In February, I did a short 2-night trip down to Mexico’s Riviera Maya, around Playa del Carmen. The genesis of the trip was a desire to use my free night certificate I got from meeting a spend requirement on my now-discontinued Fairmont Visa. The certificate was good anywhere in the world, but with the catch that I only had about four months to use it. So I did, for one night at the Fairmont Mayakoba, just outside of Playa del Carmen. An added bonus was that I was able to get flights to Cancun that weren’t too badly priced on Delta ($288 for regular economy), which would complete the status challenge I started with my December Mexico City trip. Since the rates at the Fairmont were quite high (and I knew on-property dining would be as well), I decided to spend my first night in the city of Playa del Carmen itself. I wanted to check out the new Hilton family property, The Nines, a Curio Collection hotel. But the rates on Hilton.com were far more than available on other sites, and Hilton refused to match those other rates. So I went with a cheaper, boutique-y property, La Pasion, which was fine for my purposes—namely a one-night stay pre-resort—but I wouldn’t recommend it for a longer stay. I’m going to try and bang out this trip report in four posts: Outbound travel, Playa del Carmen itself, the Fairmont Mayakoba, and travel home. Let’s see if I can get it done promptly!
My outbound flight to Cancun posed one of the classic DC-international travel dilemmas: to Dulles for a nonstop flight, or DCA and connect. (In this instance, Delta also offered a nonstop from BWI to Cancun.) I went with the nonstop at Dulles given it was the only way for me to really get to Playa del Carmen and still have a full afternoon to enjoy, but that meant a 5:30am, $45 Lyft ride.
It was weird to have my first flight on my return to Delta to be out of Dulles, given how rare it is to fly Delta out of Dulles before (I think I did 2x years ago when I was living in NY- once to JFK, and once as a connection on a wackily-routed Aruba mileage run; since Delta only flies to Cancun and its hubs, the only likely reason I would be if I needed to go to Seattle). Dulles to Cancun is a bit of a strange route, but it is not daily, and it goes along with Delta’s strategy of flying to Cancun from all of its focus markets. I hadn’t realized, but Delta is up to 20 destinations from Cancun – including all of its true hubs but LGA (which it can’t serve), plus the medium-sized cities its established a foothold in over the past decade: Hartford, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, etc. (almost all with seasonal Saturday service). DCA has been a focus city of sorts over the years, but since you can’t do that flight, why not serve BWI and IAD. Check-in was easy and friendly, and I was through pre-check and on the train to the B concourse in 15 minutes.
One of the negatives about flying Delta out of Dulles is that there’s no Sky Club. But there are three lounges that participate in Priority Pass in the A/B concourse – British Airways, Air France, and Turkish. The BA and Air France lounges don’t open until 7am, though, so once again, the Turkish lounge was where I wound up. Although I’ve been to the lounge three times since it opened in fall 2016 (discussed here, here, and here), I hadn’t been for breakfast. On the plus side, I can report it was the emptiest I’ve ever seen the lounge. On the downside, the food offering was a bit of a let down compared to the lunch/dinner offerings and the excellent offerings at Turkish’s lounge at IST. Though the food was of far higher quality than, say, a United Club, it was a small, cold offering, with some cheese, fruit, granola, and yogurt; croissants; Turkish breads; and muffins. Everything was presented well, though, and the staff kept up with cleaning and such, so it was fine. It makes sense that Turkish doesn’t go all out on breakfast given that there are likely no Turkish passengers at the lounge that time of day – and even few Star Alliance elites, given that United flies out of a different terminal. (On a Saturday, the only international Star Alliance departures were a 9am Copa flight to PTY and a bunch of Air Canada Toronto flights. Later in the morning is Ethiopian’s flight to ADD (10am), one of Avianca’s SAL flights (10:10am), and NH’s Narita flight (10:55am)). Still a pleasant place to pass 40 minutes or so.
There was a slight wrinkle with my upgrade process. When I booked the ticket, I hadn’t realized I’d be a Delta elite. I booked the flight as an Aeromexico codeshare because it would save me $10. What I didn’t realize is that totally messes up the upgrade process for medallions, as you are not eligible until the day of departure and get processed after silvers booked on Delta-marketed tickets – regardless of your status. This applies to both upgrades to business/first and Economy Comfort (although I was able to select a preferred seat (exit row) weeks in advance). I wasn’t that worried, though, since the day before my flight there were still 6 seats up front left – beauty of a leisure route that doesn’t touch a hub. The night before my flight, my reservation looked funny, as it showed two separate segments – my AM-coded flight with my initial seat, and a DL-coded flight with a seat noted “At Gate” but saying “Upgrade Confirmed.” I asked about it at the check-in counter and she said I was on standby for an upgrade, and then asked again at the gate, at which point the agent said “I was wondering what was going on,” but processed the upgrade, noting I was the only one on the list. (She assigned me the bulkhead aisle, 1C, less than ideal, but I was optimistic I’d be able to switch on board.)
The crowd at the gate was what you would expect for a flight to Cancun leaving Northern Virginia. The lack of headphones was strong. It took awhile for people to understand the passport verification process for people who had checked in online. Also the agent kept saying “Welcome to Cancun flight 693” that sounded like “Welcome to Concorde Flight 693” which was very confusing. She also led everyone in a cheer about going on vacation- something you can’t do with many flights.
Boarding did not start until close to 8am, which was exacerbated since people insisted on rushing up while they were still on passengers needing assistance – and then hadn’t had their passports verified despite the multiple announcements by name. But at the door, an agent was handing out little party favor bags with Malin & Goetz lotion and body wash. Not caring about the line behind her, the woman in front of me insisted on a different color … to match her outfit. (I’m not sure if this was route-specific or some special promo.)
Although Delta codes CUN flights as business, the hard and soft product is the same as domestic first class. The front of the MD-88 had 4 rows of 4 standard domestic first-class seats. Although the MD-88 is a old bird, the interior was in reasonably good condition. No personal entertainment, but there was power between the seats. There was a pillow and blanket and bottled water at each seat on boarding, and the flight attendant promptly offered to take my coat, followed by an offer of orange juice, mimosa, champagne, or water. A few of the other seats up front filled with some standby passengers, so there ended up being 12 of 16 seats filled. The seat next to mine stayed empty, so I was able to move over and spread my legs a little bit.
It took a long time to board – but we ended up pushing back from the gate about on time. In the meantime, the flight attendant took orders for breakfast—a choice of breakfast sandwich or Chex cereal. Also, a passenger in first class approached the flight attendants and explained he was a very nervous flyer and that he had taken a Xanax and his doctor cleared him to fly but he might get himself worked up but he had techniques to calm himself down not to worry. Eep!
Flying time is about 3.5 hours to Cancun. Despite no screens, the flight had a Gogo-based free entertainment system for use on personal devices, as well as wifi for the parts of the flight it was available.
Shortly after take-off, there were hot towels, followed by breakfast and beverages. I never expect good breakfasts on planes- even in international business class – and, dear reader, this was no exception. The breakfast sandwich was, I think, egg, cheese, pepper?, sausage?, on some sort of puff pastry dough? I picked at it, but there was a large fruit bowl and yogurt too, which was enough for breakfast. (The cereal option looked better, as it came with a croissant.) Cute salt and pepper shakers and utensils, though.
Then I rested a bit, read a bit, wrote a bit. Overall an uneventful flight, but for a constant stream of passengers from coach coming to the forward lav, some literally running. The flight attendants were excellent and barely sat the whole flight, doing refills of drinks for both cabins. Overall, the flight was excellent, and the service was good despite the old plane. Whereas airlines are more and more minimizing the service on flights that primarily serve leisure passengers, Delta’s service was warm and good. The breakfast wasn’t great, but, meh.
We landed a few minutes early, and for the second time in a row on my arrival in Mexico, I got to a very crowded immigration hall. I immediately got very glad that I was not sticking around Cancun, as the Saturday morning arrival crowd from places like Boston is…intense. The line actually moved pretty quickly, unlike in Mexico City, and I was through in about 20 minutes.
There’s a public bus that runs directly from the Cancun airport to downtown Playa del Carmen, operated by ADO. Once you fight your way through the timeshare sales, then the people already shotgunning beers waiting for hotel transfers (sold out of coolers right outside the terminal), there’s an easy-to-find kiosk selling tickets. The next bus was leaving in 20 minutes, and I bought my ticket for 190 pesos (about $10), and waited and watched the crazy scene.
The bus arrived right on time. Terminal 3, where Delta flies into, is actually the first stop, so I had my pick of seats. It was quite nice—very clean and new, with strong air conditioning. It took awhile to get going, as we stopped at two other terminals, and the bus filled up, but we were fully on our way about 20 minutes later. The trip took a little over an hour down the highway that connects Cancun and PDC, with smooth sailing most of the way until we got close to the town itself. The bus drops you off downtown, which worked well for me given where I was staying the first night, and I was at my hotel at 2:30, just over two hours after landing.