We booked through TransGlobal Vacations website (http://www.tgvacations.com/) which I thought did a good job of showing all our options. Our flight was originally scheduled for 7:00 a.m., and we received two email notifications of flight time changes, one with a 5:45 a.m. departure and then one with a 6:30 a.m. departure.
Minneapolis to Cancun:
We arrived at the Minneapolis charter terminal the suggested 2 ½ hours prior to departure at 4:00 a.m. thinking there would be no one there, but it was packed. Fortunately all the lines moved very smoothly and we were quickly at our gate with plenty of time to spare. Our flight was on Ryan International Airlines (http://www.flyryan.com/) and despite calling their flight departure information number at 3:00 a.m. and being told the flight was on time, it was 2 ½ hours late departing. When we took off they told us the delay started the evening before when this plane going down to Mexico had encountered strong head winds and they had to stop and refuel. Then the return flight, because it was so late and the Minneapolis customs office would be closed by the time they landed, had to stop and go through customs somewhere in Texas. It seems they could have known when I called at 3:00 a.m. that they flight was delayed since the plane didn't arrive until 10:00 a.m.
Cancun to Playa del Carmen:
When we arrived at the Cancun airport 2 ½ hours late, we could see our bags outside on the carts, but no one started unloading them for a full 45 minutes. They were either on siesta or busy with other flights. When we finally got our bags, we had to wait in the long unorganized line to go through customs. We finally got through customs and there were plenty of people willing to help us get to our hotel. Unfortunately they were selling time shares and were trying to trick us, but we didn't bite. The bus ride to Playa del Carmen was comfortable and went fast as they were selling beer from a cooler.
Arrival at Resort:
We arrived at the Gala Resort Playacar (http://www.gala-resort-playacar.com/) at about 3:30 p.m. and check-in was very quick. We had chosen the Gala Royal Club upgrade for $120 for the week when booking through the TransGlobal Vacations website. This meant we had a special check-in/check-out desk that was less crowded than the normal desk. More on the Gala Royal Club benefits later. The representative from Lomas Travel (http://www.lomas-travel.com/), the local travel agency for TransGlobal vacations, said we were required to attend an orientation at 4:30 p.m. that afternoon so they could make sure to get our departure information. They said the meeting would take only about 15-20 minutes. They gave some helpful information for about 5-10 minutes, then went on for about 30-45 minutes trying to sell us excursions. At then end they collected our departure information that we had to hand write on a card. Why they didn't have this information already from TransGlobal is beyond me. Given that we had been delayed and gone through the experience at the Cancun airport, we were hungry and cranky and wanted to start our vacation and not sit through a "required" sales pitch.
Now that I've gotten all the negative stuff out about the travel day, let me say the resort was wonderful. We had a large, clean, quiet room. It had all the amenities needed, a safe, a hair dryer, an iron and ironing board, big bathroom and shower. We did not hear any noises from inside our room except for some loud birds on some mornings. The beach was great. Plenty of palm trees and cabanas for shade and it was all very clean. We liked the location as the most southern resort in Playacar. You could walk for miles to the south and there was no development. We had excellent friendly service and all the grounds were clean. We also appreciated the cultural diversity of the other guests. Besides Spanish and American English, the two prominent languages spoken, we also heard (in order of usage) French, German, Italian, and British English spoken. There was also very few singles. Mostly couples and families.
Gala Royal Club:
We had a gold wrist band and other guest didn't have one at all. Besides the special check-in desk, we received the following upgrades: ocean front room, bath robes, special reserved area on the beach without having to sign out for towels, reservation privileges at the ala carte restaurants, extras in the free mini-bar, a special club room with snacks and beverages, and the ability to mix your own drinks or make your own espresso drinks. We thought this upgrade was well worth it considering it was only a 3.8% additional cost for the package.
We had wonderful weather with mostly sunny skies and highs in the upper 80's, but always a cool breeze. We had heard that a couple of weeks prior that it had rained 5 out of 7 days and that one week prior it rained 3 out of 7 days. We only had a light sprinkle for 10 minutes one afternoon. It felt good. 5 out the 7 days there were strong winds from the east and the waves were really crashing. They had the yellow warning flags out on those days and one day the adjacent resort had a red warning flag out and there were no water sports allowed that day. The last two days the wind shifted and came from the west and that made it drastically calmer. Those last two nights also got cooler so that some people were wearing jackets in the evening.
For breakfast and lunch there were two buffet restaurants available. Both were very hectic and felt unorganized and kind of felt like I was in the "chow line" at a summer camp. It was sometimes confusing where lines ended and where to get plates. Were you supposed to get a seat first and order a drink, then get your meal, or like many people did, go straight for the food and then try and find a table? We found the former was more appropriate. Most of the buffet food was mediocre, however, for all the buffet meals, there was also at least one 'prepare to order' item (e.g. omelets, waffles, burgers, a pasta bar, etc.). You normally had to wait a lot longer for these items, but since you're on vacation and really aren't in a hurry, it was well worth the wait. For dinner, there were three 'ala carte' restaurants and one buffet. The ala carte restaurants required reservations, long pants, and no sandals. We ate dinner at the ala carte restaurants 5 of the 7 nights and found it more relaxing than the buffets and improved, but not excellent, quality food.
We thought the drink service was great. Started about 10:30 on the beach and continued until Midnight at the sports bar. Apparently with the 24x7 room service, you could order drinks sent to your room any time, but we didn't make use of the room service since we had the free mini-bar. At the bars you could order any shot or drink you wanted. As has been mentioned before, they only served Corona and Leon beers. It would have been nice to have more beer choices.
As we saw in other trip reports, this resort is very family friendly. There were a lot of children at the resort. Traveling without children, this made it a bit less peaceful than I would have liked. The resort also used the public address system constantly throughout the day time to notify every one of events. I guess they thought that people wouldn't figure out how to participate in the activities if they didn't get constantly reminded. Again, this made it a lot less peaceful than it could have been without the PA system. But I suppose it kept the kids occupied.
Town of Playa del Carmen:
Our idea of a tropical vacation is to relax on the beach, enjoy the weather, scenery, drinks, and read. So we didn't plan any excursions. We talked to some people that had planned at least three full day trips and it appeared that they regretted it as the week went on. For us, it's too much travel and logistics to make it a relaxing vacation. But we did go into the town of Playa del Carmen one afternoon. We took a $4 taxi and then walked around and did some shopping. We ate lunch at a place that I think was called La Parillia and we had our best meal of the trip. Everyplace we went to took US dollars or credit cards. From the Gala resort, you probably could walk to town, roughly 1 ½ miles, but you probably wouldn't want to because of the heat. They also had bikes you could use and even twice a day bike tours to town. We didn't take advantage of the bikes, but I know someone who stayed at the Gala last year and did bike into town with no troubles.
We were to check at the Lomas Travel office on the complex 24 hours before our flight left to confirm the bus pickup time. Our flight was scheduled for 11:35 a.m. and our bus pickup time was 8:30 a.m. Knowing that it took more than ½ hour to get to Cancun and based upon the suggestion to arrive 2 ½ before departure, we thought this was a little late. However, we figured they knew what they were doing. The bus was slightly late and we arrived at the Cancun airport at about 9:45 a.m. There were huge unorganized lines all over the place. There were many Ryan International Airlines flights all leaving at the same time for various destinations. The Ryan lines moved very slowly and we ended up waiting in line for over 2 hours. It was very frustrating. We weren't the only ones on Ryan going to Minneapolis, so they held up the flight. We were one of the last people to board and the plane departed at least 40 minutes late, all because the Ryan check-in counters couldn't handle that many people all scheduled at once. The other thing that was annoying was the first and last two overhead bins on both sides of the plane were reserved for the crew equipment. I've never seen an airline reserve so much space. If you were in the first 6 rows or the last 6 rows, you had no where to put you normal overhead items. The flight went smoothly and customs and baggage claim were a breeze in Minneapolis. We later heard about a Friday Ryan flight to Cozumel that was delayed 12 hours. It made the local TV news and Ryan gave the passengers a free round-trip ticked for another flight.
Based on our travel experiences on both ends, there are two things that I would consider for a future trip. First, is not traveling on a Saturday (and maybe not a Sunday). We heard that during the high season the Cancun airport get 10,000 arrivals on a Saturday. They obviously just can't handle that peak capacity. Flying mid-week might be a better option. Second, I think I would avoid Ryan International Airlines. They just didn't have their stuff together.
The only other all-inclusive vacation that we took was to the Swept Away resort in Negril, Jamaica, quite a few years ago. At that resort, tipping was not allowed and employees could be fired if they were caught taking a tip. However, at the Gala it occurred frequently and it was confusing to know when a tip was appropriate. Even the Lomas Travel guide on the bus ride down said that despite our all-inclusive, all tips included package, that tips were expected.
We took both a 35mm and a digital camera. Here is a link to a mix of pictures from both cameras: