Saturday, January 14, 2012

Le Meridien, Cancun - Not my favorite

We spent one night in Cancun before heading down for a week in Cozumel. Having been happy with our stay at the Westin, at the start of the Zona Hotelera, we thought we would try the Meridien, which is supposed to be more upscale than the Westin. Not true! The hotel was a big disappointment in pretty much every dimension. The lobby was small and plain, the staff that did the check-in was, unfortunately, unbelievably inefficient. A check-in which should have taken no more than 5 minutes (we had prepaid the rooms with Starwood) somehow managed to take over 25 minutes. The front desk was full of unhappy people, one family next to us quite upset to find that their reservation had magically been canceled, the family to the other side of us, unhappy with the noise from the construction (which was not mentioned on their website) and wanting to get moved to a different room. While there were many staff people at the front desk, there was no manager in site, and several of the people must have been trainees or something since they only stood around and watched.

While it would be hard to complain about the beach at Cancun under any circumstances, I will say that the location of this hotel - about mid way along the zona hotelera - is not ideal. The waves were quite strong, and while this could be attributed partially to the strong wind that was blowing, I think the surf tends to be stronger here than at the start of the zona which has a bit of a cove effect. 

The biggest thing the beach/pool area has going against it is the shadow thrown by the massive building going up next to it. Even if one ignores the inconvenience of the noise from all the construction - since at some point in the future this will end - the sun disappears very early in the day. All the hotels here have the problem that the sun hits the beach in the morning, but in the afternoon lays in the shadow of either the hotel itself, or its neighbors. This is something we liked about the Westin, which has pools on both sides of the hotel, with one getting the sun in the morning and the other in the afternoon. 

In these photos you see the pool area shaded by a large concrete wall from the new construction, and in the background of the beach shot you see the huge building going up next to the Meridien. 

The new building is bigger than any of the other neighbors and our porter said that pay-offs exchanged hands in order to get the plans approved. I would say that this building is the kiss of death for the Meridien. Stay elsewhere!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A word to the wise - cops in Mazatlan

Having always been fortunate in our travels in and around Mexico, we were surprised to encounter one of the nefarious 'policia' that one has heard of, while visiting Mazatlan. Certainly we had read about the gang related shootings in town, and we did see increased police presence in the evenings, with heavily armed policemen wearing body armor on patrol. As a result we were careful to keep the boys from venturing out on their own into town at night. This was not a great inconvenience. We had been told of friends-of-friends who were car-jacked on the main highway between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta after stopping at a 'tequila factory'. We took appropriate cautions. However, we operated in the blithe belief that the touristas, being the geese that lay the golden eggs, are not harassed by the police.

Driving into the old part of town for dinner one night, we were pulled over a local police man who was standing by the side of the road in town. The road does have a posted speed limit of 40 KM but most traffic was moving faster, and we may have been doing as much as 60 KM (about 36 miles per hour) since we were moving past a lumbering bus. Dutifully pulling over (the only choice of course) I attempted to engage in a dialog with the man to see what he wanted with us. My Spanish is spotty, and he was speaking very rapidly with no desire to try to accommodate my faltering use of the language. I came to understand that a) we were speeding; b) we would have to pay a fine, and c) he would take my husband's driver's license until we had reported to a building in town the following day to pay the fine.

Not wanting to part with the license, nor having any desire to lose the following half day finding the appropriate office to get it back, I asked if we could pay the fine now. YOU WANT TO PAY ME NOW, HERE?! Oh, oh, I thought. Now we are all going to be arrested for attempted bribery. He appeared to think about the question for about 30 seconds and then quickly agreed. The fine was 500 pesos. Making a big show of counting our pesos several times in full view of the policeman, we could only come up with 440 pesos in small bills. (We also had a 500 peso bill in a different wallet but saw no need to mention that. ) We shrugged and said that unfortunately 440 was all that we had. OK, he said. Taking the cash and returning my husband's driver's license we parted ways.

Perhaps if my Spanish had been more fluent, we could have asked for his badge number, or we could have asked to call the central number to verify the whole process. Or we could have agreed to report to whichever office he would direct us to in town the following day to settle up and retrieve the driver's license. However, our goal was to get the license back and continue on our way to dinner as fast as possible. Given this, I would advise fellow travelers to Mazatlan to make sure they carry sufficient cash to pay the 'fines' if stopped, or even better - respect the speed limit - even if it is only 24 mph and you are the only car on the road driving quite that slowly.

All in all, it was not a big inconvenience, and it is certainly not the first time we have been asked by an officer or airport worker in a foreign country for what is tantamount to a bribe. Sometimes, it is worth creating a confrontation, but often times it is not.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A word to the wise - cabs at Cancun Airport

On a recent trip down to the Riviera Maya, we landed in Cancun with the intention of taking a cab to our hotel for an overnight stay in Cancun before heading down to Cozumel. We had done this for our trip in early February and found it easy and inexpensive. Escaping both the holidays and the cold, we arrived in Mexico for a Christmas get-away, only to find that the entire system for ground transportation has changed at the airport.

You must pre-pay at the airport and receive a voucher. You can get a private cab for $60 (and yes, they  quote the price in dollars and not in pesos) or a shared ride for $16 per person. Then you wait ... and  wait ... and wait. The lines are disorganized; the system susceptible to having people jump in line if they have found the right person to tip. Which is something you might consider, if you don't want to wait at least 30 minutes in the hot sun. I was only starting to figure out the system right before we finally got our cab (chalk it up to being up since 3:30 that morning), but you should check for the color of the shirts the guys are wearing. The white-shirt people sell the vouchers. The yellow-shirt people communicate with the cabs and vans, and designate who gets loaded in. Unfortunately, the guy who seemed to have the final say as to who got loaded next, also had a yellow shirt, so you will need to scan amongst the 'yellows' to see who the others are deferring to.

There does not appear to be any way around the system. They have it locked down, and as a result the number of available cabs have gone down (fewer are willing to pay the overhead to voucher system company) and the price has gone up substantially.

Given what we ended up paying to take a cab to our hotel in town for an overnight stay, and then the cab down to Playa del Carmen to take the ferry to Cozumel, it would have cost us less to reserve a rental car for a 24 hour period (Note: rental cars from the mainland are not allowed to travel to Cozumel). The car rental is easier because the rental company van shuttles you over to the rental office at the airport.

Live and learn ....