Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Maya and the Marriott : Getting Cozy in Cancun

March 2012 - Melanie Reffes 


Steeped in history and a big draw for tourists, the Maya solar calendar will usher in a new era on December 21.  For centuries, the Mayans have anticipated this cosmic cycle while for the modern world of resort and destination marketing, this significant date means a plethora of deals, discounts, promotions and incentives aimed at enticing vacationers to experience the sights , sounds, flavors and flora of Mexico.

Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza ( credit: M. Reffes) 

Hand-crafted dolls ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

With more scheduled and charter flights landing at the international airport in Cancun than at any other Caribbean destination, 30,000 hotel and resort rooms, close proximity to the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen Itza and an endless peninsula stretch of white sand that is fully-replenished when a hurricane passes through.  Considered Mexico’s top travel destination, properties are diverse and cater to every budget and every vacation desire from destination weddings and honeymoons and family reunions to a growing number of corporate retreats and niche market vacationers from couples-only to the gay and lesbian market.

Diamonds on the Beach

Earning the prestigious AAA Five Diamond rating, JW Marriott is one of the finest beachfront resorts in the Western Caribbean. Manicured lawns are dotted with a maze of pools, sunlight streams into a stunning lobby with shiny marble floors and exquisite pieces of artwork and the tri-level Mayan-influenced spa coming in at 35,000 square feet is simply spectacular with an indoor pool, Jacuzzis, juice bar and therapists highly trained in the art of rest and relaxation.

JW Lobby is chockablock with spectacular art ( credit: M. Reffes ) 


  Offering 448 rooms including seventy-four plush suites, the JW is adjacent to the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort with 450 rooms and thirty suites with balcony views of the cerulean Caribbean Sea and melodically calm Nichupté Lagoon.   Ideal for conventions with 20,300 square feet of meeting space that can accommodate 1,800 people, both resorts are connected by a walkway and offer reciprocity of services to guests staying at either including seven eateries, bars and swim-up bar at Casa Magna and a trio of gourmet restaurants and two bars at the JW.

Balcony view at the JW (credit: M. Reffes) 


Presidential Parlour Casa Magna Marriott (credit: Marriott Resorts) 
Blissful Solitude Marriott-style (credit: M. Reffes) 
“This is a different vacation experience than a stay at an all-inclusive vacation because it encourages experiential travel of the region,  “ said Joaquin Cruz , director sales and marketing,  “ Yes, the recent negative attention on Mexico has put a damper on business but it’s picking up now because tourists are realizing that Cancun is a safe city for a holiday.”  Referring to the Marriott Excellence Travel Agent program, Cruz adds “we invite certified agents to experience both resorts at reduced rates and join FAM trips that are scheduled year round. We welcome agents and rely on their clients to fill the properties.  “

A welcome sight from the road ( credit: M. Reffes) 

     Even the Avocados Taste Better  


A trio of eateries tempt at the JW including the AAA Four Diamond Gustino that excels in northern Italian fare from lobster and black pasta to desserts that are fabulously dramatic.  Sedona Grill offers mammoth choices for breakfast either a la carte or buffet-style and at the seaside Beach Walk; passion fruit infused ceviche with a side of diced habaneros is so good you eat it with your eyes closed. Guacamole is more flavorful than the supermarket variety and servers in blue shirts that match the sea are happy to suggest a fruity margarita or ice cold beer to take the edge off. At the Gourmet Deli, quick snacks are sweet and savory with a pairing of coconut and mango gelato a delightful respite from the afternoon sun.
Lobster & Pasta at Gustino ( credit: M. Reffes) 

Margarita by the sea ( credit: Marriott Facebook ) 
Sweet dreams at Gustino ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Sedona Grill ( credit: Marriott Resorts) 




Joaquin Cruz, Melanie & Sarah March at Gustino (credit: M. Long)  
At  At the Casa Magna, sushi connoisseurs flock to Mikado with Teppanyaki Chefs 
who demonstrate their culinary magic at each table.  La Capilla Argentina Steakhouse is for the carnivores in the crowd and those with big appetites who rave about the sumptuous breakfast buffet with everything from an omelette station to Asian dumplings and for authentic Thai cuisine like delectable tom yum soup and spicy noodle dishes, Sasi Thai serves gracious gourmet fare open air under thatched palapa-shaded tables.  

photo credit: M. Reffes
When the sun sets, performer wannabees head to Champions Sports Bar with pool tables, giant screens and a Karaoke microphone that appeals to those who think they can sing.  Keep your eyes (and an ear) open for general manager Chris Calabrese who belts out Sinatra tunes that would make ‘Ol Blue Eyes proud. 

photo credit: M. Reffes

photo credit: M. Reffes

 Bigger is Better

For clients who will pay handsomely to spoil themselves, the JW Spa is unapologetically spectacular with Mayan-inspired décor, relaxed vibe, fourteen therapists, seventeen treatment rooms, juice bar and host of treatments for women, men, couples and even kids.  Known simply as the ‘Spa’, the gigantic haven for rejuvenation oozes serenity and tranquility around every corner. From the gracious front desk staff to the skilled therapists with years of expertise kneading tired muscles, the Spa is a must-do and a must-experience.

H2O table ( credit: M. Reffes) 

Plunge pool ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Therapist Barbara Ybarro (credit: M. Reffes) 
photo credit: Marriott Resorts 

From traditional Mayan massages that use Mexican sand as a skin exfoliate and Mayan facials that include a seaweed mask that is rich in antioxidants and Mexican chocolate that leaves skin silky soft to a body treatment called ‘Ah Mun” or  God of Corn, the massage menu is good enough to eat and too good to miss. “The best part of my job, “smiles Barbara Ybarra, spa therapist, “is when I see immediate results like a relaxed body and a brand new smile.” Open from 6 am for early birds who want to use the fitness center, the Spa also offers a menu of treatments for children.  “Kids who play video games and watch television all day, “adds Barbara Ybarra, “are stressed out beyond their years. We can’t fix the bigger problems but we can offer treatments like chocolate facials and foot rubs with peppermint lotions that relax kids of all ages.”

Spa Bliss ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Mayan Countdown

Valid for travel through December, both Marriott resorts are selling the Escape! Mayan Experience package that includes rooms with scenic balconies, tour of Chichen Itza for two adults, two eighty-minute Mayan-inspired spa treatments, daily $50.00 resort credit, internet access, welcome gift and a host of extras. “Much of Mexico, particularly this region, is rooted in Mayan culture,” said Chris Calabrese, general manager and vice president of JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and CasaMagna Marriott Cancun, “guests who book our Mayan Experience package are in for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover this culture, firsthand, during a time that is hugely important among Mayan people.”  Nightly rates start at $289.00 at CasaMagna and $399.00 at the JW.

JW Marriott Cancun Resort ( credit: M. Reffes ) 
Mayan calendars for sale ( credit: M. Reffes ) 
 Get off the Beach Chair

The R2 bus stops along the Hotel Zone (USD$1.00) and is ideal (and safe) for hopping on and off at various markets and malls. Mercado Veintiocho (Market 28) is a potpourri of vendors hawking everything from sombreros and silver to tacos and toiletries while the Luxury Mall is chockablock with high-end boutiques and the Isla Mall has a few authentic Mexican shops tucked behind the Haagen Daz ice cream parlour and Hooters.
Shopping galore at Market 28 ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Descent of the Feathered Serpent

Twice a year during the spring and autumn equinox remarkable historical phenomena can be seen at the treasured Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. At the pyramid of Kukulkan, the sun is positioned directly over the equator resulting in day and night lasting an approximately equal number of hours. 

On this date, March 21 in spring and September 20 this fall, thousands of visitors wait patiently in front of the pyramid to snap photos of the shadow which appears as a great feathered serpent, one of the most important gods for the ancient Mayans. The perfect alignment of the pyramid with the sun causes a natural dance of light and shadow creating the illusion of a huge reptile that slithers down the staircase of the north side of the structure, the only side whose base is adorned with snake heads. 


Descent of the  Serpent ( credit: Matt Long - www.landlopers.com ) 
( photo credit: M. Reffes )
(Photo credit: M. Reffes )

Crowds and vendors aside, the shadow is breathtaking and worth the pilgrimage from any one of the resorts in Riviera Maya and Cancun. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Chichen Itza is one of the revered sites in Mexico and well worth a day away from the resort.  The complex is open daily from 8 am to 5pm with tours lasting up to three hours. At night, the light show is awesome although can be overrun with tourists.


Get Organized

From large events to family vacations, clients are looking for ease from the moment they land. Both Marriott resorts work with International Incentive Travel (ITT), a one-stop shopping destination marketing company that takes care of every detail from airport transfers to excursions to the Mayan ruins. “We offer unique local knowledge and can source and arrange everything including transportation, entertainment and accommodation as well as expert destination knowledge, industry expertise, creativity and access to key contacts in the destination,” said Lourdes González, director sales and marketing, International Incentive Travel (IIT).

Available for hire by North American travel agents, IIT is well-known in the region for reliability and stellar service.The longstanding relationships we have with local suppliers are indispensable when it comes to securing more favorable rates, facilities and service, “ adds Lourdes González, “ the people that work with IIT are well-known within this destination for almost thirty years.”

Tours offered by ITT include day trips to archeological sites including Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, horseback riding, zip-lining, golfing , fishing ,water excursions like scuba, snorkeling and sunset cruises and trips to the popular eco-parks including Xcaret, Xel-Ha and Xplor.

Ek Balam (credit: M. Reffes )

Mexican Sights & Sounds ( credit: M. Reffes








credit: Marriott Resorts 

Save the Date

June 10 – 14:  Feast of San Antonio takes place throughout the state of Quintana Roo
July 22- August 3:   Feast of the Black Virgin of Guadalupe
August 24 – 26: Expo Nautica Boat Show at Cancun Center
September 20:  Autumn equinox at Chichen Itza
September 23:  Ironman Competitions in Cozumel

Get in Touch


International Incentive Travel: www.iit.com.mx.

Tourism information: www.visitmexico.com


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