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Riviera Maya’s El Cid — Especial!

PUERTO MORELOS, Mexico — It has been a long time since we’d been cruising on land…

Cruising on land?

The closest thing you’ll find to a cruise without the water under the room in which you’re sleeping is at an all-inclusive resort, and there are likely more of them than there are Resort-5cruise ships. We hadn’t been at one for almost 30 years, not for any particular reason, but when Family Reunion Time came along this year the decision-makers settled on an all-inclusive.

That was to become El Cid.

There are six El Cid resorts in Mexico — four in Mazatlan, one in Cozumel and this one, in a sleepy little town called Puerto Morelos, which is halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen along the Maya Riviera. The name comes not from a movie now 44 years old, but from the legendary Spanish hero of the 11th century, El Cid, who is still revered today.

JulioIt was founded by the late Julio Berdegue Aznar, who grew up in Madrid and became a political refugee in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War, Highly educated, he developed the business that his two sons operate. At this El Cid, the operations manager is Ricardo Bustamante Altamirano (Ricardo for short), a bundle of energy who is as proud of the company’s heritage as he is of the Puerto Morelos resort.

Ricardo-1“It is one hundred per cent Mexican,” he says. “What distinguishes us is the service, also the quality of food and drinks. We don’t buy the cheapest food and we don’t buy the cheapest liquor. The company always treats employees with a lot of respect. When you do, the Riviera Maya is like a gold mine.”

Ricardo spent a year in the cruise business, as a bar waiter on Royal Caribbean’s old Sovereign of the Seas. His resort reflects a cruise ship in its cleanliness, its service and its “mass-market” food.

One employee we encountered said the reason he worked at El Cid is that it’s booked “90 per cent of the year” while others in this area are more seasonal.

Booked means filling 428 rooms, a number that will grow to 700 in two years, and there will be another main building.

It’s easy to see why.

In a week at El Cid, the two seniors only left twice, walking 30 minutes on country roads to Puerto Morelos. That wasn’t the plan. It was the reality. This all-inclusive — perhaps like others — has a large pool bubbling with activity most of the time, sit-down restaurants, programs for kids who need to be supervised by non-parents, a beach with more water things-to-do and food 24/7. What impressed us was that after a week, we wanted to stay.

There are 12 in our family and we pretty much covered the gamut of things to do. Kayaking (included) was over at the beach. Snorkeling ($20 each, from a Puerto Morelos vendor) meant going out to the world’s second-biggest coral reef. Maya ruins (also not included) was more than an hour’s drive to Coba, and well-worth the trip. The zoo — CrocodileCrococun — was a short cab ride and in-zoo guides are mandatory, if for no other reason than for protection from crocodiles, 33 of them, that are just off the path you’re walking.

This was spring break, so the place was buzzing with families, but it didn’t feel crowded. Not unlike being on a cruise ship like Oasis of the Seas and feeling there was plenty of room for its 6,000 passengers. Just like on cruise ships, somebody is cleaning all the time, and not just in the front rooms, where you could eat off the floors. Ricardo took us on a behind-the-scenes tour that was revealing in the degree to which employees go in the clean department. 

The main pool (there is also an infinity pool) was exceptional. This is not a lap pool, it’s a fun pool. With small children and at least a couple of non-swimming adults in our family, it Infinity Pool 2was perfect. There is plenty of space and, yes, loungers draped with “reserve” towels that nobody ever seems to use.

The rooms are spacious, too, and all easily accessible from the pool. Room service is unbeatable. There are four restaurants to go with the buffet, all of them good but in hindsight we found the Mediterranean one, El Alcazar, the tastiest…perhaps in part because Luis and friendsof a delightful server named Luis. Presentation was exceptional. The buffet is…well, buffet food. When you’re dealing with hundreds of people and perhaps dozens of dietary restraints, there’s only so much you can do with the flavor of buffet servings — the “chefs” El Alcazarin charge of the ready-made hot dishes always seemed to be trying to do the work of two people.

And just like cruise ships, hot toast is a problem on shore, too.

The Riviera Maya El Cid is nine years old. Its opening was delayed by category 4 Hurricane Wilma. There was water in the rooms and the kitchen doors were blown off. Ricardo, a lifer in the hospitality business, spent three months working in Mazatlan until the new El Cid was ready. Another deadly storm — the tsunami that swept through the waters of Asia — was critical in El Cid’s growth.

“Ever since then,” says Ricardo, “all year long people come to the Riviera Maya instead of crossing the Pacific.”

Capacity is about 1,400 people, which happens at Christmas, and 80 per cent of the Resort-7customers are either Canadian or American. While the prices vary like cruises do, they’re generally in the same ballpark, per person.

We’ve been telling people how much this family enjoyed El Cid…and now we’ve just told thousands more.

Today at portsandbows.com: Godmother tunes up Anthem's christening

Diamond Princess
8 nights
June 6, 2015
Kobe (return): OkinawaHualienKaohsiungTaipei
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $99
www.princess.com

Majesty of the Seas’ Royal History

Majesty-Matt H. Wade WC

Photo by Matt H. Wade Wikimedia Commons

Every ship has a story. Given that Majesty of the Seas carried close to three million passengers in her Royal Caribbean lifetime, it’s reasonable to assume the ship has a few thousands stories, at least.

But her story is more fascinating.

It’s about her Godmother. Her name is Sonja Haraldsen, although she became known as the Queen of Norway just over a year before the ship that would be hers made its maiden Queen Sonjavoyage. Queen Sonja became the Godmother that year (1992) and the Norwegians must have skipped protocol for the occasion because Majesty of the Seas was made in France.

It turns out that Queen Sonja, like “her” Majesty, was ahead of her time.

So smitten was her beloved, King Harald, that he told his father if he wasn’t allowed to marry this Oslo commoner, he would never marry, thereby ending the family’s rule as Norwegian royalty, since there would be no children to carry on the tradition. Harald and Sonja were allowed to wed and 23 years later she became Norway’s first “queen consort” in 53 years and the first queen to attend the swearing-in ceremony in seven decades.

Since then, she has gone other places where women of the past dared not go. She was the first queen to visit Antarctica and flew there in a Hercules transport aircraft…not exactly limousine service. Having undergone basic training and having participated in exercises, she is a Rear Admiral in the Navy and a Brigadier in the Army. An award in her name is given to schools that excel in promoting “inclusion and equality.” Over the years, promising artists and musicians, and Vietnam vets, have all been touched by her.

Today, Her Majesty is 77 and still going strong, while “her” Majesty is going to leave the Royal Caribbean fleet in the spring to join Pullmantur Cruises in Spain. The Queen has probably shaken the hands of as many people as have been on Majesty of the Seas, which was also ahead of her time.

In 1992, she and her Sovereign Class sisters — Monarch of the Seas and Sovereign of the Seas — were the biggest ships in the world when they were launched. When they’re re-united at Pullmantur, they’ll be the largest ships in the fleet of a little-known cruise line, long surpassed on the oceans by so many bigger ships that they’re now among the smallest.

That, too, is part of Majesty’s story.

Today at portsandbows.com: The rush to mine cruise gold in China

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
January 3, 2015
Miami (return): St. MaartenSt. ThomasNassau
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.ncl.com

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