. And if I had driven to Dulles, it would have cost more to fly directly to Cancun. So please, dear airline person, reveal unto us the mysteries of ass-backward pricing, hubs, landing fees and coffee-less flights. I just don't get it.
When planning to drive in a foreign country, even one next door to the US, don't use the rented GPS from the car rental place. Better to buy quality GPS that offers directions in multiple countries and keep it for regular use. We've traveled in Italy and now Mexico with devices from our rental company and have only met with wailing and gnashing of teeth. In this case, our little box didn't even understand the names of major cities - even in Spanish.
After traveling down the coast from the airport following the GPS to the only location in Playa del Carmen that it actually understood, we found ourselves driving in circles. That's when my language…began to deteriorate a tad. Three more circles and I was speaking in tongues. Actually, it was more like yelling. Five stops for directions and one english-speaking person with a cell phone later, and we found ourselves more than halfway back to the airport at the gates of the Grand Mayan/Grand Luxxe. Who knew they'd be together? Anyway, Grand Luxxe doesn't have its own highway sign. Look for the green road sign for Grand Mayan a mile or two south of Puerto Morelos.
At the end of our week, we would end up with a full refund for the GPS. The Foxx Rental rep couldn't get the GPS to understand the word Merida.
We stayed at the Grand Luxxe which is part of this complex. From Cancun, if you reach Playa del Carmen Centro, you've gone way too far.
Everything, including my mean-guy travel mood, changed upon out arrival at the resort. From the gate you will be directed to the Grand Mayan main lobby. The resort is huge. When you get to the main lobby you will be met cordially and efficiently by staff. They will give you a receipt for your vehicle and luggage and direct you to a golf cart. In our case, resort check-in was at the Mayan Palace. Once again the staff was five-star and friendly. Once we had a room key and information, we were taken to the Grand Luxxe.
Don't let the small lobby of the Grand Luxxe fool you. You are going to be happy with your accommodations and your luggage will likely be there already.
The room key is actually a wristband that activates a proximity reader, unlocking your room. It is also your ID. At check-in, your credit card is swiped and registered against your room number. While on the resort, you never need to carry your wallet.
Our room was immaculate and inviting. It covered 960, cool and relaxing, square feet. It included two balconies, a large bath, microwave, a sitting room and two balconies. The hotel supplies a safe in the closet. We used it every day.
The bath can be opened up through folding doors to the main bedroom. Some strawberries, a little champagne, and your stay becomes exponentially more interesting.
A note about the staff: A week before our arrival, we were contacted by the Grand Luxxe concierge. They wanted to know if we had any questions, requests or special needs/allergies/disabilities, etc. It is a testament to good training and communications that we were greeted by name almost everywhere we went.
Moving about the resort was made very pleasurable by a fleet of golf carts driven by cheerful drivers who never kept you waiting more than a minute or two.
During the peak season, I suspect all this royal treatment becomes more difficult and staff is added to accommodate larger numbers of guests. But I recommend you consider traveling off-season. Peak is, of course, winter, with Christmas and Easter bringing the heaviest crowds. One of the bartenders at the swim-up pool told me that he would serve six or seven thousand customers a day as opposed to the few dozen we experienced there.
Meeting the Local Talent
Our first order of business was dinner. After getting settled in we made our way to the Italian restaurant in the Mayan Palace. This requires reservations. if you are going in peak season, find out which nights the various restaurants are open and make reservations with the concierge before you arrive. See bolded section above. Also no flip flops/sandals and no tee shirts.
We ordered cocktails and relaxed as the skies opened up. A hurricane that had broken up as it passed over Mexico from the Pacific. It was a small but powerful band that passed us as the storm was reorganizing over the Caribbean. With a twenty foot wall of glass to provide our view, it was quite a sight. Palm trees were thrashing about, planters and even some fairly heavy furniture were being thrown around. Some water got onto the entrance floor, holding up the entertainment.
Within 20 minutes the storm moved on. Maintenance crews had the floor dried and the outdoor furniture back in place in no time.
With dinner and wine came the sound of very mellow jazz from the floor. Malonie Carre and her pianist Gianny Laredo are a staple here. Much like Sinatra in Vegas. Malonie has been singing here for 20 years. To look at her, you'd figure she had to start when she was 4 years old. But you'd be wrong. They do a combination of jazz send ups of old favorites and their own compositions.
Riviera Maya Gastronomica
For our first meal, I had Lasagna and Lyn had Shrimp Alfredo. The waiter, ever up to speed, asked if the gluten would be a problem. I told him no and that, "I only roll around the floor choking and thrashing for a minute or two." But truth be told, I can get away with an occasional meal or two if I don't push my luck of if I have been very active during the previous 12 hours. His relief was palpable.
The meal was first rate. The portions are close to the giant portions we've become accustomed to here in the States, but that didn't hurt the quality. No element of the Lasagna was over-powering. At first I thought there was a bit too much cheese, but it all worked. Having traveled extensively in Italy, I always rate taste to what I found there. This captured Augusta Bay nicely. Herself commented on the freshness of the flavors, each notable but nicely balanced. This was just the beginning of our tasting adventure that would last all week, most of it right here on the resort.
Much More Follows
In upcoming installments we visit Progresso, Merida, Playa del Carmen and much more. As always, I will not show you everything there is to be seen. The idea is to inspire your wanderlust and get you to see the world. If you can't do that, feel free to ask me anything and I'll share it with you directly.
Matt Jordan is a travel writer living in Thornburg, Virginia