If you were hoping for margarita recipes, I’ve got you covered over here. This Cinco de Mayo, I am reviewing two hotels from our recent stay over the border.
We made it. Ten years is big milestone and to celebrate we went on our first trip alone since having the littles. We headed south to Cancun and then a few days on Isla Mujeres. A quick non-stop flight from Austin and a short cab ride and we were on the beach. It took even less time for me to completely absorb the essence and enter complete and total relaxation.
One hour in…
10 years in…
A few ritas in…
Secrets the Vine:
The Jist: I could go on and on about this place. Greeted with hot cloths and bubbles, spectacular view from our balcony, immaculate service. Seriously, if you even think you want something, it is there. I think they have telepathy. They certainly have the best customer service skills I have experienced in any hotel. The entire facility is impeccable. I cannot recommend this hotel enough and I can’t wait to return. When we told people we were heading out after one day, they all asked why, understandably.
Rooms: We upgraded to a higher level suite with view of both the bay and the ocean. Super clean, stocked mini-bar, eating and lounge options, and chock full of every toiletry you might need. The shower had both a standard head and a rain shower option. Beautifully decorated. The ONLY thing I would change would be the sheets but now I sound like a diva.
Hungry? Choose one of six restaurants. Or room service. Or pick up something from the snack bar, espresso bar, lunch buffet. Our favorite was the lunch at Sea Salt. Two kinds of ceviche the first day, pork tacos the second. The Salmon ceviche was lime, ginger, and I think lemongrass. My husband had the Peruvian. Add a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc while looking at the ocean and you will get a glimpse of heaven.
Thirsty? There are three bars outside, nine total, excellent beach service. The drinks were great. Top-shelf liquor and tasty mixed drinks. Our favorite was the Iceberg-Corona with a dollop of frozen margarita. A wine bar, sports bar, lounges in and outside. An extensive wine list (most additional fee). Something to fit any mood.
Surrounding area: Well, other than a walk a the beach, we didn’t get that far. Why would we? When you’re in paradise you don’t have to see anything else.
We were tempted to stay but we were committed, and excited, to have a quiet experience on the island. So after our late checkout, we jumped in a very nice taxi provided by the hotel and went to the ferry dock to catch the Ultramar for a twenty minute jet across to the island of women.
The Jist: One of the few large hotels on the island, it is on the first part of Playa Norte, one of the top beaches in the world. The water is calm and blue and the beaches are soft, white sand. The grounds are full of tropical plants, the pool and beach areas have plenty of seating options and are very well-maintained.
Rooms: I knew we were going to have to lower our expectations after Secrets, but I didn’t realize how much. I knew there would not be the glamour-factor and I was ok with that. What I was not ok with was the smell of vomit outside our room that permeated or the smears of who-knows-what, or the drops of something red (bio-hazard?) by our little pool, or the filth in the sink. I am pretty sure there were tears.
I know, I know, that is dramatic, but when it is your first trip away, you don’t want smears.
After much hub-bub, (hazard tape and photos and security-I kid you not) we were moved to a cleaner version. Sparse, but clean, nice bathrooms and toiletries. The “stocked” mini-bar had a few sodas and some Cheetos. A kitchenette with nothing in it. An amazing deck with small private pool and great view. An additional deck on the first floor. The suite would be great for a larger party. For us, it felt like excessive because we were never in the room, but the sunsets were incredible with a bottle of Argyle bubbles I had picked up at Vino Volo in Austin.
Hungry? Hmmm…let’s start with the good. The nachos on the beach were great. The breakfast buffet was good. Ummm…dinner. Well, the first night we were told that Satay, their flagship restaurant, was booked but if there were cancellations he could fit us in. We walked by an hour later to find an empty restaurant. Maybe three tables full? He found room for us. House wine was undrinkable, so we bought a bottle of Mexican Chenin Blanc by Casa Madero. It was tasty: apple, acid, some tropical notes. A pleasant surprise.
Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that was the end of the pleasant. Our best dinner was barely ok. My husband got food poisoning both our first and third nights. Not mild discomfort. The kind where I had to stay up with him all night and thought about calling an ambulance. The GMs response as we were leaving? Well, I need to get you checked out by a doctor. Maybe you just drank the water. Um, no.
And seriously, I can’t believe the combinations. We had dinner on the beach and they chose the menu. It was incredibly romantic and beautiful. Our server was a gem. The food? Inedible. Except, according to my husband, the shrimp soup TASTED good. But you know how that ended. Just so you know I’m not just being crazy picky, I’ll explain the salad. Nice presentation, HORRIBLE combination: Tomato carved out with lettuce in it. Asparagus with maraschino cherries and strawberry (syrup) vodka dressing. WHAT?!? Who thought that would be good together? Ok, enough bashing.
My advice? Skip the all-inclusive, order nachos for lunch and go out for dinner.
Thirsty? The guys serving on the beach were great: always friendly, fun to chat with, attentive. Apparently there is no (or very little) fresh juice on the island. Even mimosas were made with some kind of syrupy orange drink. Stick with beer or mojitos or similar. And some tequila for good measure. Or even walk down the block and buy a coconut, order a shot of rum and make your own drink. But again, I’m not complaining. I was laying in a palapa while the hubs recovered while drinks were served and I read. Happy girl.
Surrounding area: This is where this resort shines. Playa Norte is amazing. There were massages next to the property for $35 an hour. We rented a golf cart and went around the entire island. Ruins on one end, stops for a cold beer, adventure options. The water was the perfect temperature, calm and aqua blue. The town retains what we love about Mexico: color, crafts, and a zesty but relaxed spirit. So much charm and beauty on this little island. We loved the people and the place. So much so that we will go back. A nice small clean room and we will go out to eat and buy our own mixers.
We kept asking ourselves: Why have we not done this before? It was such an easy, restorative weekend. We also kept saying how much our children would love it which I would guess means that we are fully entrenched in this parenthood thing. But we will still make time for “Secret” weekends so we can make it another ten. Happy Cinco de Mayo!