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The JW Marriott Cancun’s recent renovation brings the property into the 21st century. Pros: Large, fresh rooms, lots of amenities for the entire family. Cons: Average food and beverage selections, service that (sometimes) lacked attention to detail.

On a recent hotel-hopping trip to Cancun, Mexico, a later stop was the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa. After a disappointing stay at The Ritz-Carlton down the beach I was excited to check out the other luxury Marriott property in Cancun. Could this property be more modern or upscale than The Ritz-Carlton?

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Booking

Although I only booked a few days before my stay, thanks to the fact that it was the off-season, paid rates started at $264 per night for an entry -level ocean-view guest room. Off-peak rates begin at about $150, but rates rise to $400 and above during busy periods like spring break and winter holidays.

This property does not participate in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program from American Express, so your booking options are limited to booking directly with Marriott or using an online travel agency like Hotels.com.

On the points front, the JW Marriott, like The Ritz-Carlton, is a Category 6 property in the Marriott Bonvoy program, meaning that free nights cost 50,000 points per night. When peak and off-peak pricing kicks in later this year, the points required per night will start at 40,000 in the off-season and jump to 60,000 during busy times.

The best choice for booking through an OTA would be with Hotels.com using the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for 10% cash back on the card (when paid with your card and booked via Hotels.com/venture), stacked with the pursuit of a 10th night free with Hotels.com rewards. While this would have provided a 20% return, I wouldn’t have been eligible to collect elite credits or benefits during my stay, so I decided to book direct.

The JW Marriott definitely has the advantage compared to The Ritz-Carlton, with paid rates (even including the $25 resort fee) starting at about half of what The Ritz charges.

Location

The JW Marriott, like The Ritz-Carlton and all the other major hotels in Cancun, is in the Hotel Zone, about a 25-minute drive from Cancun Airport (CUN). The JW Marriott is about a quarter of a mile south of The Ritz-Carlton, so I took a $8 taxi for the five-minute ride between the two properties, as I didn’t really want to schlep my luggage along the road in the 80+ degree weather.

Check-in

After pulling up to the hotel, there were a few bellmen waiting to welcome me to the property and help me with my luggage. The check-in was seamless, and I was even offered a cold refreshing towel (which I totally needed after the grueling five-minute journey from one luxury hotel to the next). As I had arrived around 12:30pm, my room wasn’t quite yet ready, so I was given a temporary room key so I could start spending money at the hotel’s outlets.

After 20 minutes of touring the hotel, I returned to the front desk to collect my physical room keys. I was then informed that I’d been upgraded to a premium ocean-view room with a balcony overlooking the — you guessed it — ocean.

The incredibly friendly agent escorted me to my room, and during our walk to my room, I could immediately tell that the physical property was leaps and bounds nicer than The Ritz.

Room

I quickly settled in to Room 1424, a recently renovated king-bed room on the hotel’s top floor. I was instantly impressed with the room design and noted how much fresher this room was than the one I had at The Ritz.

The property was finishing a room renovation, so I even got to enjoy the smell of fresh wood furniture in the room. The hallways and elevators were modern, light and airy, in stark contrast to The Ritz.

The room itself was quite large, at 467 square feet, and featured both a king bed and pullout day sofa, ideal for parents sharing a room with their kids.

The room had plenty of outlets and USB ports.

The oversized, gorgeous bathroom featured a double vanity, a rainfall shower, separate toilet and deep soaking tub.

Toiletries were provided by Aromatherapy Associates, the (boring) brand standard for JW Marriott.

Back near the entrance of the room was the honor bar with lots of tempting choices!

There was an illy coffeemaker with only two small water bottles next to the TV.

The agent who escorted me to the room sensed that I drink a lot of water after he saw me quickly finishing one of the two bottles that were waiting for me. Five minutes later, he came back with enough water bottles to keep me hydrated during my stay.

The room also featured a small balcony with two chairs that mostly viewed the other Cancun resorts, and certainly didn’t fit the bill as a “premium ocean-view” room.

Wi-Fi was available free of charge and didn’t even require logging in on a landing page. Speeds were about 45 mbps download and 17 mbps upload. Be sure to bring a book to the beach, since the Wi-Fi signal only reached the pool.

Overall, I thought the room was tastefully decorated in a combination of light wood with blue and gold accents — very fitting for a beach resort. 

Food and Beverage

While the physical aspects of this hotel blew the Ritz out of the water, some of the softer measures, like the food, left a bit to be desired.

Although I was at the hotel for just one night, I managed to try all three of the hotel’s different dining venues. The Beachwalk Market and Pantry was the hotel’s poolside eatery. It offered indoor and outdoor seating and poolside and beachside service.

For lunch, I enjoyed fajitas ($17), which were served with three salsas and a choice of tortillas.

There was a traditional bar by the family pool and another cool-looking swim-up bar in the adults-only pool.

For dinner, I ate at the hotel’s white-tablecloth Italian restaurant, Gustino. I should’ve really known better than to order a pizza in Mexico, but my inner New Yorker was craving comfort food. As predicted, the margarita pizza ($12) was very forgettable.

I then had a black cod with potatoes ($21) that tasted pretty bland. Service throughout dinner was well-intentioned but extremely slow (the proverbial Caribbean time).

The next morning, I ate at the hotel’s Mexican restaurant, Sedona Grill, which served breakfast from 6:30am to 11:30am.

The buffet ($27) featured all of the traditional breakfast foods, such as fruits, cooked meats, charcuterie, cooked-to-order eggs, cereals, breads and juices.

While there were many options at the buffet, overall I found the food to be average at best. The food looked like it had been out since 6:30am and tasted like it had been prepared the previous night.

The hotel didn’t forget about the drinks and even created a menu of 150(!) margaritas. I only tried one margarita, but thought that it was delicious.

The hotel also had a quick counter-service restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was called 705 Pizza. This restaurant doubled as a gelateria and convenience store for America’s most popular snacks.

If the dining options at the JW Marriott didn’t appeal to you, there was no need to fret. You had full access to all the bars and restaurants at the adjacent Marriott Cancun hotel. With six restaurants at the neighboring Marriott, you were bound to find something you liked.

Amenities

So what was there to do at this 445-room megaresort? Just as much as at The Ritz, but everything here was so. much. nicer.

To start, the highlight of the hotel was its three pools: a large two-level pool open to families, an infinity pool also open to children, and a smaller, adults-only pool on the north side of the resort.

There were also two Jacuzzis built into the pool area that were quite popular around sunset.

While none of the pool areas were too crowded when I visited, things might look a little different in the busy season and on weekends.

The hotel also offered beach access with many chaise loungers set up.

Read the warning as: You will be approached by at least five salesmen selling overpriced trinkets. In stark contrast to The Ritz, all of the lounge chairs, both at the pool and beach, were much more plush and inviting.

Private cabanas could be rented for $250 a day, and the hotel also offered reserved lounge chairs with prime ocean views for $180 a day.

The hotel also featured a 14-foot-deep pool that it used for diving lessons.

To keep your kids occupied on a rainy day, there was a game room near the children’s pool.

To help you perfect your Instagram feed, the hotel had a miniature Cancun sign.

The spa occupied two levels. One level was open to all hotel guests, while the other level was exclusively for those getting treatments (or willing to pay $60 for entry).  

The gym and indoor pool and Jacuzzi were on the first level of the spa.

The gym was night and day compared to The Ritz, as it featured modern Technogym equipment and many more treadmills and ellipticals.

There was also a mixed-use cycling/yoga studio next to the gym.

Back near the entrance to the spa was the hotel’s indoor pool and oversized Jacuzzi. There were even two lap lanes in the indoor pool, so don’t forget to bring your goggles and earplugs and embrace your inner Michael Phelps. This area proved very popular when it rained on my second day.

On the exclusive upper level of the spa was the sauna, steam room, relaxation area and treatment rooms.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the hotel’s public facilities, especially considering that this wasn’t branded as a Luxury Collection or Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Service

The only aspect of my stay at The Ritz-Carlton that I missed was the service. Here at the JW Marriott, service was definitely well-intentioned but certainly not flawless.

For instance, at dinner, the server brought over a complimentary amuse-bouche of salami and cheese, even though he had confirmed that I was pescatarian only 15 minutes before.

At The Ritz, the pool attendants set up the chaise loungers for you. At the JW, you were responsible for scoping out your own chairs and setting them up. Furthermore, while there was always complimentary water available by the pool at The Ritz, there was no H20 by the pool or beach at the JW. Finally, there was no free sunscreen available, an added value that I found useful at The Ritz.

Despite these mishaps, there were areas where the service really shined. Ten minutes after getting to my room, the room-service team delivered a really nice welcome amenity consisting of all things chocolate with a miniature Don Julio bottle (aka the keys to my heart).

Moreover, every staff member I interacted with always had a smile and wished me a pleasant day. At restaurants, I was always addressed by my last name — impressive for such a large resort!

Overall Impression

So, yes, physically, the JW Marriott Cancun is leaps and bounds nicer than The Ritz-Carlton. For half the price of the Ritz, this hotel represents a great value for anyone looking to vacation in Cancun. While the food and service could use a little improvement, I really enjoyed my stay at this hotel. Until The Ritz-Carlton undergoes a full renovation, I wouldn’t hesitate to return.

Know before you go.

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