Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Everything You Wondered About the Iberostar Cozumel But Couldn’t Find on the Internet

This is obviously not one of my typicial posts, but because it was so difficult to find stuff online specific to the all-inclusive at which we stayed in Cozumel, I've written this guide for guests and potential guests of the Iberostar Cozumel, Mexico. To be clear, we enjoyed our stay very much. However, there are a number of points potential guests and/or future guests will appreciate knowing ahead of time, especially if you're a vacation newb like I was. If nothing else, you may find them interesting, along with some relevant photos from our trip.

First, the positives, of which there are many...

*Location: If you love to dive or snorkel; it’s perfect. As the southernmost resort on the island, it’s the closest to one of Jacque Cousteau favorite reefs, after all. I snorkeled here for the first time in my life and absolutely loved it.

*Beds--Ours were awesome. The pillows, too, were great!

*While there are no yoga classes or nearby studios at Iberostar Cozumel (which really bummed me out), they do have a small, air-conditioned gym with treadmills, two stationary bikes, a stepping thingy, and several weight machines. Watching two maids clean at a snail's paces in this gym (which they do every morning) is also kind of entertaining.

*The bungalows/rooms have air conditioning, and two of the four restaurants have it, too. We were told by the desk clerk we complained to that the A/C in the rooms is on “automatic.” My advice is to not expect to be able to adjust it; just pack a pair of long-sleeved pjs to lounge in, and you’ll be fine. On the first night, we were uncomfortably cold, but we soon got used to it and were perfectly comfortable by the third night. Something that really impressed us was that we never heard any air conditioner noises; I'm not sure how they accomplish that, but it was nice.

*Dressel’s Dive Shop is on-site of this resort--It’s an excellent location for them. While we were very content with our Chac Choc Tour, we’d probably go with Dressel next time; they are competitively priced and offer a 20% discount to Iberostar guests if you book before you arrive.

*High-speed Internet (yay!) is available FOR SALE. $40 per week, $11 per day, and one other option in between. We were told there was WiFi “in the lobby,” but it was never explained what that meant or how to access it (and we tried).

*Cost:  I wouldn’t normally share this info, but as someone who’d never taken such a trip, I had no clue how much it would cost, and I think it’s helpful to know. Mr.4444 and I had never taken a trip together, without kids (other than one weekend for a wedding in California), in 24 years, so this was a special occasion and one that’s not likely to be repeated for a very long time.  In July, we were able to pay $2600 for flights, transfers, and seven nights at a great all-inclusive; I think that’s a pretty great deal, which we got via a travel agent. I’m told the “Redneck Riviera” has a remarkably different clientele in the winter months (when the prices are higher), but we felt very comfortable.

*More on Cost: In regard to price and length of stay, I think we would have been just as happy staying five nights, rather than seven. Because it's an all-inclusive, we only went off-site twice, and my husband's attention span for laying around being lazy is short. I chose seven nights simply because I didn't know for sure if we'd ever do it again, and I wanted to milk it for all it was worth! Seven nights was fine for me, but everyone is different.

*Dining--The food was very good and all-you-can-eat at the buffets. They vary the cuisine in the dinner buffet, too; Mexican, Italian, Asian, from night to night. I don’t eat a lot of meat and was more than happy with the offerings all day long. I also loved having guacamole at every meal!

My husband is a meat eater and was very happy, too. Breakfast is great, too.

In addition to the buffets, there are two other fine-dining restaurants at which you are guaranteed a reservation for one night each (and you may be able to get in again). The food at these two restaurants was especially excellent. Dining at these restaurants feels like you're leaving the resort in a way; they were special nights for us.

Our waiter, presenting my husband's flaming beef kabobs.

*Our room/bungalow came stocked with a coffee maker, TV, stocked mini-fridge, and an umbrella (which we never needed, btw)

*Creatures--A friendly tropical bird visits the lobby and lets you pet him. The many iguanas you will see will not. Flamingos are always near the lobby. Watch where you step when out and about, or you may find yourself screaming in response to something under your foot suddenly moving! (I stepped on an iguana’s tail, rounding the corner of our deck and screamed bloody-murder.) Fortunately, he was very forgiving.

*Although we came armed with plenty of Imodium, we never needed it; the only food issue we had to deal with was occasionally feeling bloated from eating too much! We were completely safe drinking the water and food on the resort. (Knowing this ahead of time would have made me more relaxed.)

*The “Star Kids” are basically a group of summer-camp type employees whose jobs it is to make sure you’ve got plenty of options to keep busy (if you want to). They are charming and sweet and do their best to involve guests without pressuring anyone. My husband enjoyed playing beach volleyball and a little pool basketball. The front desk and valet staff were all very courteous. The maids are very sweet and leave special towel creations like this one daily:

*Panhandling: I had braced myself to be pressured by children begging, but we never saw a single such child, at the resort or in town on the one day we were there.

Some Negatives...

*Location: If you want to stay-put, never go into town (Cozumel) or even check out a nearby resort, you’ll be completely satisfied staying at the Iberostar Cozumel. If that’s not the case for you, know that it’s $20 one way to take a cab the 25 miles into Cozumel. It’s even $10 to take a cab five minutes down the road. If money is no object for you, that’s not an issue, of course, but if you’re on a budget, this matters. If yoga is something you’d like to do while on vacation, you can certainly do it on the beach near the Iberostar, but if you want to practice yoga in a class setting, you’ll need to stay further north on the island.

*Watered-down alcoholic beverages (thought they’ll cheerfully make a drink stronger if you ask them to). As proof, I’ll share that I almost never drink a drop of alcohol, because it doesn’t agree with me. However, on one occasion I threw caution to the wind and ordered a strawberry margarita that did not so much as make me blush (I drank it quickly, too.)  I’m sure they’re not the only all-inclusive that does this.

*No swimming after 7pm. This is a deal breaker for me for next time. I wanted to make out with the hubs a little, like the good old days! No kids in the pool...a little quiet time. Don’t get any wild ideas...I’m just saying it would have been nice to be in the pool at night.

*Kids--I love kids; I’m a teacher, and I have to young adult kids of my own. Kids are great. However, kids don’t belong at a bar. On Sunday afternoon, one side of the swim-up bar had was overrun by children ranging in ages from six to twelve; they obviously weren’t boozing it up, but in my opinion, children don’t belong at the bar, adults do. This resort is kid-friendly, so if you're looking to have a different atmosphere, you may want to stay elsewhere.

*If you should choose to go with a different dive/snorkel tour company, they may charge a fee to pick you up from the dock, because Iberostar charges them. Just ask. We went with Chac Choc Tours and were very happy.

*In order to eat dinner in the finer dining rooms on the property, you need to go to the concierge “between 9am and 1pm” and reserve a spot for that night (and/or the next, if you want to reserve your two guaranteed spots). If you’re a planner, this works out great; if not, you may find it annoying.

*If you want a massage, they’re $90 for 50 minutes; I think that’s crazy; it’s Mexico, for crying out loud. I pay $60 at home (once or twice per year) for an hour and a half, and the lady comes to my house!

*I just didn’t feel like enough helpful information was explained to us when we arrived. I don’t regret staying there at all, but I would have appreciated being able to find some of this information on the Internet beforehand, either from our travel agent or Iberostar’s website. When you check in, you’ll get a map with some other information on it. On the back is a lot if info intended to be helpful, but text on the whole left side of our page was cut off significantly, and we were told that all of the copies were like that; it would have been nice (seriously) to be able to read all of the info and not have to seek out more info elsewhere. After we booked our trip, we heard absolutely nothing from the resort until the moment we pulled up; I would have felt a lot more comfortable, had I received specific info ahead of time to read at home or on the plane on the way there.

Other Helpful Bits:

*As with most hotels, don’t expect to be able to check into your room before 3pm if you arrive early. It’s Mexico, it’s hot, and it’s an open-air lobby, so figure out what you’re going to do in the meantime or carefully choose your flight times.

*“Cable TV” in our room (two beds, partial ocean view) meant two channels, one in English with Spanish subtitles and the other in Spanish (with no subtitles). We weren’t there to watch TV, so it wasn’t an issue for us, but I think it’s worth mentioning, since they do advertise that “cable” is in the rooms.

*Expect inconsistencies with water temperature in your shower; we learned to laugh it off and never went without!

*You can grease the desk clerks to get a room upgrade/improvement; fifty bucks got us a room with a slice of an ocean view.

*As you read everywhere on the Internet, protect your valuables. In the week we stayed, we heard first-hand of one burglary and one theft and heard second-handedly about a theft from a bungalow patio. Be smart: Use the safe in your room, lock your doors and windows, and don’t leave valuables unattended.

*If you're staying at one Iberostar resort, you can swing over to another of their Iberostars to spend the day and eat for free just as you do at the other. That sounds terrific; however, to get from Iberostar Cozumel to the Iberostar Cancun or Riviera Maya, you have to take a cab plus a ferry; the costs of which add up quickly.

*What they don’t tell you when you pay for Internet use: You may log out of one device and use the same Internet username/password to log into a different device.

*Floaty rafts are available for the asking at the towel desk

*The little artisan cart near the pool is run by a man and his niece. They’re hard-working and pleasant and may be willing to cut you a deal if you’re reasonable. You may enjoy painting some pottery; bring a little bubble wrap if you have room in your suitcase!

*Expect to see a few cats in the main buffet (open-air) dining area at dinner and sometimes breakfast. They will never jump on your table or anything like that; if you don’t like cats, ignore them, and they’ll go away and probably not return to you (They quickly learn which table visits pay off and which don’t.)

*Expect to never flush toilet paper; you are expected to put used toilet tissue in a waste receptacle that you’ll find next to the toilets. It’s not a big deal, but I am told this is not the norm at all Mexican all-inclusives.

*Here’s a great tip: If you have a favorite cup from which you like to consume beverages, feel free to bring it. The cup on the left is what drinks are otherwise served in; it probably holds about 10 ounces. The “cup” on the right holds at least a quart and is a nice way to keep hydrated with any beverage.

The bartenders cheerfully filled ours without blinking an eye. It was nice, because my husband didn’t have to keep getting in the pool or walking to the dining area to refill a small plastic cup.

*Take the time to download an app that translates your language to Spanish if you're not bilingual; speaking Spanish makes natives really smile. I really liked the Google Translate app for android, which helped out a lot when having conversations beyond the basics.

*If you must have a room near the pool, ask that your room be on the non-pool side of the building. Our building was right next to the pool, but our room was on the back side of it. Remarkably, we never heard a peep from the pool, day or night, from our room.

*Plan your cash-stash carefully and you’ll avoid needing to use the ATM in the lobby, which does reportedly dispense American dollars but also leaves you with about $15 in bank fees for the privilege. I was unable to get it to cooperate, for some reason. Maybe because I have the Star logo on the back of my card and did not see that one on the machine. Oh, and be sure to let your bank and credit card companies know that you’re leaving the country; it could save you a lot of headaches.

*And last, but not least, if you’re staying as a couple, be prepared to make out a lot. You’re wearing very little clothing most of the time, and you’re on vacation. Prepare accordingly, enthusiastically, and creatively to make the most of this relaxing time together :)

Stuff to pack: 

*Bug spray--One can of the good stuff lasted us the whole week; we only needed it on the beach at night and for just a few other times.

*Sunscreen--We are Caucasian and tanned a few times at home (in our back yard) before coming. 50 SPF worked great the first few days, and then we switched to 30. I’m told that sunscreen is expensive if you wait til you arrive to buy it.

*Sunburn gel (We missed a few spots!) My absolute favorite is Solarcaine Cool Aloe. It has pain-relieving lidocaine in it, and I’ve never peeled after applying it on burned areas (a few times each day).

*At least two swimming suits; you will find an extremely limited supply of swimsuits for sale in the area, for some odd reason, and since you’ll be basically living in one while you’re there, it’ll be nice to have more than one.

*A good hat. For what it’s worth, I bought my husband his first Tillie hat for this trip, and he absolutely loves it; it’s comfortable, protective, classy-looking, has a little compartment inside for a little cash/ID, etc. and is guaranteed to be awesome. They even give you a huge discount if you lose your [registered] hat! Plus, the instruction manual is entertaining to read!

*A little clothesline on which to hang wet clothes.

*One dressy outfit, though women can technically get away without wearing a dress, it's fun to dress up a little at least once.

We were told that there "isn't really any night life" in the area, but that didn't bother us in the least, so we can't corroborate that.

*Medicine, especially antihistamine. (The hubs got stung by something and had a swollen foot for days, even though he was able to buy some Benedryl from the resort gift shop for $8.) Remember, if you have to run to the pharmacy in town, it's going to cost you a $40 cab ride.

That about covers everything that I jotted down while we were there. As I mentioned, we had a really great time and will consider staying with an Iberostar again in the future, though more likely in a different location, simply because there's so much more world out there to explore! If you needed this post for vacation planning, I hope you found it helpful!

Read my Trip Advisor reviews specific to local Cozumel attractions by clicking on the appropriate links here.

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