I'd built up a ton of miles and points over the year on business and decided to take the whole family (4 of us) on a nice vacation to Cancun. It also happened to be our 20th wedding anniversary. Our honeymoon was also spent in Cancun. I booked the CasaMagna Marriott in Cancun for 7 nights with nothing but points. Booked nonstop RT airfare on SWA with nothing but miles. All that was left were some activities and food. I ended up spending some of my credit card points (Chase Ultimate Rewards) for a couple of excursions during our stay. We had an awesome time!
Hotel booking: Direct through Marriott.com. Easy as usual and a few months ahead of time (I think it was in August). 210k points total for this Category 7 resort. I booked the Ocean View room based on so many TripAdvisor reviewers saying it was a must. There was a $75/night upgrade fee that points would not cover - more on this later. I didn't have all the points needed at the time of booking but this wasn't a problem. I could acquire the points later, which I did in Nov, at which point I was able to order my certificates for our stay. Easy peasy!
Airfare booking: Direct via southwest.com. I have companion pass already so I only had to spend miles for 3 of us. Since I booked relatively early I was able to get good fare prices. If I recall it cost a little over 100k miles for all 4 of us taking nonstop flights.
Pre-trip: Received email from a concierge at the CasaMagna prior to the trip asking if there was anything I needed before arrival. Sharon was very helpful and allowed me a chance to communicate that we were celebrating an anniversary. I requested a microwave and empty fridge in the room upon our arrival.
Arrival: No flight issues at all. SWA is awesome. We even arrived a little early. After getting our bags and outside the airport it's a little chaotic. Eventually we found the USA Transfers guy to take us to our hotel. Could have booked the Marriott's van but I felt it was too expensive at the time. We had the van to ourselves and enjoyed the drive to the hotel (tip the driver). Once there, I was greeted by the hotel staff by name. Don't really know how they knew it was me but it was a nice surprise. The hotel lobby was beautiful. Fully decked out Christmas decorations. You could see the pool and beach through the windows. Really well done. At checkin, I brought up the topic of the $75/night room upgrade fee and the clerk said that since I was Platinum that the fee would be waived! Took me completely by surprise as I fully expected to have to pay that out of pocket. Nope! Our room was on the 5th floor (6 floors total). When we got in we were pleasantly surprised by this magnificent decoration made with rice on our bedding:
As I had earlier requested, a microwave and small, empty refrigerator were waiting for us in the room. Later that night my Platinum arrival gift came. I'd selected the Chardonnay and fruit/cheese snacks. But leave it to the CasaMagna to surprise us again with a complimentary bottle of champagne! I presume they did this also as part of our anniversary celebration.
The beds themselves were adequate for our needs but were only doubles. I wish they had queens available. The bathroom was great. Walk-in shower (with no door btw), separate room for toilet, and sliding door entry to it all. Balcony was small - 2 chairs and a table. But the view was *amazing*! If you have to spend extra to get the view, do it. We could see the entire pool, deck area, beach, and ocean.
Our room was right next to the stairs on the south end away from the other side that had the elevators. I would have liked elevators on our side as well. We took the stairs most of the time unless we were just too tired from the days events. Speaking of the south end - the north end of the ocean view rooms get hit with sunlight almost all day long. Might consider requesting the south end if you are worried about it being too hot on the balcony.
The room's wifi was not very good. It was either very slow or only sporadically available. Strangely, it seemed to be better around the pool area and even on the beach.
Other stuff about the room - robes, slippers, minibar, coffee, and small water bottles were in the room. The size of the TV in the room is adequate but could be so much bigger. Channel selection is poor, but hey, we're in Mexico after all. Football games just aren't the same without the english commentators. We watched them on mute.
Selvatica: First of our 2 excursions consisted of ziplines, ATVs, and a short cenote swim. Booked this through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Included transportation to/from the hotel (tip the driver). The drive was about 45 min. There we met our guide, Bruno, who was awesome. My son said he might be the coolest guy he's ever met. There were probably a dozen ziplines that took us about an hour to navigate in our group. A truck then took us to another location where we got to ride ATVs for 30 min or so. Then a short walk to the cenote where we could jump or zip into the (cold) water. Very unique and different. Wish we could have stayed there a little longer. Finally we had a very nice mexican meal for lunch. See https://www.selvatica.com.mx/.
Xel-Ha: I don't think you can go to Cancun without hearing about XCaret and/or Xel-Ha. I booked Xel-Ha via Chase again and included transportation to/from our hotel (tip the driver). This was about a 1.5 hr drive each way. We left at 7am and met the driver to return at 5pm. The park is gorgeous! It's like a jungle with waterways. There are many extra activities for an added fee. We splurged for the Sea Trek for $49/ea which was amazing. You put a big helmet on and they pipe the oxygen over a line to you. You go down about 12-15 feet and hold a guardrail and walk along the bottom a short distance. It's very different and we loved it. Probably the highlight of our trip. You get to see lots of different fish up close and pet the stingrays. The food is all-inclusive and was very good too. We really liked the bike ride to the "top" of the river where we could snorkel or take an inner tube down the river. If you want some exercise, go try the rope obstacle course on the river and see if your forearms can make it!
Hotel food: We tried 3 of the hotel restaurants for dinner. Our favorite was the SaSi Thai and we went there twice. I really like their pork tenderloin. I also had the filet mignon but would choose the pork again if I had the chance. Next favorite was Mikado's hibachi. You go for the experience of watching them cook your food. They were very entertaining and my family loved it. Food quality not quite as good as SaSi Thai in my opinion. We also went to Champions Sports Bar. Food is ok, nothing to get excited about. Went back a couple of times just for dessert, which I thought were pretty small portions. And it was too loud. I know it's a sports bar but it was difficult trying to have a conversation. Also felt like the staff wasn't very attentive. We waited longer than I like for service while sitting there. The 750 Pizzeria in the lobby is a real winner though. Everything is reasonably priced and tasty. Our favorite item there was the gelato! I don't think we went a day without getting some. We also had lunch at the pool a few times. It was reasonable.
Hotel pool: Nothing fancy. It is what it needs to be. It was never crowded while we were there. Water volleyball was a constant. Swim up bar was there but we didn't use it. Hot tub is big and only once did we have any difficulty finding a place for us to sit around the perimeter. Most of the time it only had a few people in it.
Hotel spa: I'd booked a couples massage to my wife's surprise on Xmas day. We both really enjoyed it although my wife says she has had better massages for a lot less money here at home. We had Carmen and I think the other was Venae? Afterwards I was able to check out the fitness area which looked decent (and empty at the time). The bathrooms included some nice showers, lockers, and a hot sauna which I tried for a few minutes. Very nice!
Beach: Outstanding! Not very crowded and lots of fun. Played lots of volleyball and swam in the ocean liberally. Lifeguards are a little picky about where you go and how far. I went a little towards the JW Marriott next door and just avoided lifeguards. Our last day I was able to snag a beautiful shell souvenir from the sand. Early in the mornings you will see the hotel staff grooming the beach area. Very nice! On the flip side, I don't approve of the peddlers walking up and down the beach trying to sell cigars, hats, sunglasses, etc. I would like to see hotels discourage this.
Housekeeping: Wouldn't you know it, we had Jesus taking care of us during our Xmas visit to Cancun. He left us a fun little note the day after we arrived:
Departure: USA Transfers was there at the hotel right on time without any kind of confirmation necessary the day before. We were told it wouldn't be necessary and they were right. We got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight, but it was delayed about 1/2 hr. There's a great shopping and food court area at the airport though so it was really no big deal.
Overall: Best vacation we've ever had - and mostly paid for with points I'd accumulated. I can heartily recommend the CasaMagna for families or couples looking for a vacation spot!
Lessons learned: 1. TIPS! Make sure you have plenty of tip money for anything you do outside of the resort. I would take nothing but 1s and 5s if I could do it again. Making change in USD was a problem. I had to ask the bellhop to help me out. I probably spent well over $100 just in tips the 8 days we were there. 2. Download Netflix content at the hotel before going to the airport. Before playing downloaded content on the plane, be sure to turn on airplane mode otherwise you might get an error like "can't play selection in this region" or something.