From dining to digs, what's new in Cancun

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CANCUN, Mexico -- Cancun is ushering in 2003 with new resorts, restaurants, tours and attractions. The following is sampling of what's new or on the horizon for the destination this year:

Cancun cuisine

Cancun is known for its long stretch of beach, but the destination is striving to improve its gastronomic image by hiring well-known chefs and opening innovative restaurants.

A new chef and menu debuted last fall at the top-rated Fantino restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton. Chef Matias Martinez created a menu featuring fresh interpretations and creative presentations of classic Italian dishes with a Mediterranean influence.

What hasn't changed in the restaurant are its silk-covered walls, Frette linens and hand-painted ceiling frescos. A classical pianist performs nightly.

Fantino is open Mondays through Saturdays from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

For more details, call Ritz-Carlton at (800) 241-3333 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

Nohoch Mul, the second-tallest pyramid in the Mayan world, towers over the ruins at Coba, Mexico. The all-suite Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach opened a Mediterranean-style sidewalk cafe called Coral Cafe in the hotel's atrium. The resort also opened Le Basilic restaurant, serving Mediterranean cuisine.

For additional information, call (800) FIESTA-1 or visit www.fiestaamericana.com.

More than $4 million has been invested in Cancun's Palm restaurant, the company's second venture outside the U.S.

Although its famous cheesecake is imported, you can expect an infusion of local flavors, such as the combination of Nova Scotia jumbo lobster with classic habanero chile from the Yucatan.

The restaurant is located in the hotel zone next to the Presidente InterContinental Hotel. The restaurant seats 185 diners, and there are two rooms available for groups.

For information, call (011) 52-998 848-8747.

Meanwhile, downtown Cancun is home to a new, 90-seat Yucatecan restaurant called Labna.

Located at Margaritas 29, Labna is a short cab ride from the hotel zone.

For reservations, call (011) 52-998 892-3056.

Business services

Cancun Airport opened a new VIP Lounge with a number of business services and amenities, including Internet access, computer stations with laptop and cellular phone hookups, massage chairs, a flat-screen TV with cable and flight information.

For business travelers and groups, secretarial services, meetings rooms, audiovisual equipment, fax and photocopying and printing services are available.

There's also a multilingual concierge staff, hors d'oeuvres, beverages and an open bar.

The lounge is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Access to the lounge costs $25 per person and can be arranged by the hotel's concierge.

Le Meridien Cancun Resort & Spa opened a convention center last month. The 5,843-square-foot facility will be used for banquets and conferences, and will include a fully staffed business center.

For information or reservations, call (800) 543-4300 or visit www.lemeridien.com.

New hotels

The 402-room Sofitel Cancun is scheduled to open this winter. The resort will feature a private beach, eight swimming pools, a fitness center, tennis courts and function space for up to 800 people.

For information, visit the Web at www.sofitel.com.

The 714-room Hotel Riu Cancun is scheduled to open in the summer in the Hotel Zone across from the La Isla Shopping Mall Village.

The all-inclusive resort will feature 24 suites, four restaurants, a fitness center, children's club and conference facilities for up to 250 people.

For information or reservations, visit www.riu.com.

Tour debut

Alltournative Tours is a new local company offering day trips for active travelers.

The Chi-Much and Coba itinerary includes rappelling from the side of a cave, zip-lining across a sinkhole and canoeing through the jungle before sitting down to a traditional Mayan lunch made by the local villagers.

After lunch, it's off to the ruins of Coba, home to the second-tallest pyramid in the Mayan world. Prices start at $85 for adults and $66 for children under age 12. Commission is 10%.

For more information or reservations, visit www.alltournative.com.

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