Thursday, August 6, 2015

The TIMESHARE Guy??? (Grand Mayan Riviera Maya Review)

Local Wildlife at the Grand Mayan Riviera Maya
I'm a hotel guy through and through (specifically Hyatt, though in my childhood years, it was whatever the family could afford), so you may be surprised to learn that I recently spent a week in a timeshare.  There is a catch--- this timeshare is owned by a friend of my family, and she was there with us while we stayed, making this stay free for me.  On top of that, because of my resistance to travel to Playa Del Carmen and stay in a timeshare, my SO offered to pay for my airfare.  Done deal.  So aside from F&B and local transportation/activities, this was a free trip to Mexico.
I don't need any more free trips.
From one standpoint, the Grand Mayan Riviera Maya looks like an expansive resort with lush foliage, relaxing pools, local nature (Iguana's abound), and great restaurant options.  It has gigantic rooms with plunge pools, full kitchens, jetted tubs, rainfall showers, and HBO.  Located north of the city and right on the beach, the pitch to stay here really sounds ideal. 
But that's all it ever pulls off: sounds ideal.
The reality is much different.  Being north of the city means you pay a ton extra getting anywhere.  Scuba diving, local nature parks (Xcaret, Rio Secreto, Xplor), shopping... all will be at LEAST 20 dollars each way.  Throw in a bunch of activities to your vacation, you've now spent an extra $200+ just on taxis.
The pools, though massive and with swim-up bars, all lack appeal.  They are waist deep for adults, and way too warm for the summer sun.  No waterslides, no waterfalls.  A volleyball net is the most entertainment you'll find in one of these pools. (Though a pool with a lazy river should be completed in the next few months).  You can cool off if your room has a plunge pool, but don't expect to get any swimming done in those.
The resort is truly expansive... so much so that a shuttle is necessary for a good portion of guests.  A shuttle from your room to the pool, from your room to the lobby, from your room to the restaurant, from your room to the shuttle exchange to your friends room.  Waiting for the shuttles while the sun beat down upon me or while the mosquitos tore at my skin was the greatest reassurance I had that staying in hotels is a better choice.  Twice in an evening I spent 20+ minutes just waiting for the shuttle to arrive.  (ultimately I ended up walking).
Next are the restaurants. During my stay, I had the chance to eat at four of the resort's restaurants.  None of them were truly overpriced, but you can easily find better food in town for cheaper (cheaper aside from the Taxi fares, of course).  I was not impressed by any of the meals I had--- from French toast to burgers to tacos and enchiladas.  None made me sick or tasted bad, but none made me want to return.  Speaking of restaurants: every single one of them closes at 11 P.M or earlier.  OK, so my go-to hotel, the Grand Hyatt in Kauai, closes their restaurants at 10... but come midnight I can still order cocktails from room service.  No cocktails available with the Grand Mayan's room service.

So the pools are too warm and take too long to get to, the restaurants are mediocre, it's too expensive to go into town... okay, time to return to the room and watch HBO..... in Spanish.
The reality is nobody should expect television to be in English at a Mexican resort (though some of the channels were in English), yet when all other options were exhausted, it would have been nice to come back to the room and watch a movie.

I will say the one thing I enjoyed at this resort: the wildlife.  A Coati, Racoon, Bat, Lizards, Iguanas, Crocodiles, Oriole's, and more all share the grounds of this gigantic resort.

I can't compare this resort to the Grand Hyatt down the road, so maybe this is a good place to be by Playa Del Carmen standards, but I can say with certainty I have no need to return here.
I look forward to returning to the Grand Hyatt Kauai in September all the more now.

Despite my distaste for the resort, I had an enjoyable time with my girlfriend down in Playa, and put together a video featuring the resort and all the wildlife it had to offer (the entire video up until the boat is filmed on the resort grounds, room featured is from the Grand Luxxe).

Monday, August 3, 2015

Return to Hyatt Regency Monterey (Review #2)

Last week I decided to book a night down at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey.  It would be my third trip to the hotel, and a great option for an evening getaway.  I used 15,000 Hyatt gold passport points to book the room, as opposed to a $339 nightly rate.
While our last stay was clear-cut excellence between receiving a free suite upgrade and relaxing times at the Regency club, this trip was more of a mixed bag.
We arrived at around 9 P.M.  I already knew it would be busy because the Hyatt website showed the hotel had sold out for the night, and the lobby made that even more evident.  While there was a separate desk for Platinum and Diamond check-in, there was no separate Queue for it, nor was there anyone staffing it.  About 4 people were ahead of me when I first got in line, and only one check-in agent to help them.  After a few minutes, a few more agents filed out of the back room and manned the additional stations.  Overall it was a short wait to get to the front.  Chris checked us in, letting us know we were booked in a top floor golf-course view room. He explained that as a Diamond member, I would receive complimentary breakfast for two in the Tosca restaurant.  This was new in the last few months since the Regency Club had closed down.  I got no direct answer about potential reopening of the club, it sounds like it may return or may stay closed.
He offered us our Diamond amenity: either a 1,000 point bonus or a food and beverage option.  I'm typically inclined to take the 1,000 points, as I find the food and beverage amenities at most hotels to be sub-par.  But in this case they offered a local artichoke dip, and I chose that along with a bottle of Pepsi and Tropicana orange juice.
We took advantage of the complimentary valet and carried our bags over to our room.
Golf Course View Room (#852) at Hyatt Regency Monterey

Our room was spacious in size.  Definitely smaller than the suite we had received on our previous trip, but still good size.
View from room #852 at Hyatt Regency Monterey

 The view from the room was a decent panorama of the Del Monte Golf Course, par for the hotel.  I did notice some ocean view balcony rooms scattered about, but the views of the ocean were obstructed, and it was still a distance between the hotel and the ocean.
Fruit and Cheese Platter
About 5 minutes after arriving in our room, Chris from the front desk called to inform us that the kitchen was backed up and that our amenity might not arrive until 10 P.M, 45 minutes from his call.  I advised him that it wouldn't be a problem, and kicked back into the bed.  A mere 10 minutes later a knock on the door surprised us.  It was room service with--- the wrong amenity.  They delivered us a fruit and cheese platter along with my soda and orange juice.  I informed the server about the mistake, and he in turn showed me the amenity sheet that had been delivered to him.   Sure enough was my handwriting next to the beverage option, but it was Chris at the front desk who had mistakenly drawn a star next to the Fruit and Cheese platter option.  No biggie, it would be another 20 minutes before we received our artichoke dip with flatbread, and in the meantime we tried out the fruit and cheese platter.  It came with assorted nuts: pistachios, cashews, walnuts.  It also came with cinnamon pears, dried cranberries, garlic bread, and a small cheese collection.  I could not tell you what type of cheese, but that my taste buds were not keen to it.  The rest of the platter was enjoyable, but not as much as the Artichoke dip platter.

Artichoke Dip Platter

Before heading to bed I called the front desk to inquire about a late check-out.  Diamond members are given a check out as late as 4 P.M when available.  The agent on the phone offered us 1 P.M.

We passed out around 11 and woke at 9 to take advantage of breakfast.

It was a quick seating at the restaurant, and a waiter came to take our drink orders.  I mentioned my Diamond membership and inquired as to what was free, but got a vague response.  I decided to take a chance and order a Raspberry smoothie on top of the full breakfast buffet.  My girlfriend opted for hot chocolate and the buffet.

I made my way to the omelet station where a cook served me an Omelet with tomatoes, pepper mix, bacon, and cheese.  I also loaded up a plate with bacon, French Toast with Maple Syrup and brown sugar, and yogurt.  The food was great, and we downed our meals quickly.  When the waiter brought our bill, he told us breakfast would be removed, and I asked if I could just write the tip on the receipt, to which he answered that I could.

We left the dining room and traveled back to the front desk to see about an even later check-out.  The agent offered us 3:00, which we gladly accepted.  We left the hotel to enjoy our day in Monterey, and arrived back at 2:30.  Upon check-out, the front-desk agent advised me that my only charges would be for my Raspberry smoothie and the tip for breakfast.  This was disappointing, as my last few breakfasts I was able to order what I wanted and leave a tip without being charged for any of it, smoothies included.  Examples are at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Andaz San Diego, and Hyatt Regency Orange county.  I imagine every hotel has a different take on the "free breakfast" policy, and since the Regency club had only recently closed down, I'm sure the policy in Monterey hasn't been refined to fit the norm.  I decided not to argue the bill and took off to enjoy the rest of my day in Monterey.* (See Update at Bottom)

While this stay wasn't as great as our last visit, most of the reasons were beyond the hotel's control, and I still think this is a great place to getaway for a night or two.

Check out this short video I took of whale watching in the Monterey Bay.

*Update.  Less than a week later, after completing the online survey, I received a call from the asst. food and beverage manager informing me that I was correct that I should not have been billed for tip or my smoothie and that they will process a refund for me.  After a short discussion, it sounds like this mistake is less likely to happen for future guests.