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Millennials in Travel – Thompson Playa del Carmen & Miami by Sarah Matier

 

 

Millennials in Travel Fam – Thompson Playa del Carmen / Miami

 

Friday September 22

 

After a slightly delayed connecting flight from Dallas (who knew that flight attendants could go “missing” and that they won’t board the plane without them?), I arrived at the Cancun airport and was quickly whisked away by Javier, one of the Thompson Playa del Carmen’s dedicated private transfer drivers.  With a bit of traffic, it took about an hour to get to the property, which went by quickly while chatting to Javier, a self-proclaimed “foodie” about the best restaurants in the area and Mexican tourism in general.

 

The entrance to the hotel is quite non-descript – I did not realize we had even pulled up to it, as it is wedged between a bunch of little shops on a side street in the center of downtown Playa del Carmen.  Pretty much all of the streets around the Thompson are in what is known as the “zona peatonal” or pedestrian zone as there is a fair amount of foot traffic with tourists and locals milling about (even in low-season). Check-in was quick and simple, and up I went in the elevator to my room, forgoing the kind offer of the bellboy to take my one small carry-on bag – I still am not used to letting people take my bags – as long as I don’t have to trek through the jungle with them, I’m perfectly fine rolling them into an elevator and down a hallway.

 

We were graciously assigned Luxury King Rooms (one up from the entry-level Deluxe Kings) – which are very spacious, have a good sized sitting area, as well as a roomy balcony with a comfy day-bed.  The property sits about 2 blocks away from the beach and is only 3 stories (including the rooftop), so views of the ocean are somewhat obstructed by other buildings in the guestrooms and suite.  Décor is minimal contemporary – white linens with blue accents, lots of wood elements, and tasteful artwork that give pops of color on the walls.  The bathroom is open to the “corridor” leading to the bedroom (no door), but obviously the toilet and shower have a door (although the doors are glass and not frosted – so if you’re not comfortable with your partner watching you pee, you may need to ask them to stay in the bedroom area).  There is only one sink, but plenty of space on either side for his and hers toiletries.

 

After unpacking and freshening up a bit, I went up to the rooftop to meet our group for cocktails by the pool, followed by a welcome dinner at CATCH.  All the food was wonderful, from the salmon carpaccio to the “sear-yourself” hot rock wagyu beef to the mushroom spaghetti, which was all served family style for our large group of about 25 people (13 agents, several plus ones, as well as our hosts from the Thompson).

 

I called it a night around 10 pm (as did a lot of the others thank goodness – so I didn’t start out the trip on an “I may be 28 but I’m less fun than your grandma” foot).  We may all be millennials, but we’re millennials who work hard and had spent the day traveling…

 

Being in the midst of Playa nightlife and soundproofing technology having advanced only so far, there is a fair amount of noise from about 9 pm to 4 am that seeps into the rooms from the balcony.  Luckily, I sleep like a rock, so I wasn’t too bothered (except for the very loud bang outside my door at 4 am from some fellow guests who probably had a few too many…), but for a light sleeper I imagine it would be hard to make it through the night.  The Thompson provides earplugs, which was a nice touch, but clients should be well aware prior to travel that Playa is a lively party town and expect the music to be thumping until the wee hours of the morning.

 

Saturday September 23

 

I got up pretty early hoping to find some Premier League matches, but had little luck in that endeavor.  I had also discovered the night before that there was no coffee machine in the room (one of my biggest hotel pet peeves), and not realizing that there was a Starbucks right outside the hotel entrance, I had to order coffee to be delivered to my room, which would have been fine had there been a room service menu in the room…but there was not.  I later found out 2 things: 1) once you get up to the suite categories there are espresso machines in the rooms, and 2) they were in the process of changing the hotel information binder that included the room service menu, so they had all been taken out of the rooms.

 

Knowing that there was sure to be an inordinate amount of food to be consumed during the day, I headed down to the small 24-hr fitness center in the hotel.  I had the place to myself so I hopped on the elliptical and got a good sweat on before heading back up to my room to get ready for the day.

 

We had brunch scheduled at 10 am, which I’m sure was an intended later time for those who chose to hit the clubs Friday night (turns out no one in our group did), but I was good and hungry by that time!  Luckily, the Thompson did not disappoint when it came to brunch food.  The mimosas and Bloody Marys flowed, and there were more than enough avocado toasts, croque “senoras”, ceviche, and waffle towers to sate our appetites.  ‘Twas a brunch any millennial would be proud of! J

 

After brunch, we did our site inspection of the hotel (or at least the downtown location – Thompson has another beachfront in Playa del Carmen – about 5 blocks away from the main building – that we saw later in the day). The main building has 5 room categories and just over 90 keys.

  • We didn’t see any of the Deluxe Rooms (the entry level), but they are still on the larger side at just over 500 ft2. These rooms only come in King bedded options.
  • The only room category that has 2 Queen beds are the Luxury Queen rooms, which are about the same square footage as the Luxury King rooms (around 540-550 ft2), but lack the larger sitting area. The property is in the process of converting some of the Luxury Kings into Luxury Queens, as they have more demand for the room options with 2 beds – it’s a pretty popular destination for bachelor/bachelorette parties and girls’ weekends, and a larger inventory of the 2 bedded rooms fits better with the clientele.
  • We didn’t see the City View Suites, but from the specs we were given they are about 875 ft2 and only come with King beds.
  • The property has 4 Panorama Suites (2 on each floor at the end of the hallways), that have the added perks of a wraparound balcony and a walk out shower that leads to a soaking tub on the balcony. They are the most spacious at about 1100 ft2 (including the balcony).  The Panorama Suites have the option of outside connectors with 2 Luxury Rooms, where you would block off the end of the wing and have one-key access to all 3 rooms.
  • The highest room category is the Thompson Suite, that has a huge bathroom (with 2 sinks) and a ton of closet space, as well as a large balcony with soaking tub. The living area is semi-separated from the bed with a large TV (that spins around)/ cabinet combination.

 

We were then allowed to spend the afternoon as we pleased (which, for a FAM, is pretty nice!), OR we could join everyone for a Cabana Pool Party on the rooftop.  I opted to check out the pool party for a bit – making sure to spend at least 20 minutes in the actual cabana waiting for my sunscreen to soak in (see, mom and dad – I learned something from my childhood!).  Then I grabbed a drink and hopped in the pool with the others.  The rooftop pool follows the curve of the rooftop – basically a “C” shape facing the ocean – and has glass barriers that let you see out towards the ocean while you’re lounging or floating around the pool.  There was an ample amount of regular sun loungers, cushiony floating islands physically in the pool (some with umbrellas), and in-pool loungers and rockers that would allow for partial submersion while reading a book.  It was still low-season in Playa del Carmen and I don’t believe the hotel was at full occupancy, which is probably why the pool wasn’t super crowded.  I imagine during times of higher occupancy the pool is pretty full!  Also, are inflatable rideable pool animals a new thing now?  I seem to see them all the time in photos of hotel properties these days – and the Thompson had their own pool swan (which I mistakenly thought was a goose – and for which got a fair number of laughs).

 

I spent about 2 hours out on the rooftop socializing and chatting with my fellow group members, but 2 hours in the direct sun and probably about 70% humidity, even with reapplying sunscreen, was quite enough for my delicate skin and general heat intolerance.  Not realizing they were bringing us what was later described to me as a mountain of appetizers, I headed back down to my room to enjoy some AC and take a nap.

 

That evening, we all met down at the Thompson Beach House for a private tequila tasting and dinner.  The Beach House is much smaller – only has 27 rooms – and that, combined with the fact it is right on the Playa del Carmen beach gives it more of a relaxation/vacation vibe.  Don’t get me wrong, you could still hear the hustle and bustle of downtown Playa, but it felt much less “party centric” than the main location.  That being said, however, I would not rave about the beach itself – it’s still very much public and a little unkempt – definitely not a “lie around in seclusion” beach experience.

 

The rooms are a bit bigger at the Beach House Location – entry level Terrace Rooms (available in both King and 2 Queen configurations) are around 600 ft2.  The room décor is essentially the same – whites and blues with pops of color and wood.  The three suite categories, Partial Ocean View, Ocean View, and Panoramic, are self-explanatory: each one is slightly larger and with a better view of the ocean than the category below it.  The Panoramic Suite has a wrap-around balcony very similar to the Panoramic Suite at the main building.

 

One note on the Beach House – given that it only has 27 rooms, it can be easily bought-out for private groups.  Nightly buy-out rates range from $8,000-$10,000 depending on the season and time of the week, which for 27 rooms is pretty good if you ask me!  Now I have to find 26 friends…. J

 

The tequila tasting was very informative – our host explained the tequila making process, the differences in the types of tequila (plata, reposado, anejo, ultra, etc.), as well as the differences between tequila and mezcal (another agave based liquor, but with different production and aging processes).  I am not a huge fan of tequila; whether straight or in a cocktail, it’s never been my go-to liquor.  I can’t say I’ve changed my personal opinion, but the additional information, especially how to differentiate between top-shelf and low-quality tequilas, was useful!

 

I was quite hungry following the tequila tasting as I had missed the pool snacks, and very much looking forward to our dinner at C-Grill, the Beach House’s only restaurant.  Chef, again, did not disappoint!  I especially enjoyed the green ceviche tacos and the pork belly tlayuda (a giant tostada), and the grilled corn salad. I certainly ate my fill, as everyone else at my table had eaten so much at the pool party that they ceded a lot of the entrees to me J.

 

I called it an early night once again, as I knew that we had to be up bright and early for our mystery authentic Riviera Mayan full-day excursion the next day.

 

Sunday September 24

 

Excursion day!  After an entire day of eating and lounging poolside, I think all of us were ready for some adventure and a bit of exercise.  We were given a list of things to bring (swimsuit, sneakers, sunscreen, flip flops, and a change of clothes), but other than that, our hosts wouldn’t tell us ahead of time where we were going or what we were doing.  All was revealed Sunday morning when we were finally introduced to our guides Juan, Joaquin, and Ulysses. The Thompson Playa del Carmen partners with Living Dreams Mexico, a small tour company relatively new to the scene – but one that focuses on the active traveler looking to get more out of their time in the Riviera Maya than just sand and sun.

 

Our first stop (after leaving more than an hour behind schedule – typical Latin time?) was the Punta Laguna Monkey Reserve, about 60 miles inland from Playa del Carmen.  The bus ride took about an hour and forty-five minutes, and one of the guides, Juan, used the time well to give us a brief history lesson about the Mayans and their role in the area in the past and today.  Juan was highly engaging and you could really tell that he is passionate about his job (as well as very knowledgeable!).

 

Upon making it to Punta Laguna, we split up into groups and headed off into the jungle with a local guide to search for monkeys!  About seven minutes in, we came across a group of howler monkeys in the canopy– a male, female, and a young monkey.  Our local guide who accompanied us (in addition to our Living Dreams guide), called to the male and we actually got to hear him howl several times!  I have heard howler monkeys in Belize, but they were far in the distance – this guy was probably 50 feet straight above us, and boy, was he loud!  Howler monkeys are the loudest land animal on Earth – their roars are even louder than lions; getting to hear one up close and personal was a treat!

 

We continued our trek through the jungle heat and reached the top of a zip line run that took us over a very scenic lagoon (I’m assuming the aforementioned Laguna of Punta Laguna?), and the 20 second run provided a much-needed rush of air and adrenaline boost.  Although it was probably only about 90 degrees and 70% humidity, the forest cover traps a lot of the heat in – making for a pretty sweaty trek!  After ditching our harnesses and helmets we hopped in canoes and rowed across the lagoon to finish our search for monkeys.

 

While the first leg of the jungle trek was intriguing, we only saw the monkeys from a distance.  The second leg proved to be even better – as we came upon a couple spider monkeys and got one of them so interested in us that he swung down from the top of the canopy to about 10 feet above our heads.  We spent a good five minutes watching him mimic our gestures and try to play with one of the guys’ Go Pro cameras – monkeys truly are fascinating and highly intelligent creatures.  Seeing them in their natural habitat is wonderful, but having one come so close that we could observe his facial expressions and mannerisms was truly amazing.

 

Riding on our monkey high, we hiked back to the bus, where our gracious hosts had coolers full of cold water, soda, and beer for our refreshment.  There’s nothing quite as refreshing as an ice-cold Corona after an hour wandering through the Mexican jungle! J

 

Refueled and rehydrated, we set off for our 2nd experience: the small town of Muyil and the Sian Ka’an lagoon – about an hour south of Punta Laguna and 15 minutes southwest of the town of Tulum.  There was a slight malfunction with the bus about 40 minutes in that meant that although it was safe to drive the last 20 minutes to Muyil (where we would go on with our activities and a new bus would magically appear), the AC wouldn’t work. The Living Dreams guys handled the situation wonderfully – even offering to round up taxis for us all to take us to the next destination – which we collectively decided wasn’t necessary.  All part of the adventure!!

 

After losing 30 minutes to the bus mishap, as well as our pretty delayed start, we were running low on time.  We made the decision to forego visiting the Muyil archaeological site, and instead went straight to the Sian Ka’an lagoon.  A ten-minute speedboat ride took us across the lagoon to the mangrove systems, where the ancient Mayans harnessed the natural water flow to create free-flowing channels.  Used in the past for easy transportation to trading posts, we instead used them as our own personal “lazy river”.  No swimming necessary – we just put on life vests and floated leisurely through the mangroves.

 

We emerged from our lazy river float refreshed, but quite hungry – so we headed off to our last stop of the day.  Just to make sure we were truly appreciative of our food, we were tasked with canoeing across a large cenote (a natural sinkhole that exposes groundwater underneath very typical of the region) to a Mayan village where our buffet of slow roasted pork and chicken, rice and beans, and fresh hand-made tortillas awaited us.  The food was absolutely delicious, and very much appreciated after a long day out in the sun!

 

All that was left was to hop on the bus and head back to Playa del Carmen – where a hot shower and comfy bed were too good to pass up!

 

Overall, I would say that the FAM was very good experience. Even though I was a bit apprehensive at first about going to a clear party destination as that really isn’t my cup of tea anymore – I didn’t feel pressured to go out clubbing at night, and the pace of our activities was pretty leisurely.  It felt like an actual vacation, not just a work trip!  I would definitely recommend, however, pairing the nightlife aspect of Playa del Carmen with a full or half day of touring.  There are so many great historical and cultural spots in the area that getting away from the hustle and bustle of the Playa nightlife for a different kind of adventure is relatively easy and a nice break (as long as you’re not too hungover from the clubs the night before! J).

 

Monday September 25

 

Monday was pretty much a travel day for most of us, although several of the group members only had to travel as far as Mayakoba for the ILTM conference.  After a tasty and filling breakfast of chilaquiles (get the green salsa!) at Cinco – the Thompson’s other rooftop restaurant open for breakfast and lunch – I was off to the airport to catch my flight to Miami.

 

As American had not yet started its non-stop service between Chicago and Cancun, I had to either connect in Miami on the return or take United (no thanks!) or Southwest (more expensive).  Knowing that the Miami airport is notoriously difficult for international connections, and being that I’ve never been to Miami, I decided to tack on 2 nights in Miami to my trip.

 

The flight was fine – and actually a bit early!  I’ve only ever used Global Entry in Chicago on my way back from Thailand (which was a breeze), but I wondered if Miami would be more difficult.  Maybe I got lucky, but it wasn’t!  The only thing that was different was they asked me where I had been and what I was there for (I only remember handing my slip to the agent in Chicago).  I also highly recommend not checking luggage – as using the Global Entry line gets you out before the luggage even hits the belt.  This way I could fly through without any delay, and off I went in an Uber to the Mandarin Oriental.

 

I chose the Mandarin mostly because of its location – coming straight from Playa del Carmen meant that I didn’t really need beach time, but I didn’t want to be too far away from all the action and hotels on Miami Beach.  It took about 25 minutes to get to the property from the airport with some traffic downtown.  Situated on Brickell Key, a small island right off the downtown Miami area, the Mandarin is well-located for the business traveler who has meetings downtown or in Brickell (the financial district), but isolated enough that there’s not city or street noise to contend with.  In fact, there were a couple of corporate groups at the hotel during my stay, which doesn’t seem to be out of the ordinary for them.  The property was built in 2000 as a corporate hotel that they have since renovated to be more of a mix of corporate and leisure (the guest rooms were redone in 2010, the suites in 2013).

 

The common areas are elegant, with obvious Asian influences.  The fitness center is very well-equipped (although awkwardly located – the main entrance is tucked back behind what I think is the bellman’s counter), the lobby bar is very classy, and the main dining venue, La Mar, is excellently decorated.  However, aside from the public spaces, I have to say that the guest rooms, hallways, and even the elevators are tired. I was not a huge fan of the mustard yellow and green color scheme or the busy hallway carpets, and the elevators, while functional, were a bit worn-out.

 

My room (Deluxe Bay View) was comfortable and spacious, but there were definite improvements I’d make.  For one, the balcony was not inviting at all – just two white metal chairs and a table.  Adequate for a couple of minutes, but not really luxurious or comfortable.  Once again, my room did not have a coffee maker – I found out later that one can be delivered to your room upon request but there was no mention of that option in the hotel information booklet (and I checked!).  The bathroom is semi-open to the bedroom, which proved useful in watching the news in the morning while getting ready.  It does not, however, provide a lot of privacy if that is a concern (I imagine it would mostly be a concern in the rooms with 2 Double beds).

 

The suites that I got to see, having been renovated more recently than the rooms, were much more on par with a luxury hotel.  The color scheme is the same, however, it worked much better in the suite décor.  They also have more elevated touches like hardwood floors, sliding rice-paper pocket doors, and double vanities in the bathrooms.

 

After traveling during the day, I was very much looking forward to my dinner that evening at La Mar – and I was not disappointed!  I sat out on the patio sipping my well-crafted pisco cocktail while overlooking the bay and the Brickell Centre skyline.  The ceviche was excellent, as was the crispy pork belly and pepian polenta.

 

Tuesday September 26

I had an entire day free, and since I was by myself, I decided to check out a couple of the numerous hotel options in Miami.  I started off at the new Four Seasons at the Surf Club up in Surfside (northerly part of Miami Beach, just before you get to Bal Harbour), which opened in Spring 2017.

 

The property is not only beautiful, but also retains a very strong sense of its historical roots as one of the hip clubs of 1930s Miami.  Walking into the main building entrance gives you a feeling of stepping back into that glamorous era where you could rub shoulders with legends like Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and Winston Churchill.

 

The property only has one main dining option at the moment– Le Sireneuse, a sister restaurant of the well-known hotel in Positano of the same name – but the décor of both the lounge area and the dining room are exquisite.  The lounge has a bit more of an energetic vibe – a homage to the Surf Club’s history of nightlife, while the dining room has much more of a traditional Amalfi Coast-esque theme.

 

Another throwback to the hey-days of the original Surf Club are the Cabana Studios – easily my favorite room accommodations.  The cabanas were once occupied by celebrities (Winston Churchill for one) trying to escape a bit of the riff-raff while still enjoying the Surf Club facilities and beautiful ocean views.  Now, guests can enjoy their own “celebrity treatment” in one of the 5 Cabana Studio rooms that have more of that old-world style than the regular rooms and suites.  Each Cabana Studio has a large wooden deck with lounge chairs – and these decks are all connected (the 5 cabanas are all in a row).  A buyout of the 5 would be great for an extended family or couples traveling together – but for those who don’t want to see their neighbors sunbathing, it may not be the best option.

 

There are currently 12 suites in the inventory, as these are all housed in the residential building and have to be bought and leased back to Four Seasons.  There are Oceanfront One & Two Bedroom options, as well as City View One & Two Bedroom Suites.  While they do not yet have a 3-bedroom suite or interconnecting suites, the suites have their own banks of elevators, and there are only 2 or 3 suites per floor – so essentially larger groups could have their own floor.

 

The suites are huge (One Bedrooms range from 1400-1800 ft2), and since they are privately owned, they have extensive closet space, a full kitchen, and an in-unit washer & dryer – excellent for long stays!  The décor is very light and airy– lots of white and taupe, light woods, and light blue and green accent furniture.

 

The guest rooms are housed in the main building, which was built (very tastefully and quite seamlessly) up through the old courtyard area.  Again, there are basically two sides: City View and Ocean View, and two categories per side: Premier and Standard.  The Premier Rooms on each side, while not necessarily larger than the standard rooms, are located on the corners of the building and therefore have wrap-around balconies instead of the standard balcony.  This means, however, that because of the lay-out of the building, the Premier City View Rooms actually have a partial ocean view from one of the sides of the balcony.  Rooms range in size from 600 – 735 ft2.  There are also 8 entry-level Surf Club Rooms that are on lower floors, and therefore only have views of the grounds and courtyard.  These rooms are also smaller – around 430 ft2.

 

While I did not have time to enjoy a spa treatment of my own, the spa was very nice.  It boasts its own Moroccan-style hammam along with the standard steam, sauna, relaxation areas, and fitness center one would expect of a luxury hotel spa.

 

The area around the hotel itself is quite quiet – almost too quiet for someone expecting the hustle and bustle of the Miami Beach life, but I think it’s a good option for a) someone who’s done the whole Miami Beach “see and be seen” thing and is looking for something more low-key, b) someone who’s looking for a quiet resort-style vacation without travelling internationally or c) a weekend getaway for Floridian locals.  One big plus about the location, however, is that unlike the hotels further south on Miami Beach, there is direct access to the beach itself – there’s no public beach walk that separates the hotel from the beach.

 

From the quiet, lazy north side, I headed down to the notoriously not-quiet, not-lazy South Beach area.  I didn’t pop in any of the hotels, but mostly wanted to see what all the hype was about.  It turns out 1 pm on a Tuesday is not the best time to get a sense of what South Beach is really like – people watching apparently doesn’t get really interesting until the evening…

 

Nevertheless, I walked over to the actual beach, put my toes in the water, and snapped a few pictures as evidence I had actually visited.  By this time, the sun had made a full appearance, and I only had so much sunscreen with me, so I decided to grab some food at the News Café on Ocean Drive.  It’s very much a touristy restaurant (although less touristy than the other restaurants lining Ocean Drive that have giant menus with pictures of the food and harass you as you walk past to come in), but I had some pretty tasty gazpacho and a tomato & cucumber salad that hit the spot.

By this time, I was very early for my next appointment at the Miami Beach EDITION, so I figured that instead of taking an Uber up to Mid-Beach, I’d just walk up the 20 or so blocks.  You know, kill three birds with one stone: 1) waste some time, 2) do some more people watching, and 3) get some exercise!  I walked much of the way on the Public Beach Walk – the concrete path (and for a little stretch – a boardwalk) that separates the hotels lining Miami Beach from the actual beach itself.  For a public access path, stretches of it were fairly scenic.

 

The Miami Beach EDITION is located in the southern half of Mid-Beach, two blocks south of the Faena and eight or so north of the W South Beach / The Setai.  I had a little bit of trouble finding the entrance, mostly because of the building still has the large lettering of “The Seville” on it (I found out later that The Seville is the old hotel that the EDITION took over, but that tidbit of info did not help at the time).  The lobby is shockingly white – seriously, they must have an entire squadron of cleaning staff just for the lobby – and features lots of greenery and these huge gold tiled pillars.  It’s quite a dramatic first impression, while not feeling over the top.

 

The property is split between two buildings: one that has the standard rooms and suites, and the other houses all the bungalow rooms.  There are 18 different room categories for one property, so without going into every single one, here’s a simplified breakdown.  In the main building, the City View Rooms face west (overlooking the city), the Ocean View Rooms and Suites face south (overlooking the Bungalow building and with a partial view of the ocean), and the Oceanfront Rooms and Suites face east toward the ocean.  All of the Oceanfront accommodations have balconies.  There are also Standard entry-level rooms that are on the lower floors and therefore do not really have any view.  Décor is very light and simplistic – white linens with taupe accents, as well as white and light wood furniture.  Two large sliding doors can separate the bathroom from the bedroom (or not if you’re into that), and keeping with the minimalistic elegance, there are little to no knick-knacks or other items on the counters, tables, and desks.

 

I did not get a chance to view any of the Bungalow rooms or suites as they had kept that building closed a little longer after Hurricane Irma came through as an excuse to get some minor retouches done that they had wanted to for some time.  Square footage is similar as the rooms in the main building, but one difference I noticed was that even the lower category Bungalow rooms have double vanities in the bathroom, which even the suites in the main building do not have.  All Bungalow accommodations also have a balcony. From a distance, the Premiere Bungalow Ocean View Suites looked very inviting on the top floor, as each have a private outdoor plunge pool.  And of course, you can’t pass up the Bungalow Penthouse: a bi-level 1-bedroom suite with DOUBLE the outdoor space as the indoor space!

As far as public spaces go, the EDITION has all the standard amenities as its peers: two pools, beach access, a spacious spa, several dining outlets of different casualty/formalness, but where I found that it differed was in the extra venues on property.  There’s a nicely sized lawn between the two pools that had Cornhole boards set up (or “Bags”, for all you mid-Westerners), as well as a little area called the Sand Box that has hammocks and loungers – but is shaded by palm trees.  So people like me can play in the sand without going to the beach and being in direct sunlight!

 

Another interesting (and unexpected) surprise about the property is that it has its own 4 lane bowling alley and small ice rink – that after the hours of 8 pm lead into the hotel’s own nightclub.  These areas are far enough away from the guest rooms that noise is not a problem (or so I was told, I did not stick around until the nightclub opened!), but still very much on property.

 

After saying goodbye to my gracious host, Anibal, I figured I had to pop over to the Faena for a drink, just to see what all the fuss was about.  OK, maybe it’s not fuss, but the property (or at least the bit of the common areas that I saw) is pretty eclectic.  Opulence is the name of the game at Faena – as evidenced by the gold mammoth skeleton art piece proudly displayed in the courtyard and the strange half-gold, half-anatomically muscled unicorn statue in Pao, one of the restaurants.  The Faena is certainly not for those who don’t appreciate a good in-your-face avant-garde, shock-value design, that’s for sure.  I didn’t get to see the room décor, but I imagine they are not far off either… I had a couple of drinks and lite bites before deciding that it was good and time to head back to home base and call it a day.

 

Wednesday, September 27

 

My flight back to Chicago wasn’t until about 4 pm, so I took the opportunity to laze around most of the morning before hopping into an Uber to grab some Cuban food in Little Havana.  I found a good Cubano, but didn’t linger very long afterward in the area, mostly because I had to head to the airport.

 

The only other thing of note on this day was that my flight back to Chicago was shockingly empty.  Except for the First Class cabin, almost everyone on the flight had a row to themselves – it was very strange (but much appreciated of course).  I guess I need to fly mid-week more often!

 

 

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