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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort & Spa

Mexico

Amanda's business trip to L.A. was canceled, so on Jan 31st we changed our plan from a California vacation to an all-inclusive Mexico vacation, Feb 20th (after work) through Feb 25th. We're staying at the Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort & Spa (tripadvisor).

It has five beaches and three pools and is near a coral reef that you can swim up to. It has a main buffet restaurant, a smaller buffet lunch restaurant and you can book 2 a-la-carte dinners at one of six non-buffet restaurants. There's also lots of bars and 24 hour snacks. There are 1000 rooms, so it's probably very crowded, but the beach and surrounding scrub jungle look amazing from the photographs.

Amanda found and booked the vacation. Her criteria was: a sunny destination package where the plane leaves Ottawa after 5pm on Friday. She found the Grand Sirenis on sunquest, but by the time we decided to book it the last seats were gone. We ended up booking Air Canada flights and our stay at the hotel through expedia. It was a little more money but the flights were better. Our flight down is direct, 4h 40min and departs at 4:45pm on Friday. Our flight back has a 1h 40min layover in Montreal and leaves at 1:30pm, so our last day will be burnt in travel, but it's better than sunquest which had a layover on the way down (hence increased possibility of snowstorms) and got us home after midnight with work the next day.

20 Feb 2015
Ottawa (YOW) 4:45pm to Cancun (CUN) 8:25pm
Air Canada 1708, 4h 40m, 2,870 km
	
25 Feb 2015
Cancun (CUN) 1:30pm to Montreal (YUL) 6:35pm
Air Canada  1821, 4h 5m, 2,953 km
Layover: 1 h 40 m
Montreal (YUL) 8:15pm to Ottawa (YOW) 8:59pm  	 
Air Canada 8985, 0h 44m, 151 km
Total travel time: 6h 29m

Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya All Inclusive
Fri 20/Feb/2015 to Wed 25/Feb/2015, 1 room, 5 nights
Junior Suite, 2 adults, Check-in time starts at 3 PM

Flight = $785.24 each (billed to air canada)
Hotel = $1,732.05 (billed to expedia) ($346.40/night)
Flight + Hotel = $3,302.53 

We booked a shuttle from the airport with Canada Transfers who are well reviewed on tripadvisor. The reservation is for USD cash payed upon arrival in Mexico. Two adults round trip is $122 USD. It's a one hour drive one-way.

Here's a review from tripadvisor:

Take advantage of the free daily bike and eco tour. Alain does a super interpretative job, see a sonote, mayan ruins, forests and plants. Super well done. The snorkeling at beach is good. Near by at Akamel you can see the turtles. Resort charges $45US each to go. Take the collectivo bus at the main road $4 total trip. Safe.

It looks like the highway is divided, so if you want to go south to Akumal from the resort, you first have to go north and then U-Turn. There may be a pedestrian overpass/underpass, so catching a south-bound bus may save time, although even with the extra distance it's only 7.6km.

In Akumal, the Turtle Bay Bakery & Cafe and Lol Ha Restaurant looks good.

You can book private guides in Akumal who will show you were to snorkel, take you to cenotes, or other touristy activities. Some tripadvisor reviews say that you shouldn't bother paying for a tour, just bring your snorkeling stuff to the Akumal beach. Others were very happy to pay for a guided tour of the bay such as that offered by Centro Ecologico Akumal.

For Cenotes, Cenote Santa Cruz and Aktun Chen look good.

Friday

Woke early. A few last minute trip chores. Drove Pilot to PetSmart. Worked a short day. Met Amanda at home at 2:30, then off to the Airport for our 4:45 direct flight to Cancun. It was a little plane, just four seats per row, and we had no trouble with the flight. We watched a movie together, then another alone. The customs line was very long and slow, we were almost an hour from stepping off the plane to meeting our driver.

There was a man with a sign waiting for us outside the airport. The drive went by quickly. I read aloud from Red Rising. We were very tired when we checked in, but went to the buffet restaurant to have a bit of late dinner before getting a golf cart ride with our luggage to our room. This place is fantastic.

Saturday

Mexico

I woke to a ringing phone. It was the concierge of our building calling to let me know I should book our restaurants. Back to sleep, and wakened again, this time Expedia letting me know that the people in the lobby with blue shirts would give me special deals on excursions. Argh! Eventually I got up and programmed the safe and booked our restaurants and bought wifi and emailed home that we're not dead. I'd tried to buy the wifi the previous night but they had our name as Holsttrom, so it didn't work.

After that we walked to the main restaurant and had a lovely breakfast and walked about the resort and beach. The grounds and pools are very nice but the beach is rough and rocky. It might have good snorkeling, but it's nothing like Varadero (Cuba).

On the way back we picked up towels and went swimming in a shallow pool and I tried out some underwater shots with my new camera. Then we picked up some ice-cream and got the free-gift and check-out-premier-resort sales pitch from our concierge as I picked up the dinner tickets on the way back to our room.

Back at our room, we had a nap, then spent some time in the hammocks next to the beach where a little creature like a raccoon scampered past and stole some bread from the garbage bin.

Later, I went swimming in the ocean while Amanda read on the beach. The bay is fairly shallow, maybe 15ft at the deepest, and there are lots of friendly fish and coral nearby. I also saw a big turtle and a sting ray.

After our swim we walked back to our room and watched the sun set while I read aloud Red Rising.

We had an a-la-carte dinner at the Mediterranean restaurant, which was nothing special. In fact they don't let the 8:30 reservations in until 8:30 sharp and then they assembly-line you, so it's not much different from a buffet.

Sunday

Mexico

I woke up at 8am and dressed for a hike and fetched a small breakfast at the nearby restaurant. I found a path behind our building to the coastline. It's very rocky and there is a line of scrub jungle between the resort and the coast.

I explored the little jungle between the buildings and the rocky coast and found a hermit crab amidst some coral. Then it started to rain, but it cleared up and I dried out quite quickly.

I messed around for a couple of hours then went home to pickup Amanda for a second breakfast.

We fetched our swim gear and rode the lazy river and swam around the quiet pool, which was really nice. Their gardens come right up to the edge of the pool. The designer of this resort did an incredible job of packaging it into rooms so that there's lots of places you can go to feel fairly private and un-crowded.

After our swim we lounged in a new set of hammocks before having lunch and heading over to the 2:30 bicycle tour. The tour was pretty lame and the bikes were in bad shape and had no hand breaks, but it was nice to ride a bike again and we met some nice Scottish people. There were some nasty Canadians on the tour who complained from before it started until after it finished and Amanda gave them a talking-to as we left.

We had some ice-cream and went for a long swim in the rowdy pool until the sun started to fade the went back to our room to dry off and get changed. Amanda read while I played video games.

We went to the main buffet for dinner, but served ourselves a proper four course meal. We took our time about it and had lots of fun, and the guy who cleared our plates and brought us drinks was excellent.

We were pretty tired after our long day so we strolled back to our room and I read aloud Red Rising before bed.

Monday

I woke up grouchy as usual, but perked up after breakfast which we had together. I dropped off Amanda at the beach and went to 10am archery, which, like biking, consisted of bad equipment and a lot of standing around. This resort has a lot of things right, like management of space and food availability and beautiful grounds, but the extra-circulars are lame.

I found Amanda where I'd left her and we went for a swim together in the ocean. I was amazed at how close the fish came to us. They seemed totally unafraid. After our swim, I left Amanda on the beach and hiked north along the coast. It is a blasted and unforgiving landscape of sharp volcanic rock and thick, low scrub jungle. It's amazing they were able to build a beautiful resort here.

Back on the beach, Amanda was alarmed by how overheated I looked, so we went to the quiet pool for a swim in the shade. That set me back to rights. We had a picnic lunch from the beach bar under some palms at the edge of the groomed resort and two iguanas came within two feet of us, wanting some of our food. The wind picked up and dark clouds rolled in and I had three Mojitos, so we trundled off home for a nap.

We woke up both with minor sunburn and went for a hike out past the disco and south down the coast. It was really windy and I kept losing my hat. Overheated again, we went to the party pool for a swim, although the scene had quieted down there since the swim-up bar had closed.

As the sun set, we dressed for dinner at the Cajun restaurant. It was okay, but I prefer the main buffet because you have more control over the style and timing and location of your dinner. Afterwards we went to the main buffet for desert on the outdoor balcony. Then we took a long starlit stroll back to our room and had a quiet evening.

Tuesday

Mexico

We lounged most of the day away. After breakfast we went swimming and lay in hammocks and rode the lazy river. The weather is beautiful as always, but I prefer to be out of the direct sun.

We had another picnic on the beach under palm trees and read aloud Red Rising back at our room during the hottest part of the day.

We went swimming in the ocean before dusk and the main buffet had a Mexican theme for dinner. We packed an red aloud Red Rising before bed.

Wednesday

Got up, packed our bags, and a man came by to drive them to the lobby for us. We went to the near pool for breakfast and a swim, then to the lobby for checkout. Our ride to the airport had updated our time from 9:30 to 10:30 but hadn't replied to the email, so we lounged near the lobby and I read aloud Red Rising.

The drive to the airport was very hot and the Air Canada bag drop line was very long, but security was quick and we were soon at our gate with loads of time. I had a Chili Cheese Dog for lunch. I finished reading aloud Red Rising at our gate then we boarded the plane. We couldn't watch movies because they don't have TVs in the seats, you have to download an app, but the don't have wifi on the plane, so I read Burning Your Boats and played Kingdom Rush.

We had to fetch our luggage and go through customs and security again in Montreal, but the lines were very fast, so we made it to our gate with plenty of time. Back in Ottawa it was only -15 with no wind, so the hike back to the car was okay, and it started no problem, but it was buried in ice and snow so it took me a long time to clear it out. We stopped for Pho on the way home, and Shaun had cleared out our driveway, so we were able to go straight to bed. A whole day consumed by travel.

Cost

hotel $1,732.05
flight $785.24
flight $785.24
checked bag $25.00
airport food $10.13
airport food $15.23
airport food $16.76
wifi and postcards $50.08
cash for tips $100
airport food $3.45
airport food $26.88
airport food $13.69
airport parking $75.00
total cost $3,638.75

travel starts: Feb 20th, 2:30pm
fun starts: Feb 21st, 8:00am
fun ends: Feb 25th, 10:30am
travel ends: Feb 25th, 11:00pm

fun days: 4 + 2.5/24 = 4.1
total days: 5 + 8.5/24 = 5.4

$/fun-day: 3638.75 / 4.1 = $887.50
day/fun-day: 5.4 / 4.1 = 1.3