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Sunwing / azul sensatori hotel, by karisma, riviera maya

ON, Canada

AZUL Sensatori - beware

Buyer beware - take note of the issues below if you decide to book. While the AZUL Sensatori has a nice layout, the food for the most part is good and the front line staff are friendly, we unfortunately had a number of problems at the hotel that people should be aware of. (See other complaints re this hotel on tripadvisor.ca)

Some of these issues should have been well understood by our travel agent (Travel Sensations, in the Royal Bank Plaza, Toronto) and the tour operator (Sunwing). As a result, we feel we over paid based on misleading claims and had the enjoyment of the holiday quite compromised. You should be very skeptical of the source of the customer feedback data in the Sunwing brochure that gives this hotel a 96% rating.

While there, we tried to talk to Sunwing representatives and the hotel staff, but to not avail. As well, no hotel manager would make him/herself available after repeated requests - they were always in meetings. In fact, hotel communication with the guests was poor in general. When checking out, the person asked if everything was alright and I said no. I explained that I had tried three times to speak to a manager. The person at the desk offered condolences, but was not interested in pursuing it and did not provide a Customer Feedback form (we heard about it later when getting on the bus to the airport). If unhappy guests do not get this form, I can see how this would help keep the customer feedback rating at the 96% level.

In an effort to help other first time family visitors to the Cancun area, here are some observations/advice that we hope will help you. We wish we had this when planning our trip. In fact, it would be great if guests to hotels in the area posted their comments – both good and bad – to the respective websites, including tripadvisor.ca.

1. High price – We would not use a travel agent again. Our travel agent, Travel Sensations, recommended the AZUL Sensatori hotel - in fact one of its agents had been there. It seems to me that a travel agency should make an effort to be well-informed before recommending a hotel, especially when the hotel has a history of problems after being open only three years. We booked in late September 2011, as the agent recommended booking by October to avoid disappointment. (Turns out there was no need to rush.) We paid full fare - $2, 152 per adult or $8, 100 for the family (before insurance). We paid $1, 000 in Sept 2011 and the balance of $7, 100 in Jan 2012. We were wrong to do this. In the future, we will book online and much closer to the travel time. The fares are lower and we would be happy with any 4.5 or 5 star hotel available in the area at that time. Appears travel agent input is of limited value and the savings can be in the thousands.

2. Vacation Clubs – AZUL Sensatori has a high volume of international Vacation Club members (this can vary depending on the hotel). Vacation clubs members from around the world can stay at cut rates and are treated as first class guests by the hotel. The rest, like ourselves, are second class guests even though we booked six months earlier and paid full fare two months prior (check-in upgrades means very little). The Vacation Clubs are first cousins to the Time-Share concept – prospective members are recruited using high pressure sales teams that try to get people to pay upwards of $25, 000 up-front for subsequent vacation privileges. Depending on how you negotiate and the options you choose, the cost can be lower or much greater. Our hotel approached us on four different occasions to come to a Vacation Club presentation using various ploys. We are not sure if the travel agents or the tour operators also share in the profits from a sale, as they are the source of prospective members. Vacation Club guests are able to reserve hotel facilities ahead of time, while regular guests cannot. Regular guests only get what is left over, if anything, on that day. This went on all week and was hugely aggravating. This included everything from the restaurants to the good lounges on the beach and at the pools. For example, each day regular guests start lining up at 6am to try and reserve a good pool/beach lounge when the booth opened at 7am. The hotel person usually arrived after 7am and each day told the people waiting in line that most have been reserved already (i.e. 10 to 15 out of 20). Only a few people got what they wanted. I learned that the reservations were made by Vacation Club guest days earlier.

3. Seaweed beach – The beach was horrible and we felt mislead. Having a beautiful beach was important to us, and this was a big disappointment. Huge amounts of seaweed were constantly washing up on the beach along the entire shoreline in front of the hotel. Also the first 10 to 20 feet of surf had large amount seaweed floating in it (see photos). It was gross to walk in. The problem is especially bad when the winds off the water are strong. Two tractors went back and forth all day long scooping up the seaweed that never stopped rolling in. I’m not sure what was worse – the seaweed or the stinking diesel-smelling vehicles going back and forth in font of us all day long. Once past the seaweed, it was very difficult walking in the surf because of the sharp rocks in the sand. It was painful to watch someone try and hobble in and out. As a result, few guests ventured in and water activities were very limited (the hotel had kayaks). The stretch of beach in front of the hotel seemed to be particularly bad compared to others in the area (some guests walked to neighboring hotel beaches to swim).

4. Restaurants – The advertising by the hotel and in the Sunwing brochure advised there were six a la carte evening restaurants, with only one, the adult-only le Chique, requiring reservations three days in advance. The claims were misleading. The very worst experience was the frustration in trying to get into the le Chique restaurant. Most every guest came to the hotel excited by the advertising claims about the 12 course meal prepared by a Michelin trained chef. We arrived Friday afternoon and on Saturday we tried to make a reservation (bookings are made between 3pm and 5pm). However, it was already fully booked. Sunday it was closed. On Monday we lined up at 2:30 and were the second in a long line when the doors opened at 3:00. Even though we were second at the desk, we were told that the restaurant was already fully booked for Wednesday and Thursday. As we were departing on Friday, that was it. Almost every regular guest had a similar experience – most all found it impossible to get a reservation there. Why? It turns out that the Vacation Club guests can make reservations in advance over the phone at any time. So of the 20 or so spots available per night, only a few spots, if any, remained for regular guests. This is in a hotel with over 450 rooms. (Friday seemed to be an easier day, as many guests were either leaving or arriving on that day.) Each day the guests in the daily line-up were given all sorts of reasons why they could not get a reservation, some quite creative, ranging from conventions, special events, even reservations made by the chef for special people! It was untruthful and insulting. Almost everyone went home feeling upset and slighted by this experience, having been repeatedly turned away. We actually got in, but I won’t say how.

There were issues with the other restaurants as well. The restaurant, Spoons, was a buffet, with a menu. But the menu included only things that were in the buffet. The other four restaurants had long line-ups in the evening, from 45 minutes to over an hour. To avoid the line-ups we found it best to eat between 5:30 and 6pm. One of the reasons for the line-ups at the restaurants was the prior reservations made by Vacation Club guests. Any attempt by a regular guest to make reservations using a hotel concierge was ignored. As a result, many guests resorted to various techniques to try and avoid the wait time. On Thursday, we left our two teenage daughters at the Zavaz restaurant so we could go to le Chique. There was a long wait but the manager said he would make sure the girls were looked after and try and cut the wait time. They were treated badly and after an hour they left and went to the buffet at Spoons. Another reason for the line-ups was restaurant closures. The Tapaz was closed one night, with no explanation. The Zavaz was closed one night for Caribbean-on-the-beach night. The other two restaurants may close one time during the week as well.

5. Sick – My wife became quite ill on the second day. The combination of a bad drink from the walk-up bar at the Mexican restaurant on Saturday afternoon (the first one at the hotel) and the chili at the beach grill midday Sunday had my wife throwing up most of Sunday evening. As a result, she was not able to eat normally for the rest of the week. Her stomach is still not right and she will likely need to see her doctor next week.

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