I just returned from a wonderful sunny fun-filled week at the Barceló Maya Colonial in the beautiful Riviera Maya. I am sure my observations will inadvertently compare the Barceló to the Iberostar as my last five vacations were all at Iberostars. Of these trips two were at the Quetzal, one at the Paraiso Beach, and two at the Paraiso Del Mar. I had high expectations of the Barceló brand of resorts. I loved the resort and it didn't disappoint me, yet I found some things that I liked about Iberostar that were noticeably missing at the Barceló. For comparison, I have trip reports from my the Iberostar trips (and many of my Cancun trips on my website:
The Barceló Colonial looks very much like an Iberostar, only smaller. They obviously had the same architect design these resorts as the Colonial lobby and the pathways look identical to an Iberostar. The buffets, specialty restaurants, pools and fountains surrounding them look so much like the Iberostar’s layout that I didn’t have that lost feeling of checking out a brand new resort. If you didn’t see the Barceló logo pressed into the sand of an ashtray stand, you would swear you were at one of the Iberostars.
They even had a trolley like the IB Paraiso, although it didn’t run the length of the resort, just back and forth between the four lobbies. So for an Iberostar girl visiting a new resort, it felt vaguely familiar. The resort was beautiful, impeccably clean, and the lush and floral grounds were well tended.
My day began at three-thirty in the morning. My car service was annoyingly early so I arrived at Lambert Field's East Terminal in pre-dawn darkness. The airport was on heightened alert and the yawning TSA agents were pleasant. I will never get used to not having my lotions, gels and creams in my carry-on bag, but I loaded it up with heavy stuff (to prevent being over-weight on my checked bags). I carried on a raft, snorkel and mask, shoes, a mirror, a digital camera, an mp3 player, my cell phone and a beach readable trashy book. I passed through security so fast I had to wait for Starbucks to open at 5 but it was worth it.
My flight on USA3000 was uneventful (a good thing when flying) and it took off well ahead of its' scheduled departure time. It arrived early as well and I am convinced that was a ploy to improve their ‘on time’ stats in print ads. I listened to my mp3 player that I pre-loaded with a couple hundred of my favorite tunes, and read the Enquirer and Star Magazines (both vacation worthy publications). Soon we arrived in paradise at the new terminal. Terminal 3 at the Cancun Airport was wonderful and I received my first stamp in my brand new passport. Again, luck was with me and I got the green light!
I arrived at the Barceló Colonial Maya Beach early on Saturday and was dropped off on the Tropical side of the resort. I was informed I was changed to the Colonial side so our large group could all be together. Although I was delighted to be staying on the other side of the resort, I was annoyed that I did wait quite a while for a golf cart to arrive to take me to the other lobby. The Colonial side was closer to everything and had a prettier lobby and air-conditioned lobby bar. Check in took forever as there was a long line. I was patient and received a third floor room in the Guanajuato building (6613) very near the beach with a bit of an ocean view. My travel agent (and friend) Tami had arranged for all of us to have nice rooms together and she did well!
The open aired buildings are beautiful, with Angel sculptures that are quite cool.
The buildings are all connected, and unlike the Iberostar, there were elevators. My room was immaculate, very nice and was comparable to a room at the Iberostar. The only thing missing so far was the wireless keyboards (internet) in each room like the Iberostar. The room was lovely, with nice furniture and artwork. There was a large television, an oversized safe, a ceiling fan, a well-working air conditioner, a clock radio, a desk with a data port, and the best item of all... I had several friends staying in rooms nearby! Inside the cabinets of the room were drawers for clothes. There was a nicely filled mini-bar fridge and a pull-out shelf containing a coffeemaker. The bathroom was well stocked with oversized bath towels and nice amenities such as a shower cap, comb, shoeshine swabber, sewing kit, shampoo, shower gel, and conditioner. The closet contained an ironing board, a scale (hehe who weighs themselves on vacation?) a pair of terry cloth bathrobes and two pair of slippers. The bed is very comfortable, and is actually on box-springs. This is where the Barceló beats the Iberostar as theirs is a mattress sitting on a concrete slab and is very hard. On the other side of the sliding glass doors was a balcony with functional plastic furniture and a pull-out clothes drying rack. Oh yeah, and a nice view.
My room was always very clean and my mini fridge was re-stocked daily. My fridge contained several large bottles of water, Fanta Orange, Coke, Coke Light, a 4-pack of Modelo Beer, two boxes of really tasty Sonrisa Orange Juice, candy bars, and nuts. There was another bottle of water near the coffeemaker, and coffee, cream, packages of tea, Equal and sugar were provided as well. I enjoyed the twice daily maid service, and the hard-working young lady was very sweet and very appreciative of the two dollar bills I left her. Not only was it a real treat to return late at night from the show or the disco to find my bed turned-down with mints on the pillow, but my drapes were closed, and soft lighting was turned on as well. It was a very nice touch. Also every night before leaving for dinner, the housekeeper stopped by and took my used towels and bath mat and replaced them with fresh ones. But I did miss the towel art of the Iberostars and certainly expected it at the Barceló. I also missed the Hibiscus petals and other surprises I used to find in my room in other resorts.
Anyway, after I checked in, I quickly unpacked and headed to the pool to look for my friends who were arriving scattered throughout the day. I easily found Keith, Tracie, and Landry by the bar (naturally) and they introduced me to my new favorite bartender…Sergio. Keith and Tracie are pool peeps but they even hung out at the beach and they are a hoot.
The swim-up bar was wonderful and the drinks were great. I had heard stories of having to pay for top shelf liquor and the regular drinks being weak, but Sergio took care of me and my frozen margaritas were terrific... very tangy, limey, and just how I like them. A couple of times when Sergio wasn’t there, I had some funny bar miscommunication experiences like asking for a Blue Margarita and getting two Margaritas. This happened quite a bit. Other than Sergio, some of the bartenders didn’t seem as animated as the IB’s drink slingers... But still the drinks were good and the price was right!
Tami, Tom, Hailey, and Tanner showed up and soon the group was growing. It was so wonderful to see everyone again. Mark and Catie, and Dan and Stephanie arrived and we all were excited with the unique layout of the pool.
It ran widthways (parallel to the sea) instead of lengthways which afforded a nice view of the beautiful Caribbean Sea. The pool was huge, with fountains, and a swim-up bar, and a water park for children. The view of the sea is nice when you are laying in a hammock.
The Caribbean Sea was an exquisite shade of aquatealturquoise (an ellyn word), the sand was powdery white and the sun smiled on me all week. Gently swishing palm trees and neat rows of lounger chairs dotted the beach and it was a very pretty scene. The resort bills itself as having the best beach in all of the Caribbean. The beach is visually very beautiful but the area of the beach where they have roped off an area for swimming is extremely rocky and shallow.
I walked way up the beach by the new construction and found a rock-free area of beach that was lovely. There were several turtles happily swimming there. There were some nests there being protected by the staff (marked with a red flag) and the lifeguard showed me his notes in his turtle log and seemed very happy to be protecting them.
Now do know that this very nice area of the beach has no food, no drinks, no bathrooms, and no lounge chairs but of course there is solitude. In fact I re-enacted the spirit of the famous Corona Commercial in the quiet calm of the morning.
I found it surprising that an upscale resort like the Barceló wouldn't provide any palapas on the beach. My only shade was obtained by chasing the sparse shade of a palm tree all day. I have heard that the Barceló favors the natural look of the beach without palapas and that the palms would fill out over time and provide more shade. I loved my week because I was with friends, but as an all-day "beach girl" I do need shade at times. The palapas at the Iberostar do not take away from the natural look of the beach in any way. They look very island-y.
The Barceló has no beach bar or beach waitress service, nor does it have the beach grill restaurant like the IB but the buffet bar wasn’t that far away. I loved how the IB had the little steaks, and chicken breasts and guacamole, right on the beach. If you wanted to eat at the Barceló you had to walk to the outdoor buffet, and put on shoes and a cover-up, but the food was good and worth donning shoes for. The hamburgers were huge and the buns were gigantic, and they used real Colby-Jack Cheese. They did not have pickles but the hamburguesas sure were tasty! There was plenty to choose from for lunch, including pizza, quesadillas, guacamole, salsa, soups, etc. and it was all good.
The food in the dinner buffets was really good. The staff was usually pretty accommodating and they put tables together for our large group whenever we went to the buffet. The buffet had a pasta bar, and a crepe bar, which I loved. The food was really good, and they had several varieties of lettuce on the salad bar, along with an assortment of good cheeses. I don’t remember Iberostar having very good cheeses or salads so this was a treat. I also had guacamole several times a day ~ really excellent guacamole at that. I chose the Japanese Restaurant (Bali Hi), the Steakhouse (Santa Fe), the Mexican (Agave), and the Italian (Capri), for my four specialty dining experiences. The Steakhouse had really good steak and the dessert was a white chocolate cup filled with dark chocolate mousse that was incredible.
At the Italian Restaurant (Capri), I had the waiter surprise me with something off the menu. He brought me linguini pasta with grilled chicken covered with an Alfredo Sauce, and it was quite good. At the Mexican Restaurant (Agave) I ordered fajitas. I had walked over to the restaurant which was several buildings away and there were dozens of people in the lobby screaming at a television. Later I found out Mexico was playing Argentina in soccer; and although Mexico lost, it was an exciting evening for many of the guests and staff.
Monday we had a reunion in the lobby and were joined by Randy from SF and his family. The 16 of us piled into four cabs and met in Akumal where we had a little party on the beach. We had each brought our four cans of beer from the mini fridge and bought rum, etc. There we were joined by Mike, Helen, Chris, their friends, and our other friends from the Sirenis, and Jaine (formerly a Star Friend) and Lee (formerly of the Iberostar Paraiso Star Friends Band) and spent the day on the beach. We met up with Craig and his wife who were staying in Akumal. I ate with half the group at Lol-Ha and the rest went to Lucy’s and as usual, the food was great. We stood in front of the webcam for a while so people could watch us online here and there were some nice screen captures that some friends made.
Some of the group played Raspberry Rum Twister on the beach and it was hysterical. It was hard to get pictures of the Twister with so many entwined limbs but I am sure someone has one.
Akumal Bay is so beautiful, although we never made it up to the nice beach in front of ABR. We just hung-out in front of Lol-Ha near the webcam. The mood in Akumal is peaceful, the water calm, and the pace is laid-back.
The beach and outdoor cantina looks like a Jimmy Buffett song in motion. Akumal is one of my favorite places.
When we got back to the resort, we took a dip in the pool and I walked around the beautiful grounds.
Later we met up in the nice air-conditioned Colonial side lobby bar. The lobby bar drinks were really good too. The Barceló lobby provided some sort of tasty nut mix served in bowls along with bowls of green olives. I thought this was a weird combination of snacks but it was better than nothing. This is where the Iberostar shines as they serve delicious salty fresh-popped popcorn in their lobbies.
We hung out there a while and then went as a group to the Japanese Restaurant (Bali Hi) for dinner where we dined around two Teppanyaki pits. The Japanese Restaurant was fantastic, and our chefs were hoots. Both chefs were doing fun shows with all sorts of chopping tricks. Ours made a Mexican Pyramid out of onions stacked like Chichen Itza, and when he ignited it, it flamed high into the air. He also did funny things with the eggs while making our fried rice. The steak and chicken and fried rice were very good. Although they offered dessert at the restaurant we all went to the buffet for our usual platters of dessert pastries, made to order crepes, platters of fruit, coffee and more drinks.
I missed seeing any wildlife at the resort. I got used to the Iberostars many flamingos and the peacocks roaming the grounds, and thought the Barceló would have them. The only animal I saw was an Iguana at the miniature golf course and a cat wandering around. I did see several Barracudas in the sea by the shore. One was five feet long and had a school of babies following behind it. We were there when a boy got bitten by one of the Barracudas. Apparently there are only a few recorded bites in history and we were there the day it happened. He was fine by the end of the week, albeit, hobbling on crutches. His parents were only upset by the Barceló’s reaction (or lack thereof) as this happened near the shore, was random, and possibly the young man (who was snorkeling), may have kicked it accidentally. The Barceló refused to do anything since the sea is in International Waters or something like that. His family raved at the speed and competence that the taxi driver, Playa del Carmen hospital, and Sam’s Club handled the crisis. They said he required an orthopedic plastic surgeon and one arrived at the hospital in less than 15 minutes. Sam’s handled the prescription in minutes. The hardest part was removing the sand from the wound. They said the doctors were first rate, English speaking, and very skilled. So even after speaking with the family, I still swam with the Barracudas and kept my eyes open. But I don’t remember ever seeing them at any other resort I have vacationed at.
The Barceló did not have the fun IB "beach party", and the staff doesn't dress up in costumes and wander the grounds trying to get you to come to the shows. I didn't get to know anyone on staff at all and no one on staff asked my name or where I was from (kind of different from the Star Friends concept). They were very nice and the shows were fine but they had no "club dance" like the Da'le Pa'lla or Hey Baby, and the kids had no pre-show fuss made over them nightly. The theater on the other side (Maya Beach) did have ceiling fans, and we went over there to see a famous Latin Grammy winner perform. His name was Chilly Willy or Willy Chorino or something like that. Keith, Tracie, Landry and I felt guilty walking out on the show but it was in Spanish and his microphone made his singing sound muffled. He looked like the Mexican Elvis. His accompanying band was terrific (Miami Sound Machine style) but still, we had enough "fun" after two songs.
Okay that’s it for now. I have no idea where I will end up next. Perhaps it will be the Iberostar in Jamaica, or the Rui, or even the Barceló again. There are a lot of places to explore, and I am glad I went to the Barceló and who knows where the group will pick for next time. I loved being with my friends and would go where the group goes. I just am more of a beach girl than a pool girl (although I had a blast at the pool and spent a lot of time there. I actually painted pottery and played mini golf. Vacation brought out the kid in me. I had a great time and the weather was fantastic. I miss everyone already! Watching everyone leave was really sad....
Because I was staying on the side that Apple does not book, I was apprehensive and worried about my transfer home on Saturday July 14th. I presumed that I would be picked up on the Tropical Side. On Thursday I visited the Apple Representative in the resort and we discussed my transfer back to the airport. He told me to be in the Colonial Lobby by 7:00 am. I saw him write down Colonial by my name. He told me he had called the Apple office to arrange for me to be picked up on the Colonial side because he did not want me to be inconvenienced so early in the morning by having to change lobbies to the Tropical after checking out (in the Colonial). This gesture was totally initiated by the Apple Representative. He said to re-confirm all of this on Friday. I visited his desk on Friday after breakfast and I was still worried. Again he showed me the word Colonial by my name and that it was arranged and confirmed.
On Saturday morning I was in the lobby by 6:30 a.m. and I bet you know where this story is going! I took the elevator and rolled my suitcases leisurely to the lobby and took one last goodbye look at the grounds.
I found coffee and donuts in the lobby bar and was checked-out immediately. At 6:45 I was still the only person in the entire lobby and I got a weird feeling. I had the bellman call the bellman on the Tropical side to tell him I was on the Colonial side waiting. Their bellman said he would remind the Apple bus driver to get me. I slipped my bellman a few bucks and said please make sure I don't get missed. At 7:00 the bus had not arrived and I had the bellman call the other side again. He said there were two people waiting for the Apple Bus and that all the bellmen on the Tropical side knew they had one guest to be picked up on the Colonial side. They told me to relax and not worry. At 7:30 my bellman called the other lobby bellmen and was told the people waiting in the other lobby were just as mad as me. At 7:40 my bellman called an off-property Apple office and after pressing button after button and being on hold for what seemed like forever, he was told the bus was running late and they knew I was waiting and not to worry. Five minutes later I got really upset. The bellman called the other side and they said the Apple bus had already left and I must have just got missed. Somehow all three bellman forgot to talk to the driver but I am more upset with Apple than all of the bellmen. How could the driver not care? How could he not look for me?
By this time I was physically and emotionally spent. By now I was crying and shaking. The bellman called the Apple office again and was on the phone pleading in Spanish to someone about my plight. The bellman said he would try to get Apple to pay for a cab. That would be great since I had no money and I should have left an hour ago and I had already paid for my transportation back to the airport. Apparently someone at Apple on the phone said "no" and I took the phone and got upset with who was on the line. He spoke little English and we got nowhere. He told me to give the phone back to the bellman who then told me he would call a cab and the Apple Rep at the airport was 'supposed to pay for it'. I got in the cab and the driver drove 120 kph (don't know what that was in English) but it was pretty fast. I was terrified for the duration of the cab ride, that there would be no one to pay for it, that the driver would be furious with me, that there would be trouble at the airport or I’d be dumped in the jungle. I also didn't see the cab driver put my luggage in the cab, as I was so upset. The cab arrived at the airport in enough time for me to make my flight (which left extremely early) and there was a polite Apple Representative at the airport that actually paid for it. He had me sign my vouchers that I was transported and that it was paid for. It was a very frightening experience as I travel alone and I think Apple owes me a few vouchers for what was a long and stressful day. My entire week was great but today wasn’t fun. On the plane I sat behind a crying kid who bounced into my seat the whole flight. The plane landed 45 minutes early but the conveyer belt for the luggage broke and it took 55 minutes to get it working. Other than that the week was great and I have wonderful memories of a nice resort!