Natty Gal is back this week after a delightful stay at two properties on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. The bulk of our week was spent at El Presidente on Cozumel and, boy, is this property over the top! We’re not ones to repeat travel experiences but I’m already planning to go back. For our last day, we traveled back to Playa del Carmen and stayed at the Grand Hyatt. Being back on the mainland made it much less stressful to catch our late AM flight from Cancun the next day. Below is a brief review of the properties and the overview of how we used points to fund the trip.
From the moment we checked in, we were smitten with the 200+ room El Presidente. We sat out on our deck as the sun was about to set and immediately noticed how private the property felt. That feeling was only enhanced as we continued our stay. The grounds are brilliantly executed so that no singular space ever feels noisy or crowded.
The staff are wonderfully friendly and kind. You can’t pass someone without the requisite buenos dias or buenos noches and it absolutely never seems forced. All staff genuinely seem concerned with guests’ happiness and providing a great experience.
The waterfront area has three distinct beach entries, two of which have reefs that are great for snorkeling. Eagle rays, barracuda and more just steps from the room! Scuba Du has a dive shop right on the beach and their boat picks up just next to the breakfast restaurant. So convenient!!
There are two pools – one for adults only tucked away between guest rooms and a spectacular infinity pool that faces out toward the ocean. Padded lounges on both the beach and at the pool area are complimentary. Several curtained cabanas with TV’s and fridges are also available for a committed $150-200 in food/beverage spend – a pretty gracious policy as many resorts charge these out separately.
This seems to be a child-friendly resort – we saw kids in the pool and there is a dedicated play area and kids camp. They also seemed to thrill at the various iguana houses situated throughout the property. But boy were the kids there during our stay well behaved! Really seemed to cater to the camp of parent that believes “silence is a virtue”.
There are three on-site restaurants as well as an ice cream/sweets shop. The food and drink were uniformly good, in most cases a step up from typical hotel properties and reasonably priced. We took most on-property meals at the Le Cap Mediterranean-style restaurant and became addicted to the grilled octopus ceviche. Their other seafood offerings and flatbreads were also great!
The Caribeno restaurant offered breakfast, both a la carte and as a buffet. It looked like a ton of food with lots of interesting regional options. Lastly, Alfredo is the more formal dinner restaurant with Italian offerings. Private beach dinners can also be arranged.
While sadly the fitness room didn’t see much of me this trip, I was able to test out a deep tissue massage on our last day. It was a heavenly experience and I’d love to try some more of their offerings on a return visit. One particularly unique ritual is the Mayan Temazcal, an herbal steam in a volcanic dome. Tennis courts, ping-pong tables, bicycles, ceramic painting and fire-pits for an evening marshmallow roast are also on-site.
In conclusion, this resort is just fabulously elegant!
Situated on Playa Mamitas, this newer (June, 2015) property is a stunning visual of contemporary design with Mayan influences. It is the only Grand Hyatt branded hotel in Mexico. This lodging boasts 300+ guest rooms, a dedicated lap pool, 2 on-site restaurants, a cenote-themed spa and extraordinary game room. The Paseo – an open pathway leading from lobby to the beach and dotted with a coffee bar, ice cream shop, sushi bar, etc. is another hallmark.
As we were only here for one night, we spent the bulk of our day enjoying the three infinity pools and beach. Private cabanas are available for rent and include two waters, beers and guacamole. A brilliant feature of the pool area was the service button dispensed by the wait staff. About the size of a hockey puck, this device lets you summon a waiter on demand!
Overall service was excellent. Guests are walked from the entry to the check-in desk by a greeter who hands out drinks and gives a brief overview of the property and services. At the pool, we saw a bachelorette party and a bulk of the pool staff came out with hats, horns, etc. to celebrate their first shot with them and take photos. Another thoughtful touch was the cold washcloths they brought around mid-day to cool sun-weary guests.
Guest rooms are a contemporary mix of grey tile, wood and turquoise. While not huge, they are fairly well laid out save an awkward sitting area and placement of the TV. There are two large back-to-back closets, a mini bar/coffee maker area that backs to a vanity table in the bathroom, walk-in shower with rain feature, double sink vanity and enclosed toilet room. A tech lovers mood lighting and service panel is also a feature in each room.
Situated only one block off Playa’s legendary Fifth Avenue, a wide variety of shops, bars and restaurants are only a short walk away for additional entertainment.
Using Points to Get to Paradise
Natty Guy is an avid scuba diver and I knew at some point he’d want to do a dedicated scuba trip. With a little research I found the El Presidente resort in Cozumel, noting that it gets great reviews and has a well-regarded dive shop on site. With that property in mind, I applied each of us for the Chase IHG card. At the time, they offered 70,000 points on each card after a $1000 spend and the $49 annual fee is waived the first year. On your cardholder anniversary, you receive an additional free night. So our six night stay broke down as follows:
- 2 free annual nights (one on each card)
- 160,000 points (4 nights at 40,000/points per night – up from 30,000 when we originally discovered the resort at this post) which came from our two 70,000 bonus points, those earned on spend and a 10% rebate on point stays)
Rooms ranged from $260-506 per night a month out from our trip. We were upgraded to an ocean view room per the card’s complimentary Platinum Elite benefit, so I’ll use a mid-point of $383 for valuation putting us at $2,298 of experience for FREE! Not quite as great as this valuation, but not too shabby!
Initially I thought we’d dump these cards after this trip as we never stay at Holiday Inn’s. However, the property impressed us so much that we’re already planning on using this year’s free nights for next year’s winter trip. If IHG decides to merge loyalty programs with their recently acquired Kimpton brand, that would be all the more reason to stick with this card.
For our last night in Playa del Carmen, we used our annual free night certificate that comes with the Chase Hyatt Gold Passport card which we initially obtained to use for two free nights here . The card has a $75 annual fee (waived the first year) so it was clearly a good value at this resort where prices were running $355+/night a month out from our stay. Our renewal date is this month and I’m undecided as to whether we’ll hold this card another year or let it go.
Airfare was a very reasonable $300/RT/PP so all-in-all a thrifty mid-winter escape!
If you have any issues with credit or financial management, please do not look to credit card pointing as a way to earn free travel. This method really only works if you pay all bills in full each month and can keep track of multiple cards, renewal dates, etc. Also, note that Chase has recently changed their card cancellation policy to 30 days after your renewal date. Previously they would pro-rate the annual fee for cancellations any time in the year.