Sunday, January 07, 2007

Golden Parnassus Hotel - Cancun, Mexico

Blvd. Kukulkán Km. 14.5 Retorno
San Miguelito No. 37 Zona Hotelera
Cancún Q.Roo 77500
Tel: 52 (998) 848-7550

Have you ever been stuck doing something that you can't believe you are still stuck doing? I recently returned from a seven night trip to Cancun Mexico that felt a bit like that. While the weather was nice and the company was engaging, the all-inclusive hotel we had chosen was a bust. I had never stayed at an all-inclusive resort. At such places, one need do very little except get up at some point in the day, eat, and sleep. All activities, food, and drinks are included in the package price.

At first blush, this all-inclusive concept seems appealing. Our total package was approximately $1,400 a person for checking in December 29th and staying for seven nights. We chose the Golden Parnassus through Costco Travel (which botched part of the reservation) partly because the reviews of the resort on were overwhelmingly positive. I quickly realized that while tripadvisor may provide fairly up to date information, you never really know who the reviewers are and what their tastes may dictate.

We arrived at the Golden Parnassus using the airport transfers provided by Costco Travel as part of our package. Upon arrival, we learned that the hotel had been overbooked by approximately 50 rooms. We were seated at the lobby bar and given tropical tasting drinks as we waited for a hotel reception staff member to check us in -- or tell us that our rooms were not available. As we waited, we watched other would-be guests be told that their rooms were not available and that they would be accommodated elsewhere. One accommodation which was provided to some was at the Great Parnassus Hotel, a new sister property for the Golden Parnassus which is not yet complete.

As a side note, a friend of ours who booked directly at the Great Parnassus through orbitz arrived there the same day we arrived at the Golden Parnassus to find rooms with incomplete bathrooms, non-working toilets, no air conditioning and other maladies. After switching rooms four times, he gave up. On the morning of his departure from Cancun, the shower in his fifth room failed to produce any water, a downgrade from the cold-only showers he had been taking for most of his trip.

While we did not learn of our friend's plight at the time of check-in, I was in no mood to be redirected to another property and I informed a somewhat frazzled front desk agent of that feeling. After all was settled, we did indeed have three rooms available. We were given all-inclusive bracelets to wear for the duration of our stay. Anyone wearing the bracelets we were given were subject to the same malaise that would confront us during our stay.

Say Cheese! The cheeseburger is the best meal option at the Golden Parnassus.

For food, the Golden Parnassus has several restaurants. They are, in no particular order: Pier 12, an awful seafood restaurant where the fish tastes much like meat from a four legged creature, simulating a strange hybrid which I shall from now on term "mish"; Sumo, a Japanese style restaurant which did its best to simulate the feel of a sushi joint; Old Barn, a steak house which served decent cuts of meat but chose to deep fry each and every appetizer; Paradise, the buffet style restaurant which served breakfast and lunch and offered some respite from the other restaurants by offering cook-to-order stations where one can direct cooks to prepare a variety of items; Shangri-La, the "internationally inspired" restaurant with a rotating menu picked from around the world; and The Breeze Snack Shack which was open from 11am to 6am every day and offered steak sandwiches, burgers, fries, wings, and plenty of cheese sauce only a bored cardiologist could love. Room service is 24 hours and offers choices from all of the restaurants.

We ate most our our meals at Breeze and Paradise. We ate at all of the the other restaurants once, with the exception of Shangri-La, which we visited twice having noted that the menu was supposed to change daily; alas, it did not. The chef at Shangri-La was the only one that really took the time to decorate dishes with garnishes and flavors that could be described as somehwta interesting. While food and cuisine remain items of personal taste, I can't help but bemoan the lack of any tasty or creative food options at the entire resort (with perhaps the slight exception for the Shangri-La). The best items were were able to find were the cheese burgers from the grill. We ate plenty of them. If you consider restaurants like Cracker Barrel, Denny's, and Ruby Tuesdays good and fine cuisine, the Golden Parnassus will not disappoint you. If you aspire for more, you would be better off dining elsewhere. Burger King may indeed be an upgrade.

If you think that unlimited drinks might be the redemption for all-inclusive, think again. The resort advertises "domestic and international" drinks. While the meaning of that is still unclear, as best I can discern it means that the alcohol utilizes was produced in Mexico (domestic) and a factory in, let's say, East Timor (international). The only "recognizable" and branded alcohols were Smirnoff Vodka and Bacardi Anejo dark rum. Forget about Grey Goose, which may only show up as an appetizer on the menu at Shangri-La. A week of all-inclusive alcohol may convince the somewhat discerning consumer to give Mormonism a go. Of course, if you go for quantity over quality and find your medicine cabinet an acceptable source for alcohol, you may not be disappointed at this resort.

If only the view was everything... A view of the ocean from one of our rooms.

Our rooms were acceptable but unexceptional. The Golden Room had a four person hot tub and an ocean view. The ocean view was stunning -- the waves off the Atlantic provided soothing comfort and the beautiful beaches were a sight for sore eyes. The standard rooms faced the lagoon and did not fare nearly as well. The hotel is an interior corridor set-up but because of the many openings throughout the building, there is a occasional musty feel that is hard to shake. Housekeeping only performed a very cursory cleaning evidenced by the ants that appeared in one of our rooms to feast on the drops of soda and beer that had been spilled the night before. Housekeeping was much more thorough at throwing away many of the covers from my toiletries and shaver; a most unwelcome surprise when I was packing to come home.

Amenities were equally lackluster. The hot tub alongside the pool is broken, and even a conversation with the General Manager yielded only a vague commitment that the repairs would be completed within a month or so. A resort without a large hot tub is a novelty, and we were the luckless recipients of it.

Perhaps if a brand that cared about its reputation were to offer an all-inclusive product, I would consider it again. A Westin all-inclusive, I would predict, may have a chance at glory. The Golden Parnassus, nestled between the attractive Le Meridien hotel and the Ritz Carlton Cancun (both not all inclusive resorts), should be torn down and redeveloped as a proper resort. Anything else runs roughshod over the beautiful ocean views and makes a mockery of all of the living creatures that cease their existence to provide ingredients for the various "restaurants" located within.

Save yourself the grief: pay for your food and drink and avoid the all-inclusive headache that is the Golden Parnassus.