Returned from the Grand in October 2010 and I hope my observations may be helpful to a potential traveler.
Transport: Flights were not a problem. Flew directly into Cancun with no layovers. Customs and luggage were very quick and easy on the Cancun side. Wife was stopped and had her backpack searched by a customs official and his dog. Smart dog. Our attempt to smuggle bananas into the country was foiled. My dream of forming the Cowboy Cartel for banana smuggling was dashed by this dedicated 4 legged public servant. Used USA Transfers for the ground transport to the hotel. Excellent service and Brant who runs the operation could not have been more helpful in answering my numerous questions. Will certainly use them in the future.
Check in: Check in was very smooth and without drama. We arrived at 1:45pm and was told the room would not be ready until 2:30pm. We received our bands and a cool drink (Choice of champagne or a Mango Sour) A cart was summoned and we were taken to the lunch buffet. After lunch a cart was called and we were returned to the desk at 2:30pm. Room was ready. I had requested room 7255 based upon a prior review. This room was not available but the hotel gave us the adjoining room which was fine. More on the reasoning behind this choice shortly. Impressed by the fact that the hotel does not ask for a credit card at check in for incidentals. Nice touch. Also no pressure to upgrade rooms and the prices for each level of upgrade were posted at the desk. We did not ask for an upgrade nor was any attempt made by the desk to induce us into one.
Grounds: The grounds are lovely and the landscape design plan is wonderful. Much thought was obviously given to the variety of trees and plants along with their location. A botanist (which I am not) would have a sturdy challenge to identify all the different types of fauna. It really was amazing. The grounds also provide a habitat for many species of animals. Observed peacocks, birds, lizards, Mexican raccoons (really neat) and a family of cats. The animals really add to the natural beauty of the premises.
Room: We had requested room 7255 based upon a prior review. The reasoning was we wanted a quiet room on a higher floor close to everything. We received the room next door which was fine. If you do not want or need an ocean view or oceanfront, seriously consider this room or a similar one. This room is centrally located between the front desk area and the dining rooms. It has a peaceful balcony with a view of the quiet pool which is great for late afternoon cocktails or reading. The room is also close to the gym and the spa. Room itself has a seating area, desk, mini bar, coffee maker, ironing board and iron and safe. There is also an ipod dock next to the bed along with a master light switch which allows you turn off the lights with out arising. The bathroom has double doors which open unto the jacuzzi tub. To each side are sinks with the shower stall being on one side and an enclosed toilet on the other. The toilet enclosure was a bit strange and the shower size precludes anything more than solo bathing. The room upon arrival did exhibit a bit of a musty smell. I had ordered from the butler tea candles which I used each evening. The candles come 3 to an order for about $1.50 and this remedied the musty smell. The only problem with the room occurred on the first day when we had no hot water. Wife was forced to take a cold shower but after the water had been running for 45 mins the hot water made an appearance and we never had this problem again. I have no explanation for this but we did not have to report the problem.
Butler: Butler service was exceptional and exceeded my expectations. My expectation being after I passed a gratuity to the butler on the first day he would do his best Houdini impression and disappear. This was not the case. Shortly after arrival, the butler arrived and asked what requests we had and explained what his role was. I ordered a bottle of wine as well as a bottle of Havana Club and some limes. I also ordered bananas for each morning as a pre-gym snack. These were delivered promptly. Your butler will draw your bath and will be the person to bring your ice. The butler will also make sure your selections from the pillow menu are delivered. I asked on the first day for candles each day and a bath for the wife to be drawn every evening prior to dinner. This was done without having to ask a second time. Our two butlers also made it a point to ask us each day if there was anything we needed without being intrusive. I am grateful for their caring service.
Drinks/Drink Service: Never an issue. Top shelf liquors and palatable wines on the inclusive list. Try the Mandarin Sours if you need a break from whiskey. Very tasty. Never a problem getting a drink whether it be by the activity pool, swim up bar, beach or tranquility pool. I, as a cowboy, tend to drink early and often and I never waited for a drink. As the alcohol flows freely, the Bubba kegs can remain at home. I will note, that I used the gym and spa pool quite a bit and the juice bar was frequently unattended. So it was hit or miss for an after work out smoothie.
Pools: Three pools, a large salt water activity pool, a quiet pool and indoor pool in the spa building. The outdoor pools had ample seating, and although played by some the towel game was not necessary. That being said the hotel had about 40% occupancy so it may be different at 100%. Plenty of shaded spots as well at both pools. Indoor pool was great and offered a variety of hydro massages at no charge. The indoor pool also came in handy when we had a rainy morning. Set up shop there until the sun returned. A nice option also in the event you catch to much sun. Also note, the activity pools jacuzzi was not a hot tub. Temp was the same as the pool. You need to go to the quiet pool for a true hot tub.
Beach: We spent the majority of our time on the beach. Plenty of shaded palapas and comfy loungers. If you want to imagine this beach, think of the Corona commercials. I performed a personal reenactment with a bucket of Coronas and limes each day. We had the beach almost to ourselves each day and still received great service. Hint. At present it appears that the building on the right if you are facing the ocean is not being used in the slow season while the left side building is occupied. The beach on the left, closest to the Maya was crowded with nearly every palapa taken. The beach on the right was pretty deserted. In order to swim, however, you must walk down the beach toward the Maya. We did take a long walk down to Secrets at Maroma Beach. Secrets was much more crowded and I think Playa Paraiso is as nice as Maroma but decide for yourself. Maroma had more seaweed in front of Secrets and it seemed much more active as you have a few other resorts in the vicinity whereas at the Iberostar to the right of the Grand is deserted. Also check out the Maroma Resort and Spa on the way to Secrets. You will know it when you see it. The walk should take about 30-45 mins each way and you might want to wear sandals as parts can be rocky.
Gym: We used the gym each morning except for the last day. The gym is small. Three treadmills and three other cardio machines as well as one bike. Gym can be crowded before breakfast but we got in around 8am each morning and usually got the equipment we wanted. After 8am all bets are off. Also, one free bench only and limited dumbbells. Heaviest weight being 60 pounds. The machines were in good working order but limited in nature. Two chest, one shoulder, one dip, one bicep, one tri, two leg, an ab machine and one station round out the equipment. The gym had a problem cooling down. Temp was always 23.5C or hot in English. Cowboy was forced on a couple of days to dig out a fan hidden behind some equipment to try to cool the place down. Please note the sauna and steam room in the mens and womens locker rooms are not operating at present. Best guess from staff is they will be operational again in December.
Spa: Did not use it and did not see it. Although I've never been there they tell me it's nice. Wife did use it for a massage and an exfoliation and enjoyed both. She had her services in the on site spa. There is also a spa for the complex near the commercial center. Additionally, on the beach there is a palapa where you can receive a massage with the ocean in the background.
Entertainment/Shows: Only attended two shows but they exceeded my expectations. The magic show had a world class magician and the Broadway revue had some great singers. The resort hires talent as the headliners and the star friends supplement the group. I had no intention of attending any of the shows prior to arrival but they really were much better than expected.
Staff: The staff are really what makes this resort special. Service is impeccable and they try very hard to get to know your names and your preferences. After the first two days Humberto, our breakfast waiter knew what coffees and juices we liked and brought them over to the table without asking. Chef Olivia is charming and thoughtful. Eder and David of the Star Friends have a great sense of humor and put up my teasing. Alejandra the hostess and Luis the table captain were also exceptional. In addition to your gratuities you can also return the kindness of the staff by singling them out to management. I did this in two ways. First, on the Wednesday buffet, you will be given a customer satisfaction survey. I learned from the staff that it is very helpful for their prospects of promotion if you single them out by name. Iberostar really does want your comments and does use them in evaluating staff. The second way is to introduce yourself to the managers and tell them if someone gave you exceptional service. If you pay attention you can figure out who the higher ups are. I met the head of the Star Friends and the Head Chef of the resort told them about certain employees who went above and beyond. These people work 12 hour days, six days a week and never fail to have a smile or a kind word. I cannot express my gratitude for their hospitality enough.
Resort Complex: The complex itself is large and a world unto itself. That being said, I saw very little of the other hotels. If you are interested in what the complex has to offer, I suggest taking a bike tour. Twice a day, at 10am and 4pm, the Star Friends will lead those interested on a guided bike tour of the complex. The wife took the tour and enjoyed it. I was precluded from joining her as I have a medical condition which requires my blood alcohol to remain at a high level when I am on vacation. My physician prescribed a regime that included five drinks per hour, every hour, every afternoon. Thus it was inadvisable for me to stray to far from a bartender.
Activities: The hotel offers just about any activity you can imagine. An active person will never be bored. Two rounds of golf are included in your stay along with tennis, sailing kayaking, beach volleyball, pool basketball, dive lessons...the list is enormous. The ocean activities are located at a hut between the Grand and the Maya. Further down the beach you can parasail or jet ski. If the red flag is up you cannot kayak. If the water is rougher, they will not allow you to sail. Sadly, due to the medical condition described above, I was unable to participate in these activities.
Excursions: There are numerous excursions you can purchase from the tour operators in the hotel lobby. You can also purchase prior to departure diving and snorkeling trips from Dressel Divers who has two locations on the complex. We were torn about leaving the resort for an excursion but finally decided on a trip to Isla Mujeres. For about $100 per person you receive transport to and from the hotel to the Cancun Marina, you sail from Cancun to the Isla, snorkel offshore for 45 mins, shop for 1.5 hours, sail again for 30 mins, have a buffet lunch on the beach and sail back to Cancun. All food and drinks are included. If you are looking for a pure snorkeling experience you should probably try a different excursion as I have snorkeled twice off Isla and I can only describe it as decent at best. However, the other parts of this excursion make it worthwhile. It is adult only and the crew is terrific. The drinks flow freely and if conditions are right you can do a mini parasail right from the boat. Really cool. Special thanks to our new friends from Canada, Jenny and Jason who helped make it such a great time. I purchased this excursion right from the resort. It will be an all day excursion.
Food: This is for me the most difficult part of the review. Palates, like opinions can vary. I will only describe to you what I observed and felt during the meals. To sum it up in a sentence, the presentation was perfect but the execution of the dishes failed at times.
Breakfast: We only did the buffet and not a la carte or room service. Standard choices, eggs cooked to order, mini waffles, mini pancakes, breakfast meats, etc. Also available are many Mexican dishes, salads, fruits, juices, cereals and breads. You can ask Chef Olivia to make you a fresh fruit smoothie as well. Only breakfast issue was some undercooked eggs on the first day.
Lunch: We did a combo each day of the a la carte lunch along with the buffet. Best thing I ate at the resort were the jumbo grilled shrimp on the a la carte lunch menu. Had them every day except for the first day. First day, I tried the lobster and it was over cooked and rubbery. Shrimp was always grilled perfectly. These suckers are messy so ask for extra napkins. Also a word of caution, they are served European style with the head attached and the shell intact. This turned off some other diners. Wife ordered the fresh fish every day from the a la carte. The grouper and red snapper were excellent. Probably he best red snapper i have tried. The swordfish and salmon were not so great. Swordfish was overcooked and the salmon undercooked. Wife also had a Kobe burger the first day that was also overcooked. The buffet offers a selection of meat, fish and Mexican dishes as well as salads, fruit, paella, rice, potatoes, etc. Buffet items can be hit or miss depending on your taste. The cheese selection was great and the resort offers an amazing Brie and an amazing Blue on a daily basis. Service was excellent. On a personal note we dined outside each day for lunch and were befriended by a family of cats who inhabit the resort. You would be doing this cowboy a great service if you would look after these friends by sharing your lunch with them as well as some affection. They certainly appreciate it.
Dinners: Consistency and execution were the biggest problems dinner wise. Some dishes were good others not so much. I would not consider any of the food great. The first night we tried the Japanese. The tuna sashimi was more like a carpaccio but pretty good nonetheless. The shrimp tempura also good. The hibachi steak and lobster not so good. Both were under seasoned and overcooked. The veggies and fried rice were good. This pretty much set the tone for most dinners. Great service, great atmosphere and inconsistent food. We did make friends with the two other couples at the table and stayed so late they almost threw us out, so overall a good night.
Second night we tried the Steakhouse. The spouse had a double cut fillet cooked perfectly, I had a rib eye that was over cooked despite telling the waiter I wanted it muy rojo. They also forgot my lobster tail. They have an interesting interpretation of Caesar salad about which I cannot make up my mind as to whether I liked it despite having it twice. They also forgot our intermezzo. We made up for this by ordering the sorbet as a dessert and it was delicious. Service again excellent. Nice atmosphere but try to be seated away from large parties as the noise can carry in the dining rooms. We observed one couple actually walk out before being served because of the noise from a large group. Probably an over reaction but the group was a bit rowdy. This happened one another occasion but was the exception rather than the rule. The second time we ate here on the last night, the meal was more consistent and the meat was cooked properly. They also brought me an extra tail after I requested another to go with my fillet. I think you will do better with the fillet here than the other cuts of beef.
Italian: Again inconsistent. The caprese salad was good. The risotto, both the lobster and the mushroom (we each tried one) very good. The lamb, not so good. We both prefer our lamb rare. Her's was mid rare at best and mine was mid well. Presentation wonderful as was the service. Very pretty dining room and you can also dine outdoors as well.
Gourmet: My least favorite. In fact we were scheduled for two dinners here and changed back to the steak house after the first. The room is very elegant and the service as usual excellent but the execution of the dishes was a problem. For example, I started with their interpretation of onion soup. The broth was bland and the soup was room temp, not hot. I will eat soup that is hot and soup that is cold but you lose me on room temp. soup. Also had the lamb again, and again overcooked. Trust me when I tell you I was being clear on my cooking preferences so it is kind of inexplicable that we had these problems. The potatoes served with the lamb were excellent and worthy of any gourmet dining room. That is what was most frustrating about the a la carte dining rooms. On the same plate you can have such inconsistency.
Interestingly enough, the buffets were the two best dinners we had. Interesting in the sense we are not buffet diners and did not realize prior to departure that on Wednesday and Sunday you do not have the choice of any a la carte dining and must use the buffets. This is my fault for not asking but the buffets are great. Sunday is the Mexican buffet and Wednesday the International. Both offer a myriad of choices and everything I tried both nights was very good. On the international night you can even have your steak cooked to order while you wait. Chef Olivia is wonderful.
Overall, I would say the a la carte dining is about two notches below Grand Velas and maybe a notch below a good cruise line. This is not to say that the food was inedible. Quite the opposite. It was the inconsistency that was frustrating. You will receive great service and you will dine in an elegant and romantic setting and this goes a long way to off set problems with the execution of the dishes.
Business Center: The business center is really more of a library with internet access. There is no printer in the room. However, if you need to print boarding passes here is a tip. Get the desk clerk to give you the email to the front desk (sorry I did not save it) and then email the boarding passes to the front desk. The clerk can then print them for you. Staff is always willing to assist in any way possible which makes this hotel so special. Please note if you want to change dollars into pesos at the desk you will need your passport. I forgot this fact twice.
Check out: The night prior to departure you are presented with a bill for review of any incidental expenses or spa charges. The bill was accurate and no issues paying it the next day. Ground transport from USA was right on time and no issues returning to the airport.
Stay at this hotel. Stay here if you want a great beach, a relaxing atmosphere, a place to re-connect with a loved one and great service. The service here is as good as anywhere I have ever stayed. It is also more personal as the staff makes an effort to get to know you as an individual. I am telling you that despite my observations regarding the food, we intend to return here as soon as possible. We generally like to try new places each vacation but we will be hard pressed not to return here as soon as we are able.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.