Wheels Down: Cancun

This wasn’t my first time in Mexico, but I’ve never been to Cancun. I had always imagined Cancun to be littered with Mardi Gras-esque beads and half full cervezas, overrun with drunken college students, and echoing with electronic dance music.  To my surprise, what I found couldn’t have been farther from that.

I realize that my imagination is a little stereotypical, and that spring break doesn’t exist year round, even in one of the most popular party destinations in the world. But I didn’t have much to go off of before experiencing it for myself. And the airport doesn’t really do much to convince you otherwise. You can’t walk ten feet without confronting a beverage cart selling cold beer and tequila based drinks (not that this wasn’t welcomed).

In reality, Cancun is a serene and peaceful tropical destination. The white, sandy, manicured beaches and beautiful blue-green (warm) water are nothing less than picturesque. And if putting your toes in the sand isn’t enough to trigger instant relaxation, the staff at our resort couldn’t be more qualified to help you on your way.

Below are a few selected images from our stay at the Ritz Carlton Cancun, a beautiful resort that effectively changed my mind about this Mexican destination.

The Ritz Carlton Cancun is a beautiful, Five Diamond hotel, with a design influenced by traditional Mexican architecture, and nothing ever out of place. With five restaurants, two pools, a small but full service luxurious spa, and a staff that has omitted the word “no” from its vocabulary, the Ritz Carlton Cancun lives up to the expectations of all who stay there.

The green-blue water is clear all the way to the bottom. With natural sandbars close to shore, you can find yourself comfortably playing frisbee or tossing a football in the middle of the ocean. The waves aren’t big enough for proper surfing, but are more than enough for your boogie board.

Cubanos! It is not uncommon to walk along the beach and catch a whiff of fine cigar smoke. Whether you buy them from locals walking the shoreline, waiters at your chair side, or one of the many bars around the resort, premium cigars are available and plentiful.

The seas aren’t calm by any means. Riptides and rough waves abound, and red flags are commonly seen along certain sections of beaches. But the staff is well-trained and observant of the guests they are tasked with protecting.

The pools of the Ritz Cancun are warm, clean, and well maintained. At this resort you have two options. The first is what came to be known as the “everybody pool,” a large pool split into a number of sections surrounded by lounge chairs where the masses can congregate in a more social setting. And the second is a smaller, less frequented pool, with a tiny waterfall and a more private feel. Both are gorgeous and look out onto the beach and the sea beyond.

Like most beaches, birds patrol the air searching for discarded food. And like most beaches, occasionally you’ll come across a fish or other sea life washed up on shore. But what makes Cancun different, is that these fish are tropical. And if you set yourself up in the right place at the right time, you’ll have a chance to catch a quick glance at the circle of life at its finest.

If lounging on the beach with cold drinks and good food with waiters at your beck and call isn’t entirely what you’re looking for, there are a plethora of other activities in which you can partake. From jet skiing and parasailing to scuba diving and volleyball, you’ll find a number of ways to fill your day.

There are a number of charming elective amenities that you can pick from – and one of the most appealing is dinner in a casita. These tiny, linen-draped huts line the beach and can host two to eight guests at any given time. You’ll experience a full service, traditional mexican dinner by candlelight, complete with wine pairings, champagne, dessert, and immediate access to the sand for a twilight stroll on the beach. Your experience can be as conservative or extravagant as you choose, but in this setting, you can’t lose.

If you ever find yourself as a guest of the Ritz Cancun, you absolutely must sign up for “Dinner with the Chef” (if available). You’ll begin your evening by meeting your group (no larger than 12) and a gourmet chef in the lobby of the hotel. He will then guide you to a private kitchen, completely outfitted with Viking appliances and cookware. As you enter, you will be handed a special cocktail by one of three sous chefs before mingling with your fellow diners and eventually taking your seats. And then the main event of a five course meal (complete with wine pairings) begins. The chef will walk you through each dish. You’ll start with a small bite to clean your palette, and have a taste of your first glass of wine while the first dish is distributed. As the night goes on, you will have an opportunity to participate in the cooking process, receiving direct instruction from the chef himself or one of his assistants, in small groups. You will be treated to a show of professional cooking as you retake your seats to watch the chef prepare the latter dishes of the meal – all the while taking comfort in the fact that your wine glass will never be empty. While the menu may vary from time-to-time, we had the pleasure of enjoying Shrimp Pastor with Green Fresh Sauce, Red Snapper Veracruz with a Tomato and Bell Pepper Broth, Tlalpeño Soup, Short Ribs in Adobo with Herb Roasted Potatoes and Cactus Salad, and finished with a Tamal de Chocolate with a side of some of the most amazing coffee I’ve ever tasted. Chef Carlos Garcia is a native of Santiago, Chile where he learned his trade and owned his first restaurant before traveling the world, finally landing in Cancun with the Ritz Carlton. He also instructs cooking classes in the same kitchen during the week.

The best way to shake off the ‘stress’ of the day is to take a stroll on the beach as the sun goes to sleep. With far fewer people out and about, you experience a feeling of ownership and privacy right out in public. Listening to the waves crash onto the sand as a salty breeze keeps you cool creates a naturally relaxing experience.

I am a critic of the service industry. When dining out or traveling, I usually have a list of criticisms that stretch as long as my list of compliments (if not longer). But in this case, as I was pleasantly surprised by a destination far from what my imagination had conjured, I’m comfortable with dispensing of my few criticisms in an effort to remember this trip for precisely what it was – perfection.