Just last week Peter Young, one of our expert travel advisors went on holiday to Cancun with his family and stayed at one of the resorts we feature. Today we're going to ask him a few questions about his overall travel experience so that you can get freshly squeezed, honest and recent insight into the holiday packages we sell; tried and tested by our own team.
Hi Peter, we'd love to hear about your recent trip to Cancun. Tell us briefly about your holiday experience and the occasion of the trip. Why Cancun, who with and why now?
Well, overall I had a really nice, fun and relaxing break in Cancun. The occasion, simply put, was to give my family an exciting and relaxing week off during the half-term break and an escape to sunnier skies sounded just like what the doctor ordered.
I've been to Cancun before and knew the destination quite well. Even though on previous occasions I had visited with colleagues on a Fam Trip and with a group of friends, I could see the great recreational potential for families, the fantastic resort facilities and the fabulous child-friendly attractions.
In the end I chose Cancun because it is a really relaxing and fun destination for families, in fact it has something for everyone, depending on the hotel you choose and the experience you're after. If you're with a bunch of friends you'll have a great time at the popular nightclubs and bars, Cancun has an excellent selection of these ,in fact this is where young Americans like to party. But since I have a young son now, I was looking for a totally different experience this time; I wanted to make his half-term break special and warm before the winter cast its chilly spell over London.
OK, so tell us which airline you booked your flights with to get there.
I really wanted a direct flight to Cancun because no one wants to be changing planes with a small kid in tow whose short patience quickly reaches its limit and whose incessant questions like "are we there yet" get old and tiresome really quick.
I could choose from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic as both airlines operate direct weekly services to Cancun from London. Both airlines offer an excellent in-flight experience, but In the end I chose to fly with Virgin as it had cheaper fares for the dates I wanted and I also had some miles to spend. On top of it all, I had also heard great things from Virgin's new entertainment system – Vera – where you can pause, rewind and fast-forward TV from the comfort of your seat.
So, I flew with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick departing from the airport's South Terminal. Definitely a good choice, despite it being 9-hours-and-25-minutes-long, we didn't have to make any stopover and there were good on-board entertainment options.
Tell us a bit more about your flights. How was your flight experience with Virgin?
Well at the start, it was a bit unnerving, but only because I hadn't realised that Virgin Atlantic allow all their flights into the same queue for check-in and bag drop, which means you could be queuing up for quite some time. I was later told by a Virgin member of staff that six other flights were also in the queue!
I got to the airport just over 3 hours before departure, thinking this would have been plenty of time to check-in but when we got there it was packed at queues, bag drop and check-in. In fact it wouldn't have made any difference if I had checked-in online before as the bag drop queue was equally long.
However, the actual in-flight experience was an altogether completely different story. We loved the in-flight entertainment with the modern touch screens allowing you to pause, rewind and fast-forward a fantastic selection of films, TV series and a variety of programmes. You can choose from a long list of the latest movies, TV series, documentaries, cartoons, music and even games, with an option that allows you to challenge fellow passengers! I was actually pleasantly surprised by the leg room space of the normal seats, more spacious than I remembered in fact. The food was also decent, so, all in all, a good flight experience.
OK, nice to hear that Virgin experience was pleasantly turned around. How about the arrival into Cancun?
Well, firstly I must say that the facilities at Cancun International Airport are excellent; it's a large and modern airport, with squeaky-clean marble floors, spacious areas, quality duty free shops and a variety of services.
On our way out, after passing immigration and collecting our bags from the luggage hall, we found the representatives from Connex Caribe Mexcico, the local agency we use in Cancun to represent us and transfer our clients to their hotel, as well as assist them with any problems during their stay. During the meet and greet session, they gave us a handy Welcome Pack, with general information about the destination, contact details and extensive information about tours and excursions.
So, tell us about your choice of hotel, did it live up to your expectations?
We stayed at the Great Parnassus, which my family really enjoyed. Before booking it I had heard it was good resort for families and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was recommended it by fellow colleagues at The Holiday Place who had been there and their comments were absolutely right. It's no coincidence that this resort has great reviews on TripAdvisor, it truly lives up to the hype.
The Great Parnassus proved to be a great family hotel with plenty of daily entertainment for children. The check-in process was smooth, easy and quick and our bell boy was fantastic. He actually got us a much better room than the one we were given at first.
The stretch of beach facing the hotel was fantastic and the powdery-soft white sands were only footsteps away from the resort. The location was also great, only about 15 minutes from the main strip known as Cancun Hotel Zone, a trendy and busy area with lots of restaurants, clubs, bars and attractions. It was nice that the hotel wasn't right in the middle of all the action but not so secluded that it'd take us long to reach the lively centre. The resort was also close to a championship golf course (which we didn't use but know of some guests that did and raved about it) and Aquaworld, which offers lots of water-based excursions.
Now moving onto the details - how was your accommodation, were you happy with the room?
As I explained earlier our bellboy got us upgraded to a much nicer room than the one we were initially given. When we got to our first room he asked us if we were happy with it, to which I replied that we were but would have liked a room closer to the beach. Upon hearing this he swiftly made a phone call and got us moved to a better room, which in fact turned out to be a family room, very spacious and spotlessly clean.
If there was one thing to fault it would be that some of the furniture was a bit dated but the actual decor of the room was nice.
You told us you brought your little one along. Did he have a good time?
Yes, as I was saying, there were excellent facilities for children, and lots of daily activities to get them excited and keep them occupied. There is a dedicated Baby Club for toddlers between 18 months and 3 years old, a Kids Club for children between 4 to 12 years old and a Teens Disco for youngsters between 13 and 17.
The Treasure Island's Kids Water Park is truly amazing, with lost of fun waterslides and a big pirate ship – fun is always guaranteed My son had a blast; it was his favourite place to be, we had a hard time getting him out of there.
An important issue for many holidaymakers is the quality of the food at all-inclusives, it's an aspect that really worries some travellers. How did the Great Parnassus measure up in terms of food and dining options?
The food at Great Parnassus' onsite restaurants was of a very good quality, actually even better than what I expected. The main buffet served everything, from Sushi, to pastas, traditional Mexican fare and other popular international dishes. There was also a fruit bar there which I found brilliant for healthy breakfast juices.
What was also great about this resort is that they didn't haven any restrictions on the a la carte restaurants, you could dine there whenever you wanted, however much you liked, and with no reservations needed in advance.
My favourite restaurant was Big Ben, which was a steak house. We dined there at least four times and thoroughly enjoyed it on each occasion. My least favourite was the Manhattan restaurant, where I found the American fare to be very bland.
Also great was the fact that the resort had an ample selection of unlimited domestic and international beverages, available at all of the resort's bars.
And, how about your wife? Did she enjoy herself? Were there good entertainment options for adults?
Indeed there were, this resort had great facilities for everyone in the family, including the parents and couples seeking some time alone.
Among the highlights for adults were the 3-swim up bars, because no one likes to have to get out of the pool to fetch a drink under the scorching sun, and also, the range of fun non-motorised water sports on offer.
For those seeking a totally rejuvenating experience there was also an onsite spa offering a long list of massages and therapies as well as special couples' treatments. We did not use it but had a look around and the spa area looked very nice, relaxing and romantic.
Another plus is that, if you feel like venturing out of the resort and trying out other facilities at a different hotel, you can do so thanks to the Exchange Privileges programme that the resort has with its sister property - Golden Parnassus - an adults-only resort, which you can enjoy with your partner if you leave your little ones behind in the care of a babysitter.
Oh and we weren't honeymooners but I found out that those who book their honeymoon at the Great Parnassus get one bottle of domestic wine and a fruit basket upon arrival at their room - a nice little touch.
Right, sounds like it offered a good well-rounded experience for everyone in the family. How about outside the resort? Did you venture out and explore other nearby hotels?
We did wander off outside the resort and eyed up some nearby properties to see what they offered. We stopped at the Live Aqua, the Hard Rock Cancun and the adults-only Secrets the Vine.
That sounds like a good and varied mix. What were your impressions on these hotels?
Even though these were all high-end, five-star properties they were all completely different, catering for different types of guests and their discerning interests.
The Live Aqua, on one hand, is the ultimate relaxation retreat. "Leave every worldly care at the door and just chill out" seems to be their motto. Everything here is designed to give you a truly relaxing experience, where you feel that everything flows naturally, seamlessly, there's no formalities, no dress code, just inviting open spaces. It's all very laidback with a comforting, chilled attitude.
The Hard Rock Cancun, on the other hand, is entirely different; it's loud and fun in every possible way and you feel that energetic vibe from the moment you arrive. From the lively colours to the pumping music, this resort is made to offer non-stop entertainment. In true Hard Rock style, the walls of the lobby areas and corridors are lined with music memorabilia.
Secrets the Vine, tells another story in that it is an adults-only resort, just like Live Aqua, but more focused on couples and romance. It's still quiet and relaxing but not quite as relaxed and spacious as the Live Aqua. On the downside, in my opinion everything seems to be narrower and smaller here, from the size of the swimming pool to the overall layout of the hotel. It's very nice and luxurious, don't get me wrong, but it looks squashed, especially when compared to the Hard Rock Cancun sitting just next door.
Which was your favourite and why?
Even though each hotel had its own special touch, my favourite of the ones I visited (but not stayed at) was the Live Aqua. It is ideally located across the road from La Isla Shopping Mall, the largest in Cancun, and also within close proximity to the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Their beach section and pool area were lovely, there were so many little pools and deckchairs perfectly spread out everywhere that it made you feel like it was never busy and you had lots of space to yourself. The clever design induces relaxation, even when the resort was very busy at the time I visited, it never felt rushed or claustrophobic. I was also shown one of its rooms, which was of a very good standard, with a lovely size and decor. They all come with a free mini-bar that is replenished daily.
The onsite spa is fantastic and they have soothing oils burning throughout the whole resort, which together with the calming music, makes for a really chilled out atmosphere.
Also, the restaurants there looked great. The chefs at the Live Aqua, all specialise in the cuisine of their designated restaurant and make a big deal about guests' diets, willing to provide for any dietary requirement. No one here feels excluded (apart from children that is) and it's a really great place to simply unwind and escape from it all.
Lastly, which one would you personally recommend?
For families who like to have non-stop fun, I would recommend the Hard Rock Cancun, without a doubt. From what I could see during my short visit, it's great for children and families of all ages, with good entertainment facilities. It is really loud and busy with music everywhere, so it would be ideal for families that like a lot of hustle and bustle. In general, for people looking for a fun-filled getaway, this would be the number one spot.
For families like my own, who like a more sedate pace and less in-your-face sort of entertainment, the Great Parnassus was ideal, just with the right level of fun activities and recreational options for guests of all ages.
So, here you have it, Peter's tried and tested holiday in Cancun. Another example of how we give our packages the seal of approval; by experiencing them and rating them ourselves.