A drive through Cancun's Zona Hotelera in search of Sandos Hotels & Resorts' first Cancun location proved somewhat challenging.
Along the zone's Kukulcan Boulevard, the 214-room property is simply dwarfed, situated between the 365-room Ritz-Carlton Cancun on one side and the 495-room Secrets the Vine on the other. In Cancun, Sandos is truly a boutique property.
Long a Le Meridien, the property debuted as the Sandos Cancun Luxury Experience Resort in March, with a focus on being a uniquely positioned all-inclusive.
"We're putting the accent on making this a boutique hotel experience in Cancun," said Jacques de Paep, Sandos' director of sales and marketing.
Sandos, a Spanish company with 19 properties worldwide and four in Mexico, is not as well known in the U.S. as it is in Europe and Latin America, but that is something the brand hopes will change, especially with the opening of what it calls its first luxury-branded all-inclusive.
Debbie Bellamy, a Cancun specialist and owner of Travel Visions in Wilmington, Del., said there is a market of clients looking for "the smaller, quiet, boutique-type all-inclusive."
"[My clients] are going for the quietness, ambience, spa, upscale resort and beautiful pools and beaches," she said. "Many people don't want to go out at 5 a.m. or have to reserve a chaise lounge at the bigger resorts. That is one complaint I always hear."
De Paep said the Cancun property will be Sandos' most upscale product. While Sandos is spending millions of dollars to upgrade the property, much of what existed before remains.
"It's about improving on what you have and not a question of reinventing the wheel," de Paep said.
Central to the upscale experience, de Paep said, is the property's focus on providing a "total gourmet experience."
The property has four restaurants, two that are new under Sandos and were put in areas that were formerly meetings rooms.
Zango changes its buffet menu daily to focus on one genre of international cuisine but always offers some Mexican specialities.
Also new is the hibachi and sushi restaurant Gaijin, which offers dining around a large iron teppan griddle where the chef prepares dinner.
A holdover from Le Meridien, Sandos changed the layout of its Seasons restaurants and added what it describes as "avant garde" cuisine with "a touch of molecular gastronomy" to the menu, which also focuses on local and seasonal ingredients.
The pleasant poolside restaurant, St. Trop, offers views of the pool and the ocean and offers casual Mexican specialities as well as wood-fired pizzas.
While Le Meridien was a European Plan hotel, Sandos' all-inclusive model includes all restaurants as well as 24-hour room service. Upscale touches include the addition of a lobster dinner every Wednesday and a Friday evening Moet Chandon cocktail party.
Beyond the restaurants, the hotel's renovation is a work in progress.
Sandos fully renovated its Lobby Bar, which used to be half the size and is now a popular pre- and post-dinner spot for cocktails.
The resort is still in the process of upgrading all of its rooms. Already replaced are soft goods such as the beds and linens.
One of the next major steps will be to upgrade all of the bathrooms over the next year with new fixtures and marble vanities. De Paep said this would be done one room at a time, so that the hotel would not have to close.
Sandos also elevated the property's service levels by increasing its staff-to-guest ratio, meaning more waiter service by the pool and on the beach.
Sandos also spruced up the property's beach cabanas with new furnishing and mattresses.
Areas that Sandos will not change much are the property's popular, dark-blue infinity pool and its Del Mar spa, which de Paep said has always been considered one of Cancun's best.
Now under the Sandos spa brand, the facility has been refreshed and has some new staff, but it has kept its signature thalassotherapy pool experience and speciality treatments that have made it popular.
Also new to the hotel is the option to upgrade to Premium Level service, which includes accommodations on floors six through eight, Bulgari bath amenities, top-shelf liquor at the bars and restaurants, reserved cabanas on the beach, complimentary WiFi and a private lounge on the eighth floor with a dedicated concierge.
. Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.