We are home again, back in Grants Pass at the Sunset House, where the chilly weather has no clue that Spring is officially here. Before I tell the story, a caveat. I wrote notes as we were experiencing this trip, and the blog will reflect that. However, by the time it was all said and done, we both decided that it was a great value for the money, and we might choose to do it again someday. So take our little rants about this and that with a grain of salt. It was a great vacation. Also, keep in mind if you click on a photo, you will be taken to the SmugMug album online where that photo resides, and will be able to see the entire album if you choose.
Even with three weeks in the Southern Deserts, we did know that March in Grants Pass can still be gray and wet. Time for one more escape before spring brings out the daffodils, the party pretty pink trees, and the rakes and mowers. Last Christmas when I was visiting Daughter Deanna in Northern Washington, we chatted about Mo and I wishing to fly off somewhere warm. Air miles were waiting. Originally, a tentative trip to the US Virgin Islands was floating around in the back of our minds, but the hurricanes put a big dent in those plans.
Deanna popped up with the great idea that we use one of their timeshare weeks near Cancun. At $800 for the week, it was less expensive than most of the hotels I searched before we made the commitment. Deanna found a nice week for us at Vidanta Riviera Maya, about half way between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the beautiful Caribbean coast of the Yucatan. Air miles in hand, Mo and I managed to get decent flights leaving from our local Medford airport on United to Cancun with only one stop in Denver. Although I was a bit leery about United, with some rather nasty reports on the news and from friends who had flown United recently, it was the best deal for the miles we had so we bit the bullet and booked the flight.
Similar to my recent flight to Spokane at Christmas, everything went without a hitch. We got up at 2:30 AM, with plenty of time to leave by 3:30, drive to Medford and go through the check-in line at 4:15. Perfect timing for our 5:30 flight. I had previously downloaded the United app, and we received our boarding passes via the phone, including our passports being scanned and entered. Seems crazy to put my passport on some kind of app, but I guess everything is a bit crazy in this digital world. If they are going to get me, they will get me one way or another.
We packed fairly light, but with snorkels and cameras and such, still needed to check a bag each with the baggage charge of $25. Another fact of life it seems. One more time I was shifted into the fast lane for security, no idea why, but Mo wasn’t as lucky. Still, we had plenty of time to get to our gate and wait for the on time airplane.
I still love flying, and the plane was empty enough that we had the 3 seat row to ourselves, so I could stretch out and still get a good window seat to watch the landscape below. I loved seeing Dallas/Fort Worth from the air, sooooo big!. As we approached the Yucatan coast, the vast green jungle spread out below us, and I kept imagining how truly awful it would be to have to land in that jungle, no roads, crazy snakes and bugs, alligators, wild wild looking country. I could see the famous cenotes, sinkholes in the limestone that characterize the peninsula, and along the silvery white strand of beaches there were strange colored backwaters.
Some in orange, and pink and lime green in patterns that gave no clue as to their source. I finally found them on Google Maps and read about the Parque Natural Ria Lagartos, “Alligator River”, and the nearby salt ponds that turn different colors based on types of algae that grow in them. The research confirmed that while the jungle may be beautiful and filled with all sorts of birds, the landscape was just as scary as I imagined it to be.
I was surprised to find that the plane wasn’t too terribly uncomfortable, although United now has an entertainment system on some planes that requires that you use your own device for movies or whatever, and for that to work the app must also be on your device. I had it on my phone, but Mo didn’t have it on her IPad. She had her card games to keep her occupied, however, and the flight to Denver was on time and uneventful, as was the next flight to Cancun. On time, uneventful, no crying babies, and a bit of a view until the clouds took over. We felt incredibly blessed.
Until we hit the airport in Cancun. Seems as though the personnel was significantly reduced and at the more than 2 dozen booths available for immigration into Mexico, there were only 2 and sometimes 3 people actually checking in all the incoming passengers from many flights. It took us two and one half hours of standing in slowly snaking lines around rows and rows of ribbons and frustrated people to get through that nightmare. Sheesh!. Luckily I had dressed in layers and managed to peel down a few of those layers to a light shirt and capris and no socks to enjoy the warm and humid Mexican temperatures.
By the time we got through the line, we were exhausted, and it was a bit of a kerfuffle trying to find the “man in the blue shirt” who would be taking us to our transportation for the resort. Seems as though there are several men in blue shirts, all insisting that “they” are your transportation, but of course they weren’t. After getting caught by a couple of them, thinking they were ours until they asked for a deposit for a “free day” at some new resort did we figure out we were being scammed. And Deanna even warned me! We didn’t fall for it, but by the time we did finally find the real guy, it was already getting late. A man in a cart at the curb sold cold beer in a plastic glass and we gladly shared one while waiting another 90 minutes for our shuttle to actually pick us up. The driver kept saying “5 minutes”, but we learned over the week that in Mexico 5 minutes can mean anything from 20 minutes to actual hours.
When we got to the resort, we had to jump through a few more hoops. The shuttle took us to the “main lobby”, where our baggage was again rolled off somewhere to meet us later at our room. We were then shuttled some distance to the lobby of the Grand Mayan Lobby, where we were to check in. Another 40 minutes or so passed and we finally were assigned a room, an “upgrade” they called it, showing us on the map of the resort a very nice place not far from the pool and restaurants. OK, whatever that means, I guess we will take the upgrade from the “Bliss” to the “Grand Luxxe Jungle”. And please, where can we get some food?
We finally decided to walk to the closest restaurant before going to our room, (which would require waiting for another shuttle) which turned out to be the Greens taco bar on the golf course, still open and very very busy. The hostess took pity on us, weary travelers who hadn’t eaten since some ungodly morning hour, and found us two seats at the bar. We watched the chef carve the roasted pork which ended up in our tacos, and had a meal that tasted fabulous to our tired and hungry souls. (We ate there again later in the week, and the food was really fabulous then too.)
We walked back to the Grand Mayan lobby where we once more waited for a shuttle to take us to Grand Luxxe Jungle. “Next one, 5 minutes”. That became the refrain that we got used to by the end of the week, but we also learned that walking was often the best option, even if it meant 1.2 miles each way to get anywhere. That was the downside of our upgrade to the newer and really quite lovely Grand Luxxe Jungle.
We were shuttled to our room, and when the bell boy opened the door I have to admit it was a bit overwhelming. Our “room” was a suite with two bathrooms, a big kitchen, a living room, all sorts of really lovely decor and a LOT of space. Quite the upgrade, for sure, and nothing like the photos I had viewed previously of the Bliss rooms.
We wandered around a bit, and almost got lost trying to find ourselves, but settled in to the truly comfortable king bed with luscious sheets, tons of good pillows and bolsters and a truly comfortable mattress. I slept great every single night we were there. The showers, both of them, were as big as most bathrooms, and the rain shower was my favorite, with plenty of hot water every time but once. It had been a long travel day.
I turned on my phone, connected to the WiFi, and opened up Google Maps to try to figure out exactly where we were. Seems as though everything was wrong!. Google maps had the little blue dot at least a mile north of where I was told we were to be located. I figured that something must be wrong with the satellite or maybe coordinates are different in Mexico, and I had no clue what to do about it, but decided I would worry about it the next day.
Morning dawned with a bit of sunlight coming through the filmy curtains and breezes in the jungle vegetation outside the big doors leading to the patio areas. Thank goodness Deanna warned us about bringing our own coffee AND our own coffee filters, since it was a 2.5 mile round trip walk to the market, the restaurants, the pools, and anything else. There was also a fancy Keurig pot with little tubs of coffee at 2.70 USD each, but we did find another regular coffee pot in the cupboard and made our own Seattle’s Best coffee.
Mo has been having a bit of tendon trouble with her ankle lately, so we decided that I could go exploring, see where things were located, and hopefully find a bagel or something for breakfast. Off I went, and of course there wasn’t a shuttle in sight, so I walked.
I had a map of the place, but each of the three maps offered of the resort are a bit different, and of course I didn’t think Google was telling me where I was. Turns out it was, and we were exactly where Google thought we were located! I wandered the back roads toward the Grand Luxxe Lobby, through the back trails and onto the lovely boardwalk system that is well developed in the older parts of the resort, just not in our area.
I found the restaurants, the immense and quite beautiful swimming pool, and finally the market, with a coffee bar and a small bakery where I found a bagel and a roll to take back home to our room. We knew that eventually we would need to get off the resort and go shopping for supplies in Playa Del Carmen, but didn’t want to try to do that on our first day there. Turns out we never actually did that at all. The taxi would have been $24 USD each way, and the shuttle was only $8 USD each way, but the shuttle only ran on the odd hours and the trip would have required us to stay in Playa Del Carmen for a few hours, and we never really wanted to do that, at least on this trip. Next time we might know to head for the Mega store on the first day, and not worry about the lost day.
After breakfast, the two of us put on our swimsuits and cover ups and set off to explore the grounds and find the pools. It was close to mid day by then, and when we arrived at the pools, they were busy, with every. single. deck. chair. taken. Every one, both at the pools, at the beach, everywhere except in the “Premium” area by the beach for Grand Luxxe members only, of which we were a part since we had our Grand Luxxe upgrade.
We explored a bit, but found to our delight that the “river” that runs through part of the resort was accessible in several places. No chair needed. We dropped our shoes and cover-ups and slipped into the fabulous water. Ahhhhh. This is why we came to Mexico.
After wandering the resort we found another lovely area reserved for Grand Luxxe upgrade folks only called “The Beach Club”. It was private, and quite lovely, but also felt a bit snooty. We asked for a chair and were told that the only thing available was one down toward the beach. Seems as though people line up at 10 AM every day in order to get good seats even in the Beach Club.
There are also sections there reserved for what is called “The Experience”, with unlimited food and drink all day long and a butler at your disposal for just $250 per day,. We took the small lounge that was offered near the beach, and decided to order a cocktail with a snack that would serve us for dinner. After waiting some time for a menu, we found out from the folks behind us that it took them more than 2 hours to get served. Nah, we had no desire to hang out there for that long at all so we left our “exclusive” strangely uncomfortable lounger and wandered back through the resort in search of some place to eat. Near the pool we found a small informal restaurant that served excellent food at prices a bit less than most of the high end restaurants that define the resort. Our service was also excellent, and very timely. Exclusive isn’t all it is cracked up to be, for sure.
We had another lovely meal, with nachos served with several little dishes of amazing condiments, and something called a Mayan Wrap that was superb. Great early supper for us before we headed back to our room to try to get oriented and figure out how we could manage to get to the main gate by 5 am the next morning for our tour of Chichen Itza.