This was our third time at the Cat. May 11-19, 2011. For reference, we’ve been to 10 other AIs ranging from budget to upscale and only one other resort ( Riu Palace Mexico) has warranted a return trip.
For those wondering why so many people keep returning to the Cat, here’s the short answer: It’s an extremely compact, well laid out ocean front resort with decent rooms, decent drinks, decent food, friendly service, several pools, 2 swim up bars, just enough of a small beach and calm lagoon for swimming or snorkeling, and a great bang for the buck. Folks that return know exactly what to expect.
If you’re trying to make a decision if the Cat is the right property to spend your time and money, you need to know what it is IS and what it is NOT. And from this, I draw a comparison from my experience at other AI’s in the Riviera Maya including the RIU Palace, El Dorado Royale, and the Grand Palladium.
What the Cat is NOT:
If you are seeking a resort with a sugary sand, expansive beach perfect for long walks, look elsewhere as the small, rocky, horseshoe shaped beach at the Cat will be a source of disappointment. You can take a short walk on the beach past the adjacent Dreams but even their small beach dead ends into impassible coral rocks. The beach in front of the Cat ends at the lagoon. If you rank a great beach as a top priority, there are other resorts along the Yucatan that will more than meet your expectations.
What the Cat beach does have:
There is certainly enough of a beach to swim or snorkel (water shoes a necessity, trust me). The bonus is a large, CALM lagoon (no water shoes needed) really lovely for swimming and snorkeling even if the rest of beach has a red flag warning. Tons of tropical fish swim around by the bridge between the lagoon and open sea area. If you’re perfectly content to just veg under a palapa enjoying the view of the achingly blue sea, or content to wade into the ocean long enough to cool off or hand feed fish, you’ll be more than satisfied. As for the 3 resorts around this very rocky coastline– the CAT, Dreams, and Aventura Spa Palace- I think the CAT probably has the best beach area of the three.
Shade and the towel game: There are a fair amount of palapas on the beach spread from the Yucatan Beach side down to the lagoon on the Riviera Maya side. I was up and on the beach at 6:15am every morning because I’m insane. (Actually, I love sitting with a coffee to watch the sun rise however I need to limit my sun exposure so getting up early enough to stake out an all day shady spot is essential for me.) I can say that on most days a palapa could still be found on the Yucatan side as late as 8:00-8:30 am – on Sunday at 10:00am there were still 4 unclaimed palapas behind us. Perhaps that is because this is off season? It did seem that the palapas by the lagoon are nabbed pretty quickly and early by families with young children.
THE GROUNDS AND POOLS:
What it is NOT:
This is definitely NOT a luxury resort with spectacular grounds and a breathtaking opulent, marble lobby with artwork at every turn. This property is not situated in or next to a jungle. No fountains, (well, one small one), no decorative pools or koi ponds, no covered walkways, no peacocks, no monkeys, no crocodiles, no flamingos, or other exotic wildlife. The Cat does not have waterslides, lazy rivers, or waterfalls in their pools. Nor, should I add, do they have a designated adults only pool so be prepared for children to be splashing around the swim up bars. Even with the side by side sister properties, this is by no means a mega property where a tram is needed to get around.
What the CAT does have:
The relatively small grounds comprised of lawn and coconut palms among walkways are kept meticulously manicured and clean. On several occasions the groundskeeper trimmed the palm trees and graciously cut open coconuts with a machete for guests. After hours, we watched maintenance workers scrub down every lounger by the pool.
The very positive side to having no jungle is the absence of mosquitoes! We brought bug spray but never had to use it unlike at two other more exotic resorts where we were eaten alive if not hosed down with deet anytime we left our room. Wildlife, such that it is, seems to be limited to iguanas and stray cats,
Most villas and buildings are about a 5 minute walk to anywhere. The longest walk was from our room (Bldg 6- Yucatan Beach side) to the Mikado restaurant on the Riviera Maya side. That may have taken all of 6 minutes. At the time we booked our vacation, my husband was on crutches and we did not know if mobility would be an issue five months down the line. Although we looked at different properties for this trip, the primary reason we chose the Cat again was because of its compact layout.
There are five pools between the two properties. One pool on each property is permanently set up for water volleyball. The poolside games, music, and activities are kept to the Riviera Maya side leaving the Yucatan pool area quieter. The walk between the two pool areas is about a minute and a half so it’s no hardship to participate in a water aerobics class and then retreat to a quieter area. It seemed The Margaritas swim up bar on the Rivera Maya side tends to be more raucous than the Tequila swim up bar on the Yucatan side.
On our two previous visits to the Cat Riviera Maya we had standard rooms which were quite satisfactory although the amenities of the “privileged” rooms (in room mini-bar, coffee maker, free safe, upgraded bed and furnishings) definitely sparked our interest. Thanks to other TA reports, we learned that many upgraded rooms were in a newer building at the rear of the resort. We booked a standard room at the Riveria Maya through Cheap Caribbean and decided to wait and see the location of privileged rooms available upon check in. Prior to departing, both the travel agent and I emailed CAT’s customer service to tell them we were a third time return guest and respectfully asked for consideration to an ocean view room.
When we arrived (around 1:30pm) the front desk said they had a room for us on the Yucatan Beach side of the resort. We still asked to see what upgraded rooms with an ocean view were available. A privileged room, small but nice in villa 6 on the Riviera Maya side did not have enough of a view to warrant the additional cost. The clerk erroneously told us a 2nd floor oceanfront room was available (also on the Yucatan Beach side) but it was in the process of being renovated. When the bellhop finally took us to the basic room that had been selected for us, we were thrilled! Room 3124 had a great ocean view in building 6 – Yucatan Beach side -that was steps away from the pool, beach, and Chill Out Bar. The simple and large room had a king size bed that was firm but had a mattress topper, an abundance of pillows, small table, two chairs, TV. Balcony, with a north eastern exposure (heavenly shade in the afternoon) was large with 2 chairs. The front desk clerk said this was considered a basic upgrade for returning guests and I believe him! They even delivered a small plate of fruit with the week’s activity sheet listing our name and the names of other return guests, welcoming us “home”. Nice touch. Yes, you have to pay an extra $3.00 per day for the safe but so what. The room did not smell musty, the a/c worked well. Our bathroom had a large shower/tub combo with decent water pressure. We left maid service a small tip each day and we were treated to different towel animals on a daily basis.
FOOD AND SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS:
Guests are given vouchers to use at the specialty restaurants- how many are determined by length of stay and type of room. (We had 3 vouchers.) It’s fairly effortless to book- the reservationist is at the Chill Out bar for several hours each day and restaurants can be booked in advance. During this off season when occupancy is low, the specialty restaurants operate on a rotating schedule. If there is a particular restaurant you want to try, you might want to stop by the Chill Out bar upon arrival to book it due to limited availability.
On previous visits we had been to the Italian, Mexican (which we found mediocre) and the steakhouse. New to us were Mikado (the Japanese) and The Terrace for tapas.
MIKADO: I can see why this is a favorite. Groups of 8 are seated around a hibachi station in a comfortably air conditioned room where the chef puts on a Benihana type cooking show. Sushi for appetizers- Chef’s fried rice was second course. Then meat, chicken, or shrimp with vegetables for the main course. The food was better than I expected – the beef was actually tender! We were moved to another room for dessert and fried ice cream was one of the specialties.
The Terrace. Upstairs with either ocean view patio seating or indoor, air conditioned seating. The presentation – and portions- are more nouvelle cuisine and menu selections have a Spanish influence. The appetizers are paired taster selections – no more than a bite or two of each offering. The entrees are also different and small. Desserts are, again, little bites of paired selections. Honestly, there was nothing particularly memorable about the meal but we would probably go back because it was different. And, should you still be hungry, see if either Le Creperie or the buffet is still open!
Bamboleo Steakhouse: We like the atmosphere of this outside dining venue. Don’t expect a Ruth Chris’ steak here. Set your expectations low and you’ll be satisfied. The t-bone steak is very thin with a decent flavor, the New York was also thin but tasty. The Bamboleo needs and doesn’t provide real steak knives. My husband could not stand the free house red wine and chose to pay an extra $22.00 for a bottle of something more palatable (Rosemount, I think.)
The air conditioned buffet on the Yucatan side was only opened on Wednesdays for dinner –Mexican theme night. I think this must be seasonal. In years past this restaurant used to be open for the same hours as La Brisa.
The open air buffet on the Riveria Maya side is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have hung netting over the windows to keep birds out. Many tables have an ocean view. They cater to American, European, and Mexican tastes for every meal.
Breakfast: You name it, they have it. Fresh fruits, juices, cereals, pancakes, french toast, bacon, sausages, breads, cold cuts, cheeses, coffees, cappuccinos, pastries. There is an egg and omelet station. Enrique, a morning chef at that station, is particularly friendly and is happy to teach you some Spanish while your eggs are cooking.
Lunch: There is always a salad bar offering romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other fresh veggies. There is an array of cold vegetable and seafood salads at this station along with cheeses and cold cuts with a panini grill. One station will grill meat, chicken or fish, another station is cooking Mexican specialties. There is always pizza, pasta, and burgers available. The hot buffet line offers a variety of meat, chicken, and fish selections as well as a variety of vegetable and grain side dishes. We like trying the local, Mexican dishes. There is a dessert station with a variety of cookies, flans, cakes, and ice cream. Frankly, my husband and I found all their baked goods (including morning pastries) to be very mediocre. We more than made up for this “disappointment” by visiting Le Creperie for milkshakes and dessert crepes every day it was opened.
Dinner: Pretty much the same set up as lunch. Entrees and side dishes were different for the dinner offering.
Bamboleo Snack Bar: Poolside burgers, hot dogs, fries, pizza, a hot entrée selection, chips, guacamole, small salad station. More than does the trick.
Le Creperie: An outdoor café setting open some evenings with milkshakes, sundaes, and dessert crepes. There were a few interesting entree crepes on the menu we had thought about trying instead of going to La Brisa for dinner but we never did.
Overall, the food at all the restaurants is decent and, unless you’re a vegan, even picky eaters should find something they will find edible. If you want a resort with absolutely exquisite food, elegant dining rooms, and artistic presentations, spend more money and go to an upscale all inclusive.
Alegria Spa: Also new since we were here last. Nice gym, no extra charge to use. There is an indoor wet area ( whirlpool, steam, sauna, cold plunge) the use of which may be included with privileged rooms. (Don’t know about that.) Otherwise, unless you are booking a massage, there is a $40.00 fee for day use of those facilities. IMHO, the facility is very nice but definitely NOT worth paying a surcharge.
The list price for massages are on the outrageously high side…guess they have to pay somehow for that new spa facility. However, if you wait for the masseuses to walk the grounds to drum up business, you can get 30% off the list price making a 50 minute Swedish massage about $65.00. Yeah, still high but in all fairness, both my husband and I had really excellent massages in a most pleasant venue. And, on the day of the massage, you have complete access to the wet spa area if you so choose. You’re indirectly paying for it so you might as well use it.
The animation team is very good about inviting – not pressuring- guests to participate in activities ranging from exercise classes, volleyball games, or poolside antics. I did attend two evening shows – The Lion King and The Nightmare Show. I’m not expecting Las Vegas or even cruise ship level entertainers but I was impressed with the choreography and costumes. These young dancers try hard!!! Only wish the theatre was air conditioned. The ceiling fans just don’t quite cut it.
Puerto Aventuras: This entire gated community only exists for the tourist trade so illusion or not, it seems incredibly safe to walk around. The small center of town, not even a ten minute walk from the CAT is literally built around an outdoor dolphin encounter place surrounded by a few gift shops, restaurants, real estate offices, tour companies, and condos galore. It is also a marina from where many of the deep sea fishing and snorkeling excursions leave. I’ve taken early morning walks by myself into town and felt completely safe.
Pesos vrs.US Dollars: Prior to coming I read several reports saying the shops and the CAT would not take American dollars. We brought about $500 worth of pesos to be on the safe side and for our needs I don’t think it was necessary or worth the exchange fees. In Puerto Aventuras, nearly every shop took US dollars. At the CAT, tips in US dollars were gratefully accepted. Didn’t buy anything from the CAT gift shops but all prices were in dollars and pesos. Only thing you cannot do is pay for extra charges to your room (massage, wine, upgrades) with US dollars in cash. You can use a debit or credit card. Another TA reviewer erroneously reported the CAT assessed a 5% fee for using a credit card. The CAT does not tack on a credit card surcharge. The reviewer must have mistaken that for the standard foreign transaction fee that most banks charge for converting dollars to pesos. The rate charge will vary depending on what fees your bank charges. Should you discover you need pesos for something (maybe taxis or the collectivo), there is a currency exchange on the premises of the CAT and the exchange rate was fairly comparable to what we paid in the States.
To Tip or not to Tip:
Yeah, technically tips are included but this is our experience. Once we park ourselves near a bar for a day, we give the bartender a tip early on. (maybe 20 pesos). When we asked for top shelf liquor we got it. The gentleman sitting under the palapa next to us gave the bartender a $10.00 tip the first day he arrived. For the next week my neighbor and his lady were treated like royalty…fresh, specialty drinks continually brought to their palapa! (yes, the neighbor still tipped daily but smaller amounts.). With the exception of one particularly incompetent server, we did tip the waiters at the specialty restaurants, a very conscientious server at the buffet, the bellhops, the maids, and, of course, the masseuses. Was all the tipping necessary? Probably not but it felt right to us.
Last but not least…..
Weekend Passes: From my conversation with the front desk, the Cat’s off season begins in May and their occupancy rate is fairly low. Don’t know if other resorts do this but the CAT apparently offers some pretty sweet weekend family specials to local residents. On off season weekdays the resort was sparsely populated and quiet however by Friday and Saturday there was a huge influx of families with hoards of kids. Did I say kids? This sudden surge didn’t seem to affect the beach area however every pool, including swim up bar areas, was packed with babies and kids La Brisa, the buffet, was jam packed and resembled a 2 for 1 happy hour at the Golden Corral- (I recommend booking your specialty restaurants on Friday and Saturday night to avoid a crowded buffet.) And expect a long wait at Le Creperie on those nights. On those two days I almost wished I had booked an adults only resort. But, by Sunday afternoon, most of the weekend guests had returned home and the CAT returned to low occupancy once again.
If you have any questions, just send a message!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Caribbean Sea's turquoise waters can be seen from this hotel-paradise. Come and get ready to spend some unforgettable days in the heart of the Mayan Riviera, surrounded by marvelous landscapes and seductive, white sand beaches. The hotel is located in the wonderful Puerto Aventuras development. This is a tourist development which boasts a marina for yachts, a golf course, restaurants and dolphin tanks, all within easy reach of the main Mayan Riviera attractions. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Catalonia Riviera Maya Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
- Catalonia Hotel Mexico
- Catalonia Rivera Maya
- Riviera Maya Catalonia
- Hotel Catalonia Riviera Maya
- Catalonia Riveria Maya
- Catalonia Riviera Maya Resort
- Catalonia Riviera Maya All Inclusive
- Catalonia Mexico