Andaz Hotel, Playa Del Carmen
February 5 Ė 8, 2017
American Airlines: 24k Amex Points for 2 people in coach
Car Rental: Budget Rent-A-Car, $5 per day (+ tax, fees, and mandatory insurance).
Travel and AccommodationsFlight:
On February 5th, we flew from Miami International Airport To Cancun International Airport. We purchased the tickets with Amex Platinum points
, and got 50% of the points credited back with Amex Platinumís Pay-With-Points policy. In total, we paid 24,000
points for two adults in coach
and the flight took 1.5 hours.Cancun Airport:
Before landing, the stewardesses gave us two pieces of paper to fill out: An immigration form and a customs form. When we landed, an airline attendant checked our immigration forms on the bridge way between the plane and terminal. He handed the forms back to us and we headed to Passport Control. We arrived at around 9:00pm and the lines moved quickly. The whole process took less than 10 minutes. I imagine the process takes longer during busier seasons or times. After Passport Control, we headed to Baggage Claim and Customs. Mexican Customs randomly selects travellers for further screening. They ask each party to push a button that either triggers a red light or green light. A green light means you can continue without further screening and red light means the opposite. Thankfully, we were not selected.
Right after exiting customs youíll see booths with agents from every traditional car rental company. Again, there were no lines and the process moved quickly. The agent asked us for our reservation information and then walked us to a passenger pickup van that took us to the actual car rental location. The shuttle was waiting for us when we got outside and we had the van to ourselves. The car rental headquarters was only a short 3-minutes away.
We used Priceline for our car booking. We ended up reserving a Full-Size car (VW Jetta) from Budget at $5 per day. The total price came out to $97 for three days when factoring in taxes, fees, and insurance. Third Party Liability Insurance is mandatory in Mexico, but we use our Chase Sapphire insurance for Collision Insurance (CDW). I do not have any status with Budget, so we did not get any upgrade. In any event, there didnít appear to be any nicer cars on the lot. From the car rental location, we drove straight to our hotel. We used Waze to get from the airport to our hotel, and throughout our trip. The driving with Waze could not have been easier. I would even caution against following the highway signs without using Waze. We found the highway signs to be somewhat confusing and misleading. Hotel:
We stayed at the Andaz Hotel
in Playa del Carmen. The hotel is located about 30 minutes away from the airport in the Mayakoba section of Playa del Carmen. Itís about 45 minutes south of Cancunís Hotel Zone. Mayakoba is a sub-zone of Playa del Carmen that consists of four hotels: Andaz, Faimont, Banyan Tree and Rosewood. All of the hotels in Mayakoba are situated near the ocean and around a man-made lagoon that extends for about 12 miles (see attached map). The concept of all four hotels is very different that most. Rather than having one central building with guest room, the hotels in Mayakoba are made up of a series of smaller buildings spread throughout their properties with approximately 2-6 rooms each. Some of the hotels also have some stand-alone suites with direct access to the lagoon. Ours did not. Walking paths and golf-cart roads enable you to easily move around and between the properties.
Using C+P and a DSU
, we paid 10k points + $125 (+tax)
for each night. For the level of service and we received luxuriousness of the hotel, we found the price to be a great value. The hotel opened in December 2016, and is brand new. I expect the price to increase as the hotel becomes more widely recognized. You can see the room for yourself in the video (edit: can't post, but happy to email if you want) and pictures below. Also note, the suites only come with king-size beds. They hotel does not have any double bed suites, but can turn the couch into a comfortable second bed if youíd like.
The hotel grounds are divided into two areas: Lagoon and Beach. The Lagoon area is larger, and closer to the main entrance, whereas the Beach area is smaller and farther away. I donít think there is a difference between the rooms in either part of the hotel, save the view. In the Lagoon side, rooms overlook the hotelís lagoon. On the Beach side Ė you guessed it Ė rooms overlook the beach. But some rooms on the beach side also overlook the lagoon. The hotel also has two pools and four restaurants that are divided evenly between the Lagoon and Beach sides of the hotel. Cocina Milagria, which is where breakfast was served, is located next to the Lagoon areaís pool. (Hotel Driveway)
(Entrance to Suite)
(Bedroom Seating Area)
(Free Minibar With Kosher Options)
(Cool Looking Bathroom Amenity)
(Partial View of Lagoon Side Pool)
(Mayakoba Map. Andaz at top-left)
We booked our room with a Hyatt Diamond account, and as a result were entitled to free breakfast. I did not expect the hotel to have any kosher options, and so I called up before my trip to explore my options. I expected the hotel would offer to order food from a local Chabad/Restaurant as many Hyatt hotels do nationwide. They did not. They offered me the regular breakfast, to store my own food in the hotel fridge, or to meet with the chef when I arrived. I wanted to speak with the chef before arriving, but the hotel refused to put me in touch directly. We obviously didnít want to bring our own food as that would have been both complicated and annoying. In the end, the Hotel agreed to order food for us from the Chabad in Playa del Carmen. The menu they provided, however, did not really have any breakfast options It was all meat, chicken and fish. So on our first morning, we woke up early and went to meet with the chef.
I cannot say enough good things about the chef. His name is George (pronounced: hore-hey), and his service was beyond compare. More importantly, his understanding of kashrut surprised me. It turns out he already had a separate set of kosher pans and utensils set aside and wrapped in saran wrap from a prior kosher-keeping guest. He also offered to bring me into the kitchen to turn on the fire. Not knowing who that prior guest was or how the utensils since his/her stay, however, I explained that I could not use them. The chef generously offered to bring a brand new set of pans and utensils for us, which I found to be exceedingly generous of him.
After bringing the new dishes, we went down to the lagoon together with the chef to toivel them. (note: I later found out from my LOR that I didnít need to toivel the keilim because they didnít belong to us. But obviously you should rely on your own LOR in all of these matters.). The chef seemed genuinely interested in learning about the laws of kashrut, and continuously asked probing questions to make sure he properly met our needs. Poor guy is in for a surprise though when ever kosher-keeping guests starts explaining their own leniencies or stringencies with regards to kashrut. Itís probably a disaster waiting to happen. Nevertheless, I was blown away and very appreciative.
The chef personally made omelets for both my wife and me each morning. He had all of the usually available vegetables as well as kosher cheese (Oneg brand with a chof k!). In addition, the hotel had a waffle maker and OU-D batter mix. Unfortunately, the hotel did not have any kosher syrup or other toppings for the waffles, so they were not all that great. We also really enjoyed the fresh squeezed orange juice, kosher cereal options, and the freshly cut up fruit. All in all, the breakfast was a really nice addition to our trip. (Restaurant Omelette Station)
(Cool Way To Serve Fresh Honey)
For my wifeís birthday, my parents wanted to surprise her with a complimentary massage. The hotel was kind enough to leave a card in the room for her when we arrived notifying her of her free massage. The language barrier made it a bit difficult to explain over the phone what I wanted them to write, so I was happy with the card they left. I explained to my wife that the massage was from my parents and not me. (Spa Birthday Card)
Day 1: Breakfast at Hotel, Chichen Itza, Cenote, Luxus, Drinks at Hotel
Day 2: Massage, Breakfast at Hotel, Boat Tour, Biking, Snorkeling, Menfis, Cirque du Soleil
Day 3: Breakfast and head to airportDAY 1Chichen Itza:
On our first full day, we went to see the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. The Mayans were the ancestral inhabitants of Mexico, and Chichen Itza was the site of one of their capital cities. The site includes the famous Pyramid where Mayans practiced human sacrifices to their gods, their ďbasketball courtĒ where Mayans played to the death, and other interesting archeological ruins (likely with additional mortal significance). (Chichen Itza Pyramid)
From our hotel to Chichen Itza is approximately a two-hour drive. The drive is mostly 100 miles along one long highway with little-to-no civilization along the way. The drive itself was exceedingly boring, but the opportunity to bribe a police officer along the way was great. Okay, Iíll assume you want details. The speed limit along most of the drive was 110kph (68mph), which I found to be too slow. After 45 minutes on the desolate two-lane highway, I figured I was in the clear to start speeding. I mean which idiot would drive an hour out into the middle of nowhere just to pull over some speeding tourists, right? So I started driving at about 145kph (90mph). Turns out I was wrong, and the idiot all along was me. And because I was going so far above the speed limit, I really didnít think there was any way I would get out of a ticket.
When the officer came to our window, he asked for my license and rental documents but didnít really speak English. He seemed friendly enough overall though. I tried to explain that I just arrived and thought I was following. Not a great defense, admittedly, but it was the best I could come up with under the circumstances. The officer kindly said that he was sorry but would have to give me a ticket as he didnít want to hurt the economy. Thinking that was my cue, I did what Dan did and asked if I could pay the ticket now. The officer said no. Rather than continue pleading in my broken Spanish, I took out my phone and started conversing with the officer using Google Translate. He asked were we were going and what brought us to Mexico. The conversation was very friendly, and I kept on looking for opportunities to get out of the ticket. Finally, I asked if he would let me off with a warning. He begrudgingly agree, but said I would have to show gratitude. I went back to my car, slipped a $20 into my passport and handed it to. I then wrote into Google Translate that I would use cruise control for the rest of my drive. He slipped the $20 into his pocket, and wished me an enjoyable trip. I kind of wonder how little I could have given and still gotten out of the ticket, but wasnít willing to try and find out. We still had a long drive ahead of us, and $20 was not a bad price to pay to avoid a ticket.
About an hour before arriving at Chichen Itza, we reached a checkpoint and were told to pull over. An official-looking person whom I believed worked at the Chichen Itza historical site came over to our car. He told us that we had to buy tickets there or wait in a 2 hour line once we arrived at the park. I was skeptical of his claim, but didnít want to drive an hour to find out he was right and not be able to return. Also, his price was pretty reasonable, and we did not do enough research beforehand to know whether he was telling the truth. In the end, the tickets we bought from him included the park entrance fee and parking for a total of $40 (800 Pesos) for two people. We later found out that had we bought tickets and paid for parking directly at the park we would have saved about $5 per person. Another downside of buying tickets at that checkpoint was that you have to enter the park through a different entrance that adds 30 minutes onto your already-long drive. In addition, the only tour guide options at that entrance are more expensive than the tour guide options at the regular entrance. We ended up paying about $47 (955 Pesos) for a tour guide as apposed to the $25 (508 Pesos) we could have paid at the main entrance. (Map of Chichen Itza. Note the extra drive along yellow road)
The tour guide we got, however, was excellent and I would not recommend seeing the ruins without one. She spoke a close-to-perfect English, and was very knowledgeable about Mayan culture and history. She also had a degree in tour guiding (thatís not what its called, but you get the point), which the cheaper tour guides might not have. The tour itself took 2.5 hours hours. We spend the whole time walking around the grounds and were in the sun for large parts of it. Because of how hot it was, I advise you to plan accordingly. Dress appropriately, bring water, and wear comfortable shoes. The roads are also all dirt, so you will get dusty.
For the more lavish amongst you, you can actually take a helicopter ride to Chichen Itza from either Cancun or Playa. The ride can be as low as $750 for two people, which also includes park entrance fees and a tour guide. The benefits Ė aside from being a cool experience Ė include a really short commute, less crowds, and much better weather. Instead of driving for 2.5 hours, a helicopter takes about 40 minutes. Instead of walking in the heat of the day, your tour will take place at about 9am, when itís much cooler outside. And instead of sharing the grounds with hundreds of other tourists, youíll be sharing the grounds with far less. Cenotes:
At the end of our Chichen Itza tour, at about 3pm, we left the park to start heading to Cancun. On the way we stopped at two of the famous Mayan cenotes (pronounced: se-notay), Samula and Xkeken. Cenotes are essentially natural caves that served as fresh water-sources for the Mayans, who didnít otherwise have fresh water to drink. The cenotes are fed by underground rivers and rainwater and have amazingly clear blue water. They are beautiful to see. The particular cenotes we visited were both located right next to each other, about 35 minutes away from Chichen Itza and on the way back to Cancun. We paid about $5 per person to enter one of the cenotes, but you can pay $10 per person to enter both. Once you pay the entrance fee, you walk about 3 minutes to the cenote, and start climbing down a stairway to enter the cave. You do not have to climb or crawl at any point and youíll stay completely dry. Youíre allowed to swim in the cenote if you want to Ė many people do Ė but as refreshing as it looked we opted not to. Luxus/Red Heifer Restaurant:
From the Cenotes, we continued to Cancun to eat dinner at Luxus. Luxus is all the way at the Northern end of Cancunís Hotel Zone, and the drive from the cenotes took us about 2 hours. We called to make a reservation, but there were plenty of seats of when we arrived. During the busier seasons, however, you might need a reservation.
Before going to Luxus, a number of friends recommended the restaurant with high praise. We did not, however, find the restaurant to be all that great. The food was sub-par and a number of dishes that came out of the kitchen were cold when they arrived. The service was also sub-par in my opinion. The waiters were not knowledgeable about the food, and seemed to always suggest the most expensive food items when asked for a recommendation. In fact, when I rejected their first suggestion they went right on to recommend the second-to-most expensive item on the menu.
We started off ordering two soups. I had the artichoke cream soup, and my wife had the mushroom soup. The mushroom soup very watery and had little flavor. The artichoke soup on the other hand tasted quite good, but to the table at room temperature. We also ordered an empandas appetizer, which includes three empandas: one chicken, one beef, and one mushroom. These too came out to the table at room temperature and did not taste all that great. If I had to guess, they seemed like the frozen variety you buy at the kosher store. We did not end up eating them. For our main course, I ordered the Chateaubriand and my wife ordered the chimichurri chicken. We also got a bottle of Shiloh Shor (2007) wine to enjoy with our meal. Both of our dishes were okay, but felt like things we could have easily made at home. We also found it weird that the meat came out on an otherwise empty plate and without anything side dishes. My wifeís vegetables also tasted like they were store-bought and defrosted. Overall, I would not recommend Luxus if not for the fact that itís the only real-food restaurant option in the area. To itís credit, however, the prices were very reasonable. The total bill for our food was $165 (3,353 Pesos).
(Poorly Plated Meat)
(Unimpressive Chimichurri Chicken)
From Luxus, we went back to our hotel to enjoy some drinks at the bar. The bartender was extremely gracious and happy to help us find some kosher options to drink. He ended up making Whiskey Sours with a few slight modifications for kashrut reasons. When we told him we were at the hotel to celebrate our honeymoon, he actually gave us the drinks for free. ☺ Even though it was nighttime, we also spent some time sitting by the beach and enjoying the calming waves, total quiet, and cool breeze.DAY 2Massage:
My wife started the day with a 60-minutes massage at the hotel spa. The total cost (after a discount Iím not sure why we received) was $195. After the massage, the spa brings you out onto a private balcony overlooking the lagoon to relax. They also bring out some refreshing flavored water accompanied by some freshly cut up fruit. Before and after your treatment, the spa has additionally facilities you can use, like a sauna for example. If you want to use those facilities without getting any treatments you can pay about $5 per person per day to enter. After her massage, we met at the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Boat Tour:
After breakfast, we enjoyed the hotelís boat tour through the lagoon. The Boat is open to all hotel guests and seats about 8 Ė 10 people comfortably. It takes about an hour, and you get to see all kinds of wildlife. We saw various birds, turtles, fish and alligators. There is also a boa constrictor nearby, but itís rarely seen. For those that are interested, the hotel has kayaking options throughout the lagoon as well. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we really enjoyed the tour. It was both relaxing and interesting.
(Bridge Over Lagoon)Biking:
Next, we used the hotel bikes (they have about 20 cruisers) to ride through the Mayakoba nature trail. The trail is paved, and runs through the four hotels and surrounding grounds of Mayakoba. You donít see a lot of wildlife, but itís a pleasant ride, and a nice way to spend an hour. There is also a cenote along the route, but itís small and not nearly as impressive as the more touristy ones. We rode by the Fairmont golf course as well, and passed by an area set up for archery practice. We missed the cutoff for a lesson (7am-12pm), but would certainly have tried it out had we been able. I think a lesson costs $25 per person.
At about 1:45 pm, after returning our bikes, we drove to Cancun to go snorkeling. We booked a reservation at Cancun Jungle Tour Adventure and paid $55 per person. Aside from the snorkeling, whatís fun about the activity is that each couple gets their own boat for the day. We went with out to the reef with 4 other guest boats and one tour guide. You follow each other in a single-file line for about 40 minutes until you arrive in the Gulf of Mexico. Once there, you park your boats and are free to swim anywhere you want and check out the coral reefs and wildlife. Coming from Miami, the coral reef was not nearly as impressive as whatís available in the keys. The reef was small, and there was not a tremendous variety of fish to see. We did get to see an octopus, however, which was extremely cool. After 45 minutes in the water, you drive back the same way you came. We had a great time, and recommend the activity.
After snorkeling, we went back to the hotel to quickly shower and change before heading to dinner. We decided instead to try out Menfis. Their menu is simple, and consists of various meat-sandwich paninis. I actually really like that kind of food and was pretty excited to try it out. Overall the food was good, not great. The service was not particularly fast, which was a bit surprising considering the type of food, but the price was excellent. For two schnitzel sandwiches and water we paid a total of $15.
There are a few things to note, however. First, the store recently moved and the information on TripAdvisor is out of date. Their new address is on 1st Avenue between 12th and 14th street (sorry, I donít have a street number). They are tucked between a Stop Shop convenience store and a larger apartment building. It took us a few trips around the block to see them. Also, the restaurant only opens at 6:30pm but remains opened until 5:00am.
They were hard to find. Most importantly, the restaurant didnít have anything on their menu in stock. When we walked in, the woman behind the counter told us there were two options: Schnitzel on pita or schnitzel on bread. They had fresh tomatoes, pickles, and raw onions available as well as all of the other dips and sauces.
Because it took us so long to find the restaurant, we were running late to our show at Cirque du Soleil. So we took the food to go and ate in our car on the way.
(Available Topping Options)
(Attached Convenient Store)
Cirque du Soleil:
We booked two show-only seats for the 9:15 showing of Cirque du Soliel. Compared to the prices in the U.S., the prices were a bargain at $80 per person. We were told to arrive 45 minutes before the show, but figured we didnít have to follow the advice. We arrived at 8:55, and parked our car and picked up our tickets before 9:05. When headed over to the show which was located in a separate building and showed the attendant our tickets. He told us that the pre-show dinner was starting at 9:15, but that the show would not start until 10:15. We were kind of disappointed that that wasnít made clear to us either online or in the confirmation email, but we didnít exactly have many options at that point other than to sit and wait. So we did. When the show started, we ordered some drinks and watched the show. We found the show itself to be interesting, but not riveting. We ended up leaving a few minutes early to get some sleep before our flight the next morning. (Arena)
(Interior -- Every Seat Has a Great View)
I hope you find this TR helpful as you plan your trip to Cancun. If you have any questions about our stay or Cancun generally, please feel free to PM.