PLAYA DEL CARMEN: HOTEL SANDOS PLAYACAR BEACH RESORT
Robin & Family (babies 1 & 3yrs)
ARRIVAL – Traveled with Signature vacations from Toronto via Skyservice. Our kids (ages 1 1/2 and 3 1/2) were both fantastic on the plane both there and back, which we were VERY happy about. Moved through Cancun customs and immigration fairly fast (we arrived on a Friday morning at 9:30am), about 20 minutes. A monster Mercedes bus was waiting for us outside the terminal, fully air-conditioned with a bathroom and bar service which was extra money (beer $3, pop $2 and water $1). We arrived one hour later at the Gala Resort, we were the first passengers to be dropped off and then the bus was heading to the Grand Xcaret resort.
I was in contact with the hotel directly and had confirmed that our Hacienda room reservations were in order, I was told before coming to the hotel that we were in a Royal Club Hacienda room and would receive all the perks associated with that (I even printed off all the emails that had been exchanging back and forth between me and the hotel and brought them with me just in case), but on arrival I was quickly informed that we only had a junior suite in the hacienda section, they would not compensate us at all and just said “sorry, there was a mistake in reservations, you have to pay an extra $35 per person per day to have the royal gala service”. I didn’t make a stink, just went with the flow…….checked in and our room was already ready (11:30am), room 6304
HACIENDA ROOM – Room was nice with two double beds and a pull out sofa bed, I also had a crib brought to the room for our little boy (free of charge) and quickly ordered room service, as we were starving and very thirsty. We ordered BLT with potato chips, Subs, pastrami sandwiches, salads and chocolate cake, all were great and it usually takes between 30 – 45 minutes for room service to arrive. The bar was stocked with orange pop, two bottles of carbonated mineral water, diet coke (light), coke, sprite and three bottles of beer (called XX). Bathroom was a nice size with lots of towels, one large shower and a hairdryer that worked great. There was a dresser with six small drawers and more shelves in the closet, we really needed more space with 3 adults and 2 children in one room, but we managed ok. The TV had a Disney channel, Fox news channel and a few other channels in Spanish, but the kids didn’t care what language Bear in the big blue house was in or Rolie Polie Olie. Our room was always cleaned early in the morning and was turned down each night as well. Two nights we received Kaluha chocolates (pure alcohol in the middle, so don’t let the kids have any). The sheets were changed daily, we know because the kid’s washable markers got on the bed sheets a few times and there were always lots of crumbs from having breakfast in bed each day. We left our maid $2 or $3 each day on the pillow. Word of caution……we locked ourselves out the very first day because the patio door automatically locks when it’s closed, so either keep your room card on you at all times or leave your patio door open a crack when you are using the pool outside. The safe in the room is computerized and you get to choose your own combination. We could hear people coughing next door but it wasn’t that loud, I’m sure they heard our little guy crying at night. He got sick with pinkeye and a cold on Thursday before we departed, probably because his big brother had it the day we left home. Better to have a cold in Mexico than here in the cold. Our clothes all smelt musty by the end of the week, nothing really dries out completely and I was thankful that I brought an air freshener.
HACIENDA POOL – The Hacienda pool was fantastic. It was kept clean and I saw the staff adding chemicals to it one day. There was always a staff member skimming the water and filling the pool up. There are steps going down into one side and a ledge that the children can walk around on two sides. Beware that the tiles surrounding the pool are VERY slippery and both of my kids went down hard twice and they weren’t running. I almost went down myself. The pool was used by others in the building but it was always empty when we wanted to use it. It was very warm and refreshing, we were lucky that ours had a big tree that shaded it somewhat.
BEACH – The sand is incredible, very deep and soft. The water is crystal clear and I could still see my toes and ankle bracelet when I was standing with water up to my neck. Most days there were pretty big waves but on two days the water was very calm and you could see small silver fish swimming around you. One of the best beaches I’ve been to but, not the all-time best. I’ve also been to:
- Club Oasis Akumal in (Jan 1995) – Fantastic beach with crystal clear water and no surf
- Breezes Bahamas (March 2000)- clear water but sea weed close to shore, gentle surf
- Sandals Antigua (Jan 99)- stirred up water but beautiful colour, I wouldn’t go into the water because I couldn’t see the bottom where I was walking.
- St. Martin (August 2000) – the entire island has incredible water, completely clear and very calm…..except orient beach which was rough but still very clear.
- Anguilla (2000) – Best water we’ve seen yet and very secluded beaches. We were the only people on several beaches. We rented a car and drove to many of the beaches to check them out.
- Allegro Aruba (Dec 1999) – Stirred up water, I did take out a kayak with my husband one day and the water in front of the holiday inn looked more clear than ours a few doors down. Baby beach had incredibly clear and calm water, perfect for kids.
I’ve also been to Cuba and Dominican but they aren’t worth mentioning here.
My kids are young so they just sat by the surf and played in the sand. They were scared of the waves crashing but they really enjoyed our day trip to Xcaret where the water was clear and calm like a pool. Also the beach has a little drop to get down to the water, no big deal, but my little one needed help. It’s about 3 foot drop closer to the north end right at the volleyball courts. There was also two days of seaweed that washed up on shore but the staff quickly removed it each day. Never got a chance to walk the beach, I had every intention to do it but there was never a good opportunity.
We usually got to the beach between 8 and 9am, the palapas were always taken with towels or shoes, we still did get shade and chairs though. We liked the beach area to the far south, the best was right beside the hammock section. My 3 1/2 year old would lay in a hammock and swing for most of the day, he really enjoyed them. The beach bar wasn’t far from us and there is also a little stone wall that the kids enjoyed walking on each day. It’s also easier to get to the bathroom at the Oh la la restaurant and we also discovered another bathroom in the sports building on the left hand side. Never had a problem getting our towels, they were still warm when we picked them up, must have just came out of the dryer. We never used them to dry off but just to lay on the chairs. We brought our stroller to the beach each day loaded with sand toys. You can purchase toys at the hotel store but they are very expensive. I priced suntan lotion ($17 US) and Pantene Pro V Shampoo ($7 US), so that gives you an idea of the prices. T-shirts in the store were reasonable ($10-$15 US) and I bought a fridge magnet for $5. We also took out the bikes from the hotel one day and went to the shopping market in front of the Riu complex (5-10 min). There are lots of souvenirs there and Xcaret had t-shirts for $5 US. Many of the bikes have child seats, but not all have safety straps. We were able to find two with safety straps and they also provided bike helmets. My 3 1/2 was a bit too big for the child seat but still enjoyed the ride a lot. The bike path is on the far side of the road after you leave the Gala property. It’s a great bike path.
RESTAURANTS – There are two buffets to choose from, I enjoyed both equally. Breakfast included omelet stations, French toast, waffles, pancakes, fruit, fruit juices, pastries, eggs, bacon, hash browns and so much more. Lunch included pizza, pasta, fries, cheese sticks, nachos and cheese, fried chicken, fried fish, rice, seafood salads, fruit, fresh fruit juices, lots of desserts, ice cream bar (vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, lemon, and cappuccino), milkshakes (made from ice cream mentioned), hamburgers, hotdogs and more. Dinner had a larger selection of meats like beef, veal, pork, chicken but still had rice, veggies, pasta’s (you get to add your own ingredients to the sauce ie/ ham, onions etc). I saw lots of shrimps, octopus and crab meat, I don’t like it but my Father-in-law loved all the seafood.
ITALIAN – our favorite dinner restaurant. The antipasto bar was nice, we ordered cheese cannelloni, ravioli, Hawaiian pizza and a seafood dish (fried fish with capers). Dessert we had ice cream, tiramisu, and praline ice cream cake. The only thing we wish we could change at any of the a la cartes is the speed of service. We always booked dinner for 6pm and were not out until 8pm, with two small kids it would have been much easier to eat buffet and be done in 1/2 hour or less. We only ate once here and tried again but was booked up two days because of two weddings. Wish they would have told me earlier in the week because I would have eaten here on the days there was no wedding. I always booked by 9am for the a la cartes at the concierge desk beside the check in, only had a problem with people budding in line to make the reservations! I also looked at all the menus before going to get an idea of what I wanted to have before I got in. HINT: book as soon as you get in the hotel because you can only book once per day and I waited till the next day to start booking. You can book for any day you’d like, it doesn’t have to be the day that you are actually doing the booking.
MEXICAN – I also enjoyed this place. They have great chicken fajitas, quesadillas and chicken stuffed with jalapeno peppers. For dessert we had crepes with caramel and vanilla ice cream and creme caramel. They have an appetizer area that you can help yourself to before your meal arrives. The kids enjoyed the cheese quesadillas, fruit and there was plenty of other tasty treats too. I noticed a large group of guest ordering margaritas, their specialty. Remember to bring a camera here, they have huge sombreros that make funny pics.
MEDITERRANIAN – this is the Oh la la buffet restaurant that turns into a sit down meal for dinner. HINT: this is a seafood restaurant, the only thing we ate was the chicken skewers and flank steak – both of them were yummy and served with rice and baked potato. My father in law had fish (the head and tail was still attached) and he loved it. I was so happy with the bread and spread they left on the table, it was awesome (feta cheese, onions, peppers), the best I’ve ever had. Service was very slow here, I had to leave with the youngest and take the dessert back to our room. It’s hard for young children to sit still for over 2 hours, this place opens at 7pm, the others open at 6pm.
The Dinner buffet actually opens at 6:30pm, our room information said 7pm, so go at 6:30pm when it’s not busy.
DRINKS – my kids woke up saying “pop”? They loved the drinks here. Coke, sprite, ice tea, pina colada’s, bahama mama, beer (on tap at the beach), strawberry smoothies (daiquiris), you name it and they’ll make it. We always ordered the drinks “without” alcohol, that is the way I liked them. HINT: The Oh la la buffet at breakfast has health shakes that I didn’t know of till day 3. They have about 12 different varieties, I tried the Cancun that has strawberries, banana and other fruit. There is a bar at the main pool which always had a line up (5-10 minute wait) and the beach bar (another 5-10 minute wait). I LOVED that they serve you right on your beach lounge. Our attendant asked us about 3 times a day and if you tipped they’d be back even more often but we never needed to drink that much. I did notice A LOT of people with huge insulated mugs getting refills, that is a great idea, I’ll remember next time. The beach bar doesn’t give out straws with drinks so we’d always bring some with us in our beach bag because the kids would actually wear the drink by the time they were done and the strawberry smoothies stained their little faces like goatees. It made for some cute photos.
TOUR TO XCARET – The park opens at 8:30 am, we arrived a few minutes after it opened which is a fantastic idea. Bought the tickets at the hotel for $49 US per adult and both of my kids were free. Took a taxi from the lobby (just ask the bell boy to get you one) and it cost us $10 US each way. It was cheaper for us to buy our tickets and take a taxi because the tour package price was $65 US. We liked the idea of just leaving whenever we wanted from Xcaret, and the taxis are just waiting to take guests back to their hotel in the parking lot. I took one stroller but my 3 1/2 year old still likes to be pushed around so I rented a large stroller for him, it cost $12 US and you need to leave a $30 US deposit. The strollers were awesome with 3 huge rubber tires that would run over anything. My kids did love to walk around too, but be very very careful, there are some spots that they could fall into water (ie/ the turtle area and manatee lagoon), I was surprised not to see someone fall down in there, it’s easy to get bumped. The beach area was deserted early in the morning and we had any choice of spot to pick, we chose some chairs in the shade and played in the water. This is the perfect place for young children to play in the water. It’s really like a large swimming pool with little fish the kids can chase. My kids didn’t want to leave after hours of playing. My husband and father in law put on the life vests and floated/swam down the underground river……they had a great time. There is also a boat that you can take down a river for those of you who don’t want to get wet or for young kids. I would recommend this excursion to anyone, they even had wheel chairs to rent, the pathways are easy to get around and early in the morning wasn’t busy. We left the park around 3pm. I also packed up our drinks from the mini bar and made the kids jelly sandwiches at the buffet before we left, Xcaret charges $2.50 US per pop and hotdogs were $4.90 US, so I was glad to have packed up lots of water, pop and food. We left around 3pm after doing some t-shirt shopping (only $5 US), it’s less than 10 minutes from the resort. I’ve been to Mexico before and had already done Xelha and Tulum, I knew the kids would enjoy Xcaret and we also enjoyed going for a second time. My father in law said it was “awesome”.
Here’s just a few more points that I would like to say:
- I loved having 24 hour room service and bar service at the beach
- I only saw one beach vendor the entire time I was there and he stayed down by the first row of beach chairs.
- There are many massage attendants asking if you’d like a massage on the beach, it was $39 for 25 minutes, but they have lots of packages that included manicures and pedicures.
- I personally didn’t care for the long walk to the room in the hacienda section each day, I was usually carrying the 1 1/2 year old so we used the golf cart service A LOT, plus the kids really enjoyed the ride. The walk isn’t so bad if you don’t forget something in the room and have to go back. I’d say it took me just over 7 minutes to get to the beach, but nothing like 15 minutes…….not unless I let the kids walk then it would take me closer to an hour after they investigated everything.
- Our hacienda was at the front gate (6304) and we heard a lot of traffic, even at 2am, it really was no big deal, but if you are a light sleeper you may ask to have a room in a building away from the main entrance.
- I hate cigarette smoke and there are smokers everywhere, my father in law smokes, but never did around us. It was nice to have a ground floor hacienda so he could have his coffee and cigarettes outside on the patio – with the door closed of course. You can smell smoke all day on the beach, yuk! Two of the restaurants (Italian and Mexican) are non-smoking, so if you are like me and hate smoke, try and eat there. There is nothing worse than trying to have a meal with your family and smelling that stuff.
- Room service menu consists of salads (5 different kinds), soup, sub, pastrami sandwich, tuna croissant, BLT, lasagna, chicken wrap with mushrooms and white sauce, chocolate cake and drinks. You can fill out a card at night and place it on your door by 3am for breakfast service. It’s nice to have a fruit plate, assorted pastries and fresh juice (watermelon, orange, pineapple) to start the day. The service begins at 7am.
I could go on and on. My family had a very nice vacation. Next time I will try and get a beach that is calmer, I know that the beach at Club Oasis Akumal is calm, been there before but it’s only a 3 star. I wouldn’t rate this hotel a 5 star in my opinion, but it’s worth 4 to 4 1/2. The highlight of my entire holiday was seeing how much my children enjoyed themselves.
KIDS CLUB – never used it because I wasn’t allowed to stay with them. My kids are always with me (Stay at home mom) and I really enjoyed having them with me all the time. It did have a nice playground area and two pools. I liked the teen area with ping-pong, pool, and air hockey tables, they also had juice fountains for the kids there too.
LAST DAY – on our last day our flight didn’t leave Cancun until 9:20pm so we were at the resort till 5:15pm. I’d like to thank the staff for letting us use the air conditioned Royal club room, located behind guest services, so my kids could watch a movie to pass the time away while we waited. It’s a very nice room with a DVD player, newspapers, fully stocked bar, premium liquor, food and a personal attendant to get you whatever you want. My kids thought it was great.