My husband and I stayed here the first week of May. We had a wonderful experience and would not mind going back again.I had a lot of questions prior to going that I couldn't find answers to. I am going to include a very in depth review. Be prepared :)
Travel: We used USA transfers to get to/from the hotel from Cancun airport. All the staff from the greeters to the drivers were pleasant and friendly. We were in a vehicle getting ready to go to the hotel within 5 minutes of arriving. The drive there was 45 minutes. They were prompt about picking us up for the flight home as well.
Check in: We arrived at the Reef at 11:00AM, hours before the 3:00PM check in time. We knew we would have to wait for a room. We went to the front desk and were immediately asked if we wanted drinks by one porters. Drinks in hand we waited for service at the front desk. The man there was unfriendly bordering on rude. He was also unorganized and it took him forever to even locate our reservation. He then told us check in was at 3:00 and walked away. Well then! lol Hey it's vacation! Who cares! While waiting to check in you can change into what you have in your luggage in the bathroom lobby. The porters will lock your bags in a storage room and give you a pickup tag for when you come back. You can go lay out on the beach though you won't be able to get towels till your room assignment. With the hot weather you never really need your towel anyways. We chose to walk around and check the place out. We had lunch and a few drinks. We then sat in the lobby bar and waited for our room. The porter was fantastic and kept checking to see if our room was ready for us. At about 2PM we received our room keys! woohoo! Don't lose those or the towel cards you get or there is a hefty charge, I believe they said $45US. The porter took our bags on a dolly and showed us to our room. Vacation can begin!
The room: Our room was as we had requested. We were on the 2nd floor with a king sized bed overlooking the gardens. All the rooms are being updated and ours had already been done. It was very nice. I have seen many people mention the musty smell. That was present when you first walked into the room. It was noticeable but not an overly strong smell. Within a minute you were used to it. It is so humid in Mexico I would think it would be hard not to have that smell. The bathroom was clean with a small array of toiletries including soap, shampoo, a hairnet, and lotion. The soap is terrible so I would recommend you bring your own. The water pressure in the bathroom was great and there was always plenty of hot water. I did not use their hair products or lotion so I cannot comment on those. My husband used the shampoo and said it worked okay. There is a small hairdryer. In the bathroom, there is always a supply of bottled water to use for brushing your teeth and such since you are not to drink the water in good old Mexico. There is a double closet which was adequate for storage. It contains and iron, ironing board, mini fridge, and the room safe. The room safe does not require a key. It says there is a $2 a day charge to use it, but you lock it using a 4 digit code you choose. They would never know if you used it or not. The mini fridge was stocked with a few sodas and that was it. We had bought the premium upgrade and were to have the fridge restocked each day with soda and beer. This was not being done. We left a note for the maid and she took care of it right away. Once she found out we had the room upgrade the extras in our room were as follows: 2 bathrobes, coffee for the coffee machine, extra toiletries, daily restocking of the fridge, and larger bottles of water. After reading the reviews of the hard beds I was pleasantly surprised. I was very comfortable! It was comparable to my pillow top mattress at home. Tons of comfy pillows too. The balcony was nice with a nice view. Though since the walkways are below there isn't much in the way of privacy. Also kudos to the maid for being able to get the sand off the floor everyday. The hotel offers wake up call service, though in your room is an alarm clock with an IPOD dock. If you have an IPOD or IPHONE you can set it to wake you up to your favorite tune. The room has a flat screen TV with access to some movie channels and such, though we didn't use this much. You don't hear people through the walls, but people talking can be heard through the balcony door. If you wake up early that shouldn't be an issue, but I like to sleep in which didn't happen here.
The grounds: They are gorgeous! The resort is small and you can walk it front to back in about 8 minutes or so. The walkways throughout the hotel give you the feel of walking through a tropical jungle. There are huge trees and plants throughout. You will see many Agoutis which seem to be their version of squirrels, though are a bit larger. We did see a couple raccoon looking animals at night as well. There is a beautiful sitting area with a waterfall in the middle of the grounds. Midday they serve fresh coffee and sandwiches which was nice. The seating there was comfy and it was never really busy. We liked to sit here and relax while listening to the birds and waterfall. The ice cream bar area also features a waterfall area that is gorgeous but the seating isn't that great there. The walkways are always kept clean by the staff. FYI: When we were there they were in the process of painting the outsides of the buildings white. SAD!
The pools and pool area: Upon getting to the pool area you will see the activities hut. You turn your towel cards in and they give you your towels. At the end of your pool day you turn them in for fresh towels or to get your cards back. This is where the activities board is hanging so you can see what is going on for the day. There are two pools. The first pool features a large swim up bar, which is accessible on foot as well. The pool was clean and the service was great. We only went here once as this was where the more rowdy crowd hung out. Also the thought that everyone was drinking and never getting out to use the bathroom.....well I will leave it at that. There was a second pool that was mostly used by the kids. It had 2 basketball hoops. This second pool is also where they had the free scuba diving lessons and exercises program. There are lounging beds around the pool, but good luck getting a seat in one. You can usually find a beach chair around the pool.
The beach: WOW WOW WOW! I have stayed in PDC before. Many of the beaches have rocky entrances and such. Not here. The sand was soft and oddly enough never got too hot to walk on. The water was beautifully turquoise and the perfect temperature. The only downfall is you are about waist deep till you swim out about 250'. There were always tons of beach chairs to choose from, though none of the lounger beds. Those are always reserved with no one sitting on them. There are quite a few beach chairs with umbrellas over them. You can usually snag one within 10-15 minutes of sitting down. There is no beach drink service though the bar is pretty darn close. Also if you pay the extra to get the premium room upgrade, you can walk to Nico's bar from the beach. The other bar is up a walkway from the beach. There are many people asking if you want to go parasailing, jetskiing, etc. If you do price haggle for sure! The resort offers your non motorized sports for free. There are a few merchants walking around selling Cubans and such but they don't really bother you.
The snack bar: They offered food throughout the day. This was more of your American faire including wings, burgers, hot dogs, fries, nachos, and pizza during the day. Beginning at 6 they also offered tacos and quesadillas. We had a few of the items and they were good. We only ate here twice as we liked the other food choices better. They also offer self serve vanilla and chocolate soft serve ice cream throughout the day.
Chulavista Buffet: This is the restaurant we frequented most often. The staff took care of your drink orders. Though you serve yourself buffet style. They offered all 3 meals and are open throughout most of the day till 10:30. There were 3 stations, 1 was your American food, Mexican, and then chef's choice. No matter what time of day we went the food was always hot. The food was a little bland at times but that's what happens when you are cooking to different tastes. There were a variety of options though I wish there was more Mexican faire to choose from. Fruit choices and such were available at all meals.
Boticellis: This was the Italian restaurant located above Chulavista. We ate there once...almost twice. You can eat outside on the terrace or in the dining room located inside. The menu had a variety of Italian food options to choose from. The food was comparable to Olive Garden I would say. It's downfall was the service here. It was terrible! I mentioned we ate there almost twice. Well that is because the second time we sat down the service was never there. Upon sitting down our drink order was taken, and the waiter stated I will be right back. 20 minutes later no service. We were frustrated so we just left and went to the Chulavista.
La Terrazza Grill: There is a $5 upcharge to eat here unless you buy the premium room upgrade. We went here once during our stay. You might not see it as you have to walk past Boticelli's and around a corner. The service here was excellent. We only ate here once as we were not big fan's of the menu choices or taste of the food. Though everyone's taste is different so I would say check it out! The restaurant was beautiful.
The Heladeria (ice cream parlor): GO HERE!!!! It is only available 2 hours during the day, 4-6. It is amazing. They have about 10 flavors ranging from coconut and blackberry cheesecake to chocolate almond. The area has a few tables to sit at though there were only 2 stools available to sit near the waterfall.
The Bars: I cannot go into too much detail with these as we mostly hung out at Nico's Bar. There is a huge bar with tons of seating in the upstairs lounge area by the theatre. It is gorgeous and relaxing. We went to the beach bar and front desk bar a few times with great service at each. The drinks were good though the frozen daiquiris and margaritas had a strange taste to them. I recommend the Mango Tango drink, A delicious frozen concoction. As far as beer it is Dos Equis on draft only at the regular bars. We had the premium room upgrade and having access to Nico' made it worth it. They had comfy couches and lounge beds on the sandy grounds. It also has the only whirpool on the ground...though I warn the water is not warmer than pool water. The bar offer your more premium liquors here. Along with the Dos Equis on draft they have it in cans and offer Tecate. Also if you frequent here they will acquire what you want. I am a fan of jagermeister and my husband loves SOL beer. We mentioned it once and the next day they had both. They also will also come to you and see what you want to drink...this does not happen anywhere else. While you are relaxing each day they have different snacks they bring to you including nuts, fruit, cookies, etc. There are never more than a few people there so your service is always fast. They also spoke the best English and helped us a little with our Spanish.
The shows: We went to one of the shows and it was pretty good. Akin to a cruise ship show almost. The dancers were good. They also at times bring in local talent who perform by the pool. Check these out if you can as they are pretty amazing.
Time Share People: We did not get caught up in any of this. They hang out in the front desk lounge area. Stay away or just say no. We saw a few people being led around by them. If you don't want it say so, or you will lose at least 3 hours of your vacation. FYI the maid will leave a card in your room saying to meet at the front desk for your free tour. This is the time share scam so don't go!
Painting: Between the pool and beach area there is a hut that features various ceramic items. These are the same type of items you can purchase in PDC or playacar. Though here they are unpainted. You are able to choose your colors and paint these in paint by number fashion. The items are comparable prices to those in the city.
Playacar shopping mall: You cannot access playacar shopping from the beach. You must leave the hotel and turn to the left. It is a 5 minute walk down the road. It has a few shops that feature most of the same items as you can find in PDC. It was more expensive than PDC though, but I saw a few items here I hadn't seen in PDC.
Playa Del Carmen (PDC): This can be accessed by walking down the beach or walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction on Playacar. It took us about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace. I will say if you go the beach route you will see some topless women. If you are worried about your kids or such go down the sidewalk. Playa Del Carmen is beautiful and features tons of shopping and restaurants. DO NOT buy everything in the first shop you go into. The price ranges vary from store to store for the same items. For example I bought a wind chime for my mom. I paid $2 for it at the store, whereas it was $12 across the street. I am not a haggler so I bought from the stores that had the prices listed. Though if you like to haggle you can get great deals. You will get many vendors trying to get you into their store. If you want to go in, go for it. Otherwise just say no thank you and move on. You will not offend them, but don't get mad either. This is how they live. They sell the same items as everyone else and are trying to get you to buy their stuff to feed their families. People will tell you not to go to town because it's dangerous. This is a tourist area. I never at any time felt unsafe. Though at times you will see their police who do carry large firearms, do not be alarmed, they all do here. You can also catch the ferry and check out Cozumel here. Don't buy the ticket from the ferry people. You can get good deals from the excursion guys. We were able to go to Cozumel by ferry and snorkel for 2 hours at the price of $40 for both of us. I think the ferry price alone is $12 a person.
Tips and Advice: TIP those who serve you. I know you paid all inclusive, though the staff will appreciate it. Also we tended to get better service. Go to PDC. Bring a high powered sun screen. You will still tan with it on. The sun is more powerful here and you will burn.
Choose second floor for more privacy. Ask for a garden view room as otherwise you might be staring...
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.