Tuesday 8 September 2015

Review: Reef Playacar hotel, Mexico

After an exhausting but very interesting tour with Kuoni around Mayan sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, we were ready for 5 days of luxury in our all-inclusive hotel at the end. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got – at first anyway!
At reception on arrival we were told that drinks were not replaced in the fridge in the room, we did not have wifi and we did not have access to every bar and restaurant without paying an extra charge, which was disappointing as we hadn't realised there were different levels of all inclusive.
We were told that for an extra $18 (US) a day we could stay in the same standard room but have wifi, soft drinks in the room and access to the other bars and restaurants, or for an extra $25 each a day we could have all that plus move to a premium room near the pool. We decided to go away and think about it. As we got to our room, we saw a very drunk young man being ‘helped’ back to his room by security which made our hearts sink. I know all inclusive means plenty of alcohol but as this was a Kuoni-recommended hotel, we were expecting something quite exclusive and high-end, probably full of older couples (much like our tour group) – not American frat boys.
breakfast buffet
We took our suitcases to our room and up two flights of stairs – there were no porters to help – and I was a bit disappointed at the quality of the room, average at best – I had been expecting something like the Dreams resort at Tulum where we had spent our first night before the tour.
We went to have a look at the pool – there were two, one with a swim-up bar, and the other with a net for ball games. It’s worth knowing that you don’t need to bring a towel which I hadn’t realised – you are given a plastic card which you exchange for a towel and at the end of your stay if you haven’t got your plastic card (which you receive back when you return the towel) you are charged, which seems a pretty good system. You do need to put a towel on a sunlounger before breakfast though if you want to be sure to get one around the pool.
The similar cards that you are given for access to your room on the other hand were not so good- every time we went out and came back to our room, one or sometimes both of the cards had stopped working and we had to go back to reception to get them reset!
Unfortunately the pool with the bar was quite rowdy (it was about 5pm so I imagine people had been drinking all day) and there were several people smoking – despite the ‘no smoking’ signs. I had had enough and went to the reception to complain about the smoking. When I complained to the hotel concierge Christian about the smoking, he shrugged and said “I can’t tell them what to do, it’s not a kindergarten.” I was amazed he had said that and explained it would spoil my holiday as I did not want to swim in the pool with people smoking cigarettes in the pool and pointed out I had paid a lot of money for this holiday. Christian said: “they have also paid a lot of money and will be upset if we tell them to stop.” He didn’t seem to care at all.
I pointed out these guests were breaking the hotel’s own rules, which are clearly shown on no-smoking signs around the resort. Christian admitted that if he did tell the smokers to stop, they would only start again when he left the pool area. Eventually he called over his manager and explained, who said that security would go to the pool and tell the smokers to stop, but she echoed Christian’s comments saying they would only start again five minutes later.

On the way back to my room I spotted an abandoned shopping trolley in the undergrowth which was still there the next day – no doubt from someone’s night out in town!
The Reef has six ‘restaurants and eateries’ though one of these is a very basic ice cream bar. I’d read it was only open between 4 and 6pm so went at 4 expecting a queue but there was nobody else there; later a couple of kids turned up. There was a fairly limited choice of ice cream and it really wasn’t anything special.
snack bar
There is a deli snack bar by the pool, which serves burgers, hot dogs, pizza and chips. We had a burger and chips for lunch on our second day which was fine – there’s also a self-service machine where you can get ice cream at any time but it was dreadful – chocolate flavour but tasted very watery and as it melted it looked more like water than ice cream running down the side of the cone.
ice cream machine
Cenote is an outdoor café serving tea, coffee and finger sandwiches, but I didn’t actually see this café in the two days that we were there. Looking back I do remember seeing a seating area that must have been the café but I didn’t realise it served food.

buffet restaurant
So as far as dinner was concerned we had a choice of Chula Vista – the main buffet restaurant which overlooks the pool – Botticelli, an Italian restaurant with a dress code of no sandals, shorts or sleeveless tops; Terraza Grill, a ‘gourmet restaurant’ which is limited to people with premium rooms but if you have a standard room you can eat there anyway with a $6 per person surcharge; it has the same dress code.
We went to the buffet to have a look but by this point my boyfriend had decided the hotel was far too downmarket for what he was expecting and said he would prefer one of the ‘proper’ restaurants. We had made sure we adhered to the dress code and went to Botticelli, the Italian place – only to find that nobody else in there had bothered with the dress code and the staff didn’t seem to mind.
tuna steak
I was surprised to see that even though the place is supposed to be all-inclusive, there was a $20 surcharge if you wanted to order the steak! So instead my boyfriend had a chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, which he said was quite nice, but it was supposed to come with rice and instead came with mashed potatoes which he said tasted like they were instant. I had tuna steak, which arrived medium as I had requested, and it was pretty good. When you order the house wine there’s no pouring a little to let you taste it first, you just get what you’re given. They are very generous with the refills though.

For dessert my boyfriend ordere a chocolate cake that was supposed to have sauce in the middle which it said on the menu would take ten minutes to make, which we were fine with, but it came after literally one minute and had no sauce in the middle – I think they must have had it already made and standing around which meant the gooey middle had set. I had cannoli with a praline cream which was very good – I think my meal was much more successful than his!
Given how many people were around the pool earlier I was expecting the bars to be very busy in the evenings but we did a circuit of the complex and couldn’t find more than about a dozen people!Either they all get taxis into Cancun to go clubbing or because they are drinking all day they are passed out in their rooms! We had a pleasant drink in the cocktail lounge bar, once we had found it – it’s actually above reception and you have to go up a flight of stairs which isn’t signposted.
another breakfast
As we were very disappointed by the hotel compared to the standard we were expecting and what we had paid for our Kuoni package, we had complained to the rep as soon as we got there – in particular after the way the concierge spoke to me about the smoking issue – and asked to move hotels. We were of course willing to pay the difference, and the rep asked which hotel we would like to move to. As we had no wifi, we went to the hotel reception where we had seen two computers for guest use (for a charge of course). I asked how we logged in and was told dismissively “Oh, the computers don’t work”. Great!
When our Kuoni tour had finished I remembered we had dropped one couple off at a hotel with a discreet sign by the gate saying it was part of the Leading Hotels of the World group – so when we spoke to our rep again we asked to move there. He spoke to the head office and the new hotel and rang us back shortly to say it was fine; there was a room at the other hotel we could have. Unfortunately, it then took the Reef nearly 36 hours to confirm that we could leave without being charged for the remainder of our stay, which meant another day and night in a hotel we really wanted to get out of.

cheese fondue
I spent part of the day by the pool (the one with the net for ball games which wasn’t actually used while I was there- but luckily there was nobody drinking or smoking in this pool) and my boyfriend preferred to stay in our air-conditioned room. We went for breakfast at the buffet restaurant which wasn’t bad at all, and for lunch he joined me outside and we had a burger from the snack bar.
That evening we decided to eat in the most upmarket restaurant there, Terraza Grill. The menu was actually very similar to the Italian restaurant we had already been in; my boyfriend had the steak for a $22 surcharge as he really wanted a nice meal – and by that point we were hoping it would be our last meal at the Reef. For that reason I decided to have the lobster for an extra $55, but it came in two halves and one half had been oversalted so badly it was almost inedible - very disappointing at that price (well, at any price!) but by this point I thought it wasn't worth complaining. We had a nice starter of melted cheese with nachos to dip in  and for dessert I had some sort of tequila-infused cake which I can’t remember the name of that was quite nice.

tequila cake
Thankfully the next morning we heard from our Kuoni rep who had finally managed to sort out a change of hotel, and we were to be picked up at midday.  If you want somewhere you can drink as much as you like as cheaply as possible, and your room is just somewhere you will sleep off your hangover, then maybe this hotel is fine. But for the luxury break we were expecting it quite simply wasn’t good enough.

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