Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beachfront for $69 - who knew?

My husband and I normally eschew Cancun and its touristy, overpriced haunts, which bear no more resemblance to the real Mexico than southern Florida. However, in this case we had an extra night to spend before our check-in on the Mayan Riviera, so we booked an inexpensive 4 star in Cancun through Priceline. How bad could it be for one night we thought? Arriving tired and burned out after a conference for work and a brutal January in NY, we picked up our rental car and drove the few short miles from the airport to the beginning of the Zona Hotelera. The Westin Regina at Km 20 on Blvd Kukulcan is one of the first hotels in the long line that crowd a particularly gorgeous stretch of beach. Because it is at the start of the Zone it benefits from a feeling of being slightly removed. We found it delightfully lacking in Americanos, of the type that leave the midwest in the winter to spend days getting fried in the sun and drinking loudly, populated instead by Europeans and Israelis.

The person at the front desk was as charming and friendly as we have come to expect in Mexico (how do they manage not to suffer from tourist overload in Cancun) and because we are both Starwood Gold they upgraded us to a beachfront room. The hotel was hit hard by Wilma, the hurricane that sat off the shore of Cancun in 2005 and just pounded everything for days, and got a substantial tune-up during the 9 months it was closed. The rooms have a Caribbean feel now, with sliding wooden shades and tile floors. The absolute best part of this room is the fact that the windows open, and at night one call fall asleep to the sound of the waves rushing up onto the shore. 

View from our window
There is a pool on both sides of the hotel since the oceanfront pool gets shaded by the building in the afternoon. The pool in the 'back' of the hotel fronts the lagoon, which is beautiful in its own right. Strolling down there in the late afternoon, checking the suitability of its lounge chairs for enjoying a margarita cocktail, I notice a sign warning people not to swim in the lagoon because of the danger of crocodiles. Hmmm, I wonder to myself, how likely might I be to see one. I scan the far side of the bank, overgrown with mangrove roots, in hopes of spotting a beast. No luck. Turning my attention to the sandy beach at my feet, I am shocked to see a croc sitting right there with his mouth wide open. Maybe he is stuffed - placed there to amuse the tourists. Why does he have his mouth open - could he really be real? I pick up a stone and throw it at him (ok, ok, don't turn me into the SPCA). Disgruntled, he turns and lumbers back off into the water.

Deciding that the lagoon beach is perhaps not the best place for our evening cocktail (and much-anticipated first margarita since placing our feet on mexican soil) we head off for the bar in the hotel which offers 2-for-1 drinks from 6 to 7 pm. No crocodiles here. Just big easy chairs on a terrace with an unlimited view of the horizon as the sun slowly makes it way down behind the edge of the world. Ahhh - heaven.

OK, now for a few practical points:
  • we ate at the hotel for dinner and breakfast because we had no desire to venture out to the american chain restaurants that are to be found in Cancun. For dinner we ate at their high-end Mexican restaurant, right in the Westin and the food was good, but the selection of wine was - not surprisingly - extremely limited and overpriced. It is worth pointing out that the hotel advertises all types of intriguing offers in the elevator, for example - at the restaurant we selected, the offer was a free margarita and a trio sampler of ceviche with every dinner .... However, at the restaurant they had no idea what we were talking about, and given their limited english and our limited spanish we chose not to pursue the issue.
  • The breakfast was delightful, served in full view of the ocean and pools - a splendid spread of everything one might wish for: fresh fruit and juices, yogurts, eggs made to order, mexican foods, cereals, etc... etc... A bit pricey for the buffet, but worth it, and you get 15% off the check on the first morning you eat there (which was our only morning).
  • Believe it or not (we actually thought it was illegal in Mexico) they serve a TERRIBLE margarita at the Westin. The consistency of the ice is wrong, the amount of lime is wrong, the degree of sweetness is wrong. And it costs a lot more than we are used to paying for margaritas, but that may be true throughout Cancun. It may be best to stick with beer when there. However, given the view while drinking the margaritas, it makes the whole experience worthwhile.