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Today’s post comes from PDX Deals Guy who has previously written about using the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program in Las Vegas, Ticket Reselling, how to earn up to 2.625% with the Bank Americard Travel Visa and his experience with Silvercar. You can follow him on Twitter and look for the latest deals on his website.
Hyatt Zilara Cancun Review
My wife and I just recently returned from a great 8-night trip to the Hyatt Zilara Cancun. This is one of two Hyatt Zilara properties (the other being in Jamaica) that are “adults only” all-inclusive (AI) resorts. Hyatt also has Ziva “family” AI resorts in Mexico, including one that just recently opened just up the road from the Zilara in Cancun.
All-in-all, it was a fantastic and relaxing vacation, which is exactly what a mid-winter trip to a Mexican AI should be. We had previously experienced the Moon Palace and Sun Palace AI resorts in Cancun, so we were eager to see the difference.
The biggest difference for us in moving from our previous Palace Resorts experiences was that our stay at the Hyatt Zilara was “free” – or at least paid for entirely with Hyatt points earned via the travel hacking skills I’ve acquired here at Miles to Memories and other fine blogs out there. Specifically, Zilara requires 25,000 Hyatt points per night (or free night certificates from the Chase Hyatt credit card), which I transferred over 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards. That rate covers the entire AI experience for 2 adults. Additional adults in the same room are 12,500 per night, so you’re really better off going in even numbers and getting a room for each pair of people.
Once you’re ready to book, you’ll need to call Hyatt to book the reservation, as their website does not support online booking of AI resorts with points. There is also no points and cash option available, nor can Diamond Suite Upgrades be used.
Since I mentioned the Palace resorts in Cancun, I will make a quick comparison, especially for the sake of anyone thinking of making the switch to Hyatt like we did. Besides the ability to book with Hyatt points (versus cash or time-share weeks probably being your option at Palace Resorts), we found the Sun Palace and Hyatt Zilara to be very comparable in just about every way.
The Zilara is a bit larger, but other than that it’s not surprising that both are on TripAdvisor’s top-10 list of Cancun hotels. (The Zilara did give us one quick sales pitch for their “membership club,” which seems to be something of a holdover from the previous time-share ownership of the building – before it was acquired by Hyatt, but less so than you’ll experience at the Palace Resorts.) The one thing that the Moon Palace has over both (besides being enormous) is an on-site championship golf course, to which some time-share members have unlimited “free” access (and I believe you can buy those “golf” weeks from some members on eBay).
A great tip that I picked up from Angelina Travels before my trip was to use Discovery Mundo for airport transfers to/from Zilara. Their price was $73 (per couple) for us, which was about half of the service offered by the hotel itself. Discovery Mundo has someone waiting for you right outside the airport, holding a sign with either your name or their company name. Then that person takes you right to a private (non-shared) air-conditioned van or SUV, and our wait was about 10 minutes after clearing customs. The ride to the hotel is about 20 minutes, and they will want to pick you up at your hotel on the way home two and a half hours before your flight.
Most of the rooms at Zilara are identical, or nearly identical, or so I’ve been told. The exceptions are the ground-floor swim-up suites and we heard mention of (and think we saw larger balconies for) some “presidential” suites. From what I’ve gathered in talking to Hyatt and other folks who have been to Zilara, I don’t believe there is any way to guarantee one of these other types of rooms when booking with Hyatt points. There is a 40,000 point “suite” booking option, but all the rooms at Zilara are considered ocean-view suites, so I haven’t been able to confirm that the extra 15,000 points per night guarantees you anything. Maybe it would increase your chances at an upgraded room, but I’m not sure it’s worth it.
Since we didn’t experience the swim-up suites, I’ll leave the commentary on them to someone else. But I will list some quick pros and cons we observed for the swim-up rooms. Pros: quick/easy access to the pool and beach area, your own pool lounge chairs that you don’t have to fight for, a semi-private pool that you share with four to six neighbors, and I’ve heard the rooms are a bit larger. Cons: some lack of privacy being just above ground level, the private pool and lounge chairs are in the area that gets shady before the rest of the pool area, less of an elevated view of the ocean from your room, and whatever other negatives you might ascribe to being on the ground floor of a hotel.
As for our “standard” room, it was quite nice. The bed was very comfortable (choose your pillows from a menu at check-in) and the large jacuzzi tub with ocean view was fantastic. The bathroom is not terribly private (you’ve been warned, in case you care), but plenty big, with two sinks, a decent-size closet, and a big shower with two heads and side jets. Robes and pillows are provided, the latter of which is nice for the marble floors.
Two last broad thoughts on the rooms. First, I didn’t get the feeling at check-in that my Hyatt Diamond status did much for me in terms special treatment. In fact, as Angelina mentioned, Hyatt Platinum and Diamond members both get the same color wristbands (not that it probably matters). Perhaps status could help to get an swim-up suite, depending on availability (a friend of mine with Platinum status got one for part of his stay recently). That said, they did happily give me 3pm checkout on the day we left, which coincided with my shuttle bus pickup time.
The second thought is regarding floor selection. It appeared to me that the 6th floor (out of 8 floors) had mostly private balconies, so you may want to request a room on that floor. Otherwise you may get to know your neighbors if you both happen to be using your balconies at the same time. Also, unless you don’t think you’ll mind noise from the evening entertainment in the lobby, you will want to avoid the centrally-located rooms on the bottom four floors (that open up to hallways exposed to the lobby).
Food and Drink
This is why you go to an all-inclusive, right? In all seriousness, it is probably the most controversial part of the AI experience. My perception is that a lot of AI’s are known for having marginal food (and drink) quality, at best. I suspect this stems from lower-quality resorts. In my experience, at Hyatt (and the Palace Resorts) the food is mostly very good, if not great. Like many things in life, I suspect it’s all about expectations. But we were generally very pleased with the quality and variety.
In terms of variety, there were four to six different restaurants (depending on how you define them), a coffee shop, a VIP lounge (with snacks and a self-service bar), and a few full bars (with bar service at all the restaurants). You can read about each of them on the hotel website, and even see menus, so I won’t spend a lot of time breaking them down.
What I will share is a quick laundry list of some tips and favorites:
- Make hibachi table reservations at Asiana a few days in advance (maybe make two or three reservations, as you can always cancel).
- We have heard from a few other folks, and agree ourselves, that the pool restaurant (Pelicanos) is a favorite spot for the view and good food (love the french toast at breakfast, steak and fish tacos at lunch, and the steak and shrimp together at dinner!). But if you’re a bit unlucky like us and have some windy days, you will definitely want to seek out any calm evenings to eat there.
- If you like coffee (and liquor!), don’t miss the Mayan (flaming!) coffee at Tapas at dinnertime. In the morning, grab a coffee in the coffee shop and stop by the main lobby bar to have them add some Bailey’s!
- The variety and quality at the buffet restaurant (Spice) is actually quite impressive. (You may want to follow my lead and show up at 10:55 each night, just before closing, and ask for a plastic cup and spoon to get some sorbet or ice cream to take back to your room!)
- If you want to consider the Chef’s Table (more private dining experience), be sure to check out the daily menu ahead of time, as it varies significantly.
- Finally, remember that room service (decent menu selection) and honor bar (stocked with sodas, snacks, beer and four types of non-top-shelf liquor) is included in the AI experience!
One last very important tip! Don’t forget to ask for whatever top-shelf liquor you want in your drinks. If you don’t ask, of course you’ll get the well. Our personal favorite of the week was the Don Julio margarita on the rocks, with a dash of Grand Mariner!
Pool and Beach
If you didn’t come for the food and drink, then you probably came for the pool and beach (maybe both!) The pool is somewhat split between an activity pool (occasional volleyball, water aerobics, semi-loud music, etc.) and a more quiet pool, with the split being the bridge to Pelicanos restaurant. The pool is surrounded by cabana day beds (nice and cushy, but could use a couple extra pillows) and lounge chairs.
If you pick up nothing else before you go, here’s the key tip. If you want a decent bed and/or chairs, you’ll probably need to go down to the pool by 8 or 9am to get towels and claim your territory. I also recommend bringing a few magazines you don’t care about, so that you can leave one “personal item” besides towels. As annoying as this system is, you’ll soon learn that it’s the “game” at the resort. While you might be able to get an employee to help you claim a chair or bed that hasn’t been used in hours (other than holding a towel), I wouldn’t count on it. Again, it’s kind of annoying, but if you aren’t an early riser, you might want to set an alarm to make a quick run down to the pool deck in the morning.
The pool itself is great. The temperature is perfect, not to cool or warm. Perfect for wading up to the swim-up bar for drinks! The wifi at the pool is pretty spotty, and understandably worse the further you move towards the beach. We relied a fair amount on our AT&T data plan, which, as of this writing, includes 1 GB of data per month in Mexico (extra $20 per GB over), if you sign-up for the free Mexico plan while you’re traveling.
The beach might be more of a draw during the hot summer months, but while we were there in January it was far less-used than the pool. If you prefer the beach (and if the wind isn’t blowing too much sand), then you won’t have any problem getting your choice of cabana beds or lounge chairs at the beach. Some places in Cancun have a lot of seaweed on the beach and in the water, but we did not experience it to any bad degree. In fact, we had a great time jumping waves in the ocean on a few occasions. It is quite a sight looking up and down the long stretch of hotels along the Cancun beach. You might even enjoy a walk or jog on the beach, or being approached by merchants selling trinkets.
If you’re looking for a vacation where you have nothing to do but relax in the sun, and potentially have way too much to eat/drink (why do they put scales in the rooms?!), then Zilara Cancun is a solid choice, especially for those of us with access to Hyatt points. There are other aspects to the resort I haven’t covered here (since we didn’t partake much), including evening entertainment in the lobby, local shopping and tours, the fitness center, and the salon/spa.
The resort feels like a solid 4-star experience, and I doubt you’ll be disappointed with that frame of reference. The service from the locals who work in the resort is solid and sincere, if not perfectly uniform and well-trained, as you might expect at resorts in some other geographies. Take a big stack of $1 bills for tipping throughout the week (you won’t otherwise have any use for cash), and we found the employees to be very appreciative.
Have you been to the Hyatt Zilara Cancun? If so, how do your experiences compare? If not, feel free to pose questions here, and maybe one of us who have been can take a stab at answering.
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