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Family Feeling on the Mayan Riviera

It was a relief getting off the island of Cozumel. Although beautiful, I could not adapt to their tourist industry whose top priority appears to be keeping intoxicated foreigners happy.

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As there is no bus service for tourist, we attempted to rent a car. The agency wanted to place a hold on my credit card for the value of the car until it was returned and inspected; we found this arrangement unacceptable.

After some searching, we were finally able to rent some type of wreck, with insurance, for $50 a day. If there is an accident or mishap, insurance is priceless in countries where the foreigner is always at fault, plus locals realize eventually foreigners will have to leave even if a dispute is pending.

A typical illustration happened to friends we met from Calgary, Canada. They utilized a “convenient” HSBC sidewalk ATM and, although they received no currency, a slip was printed indicating a deduction of $600 from their account in Calgary. They immediately went into a Cozumel HSBC bank and reported the problem and were matter-of-factly informed they would have to take the matter up with their home branch in Canada.

Although they were HSBC customers no attempt was made in Cozumel, where the actual HSBC ATM was located, to rectify this problem. Unable to get any resemblance of local service, they then telephoned their HSBC bank in Calgary and were informed the bank would be happy to investigate their situation--once they appeared in person and signed an authorization form. We found this situation all too typical and reminded me of my prison guard days when we considered the “customer” to always be wrong.

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Even though we were owners at the resort in Cozumel, the German manager was eager to get rid of us and we ended up, strangely enough, on the Mayan Riviera near Cancun. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as all the amenities we paid for, and many times did not receive in Cozumel, were provided to us at The Grand Mayan.

In 1974 Grupo Vidanta was started by visionary Daniel Chavez. Today, the organization is 12,000 employees strong with diversified operations including over 30 hotels throughout Latin America, the international airport at Mar de Cortes, 2000 luxury vacation homes, and six real estate developments throughout Mexico.

Vida’s Mexico resort facilities are located in Mazatlan, Sinaloa; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco -- each with off-site golf facilities and another five resorts containing Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses all on a beach front at Acapulco, Guerrero; Los Carbos; Puerto Penasco, Sonora; Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo; and Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit which also has the Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf.

The Mayan Riviera is certainly not as long as the 550-mile French Riviera (Cote d’Azur) but I will testify that, unlike our French experience, I have never met an unpleasant or rude Mexican. The feel at the Mayan Riviera is so different from what we experienced in Cozumel. All the resort rooms are not only fully functioning but constructed from the finest materials, containing up-scale art, furniture, and bathroom fixtures with no expense spared. As a matter of fact, Mayan Riviera water closet facilities (rest room and bath area) are bigger than some sitting rooms at resort facilities elsewhere.

As opposed to being annoyed by young people who cannot hold their liquor (as a grateful recovering alcoholic, I am repulsed at wannabe alcoholics who don’t know how to drink), the loudest noises we have heard on the Mayan Riviera has been golf carts; iguanas, cranes, flamencos, or one of the other 546 bird species found on the Yucatan Peninsula. Of course one can drink here, but this is a more “civilized and cultured” clientele with, if the occasion arises, adequate room to make noise without disturbing others who seek quiet and serenity.

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There is also more bang for your buck with jazz festivals; an annual Festival of Culture of the Caribbean; the Heineken Winter Beach; and Hard Rock activities. Prior to this visit I had the Groucho Marx mentality “I would never want to be part of an organization whose standards were so low they would accept me.” This has always been reinforced, like our recent “Rodney Dangerfield experience” in Cozumel, where we certainly “got no respect.”

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It was so good to finally end up at a “Beverly Hills 90210” facility and be treated with dignity and actually receive more services than actually paid for. Finally a real (working) vacation with little to no stress, the constant serenade of indigenous song birds, private snow white beaches, extremely warm weather, activities for different age groups and families with the absence of someone constantly attempting to sell you something ridiculously overpriced.

In a major coup, Daniel Chavez is constructing a luxury home for Cirque du Soleil on the Mayan Riviera to entertain his guests. The facility, currently under construction, is scheduled to open in November, which is the Cirque’s 30th anniversary, and will be the first permanent show in Latin America. Cirque du Soleil was founded in Quebec by street artists Guy Laliberte and Daniel Gauthier. Leading into this grand opening and premiere performance are special activities from May through October celebrating Grupo Vidanta’s 40th anniversary.

Although this area is rich in Mayan-related historical sites and culture, winter golf is a big draw. Golfing addicts from Canada, the Midwest, or other frost-bitten areas cannot resist the combination of a championship golf course combined with high 70s, low 80s winter weather. After spending hours with Italian ex-pat, Johnny Simone, we were overjoyed to be able to get rid of our unwanted time shares as I have always considered them to be a waste of good money marketed on fraud and deceit.

As a reward for our business, Johnny (jonjacsimone@yahoo.com) will arrange for any golfer in this readership to play on the Nicklaus course at the Mayan Riviera, golf cart included, for under $100 -- just let him know when you will be in the area. If you require area facility recommendations, Johnny can assist you with this as well.

On a separate note, if any reader would like no obligation/no fee information on how to trade or resale unwanted time shares, Johnny can provide guidance in this area as well. I mention this because many of our friends have been victimized by legalized scams in America that promise to sell unwanted time shares after up-front fees are paid. After these companies receive your money, they seldom do what they promised. If golf or unloading unwanted time shares is not your cup of tea but Cirque du Soleil or one of the numerous regional cultural or entertainment activities may be, contact Johnny with your questions.

(Full Disclosure: The above mentioned services are provided by Johnny Simone as a “thank you” to Nina and me for our personal business at the Riviera Mayan. I have received no compensation for writing this article nor does the Hollywood Progressive or LA Progressive endorse or promote the services offered by Johnny Simone.)

A Riviera Maya shuttle is available to Playa del Carmen for $5. A local shuttle that stops near the front gate travels in the opposite direction to Cancun for about $5 as well. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Playa and about 45 minutes to get to Cancun. At either destination it is easy to meet American ex-pats working here, in retirement, or married to locals. The Riviera Maya also has airport pick-up and delivery service, something we discovered was not offered at many other area facilities. Again, it is attitude; there is a huge difference to be viewed as a cash cow as opposed to being treated as “family.”

Unlike other high-end facilities, some Riviera Maya pools and water areas are available 24/7 and do not shut down at 10 p.m. as is common practice elsewhere. There are at least half a dozen restaurants and cafes on site. Each appears to have been designed by an artist and is so serene and peaceful one does not want to leave. A few are open into what was jungle areas inviting a variety of birds to check diners out under the watchful eyes of iguanas attached to overlapping tree limbs.

The décor includes elegant art, statues, busts, indoor landscaping, and a selection of gourmet food choices. Under certain conditions, a personal chef can be assigned to your room.

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Prior to this visit we thought the Mayan Rivera was only for the super rich or wealthy. It is good to see that Daniel Chavez also had the middle class in mind when he designed this most elegant facility which turned our disaster of a Mexican vacation into something memorable.

James Rhodes