I found trip reports extremely helpful when planning our vacation, so I am sharing our experience to help others plan a fabulous stay in Cancun. We are a family of four with two kids, ages 12 and 15.
Hotel. The JW Marriott is wonderful hotel, like heaven on earth! The hotel was beautiful – impressive lobby area, well appointed and maintained common areas, gorgeous pool area, friendly staff, and top notch service.
Rooms. If you can splurge on the Grand Ocean Front Suite, do it – two balconies overlooking the ocean; private bedroom (with walk-in closet!) so Mom & Dad can sleep while kids stay up watching movies; a separate half bathroom (no waiting for someone to get out of the shower); a kitchen area with sink, mini fridge, and a table for dining in, playing games or planning your next day’s activities. The JW is currently undergoing renovations and while the suite had not been renovated yet, it still made for the perfect stay. (Our friends stayed in a newly renovated room and said it was nice – high tech bathroom with super quiet showers!)
Ambiance. If you’re looking for excitement, this is not the place for you. It is QUIET and perfect for pure relaxation. There’s an adult only pool with a swim up bar, which was nice to get away from the all the kids frolicking around the infinity pool. The lobby bar did have entertainment nightly – we didn’t partake in it but the lounge was hoppin’ every night, even with kids. They did have activities on the ‘lawn’ like yoga in the morning (a $20 fee ) or movies in the evening (free and included popcorn!), and we also saw a family iron chef contest going on. But the hotel didn’t do a good job advertising them so we found out about them too late and probably missed out on other things.
Pool. The pool at the JW is awesome. We spent several days poolside and kids enjoyed every aspect – infinity, zero entry, waterfall wall, bridge tunnels and the two small hot tubs. There are plenty of lounge chairs to go around – the chairs around the infinity pool filled up quickly, so many reserved their spots early in the morning. Service by the pool was great – drinks and lunches came quickly. Weather was sunny and warm every day despite “cloudy” forecasts on my weather app. Being on the beach side of Zona Hotelera, there was always a breeze, which kept you cool. The last day was a bit windy, but still sunny. Towel service ran from 7am-7pm and towels were dispensed pretty liberally (no room # required), which was nice not having to chase down your kids and figure out where their towels ended up. AquaWorld had a kiosk to purchase fun water activities (this is separate from the travel desk inside the hotel). There were also activities offered on the beach – parasailing, waverunners, etc. Regarding the beach, the ocean side of Zona Hotelera has rougher waves. We did swim in the ocean, but always mindful of the red flags and drifting. Seaweed was not a major problem until the last day when a mass of red seaweed overtook the entire beach area – no one ventured to swim in that! TIPS: If you’re an early riser, the sunrises are a treat. Pool is open until 11pm so if you plan to go night swimming, grab towels before they shut down at 7pm. Chairs around the Infinity pool only get full sun in the morning hours.
AquaWorld. We booked a Jungle Tour via their kiosk at the pool. This was one of the highlights of our trip. AquaWorld is a quick 5-10 min walk from the hotel and an awesome place for all sorts of water fun. The staff were very organized and efficient. Our tour guide was pretty cool - Super Pedro! The tour boats are usually 2 person boats, but since there were 3 of us and the kids were not allowed to drive, we were given a ‘limo’ boat for 4 people. It was very easy to drive and fast! We cruised around the ‘jungle areas’ (basically mangrove forests) for about 15 minutes before pulling up to a snorkeling spot with other jungle tourists. We spent 30 minutes snorkeling (not the best snorkel site but decent). Kids loved it. On our swim back to the boat, they tossed food in the water to attract the fish so we got to swim around the fish frenzy which was cool. All in all a fun excursion. TIP: You can request towels from the bell hop on your way out of the hotel. You will get a locker at AquaWorld to store all your stuff.
Spa. The spa at the JW is wonderful. From the moment you check in to the moment you leave you are pampered every step of the way. After check in, I was brought to the women’s dressing rooms where Yanet gave me a tour. I was given a private locker, a super fluffy robe and spa slippers. I had the custom massage with Juan Carlos and it was divine! He worked magic with his hands and left me thoroughly relaxed when done. He even relieved a trouble spot I had in my shoulder. (My friend and her son did the Fresh Air Palapa massage at the beach and liked it very much.) I highly recommend indulging in this spa when in Cancun. TIPS: You have access to the spa area 1 hour before to 1 hour after your service – I recommend getting there early to relax in the tranquil serenity of the waiting room, then use the amenities afterwards. They have both cold and hot jacuzzis, which were nice. I didn’t try the saunas. And be sure to use the showers that have a view of the ocean!
Beachwalk Restaurant – the casual restaurant by the pool. We had a sit down lunch here while waiting for our room the first day and ordered from the pool during the week. We tried the steak & cheese quesadillas, fish ceviche, beef & chicken nachos, kids grilled chicken breast, kids club sandwich, and hummus plate and all were good. Service was good. TIPS: Quesadillas have a TON of cheese in them. I would recommend the Cadillac margarita over the regular margarita.
Sedona Grill – another restaurant on the property. Good breakfast buffet with lots to choose from. Food and service were good. Interesting thing – when my son asked for a glass of milk, they came back with ‘hot’ milk. Luckily he was able to pick up some packaged cold milk by the cereals. TIP: Request a seat outside for a nice view of the pool area/beach.
Gustino – Italian restaurant on the property. This was a surprisingly impressive experience. We are not big fans of ‘hotel’ restaurants, but I would give this restaurant 5 stars. Once you check-in, they escort you down to the restaurant below – a beautiful space. Julio and Daniel provided impeccable service. We ordered the shrimp and calamari appetizers and the tenderloin and braised short rib entrees – all were delish! There were four types of bread to choose from and our courses included an intermezzo of sorbet as well as complimentary tastings from the chef. This was our only dinner as a couple and the staff made it a lovely experience (I did receive a rose with dessert). TIPS: While I was told the dress code was casual, many patrons took it up a notch. Recommend making reservations (and leaving the kids in the room!).
Other dining options: The Marriott Cancun Resort is right next door and has other restaurants, e.g. Champions sports bar for a casual, inexpensive dinner. The kids went to the Japanese restaurant there for hibachi and liked it. Room service at the JW was quick – always delivered within 30 minutes. For offsite restaurants, there are several places within walking distance. To get a nice view of the sunset, try a restaurant across the street on the lagoon side. We went to Fred’s House, which is an upscale seafood/steakhouse. We ordered the Tequila Shrimp (which they flambayed tableside!) and the lobster. (TIPS: Request a table on the back 'porch area' overlooking the lagoon for a sunset view. Recommend making reservations.) If you don’t mind travelling, there is a small, cute casual open air restaurant called El Fish Fritanga just a short taxi ride away. Tables are on a ‘beach’. Great place to view the sunset. Food was good and very reasonably priced. (TIPS: The bell hop has a coupon for a free round of drinks. Taxi from hotel was $16US for 7 of us. Recommend making reservations.) Note there is a convenience store right across the street to buy beer, soda, water, and snacks at more reasonable prices as well as a pharmacy just a short walk further. And lastly, there's a McDonald’s right across the street if your kids get homesick.
Tours. The JW has a travel desk in the lobby run by Destination Services that offers half and full day packages. Since we were traveling with friends and given our size, preferences and schedules we decided to do a private tour for the ruins and adventure park. The Concierge could have arranged this, but we ended up hiring one of the taxi drivers we used while shopping, Gustavo (firstname.lastname@example.org, Cel: 55-36-68-80-26). While I was expecting to negotiate, the hotel and taxis seemed to have a standard ‘rate sheet’ for trips (which honestly made it much easier to not have to think about it). Rates were based on distance, not time, and Gustavo stayed with us the entire day. For a day trip to Tulum and Xel-Ha the cost was $3,500MX for 6 people. Gustavo had a nice SUV that fit us all comfortably and he brought along bottled water for the trip. For local trips, when the bell hop called you a taxi, there seemed to be a set rate, so again no haggling. Many taxi drivers solicited their services and one guy even had a US mobile # so I didn’t have dial international country codes. For those that prefer to save on expensive taxi fares, you can simply walk to the end of the hotel’s driveway and catch the bus. They come by every few minutes.
Shops. The lobby shop was great for quick meals, coffee or gelato and carried all sorts of snacks, toiletries, first aid supplies, as well as souvenirs, jewelry and resort wear if needed in a pinch. (And if an Elite member, all purchases are at a 10% discount.) We picked up pastries a few mornings when we needed a quick breakfast before an excursion. Kids got pizza there for lunch one day and liked it. In addition to the lobby shop, the JW spa has a shop, which many probably never see – they carry fancier clothes, bathing suits, jewelry, spa goods and cosmetics. The hotel also has a 'mini mall’ attached to it with lots of silver jewelry, souvenirs, a chapel and - believe it or not - a free Tequila tasting station! You can also take a taxi to La Isla Shopping Village, which had nice shops and restaurants along the water. I wouldn’t bother with the flea markets (e.g. Coral Negro) – overpriced and I learned that the souvenirs at the airport were cheaper than what I bargained at the market! I visited Cancun many years ago and went to an open air flea market and found lovely handmade silver jewelry. The silver jewelry I saw this trip is much more commercialized and the same at every shop.
Money. The exchange rate during our stay was $17MX-$17.5MX to $1US. Credit cards or US dollars were accepted everywhere we went, so we didn’t have the need to exchange money into pesos. The JW had ATM machines that dispensed either US$ or pesos. One tip I found helpful when researching the hotel was to stick to pesos when charging things to the room. The final bill was in pesos, so it was easier to verify receipts against the charges.
Safety. Given all the violence reported in the news in Cancun and surrounding areas recently, we had no issues with safety throughout the trip, including our trip to Tulum and walking/taxi-ing to and from dinners at night.
Airport transfers. The JW does not have a free shuttle for the airport. They work with a company to provide this service, but after researching I felt they were expensive. We booked a private round trip transfer with USA Transfers. Booking online was very easy and no need to pay a cent until you meet your driver at the airport. They email you confirmation receipts for both arrival and departure. They made it very easy to find them once you landed. We rode in a van – clean, comfy, and spacious for the family and luggage. Miguel was a friendly driver and chatted with us about restaurants and adventure parks. The hotel is 11 miles from the airport so the ride took about 20 minutes. On our departure day, our driver Garcia arrived promptly at the scheduled time. To compare pricing, it cost $60US total round trip for a private van (per vehicle, not per person). The company the hotel recommended charged $80US one way for 4 people. I highly recommend using USA Transfers.
I hope this was helpful and enjoy Cancun!