Surviving Cancun?

Cancun and the rest of the Rivera Maya have been one of my favorite vacation destinations for the last 15 years.  My wife and I have stayed in the Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Aventuras more than a dozen times since first visiting there for a belated anniversary trip in 1997.  Each trip has been exactly as we hoped, fun relaxing and safe.

I mention safe because Mexico has never had the reputation for being the safest place on the planet.  Still, the rise in drug-related crime over the last decade or so has certainly made safety more of a concern.  In fact, almost everyone we knew was concerned about the fact we were headed to Mexico.

Unless you are reading this during a séance, you can assume, correctly, we managed to spend a week in Cancun and return safely to the States. We were not mugged, kidnapped, raped, murdered or in any way accosted.

The most dangerous part of the trip was getting from Mexican Customs to our hotel shuttle.  If you decide to travel to the Cancun area, make hotel transportation arrangements in advance, put on your best football linebacker scowl, look straight ahead and push your way through the multitude of travel planners, tour planners, time share reps and other breeds of carnival barkers who inhabit the area between Customs and Ground Transportation at Cancun International.

After running the gauntlet at the airport, our trip was picture-perfect.  This year we stayed at the Moon Palace Resort just a short shuttle or taxi ride south of the airport.  This was our 5th stay at the Moon Palace, and it was also the resort that introduced us to Palace Resorts.  We were there in early December on our first trip and we fell in love with the place and the Palace Resorts in general.

The Moon Palace is one of the largest resorts you can imagine.  It stretches along 2 kilometers of coast line and the latest count is 2,400+ rooms.  It has 15 places to eat, ranging from snack bars, to fairly elegant restaurants, with huge buffet restaurants added to make the “all-inclusive” designation mean something special.  It is split into three complexes, all on the beach, more or less, and each complex has its own brand of daily and nightly entertainment.  It is the closest thing to a cruise one can experience without boarding a ship.

Our week at the Moon Palace was exactly what the doctor ordered this year.  An early Easter stretched the lull between peak travel seasons significantly.  From Tuesday through Thursday, the pool and beach area were quiet, peaceful and welcoming.  There were just enough people to keep things going and give you someone to talk to occasionally, but it was easy to find solitude if you wanted it.  Laying by the pool or on the beach, catching up on your reading and letting the staff pamper us was a welcome break from our normal life. And, the weather was fantastic.  Cool enough for a light sweater or long sleeve shirt at night and toasty, but not broiling, by mid-afternoon.

If lying around and being waited on is not your cup of tea, a short walk down the beach will give you access to kayaks, parasailing, jet skis and tour guides ready to take you diving, fishing or fighting off people selling Mayan trinkets on the way to Chichen Itza.  If the scenery becomes boring, the white sand beaches of the hotel zone and the hustle and bustle of some decent malls are a short shuttle ride or taxi ride away.

The close proximity to the hotel zone and El Centro Cancun also makes the Moon Palace a great choice for those who grow tired of eating and drinking what is provided in the all-inclusive package.  A short cab ride will take you to restaurants and bars you may have only read about or seen in those wild girl videos that some of your less reputable friends watch.

I could go on and on about the Moon Palace and Cancun in general.  It is still a great place to visit, and it is a lot closer for most of the States than some other foreign tropical beach locations.  It is also still a bargain.  Unfortunately, the word bargain does not have the same meaning it had 15 years ago.  Still, it is possible to have a great week in Cancun without putting yourself into the poor house.

My closing thought on the Moon Palace is this.  Should you decide to visit the Moon, consider taking the kitchen tour if it is being offered. Calling it a kitchen tour is a little of a misnomer, but it does have something to do with the kitchens.  It is a behind the scenes look the Palace Resorts food and beverage operation.  If you’ve ever tried cooking or food shopping for a family, you will really appreciate what you see on this tour.

I do have some additional thoughts on Cancun and the Palace Resorts in general.  Most people I know who have stayed in a Palace resort think it is a great chain. It has some great properties within a few minutes to an hour of Cancun.  The staff is great, and the service is first class.  Since the service in general is so good one of the few complaints I’ve heard is that upgrades might not be worth the extra money.

As with any service industry product, the value is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.  For example, we were upgraded to the Concierge Level this time.  It was a courtesy upgrade and the only real benefit we received was to be given a room (Jacuzzi Suite in Palace jargon) with the “best view in the resort.”  I cannot swear it was the best view, but it was one of the best views we’ve had at the Moon.  It gave us some spectacular sunrise views during our stay.

We also had the services of a “concierge” who could help us deal with issues, make reservations for us and what-have-you.  During the peak season, this might have been a more valuable service than on this trip.  The restaurants do not normally take reservations, which means you might stand in line while waiting on a table.  The concierge can make a reservation for you that will allow you to go to the head of the line.  During the peak season that is very convenient, but might make you feel a little guilty.  During the off-season, it would be a waste of the concierge’s time, unless waiting two minutes for a table would ruin your vacation.

Here is the skinny on the Palace Resorts in the Cancun area.  The Moon Palace is convenient, a great place if you have kids.  You can spend a week exploring the place and never see everything. The Sun (adults only) and Beach Palaces are the hotel zone hot spots for the Palace system.  They are great places for people who insist on white sand beaches and really blue sea.  The Le Blanc, at the top of the hotel zone, is the hoity-toity place for those who really want to feel pampered.

The Playacar Palace playa del Carmen is the jewel in the crown for me. It is smaller, cozier and prettier than the others. It is a little inconvenient, being about 45 minutes south of the airport, but there is plenty to do there and the setting is beautiful.  Plus, if you want to go “into town,” shopping, dining and clubbing start a few minutes walk from the front door.

Palace Resorts is changing.  Two of my favorite properties and one in the hotel zone are being spun off as Hard Rock Hotels for business reasons.  They are still on the Palace Resorts home page at this time, but they are changing.  I will not discuss them here, as I do not know what the change will entail and what affects it might haven on the properties. Additionally, I have never visited the Isla Mujeres Palace or the Cozumel Palace, but I hear they are great.

My professional history demands that I discuss the safety issue before closing this piece.  U. S. State Department and media warnings might make you believe you are taking your life into your own hands if you travel to Mexico.  In some areas that is likely the case.  There are certainly parts of Mexico I would not visit without being accompanied by some first class personal protection folks, but Cancun is not one of those places.  As far as I can determine from the information available to me, Cancun is no more dangerous than many vacation destinations in the United States.

Does that mean you should assume you are completely safe in Cancun, certainly not!  As with any tourist location, there are scam artists, pick pockets, sneak thieves and you name it. However, the stories of limo drivers being coerced into delivering tourists into the hands of kidnappers seem overblown to say the least.

If you travel to Cancun, take the same kind of precautions you should take if you were traveling to New York, Washington, DC or Los Angeles. Don’t wander around alone at night.  Don’t flash lots of money or wear expensive jewelry.  Don’t get into vehicles with people you do not know.  These kinds of precautions make sense anywhere.

© S. E. Jackson, 2012

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