Hello everyone!

I would like to introduce Rick, our guest blogger of today. He agreed to share with us how he first discovered El Taj, which he claims is his favorite Playa del Carmen hotel. Read on!

I’m a planner, especially when it comes to vacations. I’m actually kind of obsessive about it – a fact to which my family will attest.

Vacations are for me a reward. I like shopping and planning and buying our vacation in advance, because when it’s all set up and on the calendar, it gives all of us something to look forward to. I got in the habit when I was doing a lot of business travel and accumulating hotel and airline points by the bucketful. But using those points – getting the right flight, the right hotel, avoiding black-out days – required planning and dexterity.

Our trip to Playa del Carmen vacation actually began with my mother. She was in a nursing home in early 2011 (at the ripe old age of 92), and I would visit every Saturday. I brought a portable DVD player with videos of my family, and we’d sit, watch and munch on her favorite cookies. Her favorite videos were of our vacations, many of which were to Mexico.

In 1994 our family vacation was two weeks in the Yucatan. One week touring (and climbing) the pyramids at Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Labna, Sayil and others, along with exploration of the Lol Tun caves, the Dzitnup Cenote and a couple days in Merida. Then we came to the beach for a hotel-points-driven stay at the Cancun Hilton.

When mom and I watched the video of the 1994 Yucatan vacation, she said “you know buster, if you’re going back, you should do it while you still can.” She was, as mothers will do, rather bluntly referencing my advancing age (I was 61 at the time). So I came home, talked to my wife Jane, and emailed everybody who was on that 1994 jaunt: Jane’s sisters Bobbi and Sue, and Ricky and his fiance (Ange wasn’t on the 1994 trip, of course). We wanted to schedule the vacation before Bobbi and Sue had to return to their teaching jobs, and to celebrate Jane’s and my 40th Wedding Anniversary. So we settled on sometime in August.

We figured that everybody’s work schedules and budgets couldn’t handle two weeks, so we shortened the trip to eight days; four at the Pyramids, and four at the beach. It didn’t take long to realize that Cancun had exploded since we had last been there in 1994, and it really wasn’t someplace that we wanted to return to. The hotel selections at the Pyramids was easy – The Villas Arqueologica at Chichen Itza and Uxmal were still there, and had plenty of availability. But when it came to our beach stay, I turned to TripAdvisor.

I’ve been a TripAdvisor contributor and user since 2006, and find it to be an invaluable resource for vacation planning. Like I said, I’m sorta obsessive.

I scanned around Playa del Carmen hotels on TripAdvisor, and kept coming back to El Taj. And after reading the reviews, I knew we had found our spot. Now the trick was, could they handle six adults? When I went to the El Taj web site (www.eltaj.com), I found I could actually see each and every unit, with lots of pictures, and if I went to the El Taj “purchase” page I could even see floor plans. So being one who likes to go to sleep listening to the ocean, and since we had six people contributing to the budget, we decided on Unit 336: Oceanfront, top floor with private roof, 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

I called the reservation number and found there was availability within our window. So working backwards, I first reserved the room at El Taj, and then the rooms at the Pyramids, and then started working with airline reservations (with a combination of points and dollars). It all worked out for August 21-28, 2011.

Fast forward to August: after blowing out our knees and sweat glands at the Pyramids, we drove East with a swim in the Dzitnup Cenote, a  final climb at Coba (the highest Pyramid in the Yucatan) and a stroll around Tulum, arriving at Playa del Carmen in the early evening.

Our first view of El Taj was the Buddah to the right of the front door. I guess in all my research, I didn’t realize that the decor of El Taj is inspired by Bali (where we did a short vacation in 1991). We checked in quickly, parked the car in the underground parking, and RAN to our room. We were hot, sweaty, exhausted and when we got to our room . . . speechless. Truly. We all just stood on the balcony looking at the beautiful blue Caribbean and didn’t – couldn’t – say a word.

We were transfixed. We were at El Taj, the most amazing of all Playa del Carmen hotels. And I’ll tell the rest of the story next time: the magic of El Taj, shopping in Playa del Carmen, our favorite restaurants, the night Rocio came to cook dinner for us, the morning Ricky proposed to Ange.   Everything. Next time.

Rick Howe
July, 2012