Let me first start by saying this was my 5th time to the Cancun/Mayan Riviera area. Previously I stayed at the Riu Palace, the Barcelo Tucancun, Riu Tequila, and the Barcelo Maya Beach hotels. I’ve also stayed at 3 all-inclusive hotels in Cuba. With many resorts to compare the GBP Coba to, I think I can give an honest and qualified perception of the resort. We stayed at this hotel from March 12th to March 26th and our stay was so wonderful I’m going through severe withdrawal.
My husband and I traveled to the GBP Coba with our two little girls aged 2 ½ & 4. My parents along with my sister and her family (including another 2 year old) joined us as we were going to celebrate our new marriage with a Mayan Blessing ceremony. Let me start with the ceremony before moving onto the hotel details.
A week before we left, we were married at home in front of 50 family and friends. Not many of them could make it to a destination wedding so we decided to do both. With a renewal of vows in Mexico or our blessing ceremony we avoided all the legalities with marrying abroad and I was so happy to avoid the blood test that is required to marry in Mexico. I love Mexico and the Mayan culture, which is fascinating, and it seemed fitting to me to have a blessing ceremony offered by the hotel.
Our wedding coordinator was Karla and she was fantastic responding to my questions from home. She and her assistant Christian were easy to deal with and we met a day after arriving at the hotel. We met to finalize the details for the ceremony and reception afterwards. Since all Mayan Blessings are performed on the Tulum beach the only thing left to choose was flowers. I chose a tropical bouquet of flowers that cost $50 US and the boutonnière at $16 US. The price I paid was less than half the cost of my flowers in Canada and they were gorgeous.
We hired an outside photographer from Cancun and she was amazing to work with. The hotel had no problems allowing her and her assistant on the resort. I really appreciated that since some other resorts charge for outside vendors.
The ceremony itself was completely wonderful and was performed in Maya with an English translator. It was an honor for us to have taken part in this sacred ceremony. The Shaman and translator were genuinely kind people and I was surprised at how personable they both were. It was truly an exceptional experience and one I suggest to other couples if you love Mexican/Mayan history. After the ceremony we had a champagne toast followed by a great dinner at the Portofino (Italian) restaurant. The waiters had prepared a special place setting for us, which was a really nice touch.
There are countless reviews on TA giving the hotel glowing recommendations. I saw some negative things but none of them interfered with my ability to fall in love with the resort.
GROUNDS: Extremely well cared for by meticulous gardeners and grounds crew-one of the best maintained properties I’ve ever stayed at. There are beautiful gardens everywhere with the most amazing colourful flowers and plants.
The 3 resorts (Coba, Akumal & Tulum) make up a huge property. Some people got lost just at the Coba hotel but I never had any problems. There are always shuttles taking people to and from the lobby and Coba beach. You don’t need to wait long but I found a few times we waited for a shuttle while watching a few others go the opposite direction.
ROOMS: Very nice and spacious. Our room was on the 3rd floor of building 20B. I wasn’t too impressed at first since 20B is near the highway and a building away from the theatre. Before we left I e-mailed the hotel to request rooms for my parents & sister to be near us. Since they accommodated us by putting my sister one floor down and my parents on the same floor, I couldn’t complain. The two other rooms faced the highway. There is a lot of highway traffic noise but if you can, you can adjust to it.
Our room faced the activities pool and we dealt with loud music during the day and loud music at night during the shows. My littlest one still has a nap but it didn’t seem to affect her. Our maid was great and she seemed to do her job well. We tipped her every day. Our sheets and towels always smelled laundered and the room was clean. Unfortunately, I found the beds hard and uncomfortable. I think the major problem with them is age and sagging in the middle. On a brighter note, the sheets were very soft and crisp and it was definitely nice to crawl under them at night. Our shower lacked pressure but we got used to it.
The bar fridge is stocked with beer, pop, orange and apple juice, water, plain potato chips, and individual Hershey cookies. That’s a lot for a bar fridge and it was much appreciated. We occasionally left a small tip for the guy that fills it.
FOOD: The main buffet has an infinite selection of foods to meet everyone’s needs. I always found great food to eat each day and the selection was phenomenal. Fresh fruit, pastries, buns, desserts, meats, vegetables, cheeses and salads were always available and always restocked on a regular basis. It was also nice to see gelato served in the kid’s corner since my oldest has a dairy allergy. She was in heaven knowing she could have a nice treat like everyone else. The foods are always kept either hot or cold and none in our group was sick at any point during the vacation. We ate all our breakfasts at the main buffet and most of our lunches at the pool snack bar. Because the Piscis snack bar is smaller it doesn’t offer as much selection but there was always something good to eat. Most days the food was good but one day we found our hamburgers undercooked. This is the best place though to enjoy nachos & cheese, guacamole and salsa. Salads were also very good here.
A-LA-CARTES: We ate twice at The Portofino-Italian – very good. The Tequila-Mexican - not so good. It seemed as if they were short staffed and the host/hostess service was very disorganized. The Mikado-Japanese – the show was very good but my food was burned so I didn’t like it as much. Others in my party however liked their meal. Since we have small children we only used 4 a-la-cartes even though we had 8 during our stay. Seafood is not something we enjoy and most of the other restaurants had seafood as a major portion of the menu. The buffet more than met our needs and we actually enjoyed our meals there.
SERVICE: The waiters and waitresses along with the chefs and bartenders all work very hard. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the staff and how nice and friendly some of them can be. Tipping is not expected but is appreciated by the staff. Your service will not suffer if you choose not to tip but please be kind to the staff. Generally our service was very good. These people work harder than most in the industry anywhere. I only encountered one rude waiter but perhaps he was having a bad day. Too bad that was on our last morning.
BEACH: The shuttles will take you to Coba beach. The last time I was in Mexico was before the hurricane. I knew the beaches had been battered so I wasn’t expecting a great beach. The sand is a little coarse and we knew that so we all had water shoes. If you have sensitive feet I highly recommend bringing them. The kids had a great time playing in the sand and wading in the water with fish. We went out snorkeling and saw many different species of fish, an eel, a stingray, and turtles. The water is quite shallow and you can stand up everywhere in-between the two piers. I never swam further than the buoys which protect both swimmers and the reef. My husband saw the eel and stingray. We both were lucky to see the turtle.
We brought along lifejackets and my 4 year old loved jumping around in the water watching large fish swim by her feet. What an experience for a little girl from the prairies! There are a few crabs hanging around the sand bags and they were fun to see too. Further south near the Akumal beach there are tide pools you can explore. Some very interesting creatures live in there and for me seeing a brittle star was fascinating. Maybe when the girls get older it would be fun to walk on the rocks to see more.
TOURS/EXCURSIONS: As a group we booked a van and paid $100 US return to go to XCARET-an ecological park. This was my fourth time and I still love it. They are always adding new things and my 2 year old still talks about the Mayan fireball hockey. If you go, stay for the night show. It’s worth the price of admission alone. Cost for adults is $69. Children under 40” are free.
On another day we took the collectivos into Playa Del Carmen. The cost is 30 pesos each and you catch them near the highway just south of the hacienda. If you hold your children on your lap they are free. We asked our driver to drop us off at the Walmart. Sunscreen is cheaper here at $7 US a bottle compared to $17 at the resort. Most souvenirs are cheaper on 5th Avenue, which is only 3 long blocks away. 5th Avenue is the major tourist shopping area of Playa Del Carmen. Prices are competitive and we bought the girls a sombrero for $10 US. Shop around for the best deals. Be sure to know where to catch the collectivo back to the hotel. It’s a bit of a walk to find the pick-up point. Using the collectivos are great if you can’t afford a taxi but they’re a little dangerous. Going back to the resort, you are dropped off on the southbound side of the highway and you have to run very fast across the lanes to get back to the hotel. I’m hoping in time a pedestrian walkway will be built to make using collectivos safer.
Another day we took a taxi to Akumal Bay. We knew it was a great place to do some snorkeling and see turtles. Our taxi driver charged us $15 US but dropped us off at Yal-Ku which is further down the road. Long story short, we started walking back to Akumal Bay and a nice tour driver picked us up for nothing and dropped us off at the right spot. Akumal Bay is gorgeous and worth a little trip down the road. We were told Nicholas Cage owns one of the homes along the coast and it’s not hard to see why.
My husband and father went snorkeling about 30 feet from shore where they saw turtles, some larger blue fish, a gazillion others and a barracuda. Our visit to the bay was a nice change of scenery and we enjoyed meeting others on the beach. Too bad no one from home knew we would be there since I’m sure we were on the webcam for quite a while. The webcam is mounted on the roof of a cyber café on the beach.
On our second last day we took the girls to Tulum by collectivo. I was on a mission to find a specific Mayan calendar, which I never found. Cost to get into the ruins was 51 pesos. We paid 20 pesos/adult to ride the transportation to the ruins from the shopping area. It’s worth it with little kids and definitely is a must for older travelers or those with mobility concerns. The ruins have changed since I’ve been there too. A nice addition is the bathrooms at the entrance. The ruin site is very hot so bring hats, sunscreen and water. They’ve roped off a large area around the main castle and you can no longer walk to the beach on the north side of the ruins. The girls have some great memories of Tulum and the papantla flyers at the shopping area. We also took our photos with a man and woman dressed as Mayan warriors. Don’t forget to leave a tip.
NOTES ABOUT KIDS: There are many children at the resort. The pools do not have a specific area for kids but have a nice circular shallow section at one end of the activities pool. Bring some inflatable pool toys as the ones you can buy are very expensive. Pack lots of sunscreen-you’ll use more than you think. Don’t forget hats and make them wear it. It doesn’t take long to get sunburn. The beach is great for little ones and is very calm between the two piers. We passed along some sand toys to a little girl from Portugal and she was so gracious. Forget about scheduled naps or bedtime. If you don’t you won’t enjoy your vacation. Ask about the children’s shows as signage is lacking at the hotel for evening entertainment. We finally made it to a children’s character show on our 2nd last night. It was fun and the staff made cotton candy for the kids. One thing I wish we had brought was plastic straws for drinks. Since everything is glass at the main restaurants the straws would come in handy. Not all restaurants, snack bars or bars have straws. We brought along Shout and liquid tide to wash stained shirts etc. The kid’s club has a nice swing set and slide. They also have a busy bead room, which the kids enjoyed. The club has small child sized bathroom fixtures which makes using the potty a lot easier. We never left our kids at the club but it was nice to let them play there for part of their day. One last comment – if you have little ones who are not potty trained, please bring swim diapers. We left a pool because a family decided swim diapers on their baby was not mandatory.
I know I have lots more to add but already this review is too long. In a way I wished we didn’t stay for two weeks. Coming back to real life is a hard adjustment. The mojitos are not the same and it’s impossible to find those cacahuates japonese. We became addicted to those crunchy covered peanuts offered in the lobby.
Have a great trip to those of you who are planning to stay at the GBP Coba!