Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mexico! Olah! (58)


There must be hundreds of all inclusive resorts in Mexico. We've been to three of them. They are very similar in certain ways, different in others. We liked each one for different reasons. Check out the pix first. The punch line is at the end.

So here we go....

Huatulco - January 2009

Dreams Huatulco

This was promoted as a 5 star resort. I don't know what goes into determining a rating and a quick google search indicates that there is not a consistency among raters, so what one rating agency thinks is a 5 star, another may not. In any case - someone decided this is a 5 star resort.

The pix are coming up - check them out.

These first pix were taken from our room one of the first evenings we were there.

Pam likes to take pix of the rooms she stays in, so we took a few pix of our room. It was pretty ordinary.

I made Joe let me take his pix on the balcony to prove he was actually there. He took most of the pix this time, so no other ones of him.

He went wandering around the hotel the last morning we were there to take some shots from different places in the hotel.

The big tour buses and the buses that delivered us from and to the airport would drive past the hotel to the exit and back in. We realized the reason for this curious behavior is that the archway and covered areas over the driveway are too low for the buses to pass! Brilliant planning! :)

Note the brown hills in the background. We were there at the peak of the dry season. Unless it was watered, it was brown. Those hills are apparently very lush during the rainy season.

The tables were being set up in the plaza for the evening buffet dinner (the round things between the pool and the brown roof). In this resort, they set up for an outside buffet only a few nights a week - both the others did this every night.

There are a number of resorts across the bay. The older ones have very industrial looking water towers. They don't show up too well in this pix, but they are the things sticking up above the point across the bay there.

I went snorkeling around the rocks in the lower left of the pix. Lots of fish. This beach was very nice for swimming. The water was clear. Except for the last couple of days, it was very calm, although those last two days it was quite a bit rougher, so I guess it's best not to count on being able to swim in the ocean in calm water. I also went kayaking one day for a short time. I left it too late and the water was a bit rougher than I was comfortable with by myself. If' I'd been with someone, it would have been fine.

Here are some pix of the inside of the hotel.

Our room was one of the rooms behind the clump of palm trees on the right.

The resort is in the finishing stages of a major renovation. Here is a roofing project - they are almost finished here at the end of the week - there was considerably less roof covering when we first arrived.

There is a restaurant and bar under the thatched roof.

This is me in the keyhole shaped pool below our room.

There is a series of restaurants under the rooftop patio. The patio only seemed to be used for special occasions (wedding receptions for example). The pool there is only decorative and seemed to be attractive to seagulls that often perched along the edge of it. It's only a foot or so deep.

Manzanillo - November - December 2005

This resort is billed as 4 1/2 star. Again - I don't think too much can be taken from this, other than it's probably not going to be bad if it's a 4 1/2 or 5 star.

The Karmina Palace is modelled on a Mayan temple. Check the weblink (above) - there are some good pix there - especially for the interior - we didn't get many of those.

The pix coming up were taken from our room.

Now we're down on the grounds. Some really nice flowers.

The little "hut" is actually a restaurant.

Stairs going up to the main lobby.

Front courtyard (above) and tennis courts. We never actually saw anyone playing tennis. I expect the games would be played very early in the morning while it was still relatively cool. We would still be in bed at that time! Same is true for the golf games. The resort is adjacent to a golf course.
We were in Manzanillo for one week, but it straddled the end of November and the beginning of December. Like magic, on December 1, Christmas decorations appeared everywhere, including the lobby of the hotel. It seemed odd to me because it was so hot, no snow. It just didn't seem like Christmas - it just didn't "seem right"!

This is the lagoon - the only ocean where swimming was possible. Alhough the hotel is near a nice looking stretch of beach, swimming was strongly discouraged due to undertow. So we didn't see any beach swimming along "our" beach.

Setting up for the outdoor buffet. There was one every night and live entertainment as well.

Here is the lagoon again. I went kayaking with the starting point here at the lagoon (kayaking pix will be in another post).

Here are the pools.

I swam in all of them - they were really nice.

Yes - I went down the slide!

Here's the lagoon again.

Puerto Vallarta - January 2007

Riu Jalisco

Another 4 1/2 star rating. Once again I suggest checking out the website for interior pix and some better pix (i.e., photoshopped!) than mine.

This is not a swimming pool - it's an elaborate fountain/lagoon. There is a gazebo in the centre, which is one of the locations at the resort where weddings are held.

Mariachi band.

Do I look happy? What's not to like? Really?

Here's the beach. Lot's of swimming going on here. It is calm up to about lunch time when the wind comes up. I went kayaking one morning and it was lovely. I also grabbed a boogie board one afternoon and did some "surfing." I didn't do much swimming here. The sand is very fine and the waves churn it up enough that the water is not very clear. I know, I'm a princess - I like swimming in clear water. If something is going to eat me, I want to see it coming!

They also hold weddings out on the beach - if you look closely you can see the white arbour there - they were setting up for an afternoon wedding. It sounds romantic and all - but it would not have been my preference. The wind picks up every day just before noon so unless you're getting married in the morning, you'll be blowing around like crazy.

I should note that the wind is not THAT terrible. We would retreat to the pool area which was totally protected from the wind - it was only noticable right out on the beach where there is no protection.

Mariachi band again.

The Punch Line

I've been asked a number of times "What place did you like best?"

In terms of resort only, my rating is:
1 - Karmina Palace - Manzanillo
2 - Riu Jalico - Puerto Vallarta
3 - Dreams - Huatulco

Joe says his rating is:
1 - Karmina Palace - Manzanillo
2 - Dreams - Huatulco
3 - Riu Jalico - Puerto Vallarta

As cheesy as it may be, I really like the idea of trying to look a bit "Mexican." The Karmina Palace does this in spades, Riu is a close second. Dreams doesn't even try. As you can see in the interior shots, it Dreams has a sort of contemporary look going on that could easily be any Holiday Inn on the planet. I don't think Joe really cares that much about the interior decorating so this isn't high on his priority list.

We found the service to be excellent at the Karmina Palace and Dreams. The Riu seemed to be understaffed and the servers a bit frazzled at times. They did the best they could with very limited staffing. Karmina must pay well because there didn't seem to be the same expectation for tipping that there was at the other places. I don't mind tipping - but I like the idea that staff is paid well enough that they don't need additonal tipping.

I liked the food in each of the places - it was all good. There were differences - I had a favourite thing at each place. Of course the best part is that we didn't have to worry at all about organizing it or making it- we could just go eat/drink whenever we wanted to - always something open. Joe liked Dreams food best - he says more variety.

The grounds were very nice at the Karmina Palace and almost as nice at the Riu. The reason Dreams is number three on my list is because of the grounds. If you go back and review the pix, you'll see there is a distinct lack of vegetation at the Dreams relative to the others. The resort faces south so it's HOT. I need shade and there was very little of it available. We had to be very aggressive and strategic about staking out a shady place for our beach/pool time. To be fair, I expect in a few years when it's recovered from the renovation, the plants and trees on the grounds will have had time to fill in and it might be better (in the meantime, more umbrellas or something would be appropriate!). But I'd have to be convinced of that before I went again.

The other criticism I have of Dreams is the lack of imagination in the design of the grounds - the pools are laid out in straight lines and just boring rectangles. I found the curves and variaitions in levels really nice at the other resorts. I understand the grounds are smaller at Dreams - it's a smaller resort - so maybe not as much room to work with - and I suppose it fit with the contemporary theme they were going for. But I guess contemporary isn't quite "me."

The only part that I like better about the Dreams grounds is the actual beach area - the swimming is great and there are some interesting spots to go look at fish. Tecnically, the beach isn't part of the resort grounds since the Mexican government owns all the beachfront land.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that Dreams was terrible - it certainly wasn't! It's just that with three to rate, one of them has to be last - and for me it is Dreams. We met a number of people there who had been there before, loved it, and said they would be returning again.

The resort is only one part of our holiday - others will follow, so stay tuned.

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