We spent a week at the Grand Mayan Riviera Maya in early April with our two young kids. We mostly wanted to relax and didn't care about doing any water sports, golfing or anything else too specific. Everyone in our family had a great time, and there are some very likeable things about this resort. We would even return, although we only take trips like this every few years. So why did I call this the Temple of Doom? Read through the bottom and discover the secrets of the Mayans.
The grounds are very nicely landscaped and due to the spread-out layout of the resort, you are often surrounded by nature. There are quite a few iguanas and geckos roaming around. In a charming touch, the resort has "pets"--crocodiles who live in a crocodile pit (including twenty babies who just hatched) and flamingoes who live in a "flamingarium". Everything is well kept up; everywhere you go, employees are sweeping the paths or sprucing things up. Other reviewers have mentioned the long walks. The GM is very spread out and even in building 5, supposedly closer in, it was a 10 minute walk to the pool and beach. The walk was very nice but with young kids, it was not practical to run back for forgotten toys or to get someone tucked in for a nap.
The Mayan Palace (closely tied sister resort) has an interesting series of interconnected circular pools with fountains, swim-up bars, places to lie back, and so on. The maximum depth anywhere is 1.1 m and many areas are just six inches deep. This was great for the kids, but adults might get bored. The GM has two exclusive pool areas, one with an infinity pool overlooking the lagoon and with a sandy beach (pretty nice since the actual beach is not good for swimming), the other enclosed within a sort of large pavilion with a lot of vegetation creating a rather private atmosphere (hard to explain). Our kids preferred the Mayan Palace pool, so we spent more of our time there. There is food and beverage service around the pools. The palapas are available for rent ($35; any food you order there will be subtracted off from this) but make your request the day before, or at the latest show up at the desk at 7:30 a.m. or they will be gone.
Sand--very nice, plenty of chairs and umbrellas for shade. Water--beautiful blue-green color and very clear, but many rocks at the water's edge so even with shoes, you will not really be able to swim. 12 minutes to the north you can walk to a beautiful bathing beach. The beaches are all public property so you can use the beaches at other hotels (but not their other facilities, obviously).
We ate well everywhere we went, which was most of the more casual restaurants around the resort. Nothing out of this world, but tasty, nicely presented, and pretty good service. Prices were in line with U.S. restaurants, although this is Mexico so you might hope to have paid a little less (on the other hand, none of us got hepatitis, we think). The Mexican food at Frida's Place was a highlight. The kids got good mileage out of the burger and fish sandwich from the Balché beach cafe. The Restaurant Del Lago has an extravagant breakfast buffet every day (around US$25) and all-you-can-eat theme dinner with show every night (around $35). I am usually disappointed by buffets, but I am going to admit that eating here a few times was a treat and I regret that my stomach was not big enough to try everything. The Thursday night Mexican fiesta is something like $70. Here they are kind of pushing it on the price. Once my familly found out about it, it was impossible to say no. It was a fun and special evening but I felt a little taken advantage of. Especially when some guys with a donkey, not resort employees but obviously in cahoots with them, relieved me of another $70 to take some tasteless pictures of my kids sitting on a poor burro in a sombrero.
There is a little less in terms of entertainment than you might find at some of the Spring Break-type resorts in Cancun, but we were here with kids and didn't want any entertainment anyway. Almost every night, the dinner at Del Lago includes an elaborate stage show. Miraculous to say, the shows were actually quite entertaining and showed pretty high production values while retaining a rather charming homegrown feel (they are not Cirque du Soleil, but they have seen it and are trying, really trying). The kids totally loved the shows. There seemed to be nightly gatherings of young people at Havana Moon down on the beach, with dancing and drinks, looked pretty fun actually. As far as I could tell, that was kind of it for the nighttime entertainment and it was quiet and peaceful around the resort in the evening.
There are two kids' clubs around the Mayan Palace pool. One is more of a craft stand and the other has some games and a small movie screen. They do not currently have a program where you drop the kids off for the day, like at some other Mayans. (It appears there has been one at some point in the past but during our stay, it was inactive until further notice.) They do a Wednesday night "Parents' Night Out" with a pirate theme. The kids' club counselors are nice and our daughter had fun with them, although to me, they seemed a little distant.
There is an organized bus to Walmart. Aside from that, there is no shopping nearby (certainly nothing off-resort). The resort has a boutique with souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, groceries necessities. The boutique was actually pretty upmarket--not a lot of cheapo trinkets. Food and everything else was exactly double its fair-market U.S. price. I am not exactly complaining--they did have to lug the stuff out into the Mexican countryside and you are paying for convenience--but it would be nice to be able to say, "and it was pretty cheap, too!" In a couple of places around the resort, you can find artisans hawking their wares (jewelry, artwork, hair braiding). Unlike everything else at the Mayan, you will have to pay cash, and although the vendors are not resort-affiliated, you will pay resort-level prices ($45 for hair braiding). I already mentioned the donkey.
This is what I really wanted to discuss in this review. We were traveling with parents who own timeshares (this is how we got there in the first place) and who have fallen for them repeatedly. Most of the other reviews say to just say no, and I agree with them, but that advice is obviously over-simplified because all over the resort, all week, we saw people going through the various stages of agony that are a timeshare presentation.
I am here to represent the perspective of someone who got talked into going to the presentation and had to climb my way out. Up front, I will say that we did not buy a timeshare, but we did experience 4 hours of sales pitches from a sales rep who claimed to be a highly placed Vida Vacations executive named Jim Ziskind. In the public interest, I want to list some of the Dirty Tactics and Outright Lies that he tried to pull on us. This stuff is surely par for the course. I just think it is such a big part of their resort that it should be featured on TripAdvisor for all to see.
Dirty Tactics from the sales rep
- Ugly braggadocio and boasts about his high salary ($100,000 per month for three hours' work per day, although he also bragged about being a workaholic), constant first class travel, supermodel wife, numerous houses
- Demeaning comments about Mexicans, truly worthy of only the ugliest of Ugly America ("you can't tip these people too much, they get greedy"; "I always travel with a maid; do you know what it costs me to hire a maid here?"; "at Mexican prices it costs nothing to run this place")
- Dividing our family members against one another ("you've got to knock some sense into these people"; "at least one of us is reasonable here"), including insulting various family members in turn
- Threatening remarks about the looming future maintenance fees on my parents' current timeshare (sold to them barely a few years ago as a good deal, by the same company), culminating in some very dark language--"We're going to get it all. If you don't do this today, our company is going to get your family's entire wealth. We have good lawyers and we always win."
Outright Lies from the sales rep
- Our meeting will just be an "update" on the features and benefits of your contract (actually a pitch for a new timeshare)
- It will be 90 minutes (four hours)
- It will be over breakfast (in fact it rapidly transitioned to the sales floor)
- There has been a terrible mistake with your contract, and we need to make it right today (clearly there was no mistake)
- We sent you an email about the mistake, and you are in trouble for not responding (we checked, there was no email)
- Our company has very deep pockets, so we are going to make you a generous offer to make things right (in fact the offer was for us to pay them almost $60,000)
- Vida Vacations is getting out of the timeshare business, we now do only fractional ownership, to which you need to convert today (in the next breath he explained that we needed to become fractional owners to make room for golfers who will buy timeshares, which makes no sense)
- When told we thought we already had converted: Oh no, this says you haven't. But it would take two days to get a copy of your contract here to prove it (clearly the company has perfect records of everything, and there are fax machines)
- We will buy back your old timeshares today (the fine print was that we would have been agreeing to sell them via a third party who was going to extract more money).
- Under your new contract, we will rent out your units for $7200/year, which we will pay to you (fine print, the rentals were not guaranteed in any way)
- Also under your new contract, you will get 25 bonus "code" weeks that you can easily sell through any travel agent, making this new purchase technically free (the most reputable travel agency in our city told us that this is a fraud, no one successfully does this)
- We will give you a marketing kit to help you sell these bonus weeks (I saw it, it was a couple of sheets of paper with large-print tips on how to place newspaper ads)
- The unit they wanted to sell us was $250,000 for one week of use. They sell 36 weeks out of 52, meaning the unit has a fair market value of $9,000,000 for outright, nonfractional ownership (patently implausible)
It was hard to get out of there, because I was with people who basically did want to get taken for a ride. However, we eventually shook ourselves free. It did require my becoming so hysterical that the salesmen (by now there were two) realized they were about to have a problem on their hands. At one point I actually fell and injured myself (I said I was hysterical), which was totally worth it. Incredibly, I now have to pay the sales guys a compliment. After a deal goes south, timeshare guys usually become very ugly and angry but these people remained cordial, shook our hands and said, "It's not for everyone. Sorry we couldn't do business together."
The Temple of Doom
The timeshare tour cast a bit of a pall over our trip, although we got out of there scot free and got 10% off our food bill for our pains. I was mostly disappointed because Jim Ziskind's antics cheated me out of enjoying the elaborate buffet breakfast. But also, the experience reminded me that timeshare resorts are like Indiana Jones' visit to the Temple of Doom. Upstairs, the maharajahs are enjoying the finest foods, lounging around the pool and enjoying cooling breezes. Behind the scenes, though, the place is built on almost endless financial misery and ruin for the unsuspecting--or very suspecting, yet powerless--unfortunates who pass through the gates of the Sales Center.
You really can say no to the sales pitch. They cannot make you go. They cannot punish you for not attending. And even if they could, the punishment could not be worse than the crime. Do you really want your vacation to be marred by concepts such as misery, ruin, crime and punishment? What place does that have under the tropical sun? I hope that my parents will learn this lesson eventually, although I doubt that they will. I wish that the other guests I saw at the Sales Center had learned it. I hope that I have learned it myself. Amen.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC