Many people associate Cancun with
less-than-luxurious elements: spring break and rowdy vacationers.
Indeed, college students have forged a reputation as frequent
visitors to Cancun.
But as I enjoyed a
cocktail in the trendy lounge at ME Cancun, one of the city's
latest hotels to be reborn as a stylish, upscale getaway, it became
quite clear that those stereotypes do not always apply.
This city by the
sea has turned the crisis of Hurricane Wilma, which struck Cancun
in 2005, into a catalyst to create a new destination.
hotels, fine dining and an increasing array of designer shopping,
this is Cancun deluxe.
Points of entry
Getting to Cancun
just got a bit more pleasant, thanks to the $100 million third
airport terminal that opened in May, which doubled passenger
capacity. Eighty-four check-in counters and 11 departure gates were
del Sureste, which operates Cancun's airport, is planning to build
a second runway. A new international airport, slated for
construction in Tulum, may further alleviate congestion that has
plagued Cancun's airport.
And that's not all.
Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste has proposed a $500 million
light-rail system to connect destinations along Mexico's Caribbean
music greeted me as I entered the ME Cancun, one of the first three
hotels to carry the new ME by Melia brand.
Opened in December
in the former Melia Turquesa, this chic, 448-room property has all
the trappings to become one of Cancun's hippest resorts: stylish
decor, moody lighting and guest rooms that include iPod docks,
plasma TVs, 300-thread-count linens and all-natural amenities by
By night, the
facade is bathed in purple light, standing out from all the other
hotels on the strip.
The hotel's club
floor, called the Level, is home to 52 rooms and four suites that
have Jacuzzis, aromatherapy amenities, complimentary wireless
Internet access and complimentary cocktails and snacks.
A chilled-out, hip
vibe extends to the outdoor area. Rande Gerber, founder of the
Midnight Oil brand of bars and lounges, has teamed with his
brother, Scott, and Maxim magazine to
create the Maxim Beach at the resort's pool and beach area,
complete with DJs and Balinese-style day beds. Guests can also
relax at the 11,000-square-foot Yhi Spa.
While the hotel is
not restricted to adults, there are no children's programs, so
clients seeking a relatively quiet getaway are assured there will
be no poolside children's salsa lessons.
The hotel's dining
options include Salt, which serves Mediterranean cuisine, and Silk,
an Asian bistro.
The hotel's eLounge
is an especially high-traffic area; part of the hotel's eSpace, it
serves light snacks and drinks and offers complimentary Internet
access in a groovy atmosphere.
After my relaxing
stay at the ME Cancun, I moved to the 252-room Sun Palace, which
reopened in January as an all-inclusive, couples-only resort. Like other recently renovated
Palace Resorts properties, the Sun Palace now sports chic,
minimalist decor, neutral colors and spa-focused amenities. The spa
has been expanded, and five new massage rooms have
sea mud wraps, oshiburi facials, sacred-stone massages and more
Spa services aren't
part of the all-inclusive price. Prices start at $51 for a
25-minute "sun-soothing" massage.
include a swim-up bar and the new, open-air Oriental Lounge, which
serves drinks and snacks and features a 20-person
Jacuzzis, every guest room at the Sun Palace has a two-seater
model, making the resort perfect for couples. Rooms also have
flat-screen, LCD TVs and large-size Farouk bath amenities (rather
than the usual tiny bottles that hotels stock). Guests can order
room service around the clock as part of the all-inclusive
The property has 20
presidential suites, offering plenty of opportunities for travel
agents to sell up.
The gym facilities
have been moved to the second floor and more than doubled in size,
with floor-to-ceiling walls offering inspiring views of the
dining at Sun Palace features multiple restaurant choices. Cafe
Bistro is the only venue for buffet dining. (I have to admit that
when I first saw it, I figured it must be an a la carte restaurant,
because of its elegant decor.)
La Tratto is the
dramatically elegant Italian restaurant that is open for dinner.
Guests should try to snag one of the tables overlooking the beach
and the sea.
The property also
has 4,100 square feet of meetings space for up to 280 people. Its
convention facilities reopened in April.
Guests at any of
the Palace Resorts properties are entitled to all-inclusive
privileges at other resorts in the Palace Resorts portfolio, so
it's possible to enjoy the beach, pool, drinks and meals at the
nearby Cancun Palace.
Other places to sell up
The 601-room Cancun Palace, which reopened in
February, has 23 new presidential suites just waiting for
luxury-seeking clients. All guest rooms have a two-person Jacuzzi
The resort, with
fresh decor similar to the Sun Palace, has Miyako, an Asian
restaurant with on-site cooking exhibitions (housed in a former
meeting space) and an upscale Italian restaurant (set in the former
Each of the hotel's
restaurants has its own wine cellar. All facilities are now
resort's pools have been enlarged, and a bigger spa has opened with
additional treatment cabins.
well-designed lobby separates check-in and checkout counters,
assuring that guests aren't waiting on a long line when it's time
for them to approach the desk.
"In April, Dreams
Cancun opened an on-site dolphin swim-and-show
partnered with Via Delphia, which operates dolphin swim programs in
various locations in Mexico, to open Delphinus Dreams Cancun,
billed as the first interactive dolphin program at a resort in
Guests also can
choose a new room category: Deluxe Dolphin View, with private
balconies to watch the show. The show is open to the public, but
hotel guests get first crack at tickets. Guests can also choose
from photography and DVD services to record their
Dreams Cancun is
one of the first two properties in the AMResorts portfolio to
launch the Spa Journeys by Pevonia program, offering a variety of
treatment packages grouped as five "journeys." The Rejuvenation
Journey, for example, includes a selection of natural, holistic,
botanical and marine extracts.
Renovations at the Gran Melia Cancun include the
debut of the Yhi Spa as well as Nami, a new sushi
Guest rooms at the
700-room property, a AAA Four Diamond resort and a member of the
Leading Hotels of the World, now have flat-screen, 32-inch TVs;
laptop-size safe-deposit boxes; new bedding; rain showerheads; and
high-speed Internet access.
Clients looking for
even more amenities should splurge on the Royal Service level,
which features separate check-in and checkout, a private lounge, a
pillow menu and a private swimming pool with Bali-style
The 295-room Hyatt Regency Cancun reopened April
14 after a $20 million renovation, with a conceptual style it calls
"Cosmo-Chic." All guest rooms now have LCD TVs, an MP3 alarm clock
with CD player and new linens and furniture.
"The 365-room Ritz-Carlton,
Cancun finished its $15 million renovation in September
2006, upgrading its Kayanta Spa and refurbishing guest rooms with
400-thread-count linens, rain forest showerheads and 32-inch, LCD,
Also new to the
property is the Cliff Drys-dale Tennis Center, a club operated by
TV analyst and former pro Cliff Drysdale. A new restaurant,
Casitas, sits on the beach and has private cabanas for
new Culinary Center, equipped with Viking Range appliances, offers
cooking classes with themes, including Spa Cuisine, Real Mexican,
Grilling Feast, Tuscan Dinner Party and Treasures From the
Each class covers
three to five complementary recipes, led by chef Rory Dunaway.
Cooking classes are held Mondays through Saturdays, starting at 10
a.m. and 3 p.m. Wine and tequila tastings are offered at 6
Fiesta Americana Grand Aqua, Cancun is scheduled to reopen
this fall. Guest rooms will have Bose home theater sound systems,
DVD/CD/MP3 players, satellite TV and high-speed Internet
Shopping and dining
Cancun has built a
world of fine shopping and dining that is a far cry from cheap
T-shirts and tequila shots.
Among the top
choices for upscale shopping is La Isla Shopping Village, which
opened in 1999 and has recently expanded to house more than 250
stores, restaurants and attractions. Top brands include Zara,
LaCoste, Diesel, Envy, Miss Sixty, Tommy Hilfiger and
Lots of open-air
corridors make for pleasant strolling. There's a small canal and a
waterfront pier perfect for viewing sunsets over the lagoon. There
is also an aquarium.
The granddaddy of
upscale shopping, Plaza Kukulcan, remains a popular choice for
shoppers seeking to exercise their plastic. It's now home to Luxury
Avenue, a "mall within a mall" with vendors that stock Clinique,
DKNY, Montblanc, Coach and Louis Vuitton.
Shopping Center is home to a branch of Envy (which stocks Boss,
D&G and Ermenegildo Zegna) plus jewelers and Ultrafemme, which
sells cosmetics and fragrances from Biotherm, Estee Lauder and
Nearly all of the
luxury properties in the Hotel Zone have multiple upscale dining
options, but the city itself has introduced a growing number of
Visitors can savor
fresh seafood at Lorenzillo's, scenically set on a pier in the
lagoon, and La Dolce Vita, which also specializes in homemade
pasta. Puerto Madero is the place to sample Argentinian cuisine,
while Pericos offers an elegant take on local Mexican
For a decidedly
sweet dining experience, clients can head to Chocolate City, a
restaurant that opened this year at Plaza Kukulcan.
fixed $45 price includes dinner, a drink and a circus-like show
with acrobatics and music -- and plenty of desserts and drinks with
information about Cancun, contact the Cancun Convention &
Visitors Bureau at (011) 52-998 881-2745 or visit www.cancun.info.
contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].
For more on Cancun, see "Changing Cancun's image the top goal for CVB