Thursday, 13 February 2014


Security checkpoints aren’t exactly the norm at most hotels we stay in, but this turned out to be just one of many eye-opening experiences we had at Moon Palace Golf Resort & Spa.
If you've read about our other trips, you'll know that five star resorts aren't usually our style - but we were about to spend two freezing months in Boston, and this Orbitz deal from LA was on par in price with those Fiji/Raro deals constantly being advertised in NZ. Besides, Cancun is within driving distance to Chichen Itza, a UNESCO site! That settled it.

We first got an inkling of the resort’s sheer size during the long drive from the front gate to the first of three lobbies. Even the bellhops were reluctant to let us take our own bags to the room “Are you sure? It could be really, really far away.”
Yes, that is all Moon Palace. They've even got a new development going...
After wandering around for a good five minutes and nearly getting lost amongst the blocks of identical looking buildings, we finally found our room in the 'Luna' wing and arrived at our home for the next four nights.

The first thing we were hit with when we walked in was the jacuzzi, sitting nonchalantly beside the bed, as if it were perfectly normal.
The next sign that this was no ordinary hotel room came when we pulled out the cupboard next to the mini fridge.
For recovering alcoholics, Moon Palace would be sheer hell. In every room there are four bottles of complimentary spirits (i.e. you already paid for it in the all-inclusive resort fee), refilled every 24 hours. Plus a bottle of red wine as a welcome, as well as more beers in the fridge.

Funnily enough, apart from fiddling with the tequila tap once to see how it worked (push the plastic prongs up and viola, instant shot), we didn’t even have any of it. After all, why have straight tequila when you can grab a free margarita every hundred paces?

Even though I had made the booking myself and carefully read much of the fine print, I never ceased to be surprised by just how inclusive the ‘all inclusive’ part of the resort was. Whether it's a wedding or a corporate function, a 'free' bar usually entails basic beer and wine only. Well, no such restriction here. In fact, what with the mandatory wristband all guests have to wear as some form of identification, it felt like some sort of continuous dance party, except you don't need to pay for drinks.
When they finally cut this off upon check out, my wrist actually felt rather naked. We were given a 'check out slip', ostensibly to enable continual use of the facilities until our ride to the airport a couple of hours later, but this turned out to be entirely unnecessary - the staff treated us just the same as before. Given that it would be next to physically impossible to sneak onto the grounds, and the huge number of guests in general, I suppose there's no point in policing it too closely.

As soon as we sat down at dinner for the first time, our waiter started rattling off the drinks which were on offer. Being in Mexico, we opted for margaritas. They arrived promptly and tasted better than any overpriced cocktail I’d had in New Zealand - no skimping on tequila or lime juice here! Once our glasses got low, more drinks would magically appear to replace them, each stronger than the last.
Dining options in places like resorts and cruise ships are often average at best and downright horrible at worst, but I'd read glowing reviews about Moon Palace's plethora of offerings beforehand, so I had moderately high expectations. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed. Here's a taste of what's on offer at just one of the many restaurants at Moon Palace.
Fajitas, enchiladas, tacos, tostadas, tortillas - there were heaps of local Mexican dishes, both cooked to order and ready to serve. The meat was tender, and everything was bursting with flavour, not at all blanded down for tourists' tastebuds. Even the dishes from the serve yourself counters weren't a let down, unlike most buffets where they look and taste like they've been sitting there for hours.

While attentive service is something most good restaurants strive for, at Moon Palace it could all be a bit much, despite the fact that gratuities are also waived as part of the all-inclusive deal. It might sound amazing to be waited on hand and foot, but when staff grab your plate out of your hands as soon as you've finished piling it with food, apparently to lighten your load during the short walk back to your table, it's a bit weird.

It wasn't all bad though - when we asked for some hot sauce, they gave us a giant gravy boat full of delicious chipotle sauce, and when I couldn't find guacamole at the condiments bar, they served up an extremely fresh tasting bowl of the stuff, complete with tortilla chips for dipping.
It'd be easy to argue that buying a taco from a roadside food truck in the non-touristy part of town would be way more authentic, but the quality of the food at the resort fully satisfied my foodie proclivities. Besides, all the staff are Mexican anyway, so it's still Mexicans cooking Mexican food!

By the time we’d given up on the buffet and tried in vain to decline yet another cocktail, the waiter had delivered two final drinks, this time in plastic cups. “To go!” he said. Incredulous, I made James double check whether we were really able to walk off with them, like some sort of Burger King soft drink. “Sure!” So off we went, carrying our ‘to go’ margaritas. At any moment I thought someone would tell us off, but of course, they didn’t. It seemed especially inappropriate after we took a sip – they tasted like straight tequila, with a dash of lime and syrup, served over ice. It’s as if the staff had purposely maxed the strength to see whether they could really make us pass out right there in the restaurant.
Takeaway cocktails on another day (in front of our private hammock)
The constant offer of alcohol isn’t restricted to the eateries, either. Most times after grabbing a sun lounger by the pool, a staffer will swing by to ask if we wanted a drink. And if you want to help yourself, you’re never far from a bar – even while in the water.
One of the swim-up bars
Of course, there were plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on offer too. I grew particularly fond of virgin margaritas in the mornings, even though nobody would have looked twice if you started ordering liquor before noon.

Lazing in a sun lounger by the pool is the reason most people go to a resort, but Moon Palace does it one better by letting you lie on a sun lounger IN the pool.
Too hot? Just roll right into the water!
As if one massive pool wasn't enough, there are multiple swimming areas snaking around the place, along with a ton of activities like mini golf, real golf, tennis, basketball, cycling, a gaming arcade, even an artificial wave pool.
There were also free shuttle buses to the two sister hotels in the actual 'Cancun hotel zone' - Sun Palace (couples only) and Beach Palace (family oriented). The latter is directly opposite two big shopping malls, handy for rainy days, but both seem positively tiny compare to the mothership (Moon Palace).
Infinity pool at Sun Palace
Despite all the activities, most guests naturally gravitate toward lounging by the pool. Why else do you go to a beachside resort, after all? Plus, it's stinking hot and extremely humid (even in their 'winter') - perfect motivation to take a dip.
Just like Vegas, there are frequent shows in the evenings to keep the guests entertained, including a pan-Mexican dance revue. Again, not very 'authentic', but let's be honest, if you (a foreigner) is present at any kind of local tribal dance, no matter where it is, how authentic can it be? And does it even matter? They dance and get paid, you watch and get entertained - win-win, right? A mariachi band opened the proceedings with some rowdy Mexican resort guests shouting song requests. Then, the dance troupe showcased a range of styles from each region, ending with these crazy props.
I get that these are somewhat traditional parade masks, but I couldn't help but feel they were a bit... scary. Still, it was all very entertaining.
If you're looking for a beautiful, luxurious resort holiday, I couldn't recommend Moon Palace more. It's not going to be cheap, even if you get a deal, but it was so relaxing not to have to worry about the cost of each drink or meal, or agonise over how much to tip. I would happily come back in a heartbeat - just as long as it's not any hotter than this!

[Full Flickr set here]

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