Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hotel Review: JW Marriott Cancun

The JW Marriott Cancun wouldn’t be one of my top 5 resorts.  The hotel itself is in the heart of Cancun hotel row.  It doesn’t have the charm you might find in a smaller or more secluded resort, but that’s what you expect when you book a hotel in Cancun.  It felt like it was designed more to be a convention resort.  That said, I would certainly go back.

Everything about this resort was up to par with what one would expect from a JW Marriott, plenty of marble flooring, high ceilings, several restaurants and shops, a great bathroom with a nice shower.  The service was certainly better than we’ve experienced in the Caribbean, but not as good as Hawaii and nowhere near as good as it is in Asia.

We had a room on the 8th floor that overlooked the pool and beach.  The color of the water in Cancun is amazing, especially against the white powdery sand.  We were very pleased with our view and I’d imagine that unless your room was in the front of the building, all the rooms would have a nice view. 

The pool itself was beautiful with an infinity edge overlooking the ocean.  It was fairly deep, which our family enjoys, but for families with small kids or non-swimmers, they should be aware that there isn’t a shallow area for the kids.  There weren’t a ton chairs, fortunately we went during low season, but I can imagine this is an issue during busier seasons.

I was a little disappointed with the restaurants and quality of the food for the price.  Nothing in Cancun was the bargain that I expected we would get having never been to Mexico before. 

We didn't have time to do a lot of activities before the storm.  We saw Telum (amazing).  After the storm we stayed in Merida and were very happy that we spent some time in this great city.  We also went through the ruins of Uxmal, which were mindblowing.

Our stay was a little unique in that we were there when Hurricane Wilma came to shore.  We spent a total of 4 days at the resort before being evacuated to spend 5 days in a hurricane shelter.  It feels strange nitpicking the service or rooms because the JW Marriott and its staff did a totally amazing job of taking care of us through that scary time.  They had a shelter all arranged, they had food ready and several of the staff stayed at the shelter to take care of us.  Even though I wasn’t in love with the hotel or Cancun as a whole, this resort and its staff hold a special place in our family’s hearts. 

For my money, I would prefer Costa Rica and recommend the LosSuenos Resort over the JW Marriott Cancun.  That said, I feel like a jerk because any vacation to the beach with your family is great.
Gwen posing

View from our room

Gwen checking out the view

Getting ready to hit the beach

Awesome infinity edge pool

Beautiful cancun beach

Gwen digging in the sand

The waves keep destroying Gwen's sand castle


Yes, those are jean shorts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Top 10 Favorite Golf Courses Played on Vacation

I’m sure 5 years from now this list will change as I get the opportunity to play other great courses around the world.  These are just a list of courses that were memorable and stuck out as a great golfing experience.  Some of these courses were played because I have a great wife that lets me sneak out on family vacations.  Others were played during "mancations" when I went out of town with friends.

10) Koolau Golf Course,Oahu.  This isn’t a course that is memorable for a great score.  It is actually memorable for just the opposite reason, how difficult it was.  Some say it is the most difficult course in the U.S.  It seems like I was hitting 4 iron into almost every green across a wide ravine.  That said, it is built along the beautiful, tropical mountains of Oahu’s windward side.  It is a unique course and one that you’ll enjoy if you can stop looking at your score card and just take in the beauty.

9) Royal St Kitts Golf Course,St Kitts.  If you’ve ever wanted to play a course with a couple holes lining the ocean, this course has that.  There isn’t a ton of imagination behind the design of this course, and it is quite short.  That said, it sits on the edge of the island and has some holes on the Caribbean side of the island and a great hole coming home that takes you along the Atlantic shoreline.

8) Desert Ridge Wildfire GolfClub, Scottsdale Arizona.  The massive Desert Ridge JW Marriott has 2 golf courses, one designed by Nick Faldo and the other by Arnold Palmer.  I played the Faldo course and found it to be challenging.  There weren’t the open fairways generally experienced at resorts, rather there were several target holes with a risk/reward of carrying the desert or going for the landing area.  The greens were challenging and the course was excellently manicured.    

7) Desert Springs, PalmSprings California.  This course is exactly what you picture for a “resort style” desert course.  The fairways are fairly open, the only real danger is the palm trees and the fairways and greens are kept immaculately.  This is a 36-hole course and the preferred 18 tends to be the Palm Course which is famous for the pink flamingos off the 16th hole.  Number 18 is a great finishing hole!

6) Silver Rock Golf Course,Palm Springs California.  Something tells me I should rank this course higher.  It is a course the PGA tour plays and was in perfect condition.  It set up against the mountains of Palm Springs and has some amazing holes.  Maybe I’m just bitter because I played poorly and my friends beat me.

5) Grande Pines, OrlandoFlorida.  Very Challenging.  This course is ranked by Golfweek in the top 100 for America’s Best Resort Courses.  It is a very strategic and challenging course.  The course has tall pines, lakes, oaks and palms and if you tend to play at elevation, like I do, it can be quite humbling to see the distance (or lack thereof) that you get out of your clubs in the humid Florida air.

4) Wailae Country Club,Oahu.  I’ve played this course 3 times and have yet to play well there.  Almost every tee shot has a right to left bias for a right handed golfer (not my strength), but what makes this course amazing is the experience.  It is home to the Sony Open on the PGA tour and the oxtail soup at the end of the round can’t be beat.

3) Blue Canyon Country Club,Phuket Thailand.  This has been rated at times as the #1 course in Asia and has held the Johnnie Walker Classic.  The female Thai caddies, in their white jumpers, take this from being a great course to an amazing experience.  My caddy marked my ball, lined up my putt, and said “hit medium” on the first hole.  I followed her instructions and sank a 25 foot bender.  I was off to a great start!

2) Shadow Ridge Golf Course, PalmSprings California.  I’ve played this course several times with friends and I love it.  It does an amazing job of incorporating some traditional desert golf with deep bunkers, water and perfect fairways.  It has been ranked the top public course in the Palm Springs valley on several occasions, which is no small feat considering there are over 100 courses.

1) Sand Hollow Golf Course,St. George Utah.  It feels like the fairways of this course were literally just laid over the natural contours of the terrain.  Several holes line cliffs with over 100 foot drops.  The contrast of the well-kept green fairways and red rocks is gorgeous.

Grand Champion: KapaluaPlantation Course, Maui.  This course is the home of the first PGA Tournament each year.  It can get windy, but the day I played there was no wind.  It is in every way a great course; great lay out, great risk/reward, great views and a great 19th hole.  If you are a golfer and visit Maui, you need to play this course!

Honorable Mention: Turtle Bay Golf Course, Oahu and La Iguana Golf Course, Costa Rica 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hotel Review: The W Seattle

My wife’s former company used to send us to Seattle every year for an annual Christmas party.  We have only stayed there as a couple, never having taken the children.  Based on our experiences there, I wouldn’t recommend it as a great hotel for children.  However, for a couple visiting Seattle that wants a great hotel in the heart of the city, I would highly recommend it.

If you’ve never stayed at a W hotel, they are a little different.  You’re not going to get the same level of over the top service you might find at a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton, but truthfully, that can get kind of annoying at times.  I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of constantly be peppered with “it would be my pleasure sir” to the simplest of requests the way the Ritz Carlton staff have been trained.  When you walk into the The W Seattle, you will notice that the lighting is drawn low, there is house music playing and fresh fruit sitting atop the check-in desk.  Looking around you might wonder “am I cool enough to stay at this place.” 

The check-in process is very efficient and the staff was quite attentive to any requests we made.  The lobby itself is very nice.  It has a great sitting area with comfortable couches and books to sit back and relax after a long day of walking (you will do a fair amount of walking in Seattle).  Next to the sitting area are a restaurant and a bar that is hopping on the weekends.

The rooms have a very clean design and were quite nice.  They are stocked with spa-like robes and Bliss bath products.  They each have iPod docking stations.  Everything looked pretty new and nice.  The beds were extremely comfortable and nice. 

The best thing about this hotel is how close it is to everything.  Just a short walk away is Pike Place Market.  Around the corner is the beautiful Seattle library.  PacificPlace shopping center, Nordstrom and Westlake are all very close.  Plus, since this hotel is downtown, it is in the “free zone” for all buses.  My wife and I did make the walk to The Space Needle, but be warned; just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it’s always further away than it looks.  If you haven’t been to Seattle and only have a couple days to experience the highlights, the location of this hotel makes that very easy.

I’d like to go back to Seattle, although I’d prefer to see it during the summer.  I don’t know that I would take make kids to stay at W Seattle, but I would absolutely go back there with my wife for a couple’s getaway. 
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