PLAYA DEL CARMEN: OCCIDENTAL GRAND XCARET
Natasha & Family
Five of us including a 3.5 year old traveled to the Xcaret from March 18-25, 2008 over Easter Weekend so this resort was at capacity, actually over-booked as I heard from one couple who stayed at another resort and then was able to move back to the Xcaret.
We had an excellent time. I would recommend highly and I would return though we tend to like to visit new places so it won’t be anytime soon.
Prior to choosing this location I read almost a years worth of reviews online and I can honestly see why some people have reviewed the resort the way they have.
The six negatives I noticed reading the reviews were:
2) Smell through the resort
3) Hard beds
4) Musty/moudly rooms
6) Timeshare hawking
I’ll address these each from our viewpoint.
1) Food – the food was good. We didn’t do any a la cartes as a result. There was PLENTY of selection every night on the buffet. And it was honestly typical AI buffet fare – it’s not meant to be 5 star dining when it’s on a buffet. My only complaint is with how “bland” the food tasted. That being said, the had the most amazing homemade salsa on the buffet every night – just add it to your feed along with some salsa verda to kick it up a notch
Breakfast and lunch are the best meals of the day. Make sure you have breakfast and lunch at the restaurant by the man-made beach – gorgeous setting.
The a la carte lunch restaurant above the swim-up bar is EXCELLENT – have lunch there. Try the chicken Milanese which is breaded parmesan chicken cutlet. Really good.
Paco Tacos and the Pizza joint – above the buffet are also a la carte and require no reservations – also good.
Hence, we did not worry about the hassle of booking a la cartes. We heard VERY mixed reviews of the a la cartes from other vacationers though the steak and Italian seemed to have more people liking them.
2) Smell through the resort – First the resort is in the forest/jungle and it’s humid. Second it has a river running through it. This is all easy information to find out prior to booking and should make it obvious to some people that a jungle/river smell might accompany it.
BUT we never noticed a smell anywhere on resort. The only time we caught a stenchy whiff was the twice while we were they were “dredging” the algae out of the river and the act of moving that stuff out of the water creates a bit of smell but nothing unbearable – I would recommend asking for a room that is NOT in the river.
3) Hard beds – Yes, the bed was hard, some of us loved it, some of us hated it. Management has egg foam tops available if you ask. Our pillows were very soft and seemed to be new. But it was not so hard you couldn’t sleep. Hard like any other AI we have been to.
4) Musty/moudly rooms – We had two rooms, this was a slight issue in one, a major issue in the other. We packed knowing this. We brought frebreeze and bounce sheets with us to freshen to the rooms. 24 hours later, no longer a problem. Again, the resort is in a really HUMID setting – this is somewhat unavoidable.
BTW the air conditioning in this resort is the best I have experienced yet – strong and cold! It was awesome.
5) Beach – If you do your research prior to going you will know there is NO beach. It’s a man-made lagoon. Which BTW is terrific for little kids and snorkeling. We saw jellyfish and moray eels in it. And the sand was nice. It was amusing to watch the staff use this huge vacuum thing to move sand around the beach.
Please beware of feeding the fish. If you do, do it controlled. A five year old girl was bitten by a moray eel we saw at the beach because way too many people were putting way too much food into the water.
There are so many fish in the lagoon you really don’t need to be feeding them to see them.
We never had a problem finding chairs at the beach or the pools at any time of day – note again the resort was at capacity while were there. We loved not having to play the towel game!
6) Timeshare hawking – We were approached once and said NO thank you. And we made sure we did not accept the “free gift” card invitation left on our bed.
On to other areas.
Check in and out were the simplest I have ever been through. Really easy.
This resort caters to families well – no shortage of highchairs and stuff to check out of the fun club. Kids club is gated in and staffed by almost 5-6 people puts on a great program. Mini-disco at night for 30 minutes from 8pm. Special kids area on the buffet. Kids buffet in the Kid’s club also. Cribs are also available.
Was more than large enough, lots of hangers, closet space and drawers to put things away. Good countertop room.
TV – not many english channels but we don’t go on vacation to watch TV – there is one children’s english channel.
Only a shower but it was large enough for our family three to fit in and there was a neat bench in it which was handy for things like shaving legs.
We were in building 12, room 12169 and 12133, which is connected to main lobby but located near the spa, gym. Also a short walk to the pool and a towel hut. It was a very quiet building which is what we requested.
Mosquitos and Bugs:
Mosquitos, yes but with a huge caveat. I am prone to being bitten by them. Doesn’t matter where I am a mosquito will bite me. If there is a single mosquito in the area – I swear it finds me. We had 5 people in our party traveling. I was the only one that got bitten.
I probably got bitten 5 times on the resort only at night while watching shows. Where I got eaten alive was Aktun Chen – caving and in Xcaret Park on some of the ecowalk paths.
We had a ground floor room – I was expecting bugs, ants, etc and we had none – we saw the grounds keepers out spraying regularly.
This resort has a lot of pools and they are quite large which was nice. A lot of chairs also – as I mentioned early no need to play the towel game. The main pool is in three distinct sections:
1) top section – fun club – busiest and nosiest area
2) middle section – swim up bar – above the swim up bar a la carte lunch restaurant (no reservation required and a GREAT spot for lunch)
3) lower section had these neats bubble/whirlpool set into them and lot of loungers in the water
There is a second quiet pool – meaning the fun club is not allowed near it that is almost 2/3rds the size of the main people.
There are some adult only salt-water fed pools down in front of the beach restaurant (great place for brekkie and lunch looking onto the ocean).
Drinks and Minibar:
No restrictions. Yes, coffee makers in the rooms. And a mini-fridge with Modelo beer (only 2 cans but you could leave a note with tip for more), water and some assorted flavours of pop.
You might read in other reviews on drinks being “weak” this is the case in certain bars but not others.
For instance the bartenders at the swim-up bar try to get you drunk – they’ll mix you double, triple anything and were constantly doing rounds of shots for the whole bar – sometimes 5 shots in the span of 15 minutes. And you did NOT have to tip for this service (though we did usually at the end of the day).
But at dinner when the waiter goes to the bar and orders your drink – it’ll be weak.
If you ask for double/strong etc they will provide. You can also ask for a different rum to be used etc. quite accommodating.
We always tip but you did NOT have to tip to get good service here. On occasion we ran out of small change the service was the same nonetheless.
One thing that took us by surprise was how damn strong the sun was in Mexico. I am fairly tanned in general. I was born in South America. When in Cuba and DR, I never needed more than 15SPF and would not burn.
I wore 30 SPF after seeing the sunburns around the pool my first day. And I got burned – slightly not too bad but burned nonetheless.
There were a lot of miserable sunburnt people around.
We bought something called Ozono 70 SPF (silver container) made by Hawaiian Tropic in Walmart, this is not biodegradable. And I used it for the rest of the week. I still came home with one of my darkest tans ever and did not burn.
So you might want to consider depending a higher SPF in the event anyone traveling is prone to sunburn.
Cost for sunscreen in PDC’s walmart was from $5usd – $10usd depending on the brand you bought. At the resort it will be closer to $25usd.
We did Xcaret Park, heck it was free, the entrance is REALLY close to the buffet restaurant so come back and forth for food. Choose a somewhat overcast, breezy day to go on. We went on a blue, not a cloud in the sky day, with zero breeze and it was about 40c with the humidity. There is A LOT of walking to get from point A to B with not always a lot to see in between. The underground river and indoor aquarium is a MUST – they were the highlights for me. It was a lot of fun. You need the FULL DAY to get through the park. We only managed half of it because it was too darn hot and my daughter was not enjoying it.
We also rented a car and drove out to Tulum and did Aktun Chen on the way back. This was a full day trip also as we swam at the beach in Tulum for about 3 hours. That beach is gorgeous and should not be missed. So romantic with the rock face and ruins overhead.
Aktun Chen was also worth it. Walking through massive underground caves for close to 70 minutes was incredible. Bring water and some mosquito repellent.
I have to say if you are comfortable driving, it’s much cheaper to make your own tours and travel on your own timetable.
We’ve been in Cuba and DR and the tours I saw advertised in the resort were REALLY expensive in comparison. Several tours companies have reps within the resort so make sure you shop them.
The resort does not offer a shuttle but cabs are a plenty. It’s $10USD flat rate into Playa Del Carmen which has plenty of places to drink, eat at and shop.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN: OCCIDENTAL GRAND XCARET
Miranda & family (baby 13mos.)
My husband and 13-month old son and were joined by my husband’s parents who flew in from another city. We chose this resort based on reviews we read a few years ago, the great deal, and current reviews that we read. Let me say that from about a month before our trip when I communicated with the resort with questions about traveling there with our young son, I was very impressed. All of our questions via email were answered quickly and professionally by the concierge of guest services, Luca Labate.
Points about taking a baby to this resort:
- WOW! Every single staff person we came across went out of their way to interact with the baby. I can’t think of a single person we saw that didn’t at least smile and say hola! Most stopped to talk right to the baby or even asked to pick him up! Wonderful!
- There was no shortage of high chairs anywhere. They even let us borrow one from the Paco’s Tacos area before it opened one night so we could give him a quiet early dinner upstairs. They were sometimes sanitized (you could tell because it was covered in saran wrap afterwards) but always cleaned. We carried wipes with us so we could wipe them down. They were sturdy and safe with lap belts.
- They had baby bath tubs but we just used the shower.
- A crib was ready for us in the room (we let guest services know ahead of time but otherwise you just pop over there as soon as you get there to get one). It was safe, sturdy and had a good mattress. It was on castors so we pushed it against a wall and put the two outer legs in my husband’s shoes so our little one couldn’t move it across the floor when he jumped in it! We brought our own mattress cover and sheet. There is a big waffle-weave white blanket in the closet. We folded it longways and wove it in and out of the rungs to act like a crib bumper and it covered the two short sides and one long side. He slept very well in it.
- We stayed in building 16. 15 or 16 are great with little ones as it is a quieter area but right at the “quiet” pool which is the one with lots of palapas for shade and a nice shallow area. This location is also within about 3 min of the beach area and 1 min of the lobby area.
- It is a bit noisy through the day with people talking and shutting doors (it’s just the way it is with open corridors and marble floors) and at night until 10pm or so when things start to settle. We brought a sound machine and that helped baby sleep uninterrupted.
- There were enough outlets handy that we could plug in the bottle warmer in the bathroom, the monitor on one side of the tv cabinet (had to unplug a table lamp) and the sound machine on the floor by the crib near the sliding door.
- Baby drank the milk and bottled water and was absolutely fine. Any bar or restaurant we asked was more than happy to fill up our bottle with milk (we kept a water bottle filled with it in the fridge) and we brought a bottle warmer from home.
- Baby ate lots of the resort food and was absolutely fine. He ate bread, cream cheese, jam, yogurt and fruit for breakfasts, and lots of grilled fish, chicken and veggies at other meals. The a la carte restaurants have a children’s menu and we were thrilled with their intelligence of bringing the baby’s plate out first (usually by the time we had our appetizers). What a great idea! Our dr. warned us against giving raw fruit or veggies to him so I only gave bananas and oranges that I could peel myself, strawberries and grapes that I rewashed in bottled water and canned peaches and pineapple from the buffet in the mornings. I brought little applesauces, fruit cups and dehydrated fruits from home for him as well as other little snacks like cheese strings, cheerios, crackers, etc. I brought little containers to take away food for him and usually brought things like bananas, yogurt, cottage cheese, rolls, and other fruit back to our fridge for snacks or an early dinner. They will also give you a tray or plastic plate to take food out for your little one at the buffets.
Other resort comments: Arrival – we arrived in Cancun via Westjet with Nolitours and had a great flight. It was quite a long trip to the resort with the bus – we were the second stop and it still took us 1.5 hours to get there. The resort is really only about 45 min from the airport but for some reason we drove all of the way across Playa del Carmen to do one stop and then had to drive all of the way back.
Arrival to resort – We were greeted with a drink and a smile at the front desk. We arrived at 1pm and our room was ready. Our email request for a specific building and area was granted. We immediately went to guest services to book our a la cartes and was greeted by Luca Labate whom we had communicated with via email. He knew exactly who we were and we thanked him for taking such good care of us. It was absolutely no problem to make our reservations but apparently it was a slower few days that we had arrived within.
Room – we requested a room in building 15-16. We stayed on the second floor of building 16. For us, this was a fantastic location. The “quiet” pool is right at your door step and you are very close to the beach area (about a 3 min walk) and the lobby area (about a 2 min walk) yet far enough away that it is nice and quiet. We wanted this for our little one’s night sleeps and naps. Our room was large with a king sized bed. The room has a huge double closet, large bathroom with a great shower, a very well stocked fridge (we didn’t even ask, maybe they noticed we had a baby, but it was always full of water and there was lots of room to tuck extra snacks for the baby). The beds were hard but they always seem to be. The pillows were firm but there are two large soft pillows in the closet you can use. Our room didn’t smell musty but our clothes did when we got home – that’s just how it is! Rooms were cleaned by the baby’s naptime at 9:45 each morning. Beware the sliding patio door – if you shut it tight when you are outside it’s pretty tricky to open up again as there is no handle outside!
Restaurants – we loved eating breakfast and lunch at the beach buffet each day. We hit the main buffet for one or two of these meals but the atmosphere just isn’t the same when you can be looking out at the ocean. Ate once at the pool snack bar and found it too busy and crowded with a little one. The food was good in the buffets, not the best we’d ever had but enough variety. The theme nights weren’t that spectacular but interestingly enough the oriental seemed to be the most authentic one. We were a little disappointed that there wasn’t a Mexican station every night in the buffet but the kid’s buffet was a nice touch. We noticed the food didn’t seem as oily and greasy as it usually does at AI resorts. We ate at Paco’s Tacos (good but nothing spectacular), the Mexican (very good), the Seafood (great) and the Steakhouse (my favourite – remember steak is different in Mexico!). We all noticed that the food did not have that general heavy oily taste to it typical at AI resorts. No one in our party had any stomach problems AT ALL. Not even a tums was needed!
Drinks – great. None of ours even seemed watered down! If you wanted a drink toned down or a specific brand they were more than happy to accommodate you. At all of the bars we visited, there were both alcoholic and virgin drink menus handy. The dirty monkey was my favourite!
Pools – excellent. They are on the cooler side in the morning but definitely warm up in the afternoon, even on a cloudy day. We spent most of our time at the “quiet” pool which was not very busy and had lots of palapas (even ones with sheer drapes). It is very large and has it’s own bar, washroom and towel stand. It was very clean. We only spent a short time at the fun club pool but it is HUGE! It winds through one half of the resort. It stopped at some points when there was a bridge over it. It was nice because there were busier, noisier areas but also quieter nooks. At all of the pools there were staff bringing you drinks and we could almost always get a palapa at the quiet pool after breakfast.
Beach – It’s a man made beach and says so in all of the resort literature. We knew this coming in and were happy with what we saw. There are three levels of chairs but it never seemed too crowded, the only place that seemed tough to get were the 8-10 beds on the upper two levels. The water was cold but clear and you could see tons of fish.
Grounds – gorgeous! It is manicured to perfection. There were so many people working it all of the time, planting new things and picking up even the tiniest speck off of the putting greens! It is lush and tropical. Loved it! The little animal pens and “ecological” trails were a nice little diversion when you wanted to take a different way somewhere.
Navigating the resort – We were expecting this crazy, huge place with 10 min walks to get ANYWHERE. Not so! From our building, we were within a few minutes of the beach and the lobby/restaurant area. I walked from our building with the baby in the stroller all of the way around the “big” pool and was all of the way around to the lobby in 8 min. My father in law has one lung and only needed to take the cart once and that was because he had walked the whole day at Xcaret. The carts are very frequent (I know because I heard them every 7-10 min outside while the little one napped). There are maps EVERYWHERE that are very clear and even show “you are here”.
Time shares – If you stay in one of the quiet buildings, you will not be bugged in your building as there is no concierge desk. If you stay in one of the buildings near the big pool there are huge foyers with some of the travel company reps (ie. Apple Vacations) and a concierge will bug you. From our quiet building we passed a cart with someone selling tours every time we went to the lobby/restaurant area and came back. They said hola every time and only asked us how long we were staying on our last day. If you don’t want them to bug you lie and say it’s your last day.
Xcaret – Great! It is wonderful that you can come and go as you please. You pick up your passes at the resort and it is a two min walk past the resort shops to a little stand where you get your wrist band. I took the little one for an hour in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon while the rest of the family spent the whole morning and rejoined us later in the afternoon. We missed the show with the little one but my in-laws enjoyed it. They went at 5:30 and had their pick of seats. The underground river system is unreal. It is a beautiful park and really all we needed as a side trip with a baby in tow.
Other diversions – we went to Playa and the main strip seemed the same as 3 years ago but the whole city has gotten huge. We couldn’t believe how busy the highway was, the traffic lights and all of the American box stores and car dealerships. We didn’t negotiate our cab fares and even when traffic caused the 10 min ride back to be a half hour our driver still only asked for $10US.
Sorry this is a long review but I really wanted to share our experience with the baby and share what we thought about everything else. We were so impressed and would go back to this property for sure. There is a lot to do through the day (though the nights are quiet) and you could easily stay for 2 weeks and not repeat a meal between the restaurants and buffet theme nights.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN: OCCIDENTAL GRAND XCARET
McKenna & Family
This review may come in handy for those traveling with infants.
We were at the hotel from the 14th to the 18th (too short), but let me begin with the flight. We traveled with Funjet and had no problems at all. We are parents in our 40s traveling with our baby who is 11 months. We bought a Baby B’air vest (a vest with a strap that goes around mom’s seatbelt to keep a lap child from flying off her lap in case of turbulence) because our daughter was a lap child and this vest made me feel better about not having her buckled into a seat. We bought a used one on Ebay for less than $20. It worked quite well.
The ride to the hotel is about an hour depending on how many stops you make along the way. We made one stop. If you don’t want such a long ride, stay in Cancun – much closer.
Check in was easy. Beautiful hotel. We loved the trails throughout and all of the walking. A light stroller is a must if you are traveling with small children. Your life will be much easier, even if lugging it there is a pain.
There were many, many babies at this hotel to our surprise. We never had a problem getting a highchair. The first day, we got a fresh highchair that was wrapped in plastic wrap, so we thought, great, we won’t need the highchair cover we brought. As time went by, we were no longer getting the freshly cleaned chairs and would recommend taking one of these covers. There were people from all over the world at the hotel and when you think of all of the foreign germs that your baby may never have come into contact with before – well, I like the idea of the cover. You can get them at Target for about $20 – light and easily transported.
We bathed our daughter in the sink – perfect size for her as she sits up well. Another woman with a baby was loaned a baby tub for her child, so they are available. Cribs are available as well, but we took along a travel play yard/crib and it worked very well for us. It is quite a pain to take down (we checked it), but I thought it was worth having. We let our daughter crawl about the room, but we had to keep an eye on her so that she didn’t go near uncovered outlets, nor try to pull herself up and fall on the hard tile floor. Other times, we just put her in the crib and didn’t have to worry about her.
We booked a simple deluxe room. It had a coffee pot and mini bar/fridge. We used the coffee pot to make hot water (bottled water from the mini bar) for formula. We asked the maid for extra water everyday and she left about 5 extra everyday (we tipped her about a buck everyday).
We put baby food into a divided dish that has a lid. We would then take this to dinner with us. The waiters never had a problem heating this for us for our daughter. Of course, we tipped them for the extra effort. Whatever leftovers were in the baby food jars, we stored in the mini bar. We brought along dish soap and washed her dishes and bottles in the sink. Perfect.
The sun is so strong this close to the equator. We foolishly thought, well, we’re not going to the beach now, nor the pool, we don’t need sunblock to get from here to there. Well, our baby got slightly sun burned the first day just walking around. Felt horrible. I wished we had an umbrella for the sun – I even tried to buy one. On the last day, I discovered there is an Occidental umbrella in the closet, so you should get one too. Be careful with little ones’ skin.
The little man-made beach is perfect for babies and little kids. There are no sudden big waves to come along and suck your little one out to sea. The little beach is pretty to look at and gives non-beach people enough of a thrill to foot the bill. If you want miles of beach to walk on, you will be disappointed at this hotel, but for us it was perfect. The pool has lots of very shallow places where your baby can sit and play – of course never alone!
Well, I hate to admit it because we love this hotel, but we got sick. It could have been a bug we took with us or maybe it was food poisoning. Nobody else seemed to have suffered, so I think it was something we took down with us. At any rate, we were astonished at the variety and the daily changes of the buffet meals. Lunch: At one end, there was a pasta bar, the other, sandwiches and wraps, down one long end of the area, there were burgers, dogs, grilled fish, etc. In the center, there was a dessert bar, appetizer bar, salad bar, and then the main dishes for lunch in the very center. We were quite pleased with the variety. Some friends we met, didn’t even use their reservations, because they were so happy with the buffet. I don’t believe the desserts were not made in the hotel. They were beautiful, but I believe they were not boxed and purchased desserts. One thing people should know is that things taste differently in Mexico. I used to live in Veracruz and I would make my same recipes there and they would taste different because the cheese is different, the spices, etc. We found the food to be pretty good. We were quite pleased with it.
We did go to the Sonora grill steak house. I had the shrimp and scallops with a grilled tomato and spinach (they switched out the veggies for me – very nice). I thought they were delicious. My husband had the rib eye steak and he liked it very much. We also dined at the seafood restaurant by the water. Wonderful. We had ceviche, salad, and Caribbean shrimp. They also brought us a “surprise” dish, which consisted of shrimp, muscles, clams, and scallops in a lovely sauce. Very nice. We thought this meal would have cost $150 in the states. And we even enjoyed this meal with sour stomachs. I drank margaritas and my husband drank straight tequila to help with the stomach problems. I think it helped. The drinks were delicious. It never occurred to me that they may have been watered down. They were sufficiently strong without being so strong you would get blotto. Delicious!
I recommend Xcaret Park which one day is included with your stay. I thought the show at night was very enjoyable although we didn’t stay the entire time (baby). I think it is a great place for kids.
All in all, we liked the Xcaret very much.