Topic Wiki

Part 1 - Introduction and Planning.
Part 2 - Monday. Traveling & Red Heifer Grill.
Part 3 - ....

Author Topic: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016  (Read 3466 times)

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« on: March 25, 2016, 07:33:15 AM »
The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016

Part 1 - Introduction and Planning.

First, I want to say thank you to everyone here who provided advice, either directly or via TR here, with special HT to shiframeir, Dan and DG613, Chapshnell, JayR, Mordyk, among others. I hope this report is as useful to others as theirs were to me.

We had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, made especially appealing by the weather at home the day before our departure:


Overview:
The five of us (zow, DW, DS, DD1, DD2) spent six nights in Cancun during the children's February 2016 school vacation. Trip was a mix of sightseeing, pool/beach, fitness and dining indulgence. We rented a car, which was useful for airport transfers, a Costco run, shlepping from Aloft to Lagunamar, and tiyyul to Chichen Itza; otherwise the R1 and R2 busses running up and down the strip were frequent, cheap and convenient.

Trip Planning:
As JetBlue is the only carrier to fly nonstop BOS-CUN, and I wouldn't expect any reasonably priced fares on the peak travel dates we wanted to travel, we would definitely need connecting flights. DW still has a CP on WN (Southwest), and we had a few hundred dollars in travel credit from Pesach weather-related delay, so traveling WN made the most sense. We stayed the first night at Aloft to save points and, IIRC, because our arrival date (but thankfully only that date) was sold out at the Westin Lagunamar, way back in March.

Flights:
Monday, 2/15: BOS-BWI-CUN
Sunday, 2/21: CUN-BWI-BOS
Reserved by phone with WN on June 30 (first day reservations opened for these dates).
Total about 36,000 WN +$80 taxes RT.
(One person was paid via WN flight credit and one person was on CP).
Many points were direct transfer from UR, which is instantaneous (impressive to the WN PR, who said, "where did those come from?"

A few months after reserving the seats, WN called and emailed to advise of a schedule change, making our departure from CUN three hours earlier (shortening our vacation ) and leaving us with a  five-hour layover in BWI.  I contacted WN but they appeared to have no availability on an earlier connecting flight and the PR, although sympathetic, was unable to award compensation, but recommended that I call customer relations. I did that, and they gave me $75 per person (for four of us, not for the CP) for our inconvenience.  A few days later, when I was looking carefully at all the itineraries, I realized that they had put three of us on the later connecting flight and two of us on the earlier one.  This must have happened because we had three or four separate itineraries. So, I got to looking carefully at the BWI-BOS leg, and it turned out at that time there was availability remaining on the earlier of the two BWI-BOS flights. So, I called again, and this time they were able to put all 5 of us on the earlier connecting flight. This resulted in a shorter layover (now just 2 hours), though it still meant we would not have the morning to hang out in the hotel as we had originally booked. Oh well, at least we got $300 compensation for that "hardship."

Hotel:
The whole point of this trip was to stay at the Westin Lagunamar (LM). When I first booked,  way back in March, they didn't have availability on the first day we wanted to arrive in Cancun. I originally booked two rooms for that first night at the HIE. But a few months before our trip, I was checking our plans and kept having difficulty looking at reservation details. When I tried to find the HIE online, Google said it was closed. Sure enough, when I called they were closed. I was hoping that maybe I could get IHG to put us up in the IC instead. Alas, they put us in the HI at a very good rate of something like $90 per room for the one night.  I hung onto that for a while until I realized that the Aloft, at 4,000 SPG per room per night was a better value. So, the plan was to stay in Aloft for the first night just to get our bearings, use the next day to gather provisions and prepare for our check in at LM.

For the LM, we originally booked a studio villa at a rate of 12,000 SPG per night X 4 nights, plus the 5th night free. Several months later I called and upgraded to 1br villa. In retrospect, I do think that we could have gotten the comp upgrade when we arrived, but with 5 of us traveling, I didn't want to take the chance on being "stuck" in a studio.

Car rental:
I had about four or five different rentals reserved.  Rental car pickup desks in the terminal were woefully understaffed. I was prepared to negotiate for best deal, as they are all walkable from the terminal. Ultimately went with Hertz, as I usually use them and figured my fake status ("gold plus"?) might help with upgrade. Got to the regular hertz office and they said, oh, you are Gold Plus or whatever, you need to go next door. Now, I'm thinking I'm going to walk into some lounge, with at least free water and soft chairs. But in fact , the "premier" office next door is more of a closet and less plush than the main office.  Whatever. I actually paid to upgrade from sedan to suv. Got a brand new Jeep.  A few minor scratches but otherwise pristine. Still, I took pix to be on safe side:




Total cost was $380, after the 5% discount for using debit card. I made the latter decision after returning and being told that car was fine, no damage or problems.  Btw, no stops from police, though I was driving pretty carefully re speed.

Aiming for more installments in next week or two....

Offline mgoldhammer18

  • Dansdeals Platinum Elite + Lifetime Silver Elite
  • *****
  • Join Date: Jan 2016
  • Posts: 569
  • Total likes: 7
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 3
    • View Profile
  • Location: Queens, NY
  • Programs: American Airlines, Citi thank you, British Avios, Hilton, SPG, AMEX Platinum, Jetblue
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2016, 08:44:36 AM »
Awesome start, looking forward to the rest.  The one time I used a debit card on a car rental I got screwed, I hope all was okay with that.  Did you drive down to Chichen Itza or take a tour/shuttle?  We skipped chichen itza when we were in Cancun, but we hope to go back one day (and stay in Riviera Maya) and make the trip there.

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2016, 11:54:54 AM »

Awesome start, looking forward to the rest.  The one time I used a debit card on a car rental I got screwed, I hope all was okay with that.  Did you drive down to Chichen Itza or take a tour/shuttle?  We skipped chichen itza when we were in Cancun, but we hope to go back one day (and stay in Riviera Maya) and make the trip there.
Thank you.
Please tell me/us what happened with the debit card debacle.  So far, for me, no problem -- I waited until I had the completed rental return in hand before switching from credit to debit.

We did drive to Chichen Itza. Worthwhile. Details to follow.
We did not make it to Riviera Maya (but we have a trip planned for December!)

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2016, 03:35:09 PM »
Part 2 - Monday.

Flights from BOS to BWI and then from BWI to CUN were uneventful. I was kicking myself for forgetting to bring along DW's expired AXP, but we probably wouldn't have had time, and only she would have been allowed entry, if at all. DD2 wanted wifi inflight bwi to Cun, so we splurged. She said it was spotty, not worth it, and we didn't end up getting it on our return.

I already posted in real time the kosher meal we received on WN (Star-K!):



Arrival in CUN was similar to others' reported experience. Long wait, maybe 30-45 minutes?, at immigration. Once through, about 20-30 minute wait to go through X-Ray scanner of all bags. After getting all our bags through, we pushed the button and got green light. But even then, from other DDFers' experience, I knew we were not home free. Sure enough, I hear one agent say something about one of our multi-colored bags. I also heard them say something about frutas, but I know we didn't have any produce, nor did we have any perishables whatsoever. All we had were packaged snacks. So, we kept walking because they weren't talking to me directly. But before we can make it to the exit doors, an officer stops us and says she wants to examine our bags. Asks if we have any meat or chicken. Nope. But she is looking for fruit. As she's rifling though our bag, it occurs to me that our can of tennis balls might be the culprit. Sure enough, they thought we were trying to smuggle in citrus, chas v'shalom.  So after that slight delay, off we went.

We rented at Hertz as I said before. The area outside the customs area and, particularly, past the rental car and shuttle desks, was packed with people.  We could see the row of rental car offices just about 100 yards away. Apparently people do take shuttle bus but seemed to us so much easier to walk, given the crowds of people and apparent gridlock. Glad we walked. Was easy, though we had to snake around a fence that prevents walking as the crow flies.

Already reported above how Hertz made sure we got the executive treatment...not. But the rental process was reasonably smooth. When they brought the SUV out, I proceeded to start taking photos of any little scratch. Not to be outdone, the Hertz guy was also taking photos with his iPad, and they eventually emailed me the photos with the rental agreement. I like that protocol.

Driving from airport to the strip was uneventful. I was very cautious with my speed. Of course in had my wallet prepped with a $10USD and $5 USD no more, but thankfully never had to use them.

We passed a Krispy Kreme Doughnut store. We didn't stop. I can't find anything online either way regarding its hashgacha or lack thereof. Does anyone know?

Arrived at the Aloft uneventfully. Parking was ridiculously cheap. I don't recall but something like $2USD overnight. Got checked in easily, two adjacent non-connecting rooms. Rooms are spartan but as Shiframeir said, they do provide bottled water. The beds were comfortable and the bathrooms clean and functional. We didn't have a chance to check out the rooftop pool. When I asked the front desk agent if the water was warm, she said sure. When I asked if it was heated, she smiled sheepishly, so I take that as a "no".

We were all hungry for dinner. We decided to go to Dag Dag. Called first and got no answer. Decided to walk over but got there and found the place dark. The security guard for the building told us it hadn't been open for months.

By now, the natives (three teenagers) were not only hungry but also feeling that maybe Moses had taken them out of Egypt, where they always had plenty of meat, chicken, fish, etc, with the unfulfilled promise of the land of milk and honey. Fortunately, as always, Hashem heard their rumblings and gave them a sign.
(Photos from Google)



Key thing here is that the Kosher Luxus - Red Heifer is one place. And they moved sometime in mid 2015 from near LM to current location, around corner from Aloft. And the good news is that with the move, the quality of food and service seems to have moved up a few notches.

Unfortunately I didn't take many photos but we were satisfied with almost everything we ordered. After reading Dan's report, I kept looking for the guacamole from the package and the uninspired local cuisine, but we didn't find it. They served a bread basket that could have been refilled but I don't recall that they did.  Dan had described the bread as airy and not satisfying; I thought it was pretty tasty and of good substance, not airy. Everything we had was tasty; some items, like the duck carnitas and the beef tostadas were especially memorable. The nachos were just fair -- they didn't have any pareve sour cream which we think is essential. In general, we loved the appetizers and liked the mains. That's our general experience most places.

Dessert was good but nothing to write home about. There was a volcano cake (the red heifer brownie) thing that wasn't sufficiently gooey but was okay.

The service was excellent. Attentive but not stuffy. Had a nice bottle of wine.


We got back to the Aloft, crashed, and got ready for a good night sleep in advance of our first full day in Cancun.

Offline mgoldhammer18

  • Dansdeals Platinum Elite + Lifetime Silver Elite
  • *****
  • Join Date: Jan 2016
  • Posts: 569
  • Total likes: 7
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 3
    • View Profile
  • Location: Queens, NY
  • Programs: American Airlines, Citi thank you, British Avios, Hilton, SPG, AMEX Platinum, Jetblue
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2016, 08:51:13 AM »
Thank you.
Please tell me/us what happened with the debit card debacle.  So far, for me, no problem -- I waited until I had the completed rental return in hand before switching from credit to debit.

We did drive to Chichen Itza. Worthwhile. Details to follow.
We did not make it to Riviera Maya (but we have a trip planned for December!)

Long story short, it was before I was in the miles game. I was in Israel and decided to rent a car for a few days; the total price was supposed to be about $200.  This was at AVIS in Jerusalem.  They say they put an $800 hold on your card and you get it back upon returning the car, I thought no big deal.  I returned the car the day before I was leaving to London for the 2nd part of my trip.  That night I went to the ATM to withdraw money, it did not work.  Called TD Bank, they said Avis charged me $1000.  I called Avis, they said they sent a fax to visa to refund me the money.  A fax to visa?!?!  I didn't have access to the money that I budgeted for the trip, had to move money around for London.  Finally got the money back 3 weeks later.  It could just be that the Israeli system is flawed when it comes to rental cars.

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2016, 12:37:12 PM »
Long story short, it was before I was in the miles game. I was in Israel and decided to rent a car for a few days; the total price was supposed to be about $200.  This was at AVIS in Jerusalem.  They say they put an $800 hold on your card and you get it back upon returning the car, I thought no big deal.  I returned the car the day before I was leaving to London for the 2nd part of my trip.  That night I went to the ATM to withdraw money, it did not work.  Called TD Bank, they said Avis charged me $1000.  I called Avis, they said they sent a fax to visa to refund me the money.  A fax to visa?!?!  I didn't have access to the money that I budgeted for the trip, had to move money around for London.  Finally got the money back 3 weeks later.  It could just be that the Israeli system is flawed when it comes to rental cars.
wow. bummer. I will keep watch on my bank account, but so far, no unexpected charges. Thanks.

Online cholent

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Aug 2014
  • Posts: 1786
  • Total likes: 70
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 0
    • View Profile
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2016, 12:48:32 PM »
wow. bummer. I will keep watch on my bank account, but so far, no unexpected charges. Thanks.
That probably only happens if you give the debit card when checking out the car. You only gave it on return so you should be fine
Don't ask stupid questions and you won't get stupid answers

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2016, 12:54:11 PM »
That probably only happens if you give the debit card when checking out the car. You only gave it on return so you should be fine
yes, for sure, but after almost getting scammed at the gas station on the way to return the car, I'm on high alert! (Will describe in more detail when I get to that installment....)

Offline Yehoshua

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Presidential Platinum Elite
  • *********
  • Join Date: Aug 2011
  • Posts: 8881
  • Total likes: 58
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 1
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2016, 01:20:47 PM »
Nice TR so far! Thanks for sharing.

Offline Moshe G

  • Dansdeals Gold Elite
  • ***
  • Join Date: Mar 2016
  • Posts: 234
  • Total likes: 2
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 0
    • View Profile
  • Location: Brooklyn NY
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2016, 04:10:22 PM »
Nice trip report.Keep it coming. I wish i'd have the time to go, i have allot of points waiting to be burned...

Offline mgoldhammer18

  • Dansdeals Platinum Elite + Lifetime Silver Elite
  • *****
  • Join Date: Jan 2016
  • Posts: 569
  • Total likes: 7
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 3
    • View Profile
  • Location: Queens, NY
  • Programs: American Airlines, Citi thank you, British Avios, Hilton, SPG, AMEX Platinum, Jetblue
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2016, 09:18:55 PM »
Did you find it safe driving to chichen itza on your own?

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2016, 10:45:06 AM »
Nice trip report.Keep it coming. I wish i'd have the time to go, i have allot of points waiting to be burned...
Thanks.  We loved it, so much so that we have already booked Lagunamar and IHG Cozumel for December and Lagunamar for February '17.
Did you find it safe driving to chichen itza on your own?
Yes, totally safe.
Getting ahead of myself here, and maybe I just need to get my TR written, but it was an easy drive getting there.  Freeway-like driving. It was no more than 2.5 hours IIRC.  Coming back, though, I must have missed the turn-off for the freeway and ended up driving back through dozens of little villages, so it was at least 3.5 hours returning. I'm actually glad we saw it -- lots of poverty, and as we got closer to Cancun, you could see lots of working people who commute in via bus, but nothing scary about the drive back. In fact, we stopped about half way and got cokes... it was something like $7 for five 12 oz or 16 oz sodas.  The good old days.
Nice TR so far! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you!

Offline Moshe G

  • Dansdeals Gold Elite
  • ***
  • Join Date: Mar 2016
  • Posts: 234
  • Total likes: 2
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 0
    • View Profile
  • Location: Brooklyn NY
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2016, 02:02:59 PM »
Thanks.  We loved it, so much so that we have already booked Lagunamar and IHG Cozumel for December and Lagunamar for February '17.
I hear a lot of nice things, though interestingly enough it didn't seem like Dan was very impressed. I was looking at the Hyatt Ziva ( have a a lot of chase points) do you have any information on that property.

Online zow

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Jun 2014
  • Posts: 2131
  • Total likes: 49
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 8
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Location: BOS
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2016, 09:57:43 PM »
I hear a lot of nice things, though interestingly enough it didn't seem like Dan was very impressed. I was looking at the Hyatt Ziva ( have a a lot of chase points) do you have any information on that property.
If I remember correctly, Dan stayed at the Fairmont Mayakoba. I don't think he stayed at Lagunamar.  I haven't stayed at either Ziva or Zilara but my reading here in DDF is that people generally like them both and consider them good value. That's obviously a big generalization....I'm sure you can read up on all the details.

Offline sruly

  • Dansdeals Lifetime Platinum Elite
  • *******
  • Join Date: Feb 2011
  • Posts: 1786
  • Total likes: 12
  • DansDeals.com Hat Tips 4
    • View Profile
Re: The zow Family's First Cancun Vacation Trip Report, 2/2016
« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2016, 10:36:49 PM »
If I remember correctly, Dan stayed at the Fairmont Mayakoba. I don't think he stayed at Lagunamar.  I haven't stayed at either Ziva or Zilara but my reading here in DDF is that people generally like them both and consider them good value. That's obviously a big generalization....I'm sure you can read up on all the details.
I have stayed at both more than once and they are from my favorite hotels (although the Fairmont is in a different league).