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The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun has the name of a luxurious 5 star property, but it desperately needs a renovation. Pros: Delicious dinner and friendly service. Cons: Tired and borderline depressing public areas.
As part of TPG‘s review series of popular Mexican destinations, like Playa del Carmen and Los Cabos, I was sent to round out our review coverage in Cancun. During my visit to Cancun, I split my time at three different properties that all participate in major points programs.
My first stop of the trip was to The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun, a legendary property in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio. This was the first Ritz property to open outside the US, and it is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. I was keen to find out how the property was holding up after so many years. TL; DR: It was definitely showing its age.
Booking this Ritz-Carlton was seamless and straightforward. I quickly searched paid rates for my stay on Marriott.com and found that the cheapest room was going for $401.
This rate excludes the incredibly overpriced and borderline obscene $50 daily resort fee, which covers things like internet and beach toys. At roughly 15% of my room stay, I would have much preferred that the resort fee be listed in the room rate, as opposed to being charged at time of check-in.
Instead of booking directly with Marriott, I booked through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which I could access on account of my Platinum Card® from American Express. Booking through FH&R afforded me additional perks, such as guaranteed 4pm late checkout, daily breakfast and a $100 food-and-beverage credit.
On the surface, many of the FH&R benefits duplicate those of Marriott Titanium and Ambassador elite status, but getting a confirmed 4pm late checkout and an F&B credit are perks exclusive to the FH&R program. Plus, you can still earn your valuable Marriott Bonvoy points and elite credits on FH&R bookings, so cheers to double dipping!
As this was a Category 6 hotel in the Marriott Bonvoy program, a free-night award required 50,000 points, worth roughly $400, according to TPG‘s May valuations. With the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing coming later in 2019, a free night will jump to 60,000 in the busy season and drop to 40,000 in the slow season. Nonetheless, redeeming points for my stay didn’t make sense, as paid rates weren’t astronomical, and I would get valuable perks by booking through FH&R.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t one of those cool college kids who went to Cancun for spring break, so this was my first time in Cancun, and I was excited to finally check out the area.
Guests visiting Cancun should fly directly to the Cancun Airport (CUN), about a 25-minute drive from The Ritz-Carlton. Be sure to budget extra time for airport customs, which moved at a glacial pace when I was there.
The Ritz-Carlton is nestled in the Hotel Zone, which is lined with massive resort hotels. While taxis were readily available at the airport, I had prearranged my transport just to be on the safe side. There are many transportation companies, like USA Transfers, that offer prearranged, shared airport to hotel transfers. With all the hubbub in the arrivals hall, it turned out that prearranging a transfer was the way to go.
After passing at least 15 other chain hotels during my drive, it was finally time to pull up to the 25-year-old Ritz-Carlton.
While I wasn’t greeted by name or offered help with my luggage, the friendly bellhops opened both of the lobby doors and introduced me to the associate who checked me in.
The associate acknowledged both my Marriott status and the additional amenities I received by booking with Fine Hotels & Resorts and also confirmed an upgrade to an oceanfront room. I was disappointed to find out that the $100 food-and-beverage credit could only be applied to a limited subset of hotel restaurants; I voiced my frustration that no restrictions were communicated to me during the booking process about the applicability of the F&B credit, but was politely told that was hotel policy (read: tough luck).
Overall, the 15-minute check-in felt a bit slow and inefficient. However, the delicious mint lemonade and refreshing cold towel that the bellhop brought over during the process made the check-in more palatable (as did the welcome amenity that was waiting for me in my room).
As I made my way to the room, I couldn’t help but notice how outdated the elevators felt, with dark interiors and gold plating that appeared to be peeling off.
The hallways, low ceilings, and atrium also reminded me of hotel design I’d seen in the movies and history books, certainly not what I’d expect from a five-star beach resort in 2019.
Take a look out these windows. Have they been washed since the hotel’s opening 25 years ago?
The room was the only aspect of the property that felt like it may have been renovated in the last few years. I was assigned Room 5010, an oceanfront room on the fifth floor.
Upon entering the 435-square-foot room, I was immediately drawn to the ocean-view balcony. The balcony afforded great views, but the outdoor furniture and tiling had definitely seen better days (or years).
The highlight of the room was a large, plush king bed with fresh, crisp linens.
Both bedside tables had lamps, and one of the tables had an iHome speaker system. Neither side, however, had any readily accessible outlets for charging devices.
The room also featured a small table and a relaxing chair, which were in adequate shape.
Back near the entrance of the room was the bathroom and closet.
The bathroom featured a separate tub, shower and toilet with double vanity.
Toiletries were provided by Asprey, a brand standard at Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Not only would the shower miserably fail the TPG shower test, it almost failed the Zach Griff shower test too. At 5 feet, 11 inches, I found it a really short shower!
The small safe was located in the closet, and it definitely wasn’t designed to fit any of today’s larger electronic devices like iPads or laptops. The minibar provided all the essentials, and I especially appreciated the Nespresso machine.
Wi-Fi was included in the daily resort fee and was throttled to 20 mbps upload and download. The Wi-Fi did reach to the pool and beach area, so make your friends and family back at home jealous with those beach selfies.
Food and Beverage
If there’s one thing that didn’t need a makeover, it was the food and drinks at the hotel. I was only staying for a night, so I tried to sample as many of the restaurants as my stomach could handle.
When I first arrived, I went to The Caribe Bar and Grill for lunch by the pool, where I enjoyed a refreshing berry salad ($16) and homemade and delicious chips and dips ($15).
While there were tables set up around the restaurant’s bar, anything from this menu could be ordered for pool or beachside delivery.
Dinner was at the hotel’s AAA five-Diamond-awarded Mediterranean restaurant, Fantino. The dinner began with amuse-bouche and bread service (with four choices of olive oil!).
I then ordered a carrot soup ($15) for my starter, which was delectable.
I had the quinoa pilaf ($16) as my main (don’t judge me: I’m a pescatarian and didn’t love the fish on the menu).
Overall, this meal was the highlight of my stay. The service was refined, professional and not too overbearing. I was quite impressed by the prices, given that the restaurant could’ve easily had a Michelin star (or two) in New York.
Breakfast the next morning was served at El Café Mexicano from 6:30am to 11:30am. Kudos to the hotel for embracing its vibe as a vacation property and offering breakfast until 11:30am.
The buffet was included in my rate and featured many different stations, including a yogurt station . . .
… a cheese station …
… a Mexican corner …
… a whole lot of breads …
… a kids corner …
… and, of course, a fresh fruit station.
The food was quite good, and the service was perfect throughout. Every time I got up to get another plate from the buffet, I came back to a refilled cup, reset table and clean silverware.
And, in case you’re wondering about the rest of the on-site dinner choices, the hotel made them abundantly clear with prominent signs across the property.
While the room just barely passed the Ritz-Carlton-brand-standard threshold, the rest of the property did not — it was in dire need of a makeover and renovation.
Most of the hotel’s public facilities were one level below the lobby. There were two (you guessed it: outdated) staircases that led from the lobby to the outdoors.
There were two pools outside with multiple chaise lounges and umbrellas available. The lounge chairs had definitely seen better days, as many of them were discolored and had lost their supportive cushioning.
The larger pool was heated, which attracted more of a family crowd. Unless you enjoy relaxing to today’s top hits, you’ll probably want to sit elsewhere, as loud background music was blaring the whole time I was there.
There was a smaller, more intimate pool near the south tower of the resort. This pool wasn’t heated, but it was definitely quieter.
Aside from the antiquated lounge chairs, the discolored, maroon tiling was clearly also a remnant of the 20th century.
The hotel offered direct beach access.
There were three sitting areas by the beach: private cabanas; semiprivate shaded, blue chairs; and outdated chaise loungers. Private cabanas could be rented for $200 a day.
Semiprivate, shaded couples chaise loungers were available for $35 a day.
Finally, traditional (and uncomfortable) lounge chairs were available at no additional cost.
There was no dedicated or readily available pool/beach concierge, so flagging someone down to set up lounge chairs often took quite some time.
The beach was not private, and I was often approached by locals trying to selling me items and services ranging from cigars and souvenirs to hair braiding. Who knew that I had enough hair to get braided?
Included as part of the $50 daily resort fee was the sunscreen bar … $50 (a night) for sunscreen would even make a New Yorker blush.
Another “inclusion” in the resort fee was the gym, which was also on the beach level and featured what looked like equipment from the hotel’s grand opening. Not only were seven treadmills not enough to handle the demand in the morning, they were so old that they didn’t even have personal TV screens.
Again, at $50 a day (equivalent to five months at YouFit, Crunch or some other neighborhood gym), you’d think the hotel could invest in new equipment.
The gym did have a bunch of free weights, some benches, weight machines and a stretching area.
There was a small locker room in the fitness center that featured a rather small steam room and sauna.
Further down the hallway from the gym was the hotel’s spa. Treatment prices were definitely in line with a five-star resort. There was a $60 daily extra charge to use spa facilities like the whirlpool, plunge pool, relaxation room and (much nicer) sauna and steam room.
The hotel also offers what appeared to be an incredibly drab kids club. I can almost guarantee you that some of my parents’ friends may have entered that exact same door 25 years ago when the hotel opened.
There were two outdoor hardcourt tennis courts and an artificial-turf basketball court.
Although the property itself is crying for a renovation, the service, overall, was on par with Ritz-Carlton standards.
After expressing my annoyance at the F&B credit excluding two of the hotel’s three dinner restaurants, I was initially told to pound sand. About 30 minutes after checking in, I received a phone call from the front-office manager, who profusely apologized and offered to let me use the $100 credit wherever I wished.
The highlight of my service experience was definitely the dinner at Fantino. All of the wait staff were super professional and could have easily gotten jobs at Eleven Madison Park.
Upon checkout, I was presented with a small gift bag of lotions and aftersun creams — a thoughtful gesture for a beach resort.
That’s not to say that there weren’t any service hiccups. During the course of my stay, I found quite a bit of trash lying around the hallways and outdoor areas. Where’s
Waldo the Q-tip in the above image?
Unlike some of the other Ritz-Carlton properties that I’ve stayed at, there was no enhanced or dedicated pool service. Finding someone to help set up chaise lounges took forever. No one brought around cold towels or water. Those are the small, memorable service moments that distinguish the true five-star properties from the competition.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun, has one of the most luxurious hotel brand names in Cancun. I came in with high expectations for the hotel based on its name, but I left thoroughly disappointed.
So, to the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun: Happy 25th anniversary! I hope your 26th anniversary brings a full physical remodeling. Make sure to keep your good food and hospitable service and you’ll be set to succeed for the next 25 years.
All photos by the author.
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