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Girls’ Getaway Gone Wrong
Are you considering a trip to Cancun, Mexico? Here’s our honest review of the adults-only Hyatt Zilara Cancun. While there are lots of great things about the property, I have reservations about recommending it to others (read on to find out why). Here’s what happened during our stay:
When you hear the words “all-inclusive resort,” what comes to mind? I will confess that I am generally not a fan. I get restless sitting in one place and am largely uninterested in pre-packaged fun (“no ma’am, I would not like to join the ping pong tournament, thank you very much”).
That being said, when two of my closest friends and I decided to go on a ladies’ weekend getaway in January, we ultimately chose just such a resort. As busy moms and step-moms who also work full time and are generally overtasked, we were looking for an opportunity to do absolutely nothing! The plan was to park our bottoms in a beach chair and to chat, nap, talk, eat, and drink some adult beverages.
Cue the all-inclusive resort!
We chose Cancun for the beaches, weather, and ease of access (one person was traveling from the West Coast of the U.S. and two from the East Coast). Again, while Cancun, with its “spring break” vibe, is generally not my scene, the location made sense.
Deciding where to stay
Cancun’s Hotel Zone has over 67 hotels and resorts, so how do you begin to narrow down your choices and avoid analysis paralysis?
Because I am a Hilton Diamond member (and you can be too), I first looked for Hilton properties. In fact, our initial plan was to stay at the Hilton Playa del Carmen all-inclusive resort until I read reviews indicating that the property was under renovation and several areas would be closed at the time of our trip. We didn’t want to risk having construction noise interrupt our margarita sipping.
So, I turned my focus to Hyatt properties, because of the chain’s reputation for service quality. Hyatt has two resorts in Cancun: the family-oriented Ziva and the adults-only Zilara. When faced with the difficult choice between listening to other people’s children screaming at the pool or not, guess which one we picked for our kid-free weekend?
Getting to the Hyatt Zilara Cancun
The Hyatt Zilara Cancun is located on the northern end of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, about 25 minutes from the airport. Before you travel, go to www.cancunairport.com and arrange your ground transportation through the site. All ground transportation arrangements are supposed to be made prior to arrival (you can’t simply flag down a taxi). That being said, if you forget, upon arrival someone will help you make arrangements, but you might have a longer wait. The hotel did email us offering to arrange roundtrip car service for $165–about four times the going rate. Thanks, but no thanks.
You can also complete your Tourist Information Card online and print a copy to bring (this is essentially your tourist visa). This prevents that scenario in which you spend 10 minutes on your flight trying to locate a pen to fill out the entry form, only to discover that you can’t remember your flight number and your pen has exploded.
Check-in at the Hyatt Zilara Cancun
Upon arrival at the Zilara, bell hops whisk away your bags as a greeter offers you a moist towel infused with scented oils. After a quick freshening up with your towel, there is an awkward moment when you realize there is nowhere to put the used towel.
You are then seated with a check-in agent who will go through the normal routine, provide a map, and review all the restaurants on property. Before heading to our room, we had to ask what to do with our now cold towels. The agent told us to just leave them on his desk and he would take care of them. This was weird.
Hyatt Zilara Cancun suites
The Hyatt Zilara Cancun is an all-suite property, and all rooms have an ocean view. You may want to request a room above the fourth floor, as the upper floors are not exposed to the interior atrium, which can be noisy during the evening entertainment (which ranges from a Mexican cultural dance show, to karaoke, to—Lord help me—Michael Jackson night). No offense to the King of Pop, but he’s not exactly a Mexican cultural figure.
All rooms have a balcony with a table, chairs, and hammock. The wind here is impressive though, so we preferred spending our outdoor time at ground level rather than on our fourth-floor balcony/wind tunnel.
The suites also come with an oversized jacuzzi tub that takes up an inordinate amount of space in the sleeping area. Again, this feels weird (and according to staff at the spa, the room set-up is a carry-over from the previous owners. Hyatt has changed little in the hotel, with the exception of the spa, since it acquired the property in 2013).
Let’s be honest—you go to Cancun for the sun and sand (and maybe a few margaritas). The beach does not disappoint. It is well-maintained and very clean. The white sand has an almost puffy feel as though you are walking on a cushion.
The cerulean water is deceiving. While beautiful to gaze at, the surf is quite rough, and there is a strong undertow. Wading is permitted, but swimming is generally not possible here. If you have questions about safety, signs are posted, and there is a lifeguard station in front of the resort. Anyone attempting to swim in the ocean will get an energetic response from the lifeguard.
The beach area is still a great spot to park yourself on a chair or beach bed and look at the ocean while waiters circulate taking drink orders, someone comes by to clean your sunglasses, and a roaming spa representative convinces you to come in for a treatment.
Through guest surveys, Hyatt learned that one of customers’ biggest complaints was people staking out beach chairs and cabanas for the day, leaving their stuff there, but not actually occupying the seats. As a result, it instituted a “no reserving chairs” policy. Beach butlers enforce this in their friendly manner and, as a result, we had no problem finding beachside real estate during out stay (the resort was also not at capacity during our non-peak weekend visit).
If the pool is more your vibe, be advised that the northern side (on the left as you face the ocean) is where all the activities are held and is the noisiest (music blaring, announcers summoning you over the loudspeaker for water aerobics, etc.). If that makes you cringe (as it does me), the quieter southern side is for you. Seriously, I am sensitive to sound as a result of my brain injury, and it would have been impossible for me to enjoy the northern pool area. That is, however, where you will find the palapa offering towels and water sports.
The Sky Gym was one of my favorite spots on the property. This full-sized gym has cardio equipment, weights, and even a Pilates Reformer studio. The wall of windows faces east with beautiful views of the intercoastal waterway. There is even an outdoor heated lap pool. Even if you don’t swim, this is a great place to grab a chair if you are looking for a quiet corner away from the crowds.
As I mentioned earlier, the Zen Spa was the one area completely redone by Hyatt when it purchased this property. Its new location is more central and accessible. In addition to the standard array of treatments (massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, etc.), there is a relaxing water experience that includes an indoor pool, hot tub, rain shower, sauna etc. (Be sure to bring your swimsuit, as the facilities are co-ed).
There are a variety of food options on property:
You can stroll into this outdoor beachfront restaurant from the beach or pool. The desserts got high marks from our group (grilled pineapple with vanilla ice cream is a winner!).
Café de la Casa
Head here around the clock for coffee, tea, smoothies, ice creams, pastries, and desserts (including some gluten-free options).
This is their gourmet Mexican restaurant, which has nice ambience and friendly wait staff but average food.
Cantina La Adelita
The cantina offers light Mexican snacks, as well as a variety of tequila- and mezcal-based drinks.
The highlight at Asiana is teppanyaki (where the chef prepares the food on an iron griddle in front of you). Reservations are required and should be made through front desk staff upon arrival (or earlier if possible). Spaces are limited and go quickly. If you are not able to secure a reservation, you can still enjoy sushi or other Japanese dishes at Asiana without a reservation.
Spice is the main buffet restaurant that serves all three meals. The offering exceeded expectations for a buffet. Wait staff were friendly, although the hosts and hostesses we encountered tended to be surly.
And for the sports fan who must watch “the game” there is American-style sports bar.
Room service is also available 24 hours a day.
Girls just wanna have…food poisoning?
So far everything sounds pretty good, right? So, why then did I say I had reservations about recommending this property? Well, my friends, after a lovely 24-hours relaxing with my girlfriends, each and every one of us got food poisoning and spent the rest of the trip taking turns being violently ill. We had to call a doctor to our room on our final day, and she confirmed that all of our symptoms pointed to food poisoning.
Gastric distress is obviously not unheard of in Mexico, however I would never have anticipated that every member of our party would get food poisoning at a high-end resort. I lived in Mexico City for an entire year and know how to navigate food choices. During that year I did not have stomach issues a single time, but the Hyatt Zilara Cancun managed to take me down!
We felt an obligation to reach out to Hyatt to let them know about the food poisoning, so that it could be prevented for other guests.
We laid out our concerns as neutrally as possible. Knowing that Hyatt has a reputation for good service, we were expecting them to say something along the lines of: We are so sorry this happened to you and will do everything in our power to make sure it does not happen again.
Instead, the response from the hotel was basically: That couldn’t have happened here. You all probably came with some type of bacteria.
Say what? Three women, flying in from three different states who hadn’t seen each other in months somehow miraculously all carried the same bacteria causing them to have food poisoning-like symptoms at the same time? I don’t think so.
Obviously, this response was not what we hoped for, so we shared our letter in a private message to @HyattConcierge Twitter team. We immediately heard back from someone who said she would escalate our concern and someone would reach out to us within 24 hours. Despite additional follow-up on our part, it was two weeks before we heard from anyone at Hyatt.
I do give credit to the person who ultimately responded. He apologized on behalf of Hyatt and acknowledged that being sick on vacation was indeed no fun. He offered us each 25,000 World of Hyatt points, which was generous. If we were to combine those, that would provide us with another three-night vacation at a Hyatt resort. While we won’t get back the time we lost, this was a very nice gesture on Hyatt’s part.
Most of the staff were very friendly. Every staff member was wearing a pin asking you, the guest, to rate the resort as a 9 or 10 when you check out. They seem focused on this goal, and most were very eager to provide good service (for example, many staff members addressed me by name, even if I had not met them yet).
Because most were so lovely, it was quite jarring when we encountered the few who were truly unpleasant.
For example, one morning, feeling completely green, at the breakfast restaurant (Spices) I explained that I didn’t need a table; I just wanted to grab a piece of toast to bring to my room. The hostess’ snapped, “you can’t remove any plates from the restaurant.” That, of course, was not the right answer to give a sick guest (or any guest), particularly at an all-inclusive resort offering 24-hour a day room service that is clearly equipped to remove dishes from the rooms. In the end, she offered me a small paper sleeve in which to put my toast. A perfectly reasonable solution, and one that should have been automatic. I had a similar experience with a different host the following day, who was unpleasant to me when I asked to simply grab a banana and go.
Hyatt Zilara Cancun Review — The Bottom Line
In the end, we spent several thousand dollars for 24 hours of fun before food poisoning kicked in. You certainly don’t get a great value out of an all-inclusive resort when all you are consuming is white rice, plain pasta, and crackers. What was supposed to be a relaxing escape left us all seriously ill (it took each of us over a week to recover) and exhausted with seriously lighter wallets.
Because of that, despite the beautiful property and mostly great staff, I personally will not be returning to this resort.
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