Bigger Is Better: Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen, Mexico
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In an effort to maximize reviews during a long weekend in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, I decided to split my stay between two hotels. First, I went to check out the small Thompson Beach House, which ended up being a bit of a disappointment, followed by the gigantic Grand Hyatt just up the road.
Even though the latter was considerably less expensive and more than 10 times the size, with a total of 314 rooms, compared to just 27 at the Thompson, I still much preferred the larger Hyatt hotel.
I booked directly through Hyatt's site just a couple of weeks before arrival. While certain all-inclusives can be booked for not much more elsewhere in Riviera Maya — and my rate didn't even include a restaurant breakfast at the Grand Hyatt — I found $230 to be reasonable for a chain hotel in Playa del Carmen.
Taxes totaling 19% can add quite a bit to the rate as well, though I never did end up getting charged the referenced "service contribution," and unlike at the Thompson, there weren't any resort fees to pay at the Hyatt.
You can also book a stay using points, which could be a good deal during peak periods. As a Category 6 World of Hyatt hotel, free nights cost 25,000 points, or you can book with a combination of cash for 12,500 points plus $118.
We value Hyatt points at 1.7 cents apiece, however, so a free night would require $425 worth a points — hardly a steal considering the $230 rate during my visit. Instead, I paid cash and ended up charging the stay to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, earning me 3x points on the cost of the room, incidentals and taxes.
The Grand Hyatt is positioned on what I'd consider to be a preferable section of beach — while the Thompson had loads of seaweed clouding the ocean out front during my visit, the Hyatt's stretch of ocean was relatively clear.
The hotel's set off the main pedestrian street, but you can still walk over in just a few minutes, giving you the best of both worlds — seclusion, but with far less expensive dining options just a few steps away.
The resort felt especially secure — employees monitor guests entering from both the road and the beach, and I was approached a couple of times before I was formally checked in to confirm I was indeed staying at the hotel.
As a Globalist member, I was escorted from the front desk to the Grand Club, where the agent suggested that I have some breakfast while she handled the check-in formalities.
I was also offered the opportunity to upgrade to an all-inclusive package for $100 plus tax per person — a bit of a discount over the rate displayed online — which included meals and drinks throughout each day, though certain items required a supplement. I decided to stick with the base rate and pay a la carte, though the package could prove worthwhile for hungrier (or thirstier) guests.
Unfortunately there weren't any suite upgrades available — with just 36 in total, day-of upgrades might be a bit tricky to come by here. My room wasn't ready, either, but with the beach, restaurants and pools, there was plenty to keep me busy until the 3pm check-in time.
I returned around 1pm to see if the room was ready, and was handed my keys along with directions to the room, just around the corner from the lounge. Score!
I ended up in the same room type I booked, with a single king bed.
Measuring 409 square feet, the room felt decently spacious, especially with the balcony door open.
The balcony itself was large enough to serve as a decent hangout, with a comfortable chaise lounge and table and chairs.
I had a view of the huge center courtyard, along with a sliver of ocean, thanks to the hotel's clever design.
The bathroom was somewhat exposed to the bedroom — I was happy to have some natural light, but I could see this being problematic for families or groups of friends expecting more privacy.
The provided amenities were from a Canadian company I hadn't heard of, called organiQ, but they got the job done.
Soap, shampoo and other basics came in the room, along with mosquito repellent, with additional items — toothbrushes, shaving kits, etc. — available upon request.
The toilet had a separate door, as did the shower — especially important given the semi-exposed bathroom design.
There was a closet in the bathroom as well, with a fair amount of storage and a couple of robes.
Slippers were included, though I didn't see any flip-flops, so you'll definitely want to bring your own.
There was a well-stocked minibar out in the hallway, but I wasn't able to find a price list.
With snacks and drinks available in the lounge, I didn't find it necessary to dig in, but it was there if you needed it.
I did crack into the supplied Globalist amenity, though — a do-it-yourself margarita set. I really appreciated being able to control how sweet I made the drinks. What a fun, locally inspired gift!
One of the highlights of staying at a Grand Hyatt is having access to a dedicated lounge. Here, it was open daily from 7am until 11pm, with breakfast served until 11:30am and evening drinks and hors d'oeuvres available from 6pm until 8pm.
Globalist members always get access when staying on an eligible rate, while other elites earn two Club lounge-access awards after staying 20 qualifying nights or earning 35k base points in a calendar year, plus another two after 30 qualifying nights or 50k base points. Each award can be used to cover a stay of up to seven nights. Nonelites can access the lounge by booking a club-level room, as well.
I preferred to sit outside, given the beachfront location, and there were usually a few open tables to choose from there. The views really were spectacular, especially at sunset.
A staffed open bar was available each night, with a mix of wines and liquor, along with soft drinks and water.
The evening spread changed a bit from one day to the next, but usually included chips and guacamole, crudites and a hot dish.
There was also dessert available — in this case, a fruit tart and chocolate mousse.
I really enjoyed the Grand Club in Playa, but it did get incredibly busy at times — especially before the end of breakfast and during the evening cocktail hour, when all snacks and drinks were free.
The breakfast spread was decent as well, and included fresh fruit, cereals and yogurt with dried fruits.
There were also plenty of pastries and spreads.
And lots of hot items, though those seemed to go pretty quickly and it took a few minutes for the staff to restock.
My favorite breakfast item was the chilaquiles, along with a phenomenal cold salmon.
Food and Beverage
There were a handful of restaurants available on site, plus dozens more options just a few blocks away. I decided to start my Grand Hyatt culinary tour with a salad and tacos at the beach on the first day — both had good flavor and were served promptly. Pool umbrellas even had pagers attached so you could call for service whenever you liked.
On the first night, I tried The Grill at 1-26
Just next to the main pool, The Grill had a fun design and layout, with a well-stocked bar.
I started with a Fatty Bourbon, a creative drink with a fat wash for $12.
I also tried the fettuccini with shrimp ($13.50) and the fish of the day ($22.50), both of which were delish.
The Grill was fairly empty, in part because most guests decided to dine outside of the resort and the hotel was making a very big push for its all-you-can-eat taco night at La Cocina.
I really liked the taco-night vibe, which made use of the perfect weather outside, since it was set up alongside the pool.
Taco nights are normally on Wednesdays, according to the hotel's website, but they were offering it on this Friday as well.
There was a nice mix of food, but I was after something made to order, so I decided to return to the hotel's Mexican restaurant for a regular a la carte meal, instead.
The next day, I got fish tacos ($12) and an Israeli couscous salad with shrimp ($16.50). The tacos had great flavor, especially with the hot sauce, though the tortillas came out soggy. The salad was a big miss, though, with both the pasta and shrimp arriving overcooked.
I was also curious about Sushi 'n' Raw Bar, the hotel's small Japanese restaurant.
Oddly, the sushi joint didn't open until 1:30pm, so it was only an option for dinner or perhaps a later lunch.
I went for lunch and had a couple rolls (about $14 each). They were huge, though, so one would have been enough.
Wi-Fi was free for all guests and performed well — it was a big upgrade over what I'd had at the Thompson.
Though I was there to work, most guests were clearly in vacation mode, and there were plenty of opportunities to soak up some sun.
The main pool tended to get quite crowded during the day, but it was very pleasant around sunrise.
I quickly learned that the best chairs end up getting reserved early in the morning. If you aren't usually an early riser, you might want to become one here.
I went out for sunrise on both mornings, and I'm really glad I did — it was spectacular!
That also gave me an opportunity to claim lounge chairs. I quickly identified my favorite spot, right at the front edge of the pool.
Since Playa del Carmen faces the Caribbean, you really don't want to miss a sunrise walk — while the sky can look quite pretty at sunset, too, you won't see much more than some pink colors over the ocean in the evenings.
Be prepared for some very bright sun during the day. There were plenty of umbrellas available, but the best spots did go quickly.
While there was a section of the beach reserved for hotel guests, it was otherwise open to the public.
That made for a very crowded scene — and an especially noisy one if you ended up with a spot near the hotel's day club.
Cabanas were available for rent as well, but at $135 (including a $50 food-and-beverage credit), I didn't really see the point.
The hotel staff did a great job of cleaning up after guests, but some of the visitors during my stay seemed especially determined to leave behind their mark — this scene welcomed me in the poolside bathroom, for example.
You could get away from it all at the Cenote Spa, though, which required a separate fee for access.
The centerpiece was a superslick natural healing pool — it was incredibly tranquil, and worth a visit if you happened to opt for a treatment or day pass.
The spa area also had a dedicated lap pool, only accessible to spa customers.
Treatments were expensive, especially considering that you could book a massage for a small fraction of the price elsewhere in Playa del Carmen — but, again, it could be worth considering if you're able to take advantage of the other amenities as well.
There was also a fully equipped gym just outside the spa, with plenty of new, high-end cardio equipment, weights and more.
Other amenities included a gift shop, open during the day.
And there was a small night market, which seemed to pop up on certain evenings.
I very much enjoyed my stay at the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen. While it didn't necessarily offer a local feel, I loved the modern design of the hotel and the clever layout, which enabled at least partial ocean views from most rooms. The service was very good, too, and I never felt pressured to hand over a cash tip — it didn't even feel appropriate in some cases, a stark contrast to the Thompson.
If you do visit the Grand Hyatt, I'd definitely recommend venturing out a bit as well, though — ferries to Cozumel leave from just a few feet away, making a day trip an easy possibility, and there are endless reasonably priced food and beverage options just a few blocks away.