I’m getting a vacation post up…..oh a weekish after vacation. You should be proud of me.
For various reasons, Jimmie and I decided to take our vacation a little early this year. I’ll admit one of those reasons was combining the trip with a holiday in order to save vacation time at work. (Yay, adulting.) We knew we wanted something simple, something relaxing, and something beautiful. I’m sure it’s not too much of a surprise to hear we went back to Mexico for the third year in a row.
We like Mexico, though I’ll be the first to admit we’re really not even experiencing Mexico because we don’t ever leave our resort. Meh. We go with the sole purpose of sitting on the beach (or if we’re honest, the pool) with a drink in our hand. No worries, no responsibilities, no plans. Just sun, sand, and lots and lots of alcohol.
We decided to book a direct flight from Atlanta, since the last two years we’ve had issues with our flights. Thankfully, this year broke the curse, as we had completely smooth travel experiences. We drove down the night before after grabbing dinner and some takeout from O’Charley’s. Airport food is crazy expensive, and usually pretty tasteless, and getting food through security is super simple. So we feasted on chicken fingers and half a burger perhaps a bit early in the morning, but let’s just call it brunch. (Also – helpful tip – order room service your last night in the resort and throw it in a ziplock bag. It kept us from having to pay for airport food on the way home too.)
One thing I’d like to mention too – the staff at the Cancun airport are consistently friendlier and more helpful than any American airport I’ve ever been in. Case in point, I’d tied ribbons on our suitcases so we could find them easily (his is black and mine is blue), and the baggage handlers put our suitcases together in the customs area. If you’ve never flown internationally, this is a big deal, since there are about 500 people trying to find their luggage all at the same time. I think it took us maybe 15 seconds to spot ours. So thank you, Cancun baggage handlers, for being awesome.
We also arranged for a private transfer from the airport to our resort. We used Canada Transfers, and I highly recommend both them and paying for your own transport. We had beers in the cooler waiting, we didn’t have to stand out in the heat and wait for the driver, we didn’t have to deal with other people, and our driver even told us about what we were driving past.
The last two years we stayed at the Valentin Imperial Maya – I wrote a rather extensive 3-part review that first year, so no need to rehash it. Last year I kept it brief, namely because there wasn’t much new to add. We really like the Valentin, but word has gotten out and it’s no longer a best-kept secret. Which means A) the price has gone up, and B) there are more people there. We wanted something calmer and cheaper this time around, so decided to try a new place.
I’d come across the Catalonia Royal Tulum the first year we were researching, but we turned it down because many of the reviews said it was too quiet and there were mostly Europeans. This year….SOLD. It’s an adults-only all-inclusive about an hour or so south of the Cancun airport.
The resort is considerably smaller than the Valentin – about half as many rooms, not quite 300. The property is also a lot less spread out, and the beach and pool are smaller. The small size wasn’t really an issue for us, though it did take a little getting used to at first. Thankfully, everything was pretty much in a straight line, so there wasn’t any risk of getting lost….you just followed the main walkway to everything you needed.
There were some coatimundi, some iguanas, a parrot or two, and lots of birds.
They also had a little pond with some fish, so in terms of wildlife it was about what you’d expect. The whole thing feels a bit like a rain forest…which means it can get really muggy, but it’s also a bit cooler on the walkway at least. The bridge to the pool area lights up at night, so that’s kind of pretty. Eerie, but pretty.
I’ll try to just hit the high points for the rest of it.
The beach was absolutely gorgeous. Much of the Caribbean is having a seaweed problem; that’s nature. But at Catalonia, they’ve got a net out in the water which catches both seaweed and sharks. (Kidding….but not really.) The beach was pristine.
The first day we were there, I woke up super early….like 6am. I managed to hold on for an hour before waking Jimmie up and dragging him to breakfast and then the beach. It was worth it though – it was totally deserted. I think we were the second couple down there. I was able to get a ton of gorgeous photos, and the early morning light was breathtaking.
We actually didn’t spend a ton of time at the beach though, because the chairs were horribly uncomfortable. Like make your legs go numb uncomfortable. And to those of you wondering about the closeness of the chairs – it didn’t bother me, and we rarely had someone next to us, but Jimmie did get a little penned-in feeling after a while. A lot of people ended up dragging chairs out to the sun, too, so it emptied out a little as the day went on.
We spent most of our time at the pool, because the chairs were much more comfortable. One thing I have to mention is that no matter what time of day we were there, there were ALWAYS plenty of empty chairs, even in the shade. Not at all like the Valentin where people play the “towel game.” I don’t think I noticed anyone saving chairs and not using them. It was really, really nice to not have to stress about being down at the pool early enough to get a chair in the shade.
There weren’t really any activities to speak of – they did a 20-minute aqua gym every day, and some volleyball. Mostly the pool was chill and quiet, and we never felt crowded. There’s no swim up bar, but the ladies bringing drinks around do a pretty good job. Geny, in particular, was fabulous. She remembered us and what we typically ordered, and always had a huge smile on her face.
Speaking of drinks, here’s where I have to give a thumbs down….the drinks were bad. Like, really bad. Part of it was low-quality liquor, ok. But part of it was simply not being able to make a decent drink. And half of what we asked for, they didn’t know what it was, and told us no (weren’t willing to try). We weren’t asking for super weird things either – Bumble Bee, Blue Hawaiian, White Russian, and Mai Tai were all on the list of “no-go.” Seriously. We pretty much drank Mojitos and beer, with a few margaritas thrown in. And whatever this green thing was, that was really gross. (Might have been their attempt at electric lemonade – we couldn’t drink it.)
Guys, I know I like to drink, but I’m honestly not a booze snob. Make me a decent drink and I’m set, but that wasn’t happening here. Even my mimosa was crappy.
The other thing people always want to know about is the food. We had a few disappointing things (anything Italian), but for the most part really enjoyed all the food. We ate at the steak house twice, and had the best service there (shout out to Avodo!) – and I ate so much the second night that I made myself sick. We also ate at the dinner buffet twice. It had different things both times, and the food was consistently good. Same with breakfast and lunch buffets…the food was surprisingly delicious (check out my tacos!!). Lots of great choices, the food was fresh and never greasy, and there was more than enough variety. And the desserts….I’ve never been a fan of mousse, but OMG I’m going to learn how to make it now.
What else…oh, our room! So the resort has two options, privileged or not. Basically with privileged you get a fancy restaurant and a nicer room. We did not opt for privileged, because we are cheap and low key. They upgraded our room anyway, because the resort was at capacity. We ended up in a Junior Suite, which I think is the top tier room. It was fine.
If that sounds flippant, well….it was a room. It was perfectly adequate, and I never would have paid extra for it. I think the only difference was that it was a little bigger and had a rain shower (which we hated, incidentally). The rooms all face the walkway, so there’s no breeze on the balcony. And as is the case in Mexico, everything is hot as balls, so we melted the entire time, even with the AC and fan on. Jimmie hated the bed, I liked it, so that’s helpful I’m sure. *grin* They did do towel animals though, so that was fun.
We liked it, but both of us agreed it was a little TOO quiet at times. There’s no real nightlife, which is ok, but as soon as you don’t have choices you want them. The beach was beautiful, and the crowd was perfect – super chill, super laid back. It’s cheaper, but not enough cheaper that it’s completely worth it if money savings is your big driver. We’d go back, but we’d go for a shorter trip.
Stay tuned for a VIM (Valentin) versus CRT (Catalonia) post!!!