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Archive for the ‘Recommendations’ Category

The “Old” Playa del Carmen Just Keeps Getting Better

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 25, 2014

The View from Bad Boys Beach ClubThe Luna Blue Hotel and Bar…”a last little piece of the old Playa del Carmen”…is thrilled to announce the legendary Bad Boys Beach Club as the newest addition to the family of quality beach clubs that welcome the guests of the Luna Blue Hotel with special discounts and values.

It’s a perfect coming together of two of Playa del Carmen’s most iconic establishments.

This little resort town of ours here on the edge of the Caribbean Sea has seen quite a few changes over the years. It has gotten bigger, fancier and more modern in some ways. And that’s fine…because we know the Playa that we all fell in love with–the old Playa Del Carmen–is still here. Both the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar and Bad Boys Beach Club are part of the tradition of the palapa-covered, laid back, sometimes funky, always fun Caribe-Mexican vibe that made Playa famous to begin with.

We invite all our guests and friends to join us under Bad Boys’ Jolly Roger Flag for great drinks, food, and music on the sand. Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel enjoy free use of a lounge chair and umbrella at Bad Boys when they spend a minimum of $150 pesos for food and beverages (about $12.00 US) AND Luna Blue Hotel guests get a 10% discount on their food and drink orders!

This is just the beginning. Watch for some fun announcements of promotions and parties in the days ahead as the Luna Blue and Bad Boys take you back to the real Playa del Carmen. As Mike Grabow, Playa’s favorite singer-songwriter, says…“This is where you want to be.”

Bad Boys Beach Club

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Events & Happenings, Friends, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014…Wanna Go?

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 1, 2014

The Inimitable Bruce Springsteen

Unfortunately we are unable to make our yearly trek to New Orleans for Jazz Fest this year. That means that our timeshare in the French Quarter is available for rental from May 2-9, 2014.

The timeshare is in the Quarter House, which is located on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. It will accommodate four people (one bedroom and a pullout couch in the living room). Each suite has its own completely furnished kitchen, dishes, linens, private jacuzzi bath or walk-in shower with European shower heads, color television, DVD players, and everything you need to enjoy a relaxing vacation in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Hi-speed wireless internet connections are available in all rooms as is private telephone service. There is also a courtyard swimming pool, maid service, laundry facilities, and concierge services. There is a complimentary continental breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings served in the lush tropical courtyard. We’ve been staying at the Quarter House exclusively for our trips to New Orleans for over 15 years, and we love it.

Another nice thing about the Quarter House is its location – just half a block from Canal Street and right around the corner from the Sheraton, which is where the Jazz Fest buses run from. It’s also just a couple of blocks to Bourbon Street and the regular fun of the French Quarter. It couldn’t be more ideally located.

The great news is that our timeshare period covers the second weekend of Jazz Fest, which is always the biggest and the best. Musical acts during the second weekend this year include:

On Friday, May 2: Christina Aguilera, Chaka Khan, Alabama Shakes, Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters, Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys and many more.

On Saturday May 3: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Al Jarreau, Allen Toussaint, Johnny Winter, Better Than Ezra and many more.

And on Sunday May 4: Arcade Fire, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, John Fogerty, Bobby Womack, Delbert McClinton, Chick Corea & the Vigil, Aaron Neville and many more.

And of course throughout that weekend the bars, clubs and music venues throughout the French Quarter will be offering amazing concerts and performances.

If you’ve never been to Jazz Fest, you should go at least once. It’s an amazing festival of music, food and culture set in one of our very favorite cities in the world, New Orleans. Once you go, you’ll want to go year after year!

Rooms at the Quarter House generally run $375 per night. However we are offering our timeshare for the entire week (Checking in Friday May 2 and out Friday May 9) for just $1200 US. Please email us for more information.

The Courtyard at the Quarter House
The Quarter House courtyard

A typical room at the Quarter House
A room at the Quarter House

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Events & Happenings, Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Heading for the Beach? The Luna Blue’s Newest Beach Clubs

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 5, 2013

Beach Club at Grand CoralPlaya del Carmen has what many consider to be the best beaches around. In order to help our guests get the most out of their stay here in paradise, the Luna Blue Hotel has always offered discounts and passes to some of the most popular beach clubs in town. From time to time those clubs change based on feedback from our guests and from the clubs themselves. Here is the latest news on our associate beach clubs.

First and foremost we are very happy to announce the reopening of the Beach Club at the Grand Coral (formerly Blucacao). This beautiful upscale club has long been a favorite of our guests for its pristine, uncrowded beach, its two shallow infinity pools and the restaurant/bar overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The beach club was badly damaged earlier this year in a fire and has been closed for several months. However it has now been completely repaired and is open once again, bigger and better than ever. Guests staying at the Luna Blue Hotel receive free use of the beach club facilities including use of the pools, pool side loungers, beach chairs and umbrellas. The restaurant does have one of the more pricey menus on the beach, however it also features some of the most interesting and highest quality dishes around. Best of all, guests from the Luna Blue Hotel receive a 10% discount on their food and drinks. And the setting can’t be beat.

Indigo Beach ClubWe are also very pleased to announce the return of the Indigo Beach Club to the Luna Blue Hotel family. Set on Playa’s central beach at the foot of Calle 14, the Indigo Beach Club offers a lovely arrangement of loungers, tables, beach chairs and umbrellas. Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel may receive free use of beach chairs and umbrellas after 11 am, when the breakfast crowd clears out, with a $150 pesos minimum food or beverage purchase. In addition, Indigo has a new young chef, Rubén López. Rubén, who many may know as the head chef from the upscale Negrosal, has put together a series of upscale tasting menus of various prices for the evening hours. For those on a honeymoon—or just feel like they are on a honeymoon—there is a special “Romantic” tasting menu with a private seaside, candle-lit setting and private lounge. We can’t wait to try it. Maybe for our upcoming anniversary. :) The food at Indigo is not only top-notch, but it’s beautifully prepared as well. Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel receive a 10% discount on all dinners as well as all of the tasting menus.

On the north end of Playa we continue our association with the Canibal Royal Beach Club. Set in a cozy little cove on the shore, Canibal Royal offers not only a perfect beach setting to catch some rays, but also has a two floor restaurant with spectacular views of the ocean and a fascinating menu not seen elsewhere on the beach front. Luna Blue Hotel guests receive free use of a beach chair and towel at Canibal Royal with a minimum food or beverage purchase. And after sunning, drinking and dining at Canibal Royal, don’t forget to head up to the giant third floor hot tub to soak under the sky while looking out over an unspoiled view of the Caribbean Sea.

Wicky's Beach ClubFinally we continue our association with Wicky’s Restaurant and Beach Club. Wicky’s sits in the middle of all the action of Playa’s beautiful central beach. You can stroll on the shore, bar crawl or just people watch from your own lounge chair. Wicky’s offers one of the best and most upscale menus in Playa whether it be a traditional American breakfast or a “surf and turf” dinner. Dine on the deck or sitting on the beautiful white sand beach. Luna Blue Hotel guests receive free use of beach chairs and a 10% discount on food and beverages at Wicky’s Beach Club. During high season there is a small minimum food or beverage purchase required.

We are very happy to offer our guests use of such a diverse group of beach clubs. Of course both Playa’s central and north beaches are dotted with various beach clubs where you can rent chairs and umbrellas for just a few pesos. We recommend trying as many as you can. By the way, due to a difficult and unresponsive management and repeated problems with service, we are no longer recommending Mamita’s Beach Club to our guests. This was a difficult decision, but our concern is always that our guests receive consistent and high quality service.

For the most current information regarding the amenities of the Luna Blue Hotel, including our beach clubs affiliations, please check out our website. Do no rely on information found elsewhere on the internet. Hasta pronto from Playa del Carmen…where it’s always summertime. :)

Posted in Dining in Playa, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Nightmare with Expedia Continues

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 22, 2013

Quite a bit has happened since we wrote a blog last month detailing our difficulties with travel industry giant Expedia, Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel, mostly due to the power of social media.

Tony & Cheri, Owners of the Luna Blue HotelFor starters, our story seemed to touch a lot of folks. In fact so many people liked what we had to say and shared it with others, that our blog eventually went viral. Thousands of people have read our story and many have e-mailed Expedia to complain about how we were treated.

The blog was first shared on various Facebook pages and then by internet news networks Hacker News and Reddit.com. Adrianne Jeffries of The Verge online news service interviewed us and wrote an excellent article about the situation: One Small Hotel’s Long Nightmare with Expedia.  Next came the The Daily Mail, London’s second largest newspaper, which posted an online story about Expedia’s bad behavior towards us.  And it just kept going.  Blog after blog picked up our story and shared it; people throughout the world tweeted and retweeted our story on Twitter, and it was spread all around Facebook.  Most recently we were interviewed on Blogtalk Radio by Canadian Travel Expert Deanna Byrne: David vs Goliath. Small Independent Hotel Battles Expedia.

We are overwhelmed by this amazing response and moved beyond words by the avalanche of support we have received.  To everyone who passed our story along, commented on it, and e-mailed or messaged us words of support or suggestions on how to handle this situation, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Expedia Finally Responds

As a result of this internet activity Expedia finally responded to our situation…kind of.

One common reaction to our blog was a bit of healthy skepticism.  Many people said ‘That’s terrible, but it’s only one side of the story. I want to hear from Expedia.’  So did we.  We had been waiting for a response from Expedia for months.  We never got one.  However it seems that while Expedia could and did ignore all of our e-mails and phone calls, they were less able to withstand the power of social media and the press.  Expedia finally broke its silence on our situation when contacted by Adrianne Jeffries for her story on The Verge. Of course they didn’t have much to say.

The Expedia spokesman refused to comment on our allegations and would only say that: “Expedia … can confirm Luna Blue Hotel and Expedia are no longer working together.

So Expedia says it isn’t doing business with us.  That’s great; it’s what we have been asking for for several months.  But we have just one more question:

Expedia: If we are no longer working together, WHY ARE WE LISTED ON YOUR AFFILIATE BOOKING SITES ACROSS THE INTERNET AS A PARTNER HOTEL AND WHY ARE YOU STILL TELLING PEOPLE WE HAVE NO ROOMS AVAILABLE AT ANY TIME?

Expedia still hasn’t answered that question.

Expedia by Any Other Name is Still Expedia

Photo by Tim SmithShortly after our story appeared on The Verge, and after causing several long months of damage to us, Expedia finally disabled the Luna Blue Hotel pages on the Expedia website.  At least people going to Expedia’s main pages would no longer be told we had no rooms available.  Unfortunately this is a tiny step with little consequence given the size of Expedia’s reach. Expedia STILL continues to list us on dozens of their affiliate sites throughout the internet. The on-line booking site Venere is a perfect example.

Venere is a subsidiary of Expedia.  Like Hotels.com, Hotwire and many other travel sites, it is wholly owned by Expedia and acts a booking site using Expedia’s database.

We have never contracted with Venere and never given it permission to list our property.  Yet Venere/Expedia claims it is a booking agent for our hotel.  When anyone uses Venere to check for availability they are linked back to Expedia which says we have no rooms to rent ever… and then they are directed to other more expensive hotels!  And we continue to be listed, with no availability showing,  on many sites linking to Venere/Expedia such as travelyahoo.com, cleartrip, holidaywatchdog.com, travelpod.com, tingo, reservetravel.com and many others. 

The biggest and most important site to link to Expedia/Venere’s false information is TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website. It maintains pages about nearly every hotel in an area, including ours, upon which people can post reviews. Also on these hotel pages, TA sells space for advertisers and vendors like Expedia, Venere, Hotels.com, etc.  On our TripAdvisor page Expedia/Venere places a link or tick box which says you can check with them for availability and “best rates” at our hotel. There are two problems with that… 1.) we aren’t doing business with Expedia/Venere and 2.) when you click the link, Expedia once again falsely says we have no availability ever.

Photo by Tim SmithIn other words, anyone looking at our hotel on the largest travel website in the world will be directed to Venere/Expedia and told, falsely, that we have no rooms to rent!   And yet…Expedia says it’s no longer working with us.  To Expedia, we guess “no longer working together ” doesn’t mean that they won’t use our name to fraudulently lure people to other hotels on their site.

We recently asked TripAdvisor to remove this link, which they have temporarily done.  However they removed this link in the past at our request only to have it return shortly thereafter.  Unfortunately TA tells us they really have no control over the space they sell to Expedia. Each month Expedia resubmits its designated links to TA for posting on its pages. Although Expedia/Venere is saying they don’t do business with us, they have been continuing to advertise our hotel each month on TripAdvisor, claiming to be our booking agent.  We will see what February brings. For now, Expedia’s war on small hotels continues.

We Aren’t the Only Victims of Expedia

So as you can see, Expedia’s tiny gesture of removing us from the Expedia page does little to stop the continuing damage they are doing to us. And frankly we are not surprised by this.  Because along with the well wishes and messages of support we have received in response to our first blog, we have also been swamped with people–both consumers and those in the travel business–telling their horror stories concerning Expedia.  For some examples just take a look at the comments people have posted on our previous blog post.  Many of them relate their own nightmares with Expedia and are quite enlightening.

Photo by Tim SmithThe stories we have heard range from horrible customer service to stories similar to ours… i.e. hotels being listed as having no availability on Expedia when there are plenty of rooms open. However the one that struck us as the most outrageous was the story of Columbus, Georgia. It seems that this small town had a dispute with Expedia, demanding that Expedia pay certain taxes which were required of anyone booking hotel rooms. Expedia refused, and the city of Columbus brought a lawsuit against them.  However, Expedia wanted more than a court decision. It wanted to punish this little town and anyone who did business there. So Expedia wiped Columbus off the map by removing EVERY hotel in the town from all of its affiliated travel sites, as if the town didn’t even exist.  If you went to Expedia and looked for a hotel in the town of Columbus, you were told there weren’t any, and directed to hotels in the next town!  To embarrass the city government and bring pressure on it, Expedia attacked every hotel in that town not because the hotels had done something wrong, but because they were being used as pawns in Expedia’s ever widening attempt to control all travel bookings.  Expedia continued to hide every hotel in Columbus, Georgia from every one of its websites for over five years, until the case was finally settled.

In our opinion this example clearly shows Expedia’s corporate goal is not mere financial success but it is instead to seek complete and improper control of the travel industry market…and woe to anyone who protests or stands in its way.

What to Do?

So people continue to ask: what can be done about this? The answer is we aren’t sure. A lot of people have written and urged us to lead some sort of campaign against Expedia. But that is not our role here.  We work full time to make our hotel a success. It is a 7 day a week/24 hours a day job. We jokingly say that we are the whitest people in the Caribbean. Everyone has a better tan than we do as we never seem to have time to get to the beach. So we are not in a position to lead a crusade.  All we can do is speak out to tell people the truth about what was done to us by Expedia and help educate others about travel companies such as Expedia and its affiliates.

Photo by Tim SmithThe simplest response to Expedia’s misconduct is …don’t use them or their affiliates: Venere.com, Egencia.com, eLong.com, Hotwire.com, Hotels.com, Localexpert.com or any of the websites listed above.   Don’t book your vacation though a nameless, faceless data bank but instead talk to people who actually know about the places you want to visit.  Call the hotel or restaurant or tour operator directly.  Or call a travel agent who specializes in the type of travel or destinations you want.  We don’t suggest this just because we feel that Expedia harms small businesses such as ours.  We suggest it also because you are better off making your own decisions about your vacation than leaving them in the hands of large corporations who do not act as your advocate.

Remember: the claim that Expedia offers lower rates is not generally true.  Expedia may at times buy blocks of rooms from large hotels or hotel chains and offer them at a discounted rate.  However those hotels are unlikely to offer additional amenities or benefits as they have already tremendously discounted the rate to Expedia.  On the other hand, you may get a better deal by contacting the hotel directly.  In dealing with guests directly, hotels–particularly independent and small hotels–may be much more willing to offer discounts, upgrades, specials or promotions if you book directly.  Remember, Expedia has no ability to negotiate with you for hotel prices, special requests or amenities.  The hotel does.  Call them directly.

Don’t Start Your Research on Expedia or Related Sites

Some people say they use Expedia just to get an overview of available hotels before booking directly.  The problem with this is that Expedia ONLY lists hotels it has chosen to promote.   There will be many other fine accommodations which you will miss if you limit your search to Expedia.  If you want to do your own research, which we strongly suggest you do, check out Tripadvisor, which will list nearly every hotel available in an area, since hotels do not pay to be on those pages, and read their reviews.  Or have a reputable travel agent give you options. A travel agent will act as your advocate, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, ultimately leading to a better vacation–which is what it’s all about.

Always remember it is your vacation and your money…don’t let somebody else tell you how or where to spend it. Don’t let some mega-corporation limit your travel choices.

Some Good News

We continue to receive not only messages of support, but bookings as well. The word is getting out and people are finding they can reserve at our hotel by contacting us directly via our website, e-mail or Facebook.  2013 Travelers' Choice Award Winner - Luna Blue Hotel - Best Bargain MexicoAnd we have been contacted by several quality travel agents with whom we have begun working.  Sadly, we we are still getting way too many messages that say “I heard about the problem with Expedia too late. I booked another hotel because I thought you were full.”  So we are keeping up our efforts to tell travelers around the world…we are open and we have availability.

We are also very excited, as this week were were awarded a 2013 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for being one of the best Bargain Hotels in Mexico!  TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards have been given each year for the last 11 years to the world’s top properties.  This is the second time we have won this award, and we are very proud about that.  According to TripAdvisor, “Unlike any other hotel honors, TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice winners are based on millions of valuable reviews and opinions covering more than 650,000 hotels and collected in a single year from travelers around the world.”  Thank you to all of our guests who wrote such great reviews about us on TripAdvisor’s Luna Blue page. We remain committed to offering our guests the same high level of service and accommodations which have earned us this award. 

In closing, once again, we would like to say thank you to all who offered support and helped spread the word. We deeply appreciate it.  Now…come join us in paradise.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 4, 2012

There is a lot of talk in the news these days about the difficulties facing small business owners around the world. Nowhere are these difficulties felt as deeply as in the travel industry. The rapid growth of the control of travel by big business with its multi-billion-dollar internet and advertising power has caused many small travel business owners to be pushed aside. As a result the consumer ends up with limited access to travel choices while the Mom and Pop hotel or tour or shop ends up on the brink of extinction. We know this firsthand, as we are one of those small businesses being unfairly crushed under the weight of travel industry giant Expedia. In fact we think Expedia is trying to put us, and small independent businesses like ours, out of business. And here’s why:

Expedia and its many affiliates, including Hotels.com and Venere.com, invite people to come to their sites to book our hotel, the Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen Mexico. Yet when people get to these websites they are told that our hotel is completely occupied for all dates now and in the future. If someone calls on the telephone, they are told that our hotel is going out of business! They are then directed to book another more expensive hotel, which provides Expedia greater commission. It seems that Expedia and its affiliates use small hotels like ours to attract people to their sites so they can get those people to book with bigger resorts. It is the classic “bait and switch” scam.

We think what Expedia is doing is completely outrageous, and we think you should know the whole story:

Living the Dream

Tony & Cheri owners of Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen MexicoSome years ago we fell in love with Mexico’s Caribbean coast. We left our home, quit our jobs and headed south. We had scrimped and saved and put our entire life savings into buying a small, rundown backpacker hotel in Playa del Carmen. It wasn’t anything fancy. It wasn’t a part of some chain or franchise. It was 18 rooms and a garden on a side street a few blocks from the beach. But it was now ours, and we loved it.

The plan was to turn this property into our vision of a slice of paradise and to live the good life as innkeepers on the Caribbean Sea. That’s what happened…for a while. And not to toot our own horns, but we were a success. We won some awards, received great reviews and filled our rooms. We renamed it the Luna Blue Hotel, and we’re quite proud of what it has become.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing of course. The swine flu scare and the hysteria over central Mexico’s drug wars really did some damage to tourism in this part of the world. But we held on and weathered the rough spots. We weren’t going to give up. This was not just our life…it was our dream. We put all of our money, time and heart into making it work. Then we made a mistake. We signed up with Expedia.

Expedia

If you are not already familiar with Expedia let us give you some background. Expedia, Inc. is the world’s largest online travel agency. People can use their various websites (and they have many affiliated companies) to book a room, a flight or a complete travel package. The company now operates in 60 countries around the world. When you want to know what we mean when we talk about the “Big Business” of travel, just look at Expedia. Besides Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire and Venere, Expedia also owns Egencia (the world’s fifth largest corporate travel company), eLong (China’s second largest online travel company); Expedia Local Expert (an online concierge company in 18 markets worldwide), Classic Vacations (a leading luxury travel specialist) and much more. It also has tight corporate ties to industry giants Ticketmaster and TripAdvisor.

Expedia has an office in Cancun and offers its services to the hotels along the Riviera Maya where we live. A year ago we were visited by the Expedia Market Manager for this area, Javier Polanco. Expedia, he told us, could help us recover some of the business we had lost in the lean years. It wasn’t cheap, as Expedia takes 25 % of every booking made through their sites–a fact that hotels are forbidden by Expedia to disclose to guests.   But we figured that if it brought us more business it would be worth it. So…we signed on the dotted line and became “partners” with Expedia. However we soon discovered that Expedia had a different vision of a partnership than we did.

“That’s Not the Room we Reserved!”

Almost immediately we began to have trouble with our new “partners.” As requested, we provided Expedia with a long, detailed list describing our rooms, amenities and property to use on their website. Yet that list was completely ignored by Expedia when putting together a profile of our hotel. Many of the descriptions of our hotel and rooms Expedia posted were completely wrong. We repeatedly emailed the “content department,” which was in charge of the website details, asking them to make the changes necessary to correct the problems.  However the response to our emails was almost non-existent.

As the months passed, every so often someone in the content department would rewrite our Expedia listing to correct one inaccuracy and in the process add several new problems. More often than not they simply ignored us. As a result, guests would arrive at our hotel having made a reservation through Expedia or Hotels.com and find the room they reserved to be nothing like the erroneous description on Expedia’s website. Sometimes the guest would roll with the punches and accept there had been a problem with Expedia’s site. However other times the guests were angry and demanded an upgrade, or would even leave the hotel.

While this greatly affected our hotel’s reputation, Expedia didn’t seem to care. We began to realize that our “partner” Expedia operated on a mass production scale: Their policy seemed to be keep the inventory of available rooms high enough from a large number of hotels, and the monetary return would compensate for growing customer dissatisfaction over a lack of service.

Our Rooms Suddenly Disappear from Expedia

fightexpediablog3Eventually our Expedia Market Manager Javier Polanco was promoted. All that inventory the big hotels were loading must have reflected well on him. We were told that there was a new Market Manager in Cancun, Judith Monroy. We thought that maybe with a new representative at Expedia things might change for us. And we were right; they did change. They got worse.

One day we noticed our Expedia bookings had suddenly stopped. We went to Expedia’s site and saw the problem right away. The links on our Expedia and Hotels.com pages were broken. The pictures and descriptions of our hotel rooms were gone. They used to be incorrect, but now they had vanished completely! No wonder people stopped booking our hotel through these websites. Potential guests could not find information about our rooms or see what they looked like, and so they quickly moved on and reserved at other hotels. Our bookings came to an abrupt halt. We called Judith. Then we e-mailed her. Then we called again. There was no response whatsoever for weeks. The only response we received was a boilerplate email from Judith telling us to load more inventory!

“It Won’t EVER be Fixed”

Finally we were told the problem had been reported to the Content department. Two weeks later we were told the problem was an IT problem and that the IT department had been notified. All this time our pages remained broken. We kept asking, “What is the point of being on Expedia if no one can see our rooms?” We were told there was a system-wide bug and that many hotels were affected (we found out later this wasn’t true) and that the problem would be fixed…in one month. We waited.

Of course, one month came and went and our Expedia pages were still not working. This time we called Javier, who emphatically told us that the page would never be fixed, and that the links would always be broken. Then he laughed and said that it wasn’t his problem. We told him we were tired of the lies and the stalling and we demanded some sort of helpful response.

If You Complain…We’ll Cut You Off

In response to our demand that Expedia help us, we received an e-mail from Pablo Castro, Javier and Judith’s boss and the Manager for Expedia’s Latin America-based hotels. Pablo wrote to tell us he was going to disable our page at Javier’s request because of our bad attitude but that if we would like to meet with him in Cancun perhaps we could resolve the situation. We wrote back immediately to say we would like very much to meet with him, and asked him to name the time and place. We waited for a response. And waited. And waited. We wrote a second time asking when and where we should meet. Pablo never responded to us and never met with us. To this day we’ve never heard another word from him.

We wondered how long we would stay in business if we treated people like Expedia was treating us. Imagine if a guest checked into our hotel and found that the toilet didn’t work or that the bed was missing and we responded by telling him he had to leave the hotel because he was complaining. Is that really how people in the travel business should act? We certainly don’t think so.

Things Get Better…and Then Much Worse

We thought our time with Expedia had come to an end—and that was okay with us—when suddenly we started getting a flood of reservations from them. What the heck was happening? We went to the Expedia site and couldn’t believe it…the page was fixed and working. After all the months of having it broken, after being told it could never be fixed, after being threatened with expulsion from Expedia for complaining about lack of service, the page was back up and working.

But Expedia wasn’t done punishing us yet. Within a few days we received an e-mail from a guest with a reservation booked through Hotels.com. Why, the woman wanted to know, had we cancelled her reservation? We hadn’t. Judith had! Without our knowledge or consent, our Expedia Market Manager cancelled ALL of our existing Expedia reservations, including ones people had made months before, telling the guests that their reservations were being cancelled because we had no available rooms. This was of course not true.

Expedia Says the Luna Blue has No Availability…Ever

fightexpediablog2Instead of leaving our page up and finally working, or even disabling or removing our hotel’s Expedia page as they had said they would do, the Cancun office did something much worse: They set our hotel page on Expedia’s website to show that we never had any availability for any room at any time. What this meant was anytime anyone looked at our hotel on Expedia, Hotels.com or Venere.com they saw a message saying there was no availability for the requested dates. Any dates. Ever!

You have to understand Expedia’s reach and power to know how bad this can be for a small hotel like ours. Expedia has agreements throughout the world and all over the internet to have travel sites link to their main page. If you click to see the Luna Blue Hotel rates and availability on Hotels.com, Venere.com, Lonelyplanet.com, Yahootravel.com, Travelpod.com, Holidaywatchdog.com, Trivago.com, Cleartrip.com and other similar sites you will be informed via link to Expedia that the Luna Blue Hotel has no availability ever, and it will suggest other more expensive hotels. So the lie manufactured by a couple of people in Expedia’s Cancun office is now spread across the internet. Throughout the web, Expedia is telling people they can’t get a room at the Luna Blue, so those people look elsewhere. You don’t have to be an expert in the travel industry to know how incredibly damaging and unfair this is.

And while it may be unfair, it seems to be the standard operating procedure for Expedia. The country of France recently fined Expedia for this exact scam…telling people a hotel had no availability in order to get them to book with other more expensive properties: Expedia Hit With Major Fine in France Over Misleading Marketing. But apparently being fined wasn’t enough to make them stop this egregious behavior elsewhere.

Expedia Demands That We Pay Them to Relocate Our Guests to Other Hotels!

Not content to simply deny us reservations, Judith and the Cancun gang went further. A few days later we were contacted by Expedia’s Collections department and told we owed an exorbitant amount of money for “relocation fees.” Here’s how it works normally: an Expedia partner hotel agrees that if it cancels an Expedia generated reservation because the hotel cannot accommodate a guest, Expedia will then book the guest into another hotel in the area and charge any difference in cost to the original hotel. Judith, after secretly cancelling our reservations and telling the guests we had no room (a lie), was then booking the guests (our guests… people who wanted to stay at our hotel) into other bigger, more expensive hotels and then having Expedia bill us the cost–costs sometimes as much as three times what our room rates were! As you might imagine we were stunned and angry. Then it got even worse.

And Finally…Expedia’s Biggest Lie Yet

We saved the most outrageous for last.

After everything Expedia had done to block guests from making reservations at our hotel, some people still wouldn’t take no for an answer. Some guests figured, quite reasonably, that no hotel is 100% full for every day in the conceivable future. They wondered if there was a problem with Expedia’s page. So they called Expedia’s customer service telephone line to try and book at our hotel. Expedia then told those fine folks that “the Luna Blue Hotel is going out of business” and that’s why there were no rooms available there. We know this because the guests who were told this lie by Expedia then contacted us directly.

It seems that Expedia will stop at nothing to punish a small independent Mom and Pop hotel which had the audacity to ask to be treated fairly. And that’s how it stands today. Expedia refuses to acknowledge our calls and e-mails and refuses to either open up our Expedia page to reservations or take it down, but instead continues to spread the lies across the internet that we are going out of business and refusing to take reservations.

How Can a Small Business Protect Itself from the Dishonest Actions of a Goliath like Expedia?

fightexpediablog4In today’s world, a corporate Goliath like Expedia has way too much power to be worried about stones thrown by small business owners like us. We have done what we can to explore our options by talking with attorneys here in Mexico and in the US as well as with travel experts and government agencies in both countries. The advice we have received has been appreciated, but truthfully there are few options available to us.

It is unrealistic for us to bring a legal action against Expedia either in the US or in Mexico. The money necessary to hire lawyers to pursue the cases wouldn’t even be missed by Expedia, but would probably bankrupt us.

We have also been told to file complaints with the US Federal Trade Commission and with various federal and local watchdog agencies here in Mexico, including the Ministry of Tourism. We are doing all of that, but we are realistic about the chances of any results or relief in the near future. In the meantime the damage to our small business by Expedia continues.

If you’re a small hotel thinking of doing business with Expedia, think long and hard before making that commitment. If you are already doing business with Expedia, we hope you learn from our experiences here and tread carefully whenever you complain to them, lest you suffer a similar fate.

Spreading the Word

In the end we are really left with only one way to combat Expedia’s misconduct…telling the truth. And we are going to offer that truth to whoever wants to listen. We will tell our story to our friends, return guests, newsletter readers and fans of our blog and Facebook page. We will talk to other small business owners and hotel associations here in Mexico to warn them not to deal with the Cancun office of Expedia unless they want to be threatened with a fate like ours. And we will pass our story along to whoever in the travel industry will listen.

What we are trying to do here is to educate the public…the people who travel…the people who spend their very hard earned money on that one or two weeks of vacation they get each year. Those folks shouldn’t be lied to. Those folks shouldn’t have some pre-set website decide for them what kind of vacation they should take or what choices are available. The big boys in the travel world want to limit the public’s access to only those resources they market and can make a profit on. They would rather the paying public not even have a chance to consider the independent vendor. In our opinion, that’s unfair to those of us who are small business owners, and it’s unfair to the people just wanting to plan a nice vacation.

And so we have told our story here and we hope it opens some people’s eyes. Please feel free to pass it along if you know anyone who might be interested.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from Being Abused by Expedia?

Most importantly: don’t use Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Venere.com or any of their affiliated websites!  First of all they have a well-deserved reputation for bad customer service. Just Google the words “Expedia bad customer service” and see what comes up. Secondly they do not offer discounted rates as many claim. Many people believe that Expedia will offer better rates for a hotel room that the hotel does. That is not true. Expedia offers the hotel room at the same price as the property. Expedia gets a large percentage of what you pay for the room. Why would they give it to you cheaper? And why would a hotel offer a lower price on Expedia when they are already paying them a 25% commission? Obviously hotels save that 25% when you book directly with them, so why would they encourage you to book through a middleman by discounting their own prices on those sites? They don’t. But Expedia doesn’t want you to know that.

fightexpediablog5Also, remember that Expedia and other travel websites offer a limited number of hotels and rooms. Not all hotels list with Expedia, and those that do rarely list all their available rooms on the Expedia site (for the reason listed above.) For the most availability, best prices and service, always book directly with a hotel.  For more tips on how to have the vacation you choose, read 5 Reasons Not to Book Hotels Using Expedia, Hotels.com or Hotwire.

And finally, if you need help in planning a vacation or finding travel choices, either use the internet to do the research or go to a reputable travel agent. Don’t rely on a mammoth bureaucracy to understand what will be the best vacation for you. It’s your money, time and vacation. Don’t let somebody else make the plans…do it yourself!

The Luna Blue Hotel and Bar

As for our own future, we are not going to be discouraged or intimidated by Expedia’s bad behavior. We are not giving up on our business just because some industry giant tells us to. We are still living the dream here on the edge of the Caribbean Sea and still running one of the finest small boutique hotels in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.

If you would like to know more about our hotel just visit our website at www.lunabluehotel.com. You can book directly with us. We would love to have you as our guests and show you the wonders of our little slice of paradise.

Thank you for taking the time to read our story. And happy travels to you all.

Tony & Cheri

For an update on what has happened since we posted this,

please take a look at our latest blog entry:

The Nightmare with Expedia Continues.

 

If after reading our story you would like to add your voice to ours in protesting Expedia’s behavior please consider sending the following e-mail to Expedia:“We strongly condemn how Expedia has treated the Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, as outlined in Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel.  Please stop blocking their reservations.  We think it is grossly unfair for Expedia to treat small businesses in such manner.”Here are some addresses at Expedia where you can e-mail your comments:

General Corporate mailbox
: travel@expedia.com

Dara Khosrowshahi, President of Expedia
: darakh@expedia.com

Pablo Castro, Manager for Latin America Expedia
: pcastro@expedia.com

Javier Polanco, Area Manager for the Riviera Maya
: jpolanco@expedia.com

Judith Monroy, Associate Market Manager for Southeast Mexico
: jmonroy@expedia.com
12/28/12: The Verge, one of the internet’s largest technology and news media networks, has just published a story regarding our dispute with Expedia. The Verge’s reporter, Adrianne Jeffries, contacted Expedia and gave them a chance to tell their side of the story. As you can see from the article, their response was that they no longer did business with the Luna Blue Hotel. So the question remains: If they are not doing business with us, why are they tying up the internet with dozens of sites claiming that they have booking rights to the Luna Blue but that we are completley full? We’ll explore that soon. In the meantime, we ask that you please take a look at the Verge’s article, One Small Hotel’s Long Nightmare with Expedia.
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Head to Mexico for Christmas…if only in song

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 18, 2011

Photo by Ken Bartle.  Thanks to our models Mackenzie and AmandaWe love Christmas music. Over the years we have collected thousands of carols and songs on our ipod. We love it all, from traditional hymns to rock and pop standards. We even love the more esoteric music of the holiday, like Less than Jake’s punk rock version of Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, and Reggae star Eek-A-Mouse’s drugged out version of The Night Before Christmas.

Yet there is a small often overlooked genre of holiday tunes that is a favorite of ours: songs about running away to a tropical beach in Mexico and the Caribbean. We, and many others it seems, prefer our white Christmas to be made of sun bleached sand instead of snow. We like to hang our Christmas lights from our palm thatch palapas instead of storm gutters. Santa hats are worn with swimsuits, and on Christmas Eve we still remember to leave a little something for Santa… although we set out a margarita instead of cookies (the old boy seems to prefer them with a salted rim, over ice instead of blended).

Of course we know everyone can’t go on a tropical vacation at Christmastime, so as a present for our friends stuck in chillier climates, here are a few of our favorite “Christmas on a beach in Mexico” holiday tunes. We hope they bring a little Mexican-Caribe sun and warmth into your holiday celebrations.


Christmas in the Caribbean


First on our list comes from the King of the Tropical Troubadours, Jimmy Buffett. This song contains all the iconic images one expects from a holiday season in paradise: “snowbirds” filling the air, Santa on a dolphin, stockings hung from a boat’s mast. Most of all it reminds the listener why life, and Christmas, is better in the tropics: because down here “we don’t live in a hurry.”


All I Want for Christmas is a Real Good Tan


Kenny Chesney convinces his girlfriend (and the rest of us) that two tickets to a tropical shore is the best present he can get. A new bikini, toes in the sand and grilled mahi-mahi are Kenny’s suggestions as the best way to celebrate the season.


Christmas in Mexico


Key West entertainer Brent Burns says the best way to get over a broken heart is to head south of the border for the holidays. Since he says, “I try never to offend anyone wearing a thong,” he fits right in. When Brent meets a “pretty señorita” he concludes that “dancing by the pool, it’s hard to go wrong.”


Santa’s Going South (to Mexico)

Toby Keith and Sammy Hagar let the secret out: Santa’s “too old to take this much cold.” He is heading to Mexico this year. It’s all about “jet skis, margaritas and palm trees” for Christmas. So the boys are joining him by grabbing a “first class non-stop down Mexico way.”

Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rhum

Jimmy Buffett again; this time he is telling the story of poor Santa who is “tired of the whole reindeer scene.” Santa wants to turn into a pirate and “dance with a sword in the sand.” He decides he needs rum, steel drums and the Caribbean… and so away he goes.

We hope these tunes help brighten your holiday. And we leave you with one more song: Mexico’s very popular singer Luis Miguel singing
“I’ll be Home for Christmas” in Spanish. Home of course is where we all spend our holidays if only in our hearts and dreams.

From our home here in the paradise of Playa del Carmen on the edge of the Caribbean Sea to all of you wherever you may be, we wish all of you the happiest of holidays and a Merry Christmas.

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Discover Scuba: Underwater Thrills in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 18, 2011

Diving in the Riviera Maya - a sea turtle up closeA week ago we were sitting on the bottom of the ocean, the air bubbles from our scuba tanks drifting slowly to the surface 40 feet above us. Beneath a swirling school of silvery fish, we spotted a large sea turtle casually munching on underwater plants. As we slowly approached he lifted his head and blinked his huge eyes once or twice as if trying to focus on us. He decided we were no threat to him and returned to his lunch as we swam past. This was only one of many amazing sights that greeted us on a very special day of scuba diving.

Not everyone realizes that Playa del Carmen is near some of the premier diving spots in the world. The 600 mile-long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest continuous coral reef in the world, sits just offshore from Playa del Carmen. The reef, with its beautiful coral and abundant sea life, offers a myriad of diving and snorkeling experiences. The reef is home to thousands of amazing sea creatures, from tiny shrimp to large sea turtles and fish of every size and color imaginable. It is an underwater world which has to be seen up close and personal to be believed.

We have both tried diving before. Years ago Tony went diving in Playa a couple of times and both of us went on an introductory dive in Belize a few years back. At one time we even took a diving certification course but never completed the open water dives due to a motor scooter accident Tony had which kept him out of the water.

We both wanted to go scuba diving again, but we knew we needed some refresher time first. Cheri was hesitant as she has always had a fear of being underwater. She knew she would need a lot of patience and help to try it again.

Diving in the Riviera Maya - pool demo at the Luna Blue Hotel poolSo we were thrilled when our friends Patrice and Laure, owners of Mexico Blue Dream dive shop, invited us to join in one of their “Discover Scuba” introductory classes. They promised Cheri she could go at her own pace and that their instructors would give her all the help she needed. They convinced us to give it a try.

We started out with a short instructional video at the dive shop and met with Eric, the instructor. We also met Bruno, who would be taking videos and photos of the class’ adventure. We were each fitted with all the proper equipment: a wetsuit, a BCD (buoyancy control device, or what you might consider a very special life jacket), weight belt, mask and fins. The Mexico Blue Dream staff then brought all the equipment, including tanks, over to the Luna Blue Hotel pool where each person received personal instruction from Eric. We learned proper hand signals and practiced breathing underwater, clearing our masks of water that may have seeped in and swimming around the pool with our equipment on.

Of course, at first it seems a bit strange to be breathing underwater, and until you find your comfort zone it’s nice to know you can simply stand up in the pool if you need a moment out of the water. When everyone was ready and felt comfortable with the equipment we were all taken back to the dive shop and after a short rest break (in case anyone wanted a a bite to eat), we headed down to the beach and the Mexico Blue Dream dive boat where we were joined by Craig, another dive instructor.

Diving in the Riviera Maya - a seahorse up closeA short 10 minute ride later we were at the reef. One by one we got into the water. Once the class and instructors were in the water we began our controlled descent to the bottom. As Cheri was still very anxious, Eric took everyone else down while Craig continued to work with Cheri near the surface.

When Tony and the rest of the class reached the bottom–about 35 to 40 feet down–the tour of the reef began. The clear water made visibility perfect. We found ourselves surrounded by colorful forms of coral and schools of fish of all sizes and types. It would be impossible to list all the sea life we saw, but among the various sea creatures we encountered were sea turtles, moray eels, various crabs, brightly colored parrot fish, beautiful angel fish, sun fish, pipe fish, and even seahorses.

We did two separate dives in two different locations. Both were what are called drift dives, as the current carried us along the reef. Most reef diving in the Riviera Maya is drift diving–what many believe to be the most pleasant and relaxing diving experience there is. With a drift dive, one simply “goes with the flow” and simply drifts past the scenery with the natural current. We literally just floated past the sights of this colorful underwater world. By the end of the day we were tired but exhilarated from the things we had done and the sights we had seen. Cheri was happy that the instructors had been so patient and kind with her.

The day was unhurried and relaxing, something we really appreciated. Extra time is built in so that the day flows more at a Mexico pace. Since students in a Discover Scuba class are new to the sport, Mexico Blue Dream believes in having that extra time for mental preparation and relaxation along the way, so that the experience is positive and enjoyable for everyone.

We have always highly recommended Mexico Blue Dream and came away from this experience even more enthused about their operation. Every single person we encountered–from the owners to the dive instructors to the boat staff–was friendly, approachable, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and calming. Their focus is clearly on making each dive a special experience for everyone involved.

Scuba diving in the Riviera Maya with Mexico Blue DreamAnyone can have the same experience we had when visiting Playa. Mexico Blue Dream offers a SCUBA pool demo where instructors will assist you in trying on scuba equipment and then teach you how to swim and breathe while underwater. This can all be done in the safe confines of a shallow swimming pool.

For guests of our own Luna Blue Hotel, the Mexico Blue Dream pool demo takes place only steps from your room in our new sunken garden swimming pool. Best of all, it’s free when you stay at the Luna Blue.

If after learning to use the scuba gear in the pool you want to try it in open water, the nice folks at Mexico Blue Dream will be glad to take you on a “Discover Scuba” dive, much like we did. You will see a short instructional film and then take the Mexico Blue Dream’s boat out on the Caribbean Sea where you will have two 45-50 minute dives. You will always go with a dive instructor who will watch you closely, monitor your safety and guide you past the incredible sights of a living coral reef.

Many people find that once they try scuba diving they want to go again and again. The good news is that Mexico Blue Dream can help you become certified as a scuba diver. The dives you make in your initial Discover Scuba program count towards your PADI scuba certification requirements.

If you are going to be a guest at the Luna Blue Hotel, just let us know that you would like to try the FREE scuba pool demo.

You only live once. You owe it to yourself to experience the vast world which lives just beneath the surface of the sea.

Bruno’s video talents

Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop in Playa del Carmen Mexico
On the road to Mamita’s Beach Club – Calle 28 between 1st Ave and the beach
Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop in Playa del Carmen Mexico

Tony & Cheri practicing in the pool
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

The Mexico Blue Dream dive boat taking us to the reef
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

Tony trying out his gear
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

Cheri getting instruction from Eric in the pool
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

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So Many Choices…Food & Drink in Playa del Carmen’s North Beach

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 28, 2011

As many Playa del Carmen aficionados know, Playa is divided into two different worlds when it comes to accommodations. There’s the world of the small, local or boutique hotels (which are located in town) and the world of the large all-inclusive mega resorts (which are primary located out of town). Most people generally prefer one over the other.

We of course have a rather biased opinion in favor of small boutique hotels, being the owners of the Luna Blue Hotel. But even before we owned a small hotel, our tastes always ran to that sort of experience. We just find it more interesting and fulfilling than an all-inclusive resort type experience. In fact in our travels in Mexico in particular, we have always loved trying the smaller hotels and have never had an experience with one that didn’t leave us with interesting stories to tell…to us the essence of good travel.

But one of the main reasons we recommend the small “in town” hotel experience in Playa del Carmen is the food. Unless you’ve been to Playa, it’s hard to imagine the sheer number of different restaurants and bars one can experience, on foot, within a short distance. We can’t imagine someone wanting the all-inclusive experience here–eating at the same buffets day in and day out, or the same couple of restaurants all supervised by the same chef–when one can try something completely different at every single meal.

Someone sent us an email the other day asking how close we were to the nearest restaurant. The reply we gave, “about 10 steps,” made us think about just how many eating and drinking establishments there are within a short distance of the Luna Blue.

So, for fun, we decided to count them, just in case the question ever comes up again. Using Luna Blue Hotel–26th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue–as the central point, we’ve made a list of how many bars and restaurants can be found within a five block walk. We surprised even ourselves. Here’s what we found:

Restaurants and Bars
…within one block of the Luna Blue:

  • Las Cazuelas – Just across the street from the Luna Blue. Authentic Spanish tapas made by our friend Miguel and his wife. Miguel, who also makes amazing paella, will deliver tapas to your bar swing on request. 26th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue
  • Sushi Club – In our opinion, the freshest sushi in Playa del Carmen, and just next door to the Luna Blue. 26th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue
  • Isola Dolce Pasteleria – Associated with our favorite gelato place, Corsi, this pasteleria (bakery) has two other locations: one in Cancun and one in Florence, Italy. 26th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue
  • El Mero Negrillo – New Mexican/Seafood restaurant, Veracruz style, in the old La Quinta Pasion location. 26th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue
  • Il Baretto – Popular spot for Italian expats and tourits. Some say their pizza is the best in town. 26th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue
  • Hacienda La Herradura – The best arrachera in Playa del Carmen, in our opinion. Consistently good Mexican food at reasonable prices. Luna Blue guests are almost always offered a free shot of tequila after dinner. Corner of 26th Street & 10th Avenue
  • Trattoria del Centro – Small hole in the wall Italian joint on our “must try” list. Word has it that women from the “old country” cook up authentic Italian food that’s to die for. 26th Street between 10th & 15th Avenue
  • Don Tomato – Small pizza joint, by the slice & by the pie. 10th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • Il Pescatore – Italian restaurant which has been around forever. 10th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • Capriccio Latino – Another of North Playa’s many Italian restaurants. 5th Avenue between 26th & 28th Streets
  • La Fe – Popular and loud bar with bar food. Almost always crowded. 5th Avenue between 26th & 28th Streets
  • El Carnicero – Authentic Parilla Mexicana. If meat is your thing, you’ll like this place. 5th Avenue between 26th & 28th Streets
  • Kum Kum Mezcal Bar – High end fancy mezcal bar and store. 5th Avenue between 26th & 28th Streets
  • Deli Smart – Small deli and convenience store. 5th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • Cantegrill Parilla Uruguaya – The latest restaurant in a location that seems to change restaurants every six months. We haven’t tried this one yet. 5th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • Pizza Renzo – Our “go to” pizza spot in the north end. Pizza by the slice that’s great when it’s fresh and so-so when it’s not. Open late. 5th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • La Vagabunda – Popular breakfast spot which also has lunch & dinner. 5th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • Tutti Fruiti Yogurt – New frozen yogurt shop. 5th Avenue between 24th & 26th Streets
  • Pummarola – Popular pizza/Italian food spot. 24th Street between 5th & 10th Avenues.

…within two blocks of the Luna Blue:

  • Corsi Gelato Italiano – Our favorite gelato place in Playa. Their nutella gelato is to die for. Reasonable prices, to boot. 28th Street between 5th & 10th Avenue
  • Starbucks – Just like every other Starbucks. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Cenacolo – New high-end restaurant on our “we’ve been meaning to try” list. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • That’s Amore- Surprisingly good pasta and pizza at reasonable prices. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Rufino Mescaleria – Bar and restaurant with traditional Mexican seafood. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Buddie’s Diner & Cantina – New restaurant in the old Babe’s location owned by some young American guys. Decent American breakfasts, burgers. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • La Micheladeria5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Maktub Cafe – Popular Lebanese & fondue spot. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • 1847 – Traditional Mexican fare. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Sushi Tlan – Reasonably good sushi for Playa. Sushi Tlan has other locations in Playa as well. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • El Bistro Bites – A casual international tapas restaurant with a Mediterranean taste. Associated with La Tortuga’s popular El Bistro. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Molusko – Cocina del mar. That’s “seafood” for you gringos. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • El 10 – Argentinian steak house. Reasonable prices. Very popular corner spot. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Haagen Dazs – Expensive ice cream, but yummy. 5th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Shanghai Restaurant – One of only a handful of Chinese restaurants in Playa del Carmen. 10th Avenue between 22nd & 24th Streets
  • Ambasciata D’Italia – Excellent Italian food. Tell Bruno the manager we said “hi.” 5th Avenue between 22nd & 24th Streets
  • Las Delicias – Traditional Mexican fare. 5th Avenue between 22nd & 24th Streets
  • La Fragata – Eclectic meals with an emphasis on Mexican foods. 26th Street between 1st & 5th Avenues
  • PG’s Sandbox – Popular sports bar and restaurant with big screen TVs and live music on some nights. Some say the best shrimp tacos in town. 26th Street at 1st Avenues
  • Off the Vine – Liquor boutique and bar. 1st Avenue between 26th & 28th Street
  • Vera Lucia’s Pasteleria – Pastries and light meals. 1st Avenue between 26th & 28th Street
  • Caiman Tugurio – Small open air restaurant with Mexican dishes. 24th Street between 5th & 1st Avenues
  • Mayan Bistro – Located in the Aventura Mexicana hotel. 22nd Street between 5th & 10th Avenues
  • El Fresco Sabor Small outdoor eatery attached to hotel Riviera Caribe Maya – 10th Avenue between 28th & 30th Streets
  • Winery & Plus10th Avenue at 28th Street

…within three blocks of the Luna Blue:

  • Ah Cacao – Best chocolate and chocolate related goodies in town, bar none. 5th Avenue between 30th & 32nd Streets
  • Playa Wings & Pizza – Not only does this place have pizza but it also has hundreds of types of wings. 5th Avenue between 30th & 32nd Streets
  • La Parilla de Manolo – Used to be Asadora de Manolo which was located around the corner from the Luna Blue. Argentinian steak house. 5th Avenue between 30th & 32nd Streets
  • Yaxche Mayan Cuisine – Traditional Mayan food, served with a flair. 5th Avenue between 20th & 22nd Streets
  • Freeze – One of those frozen drink kiosks with pretty colored liquids whirling in little machines. 5th Avenue between 20th & 22nd Streets
  • Ristorante Romagna Mia – Traditional Italian food. New location. 5th Avenue between 20th & 22nd Streets
  • Texas Burger Company – The name says it all. 5th Avenue between 20th & 22nd Streets
  • Burro PlayeroBeer and tacos. 28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • La Tavola dello Squalo -Small Italian restaurant featuring carry away pizza on the way to the beach. 28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • Las Helodias – Bar near the beach with take away drinks. Specializing in cheladas. 28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • Hangover Bar – New little bar with a catchy name. 28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • Bella Vita Pizza28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • TNT Bar & Beer Shop28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • Capitan Camaron – Seafood on the way to the beach. 28th Street between 1st Avenue & the beach
  • Mamita’s Beach Club – Playa’s classic beach bar/restaurant. 28th Street at the beach
  • Kool Beach Club – Eclectic menu and bar on the sand. 28th Street at the beach
  • Reina Roja – Bar known for its many red lights and mannequins in suggestive poses. 20th Street between 5th & 10th Avenues
  • Nikkori – Japanese food. 10th Avenue at 32nd Street

…within four blocks of the Luna Blue:

  • Bar Dello Sport Bar & pizzeria located in the Banana Hotel – 5th Avenue between 32nd & 34th Streets
  • Da Gigi – Italian food. New location. 5th Avenue between 32nd & 34th Streets
  • Chez Celine Boulangerie, Patisserie, Artisanale – Pastries and sandwiches. 5th Avenue between 32nd & 34th Streets
  • Kixten – Popular bar with live music most nights. 5th Avenue between 20th Street & Constituyentes
  • Karma Bagels – Great salads & bagel sandwiches. Now open for breakfast. One of our favorite lunch spots. Big pitcher of iced tea is always refreshing. 5th Avenue between 20th Street & Constituyentes
  • Bip Bip – One of Playa’s oldest Mexican restaurants, known for its good breakfasts. 5th Avenue at Constituyentes
  • Ah Cacao – Best chocolate and chocolate related goodies in town, bar none. And with two locations within blocks of the Luna Blue, you can’t go wrong. 5th Avenue at Constituyentes
  • Los Amigos – Traditional Mexican food, very low prices, located on one of our favorite streets, outside the tourist zone but not too far. 30th Avenue at 26th Street

…within five blocks of the Luna Blue:

  • Bodeguita del Medio – Cuban food, fun restaurant and bar. Free salsa lessons two nights and week. Live music every night. 5th Avenue between 34th & 36th Streets
  • Coffee Cafe – A popular place to sip that important first cup of the morning. Plus snacks. 5th Avenue between 34th & 36th Streets
  • Winery & Plus – Wines from around the world by the glass or the bottle. 5th Avenue between 34th & 36th Streets
  • Util Pasta Factory – One of our favorite Italian spots, run by very nice people. Wonderful sauces. Eat there or take away. 25th Avenue between 30th & 32nd Streets

There you have it…74 bars & restaurants within a five block radius of the Luna Blue…75 if you count us. You could have breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different spot every single day for almost a month and never have to travel more than five blocks from one central point. And just think of the possibilities if you were to venture out further!

Now isn’t that a million times more interesting than a giant buffet or lobby bar at an all inclusive mega resort?

We think so, too.

Playa del Carmen's North Beach area

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The Luna Blue Hotel Newsletter…Our Latest Endeavor

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 8, 2011

We are starting a monthly e-mail newsletter for the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. Each month we will send out information about events around Playa del Carmen, news from the area and specials and happenings at the Luna Blue.

The really good news is that each month we will pick a newsletter subscriber to receive a two night stay at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar–absolutely FREE!

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Don’t worry, this list is our private property. You don’t have to buy anything, and we will not sell or give your information to anyone for any reason. We won’t inundate you with emails, and you can unsubscribe with a click at any time. The newsletter is simply our way of staying in touch with the many folks who know and love Playa del Carmen and the Luna Blue.

Even if you have received e-mails from us in the past, you must subscribe if you want to receive the new newsletter. So please sign up today and become part of the new Luna Blue internet family.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

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Playa del Carmen Right Outside your Door: Small Hotels vs. All Inclusives

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 11, 2011

You are going to Mexico! You have been dreaming of margaritas and white sand beaches in the beautiful seaside village of Playa Del Carmen. You’ve waited all year for this vacation and now you just have to decide where you will stay.

We’re Going to Playa! Now Where Should We Stay?

Playa Del Carmen has a large number of small boutique-style hotels throughout the resort/hotel zone which stretches along the shoreline of the Caribbean Sea. The resort/hotel zone goes from Juarez Avenue in the south to Calle 40 in the north and from Avenida 10 east to the beach. There are also many mega-resorts up and down the coast outside of town which list “Playa del Carmen” as their location. These generally are all-inclusive properties—which means the price you pay includes food, drinks and your room, much like the cruise ship vacation your great aunt Myrtle takes every year.

All inclusive resorts (called “AI’s”) have become quite popular in the travel industry. That popularity has been helped along by a tourist industry which too often places its fees ahead of your interests. Such resorts are often part of an international chain which can afford not only extensive advertising, but also to host and finance press junkets for travel writers and pay travel agents large commissions to steer their clients to them.

This is not to say that such a giant resort might not be right for you. But we think the decision should be based on what kind of vacation you want and not because someone else will make the most money from recommending a property to you.

Of course, we are not objective on the matter. We own one of the most popular small hotels in Playa del Carmen, the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, and have long encouraged people to think about a visit to Mexico outside of some resort’s gated compound.

Over the years we’ve heard many reasons why people prefer AI vacations—generally by people who’ve never traveled any other way. The following is a list of those reasons, along with our own opinions and views. We hope it helps with your vacation planning.

Safety

The number one reason given by most people for choosing to stay in a gated, all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is safety.

Some visitors are frightened by the sensationalized media portrayal of all of Mexico being engulfed in a violent drug war. Others are just concerned about possible problems of being on their own in a country where they don’t know the language or the culture. Both fears are understandable, but neither is a realistic view of Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

Playa del Carmen is Safe
Mexico’s drug wars are taking place primarily around Ciudad Juarez, a city near the border with the southwest United States. The violence and crime associated with that problem have not spread to the eastern coast some 3000 miles away. The Caribbean border state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, has a crime rate much lower than many large US cities. Playa Del Carmen is perfectly safe for any visitor, and there is no need for visitors to hide away in a fortress-like compound, avoiding and missing the true spirit and flavor of Mexico.

Likewise, finding yourself on your own without resources or help or unable to speak the language even to ask for assistance is simply not going to happen. Playa is a modern city. Many of the locals working in the hotels, restaurants and bars speak very good English. Well trained English-speaking doctors and health care workers are readily available. There is even a special branch of the police department called the “Tourist Police” that patrols the resort zone to help visitors with problems.

And if you should need assistance, you will find it easier to get help in a small hotel where you are a familiar face to the people working there than a large resort where you are just another room number in a crowd of hundreds or thousands.

Convenience

Many people also think that an all inclusive experience offers the most convenient way to travel. They think that having shops, a beach club, bars and restaurants all in the same compound will make their vacation easier.

Shopping
The truth is that the widest range of services and stores in the area are in downtown Playa within easy walking distance to the small hotels. Laundries, clothing stores, pharmacies, wine and liquor shops and souvenirs of all types are available in hundreds of stores lining Fifth Avenue. Even our Super Walmart is conveniently located just outside the central part of the downtown hotel zone. By staying in a boutique hotel in town you have not only convenience but also more choices. By staying in a mega resort outside of town (and very few of the AI resorts are within walking distance of town), you are limited to the choices available there on the resort grounds, and you must share those resources with the hundreds and possibly thousands of others staying there at the same time.

Dining
The same is true for restaurants, bars and cafes. With a few feet of any small hotel in town, you will discover limitless dining and drinking possibilities. For example, within one block of our own small Luna Blue Hotel, guests can find eight restaurants and three bars. A ten minute walk down 5th Avenue or in any direction will bring dozens more of all types and price ranges. The same can be said for any small hotel in Playa.

We think having access to several dozen restaurants of varying cuisines within a few minutes stroll is certainly more convenient than taking a long hike down to the food complex across the resort grounds to choose from a small group of restaurants, all of which share the same kitchen.

Beach Clubs
Visitors staying in town will find more beach clubs and find them more conveniently located than at a giant resort. For example, some rooms at a large resort like the Mayan Palace may require guests to take a shuttle bus or even two to get to the beach. Once there you may find the infamous “towel game” in full effect, i.e. when people rise early, go to the beach and “save” chairs with towels or personal items to use later in the day. As most large resorts do not have a beach chair for every guest, many beachgoers end up with no comfortable way to enjoy a day on the sand.

On the other hand, since the resort/hotel zone of downtown Playa parallels the beach it is only a short 5 minute walk from almost any small hotel in the area to the beach. And some hotels can even be found right on the beach. Once on the sand you will find Playa’s two main beaches (centro and norte) to be lined with beach clubs, bars and restaurants. Instead of having one beach club where you may not even get a chair, the person staying in town can pick a new beach club every day of their vacation. In short you are nearer to the beach and have more choices when staying in a small hotel in town.

Food

People can get a little fussy about food. They know what they like, and many folks are not too willing to try something foreign or different. That need for some familiarity combined with the myth that “Montezuma Revenge” awaits anyone who eats in Mexico makes some people conclude it is safer and easier to eat at the buffet or American-style restaurants usually provided by the big AI resorts. Once again, this commonly held view turns out to be untrue.

The truth is that most large all-inclusive resorts will have at most three to five dining rooms (featuring steak, seafood, Mexican, or Asian food). In addition there will be a buffet or two and a couple of burger/pizza grills. One or two of the fancier restaurants will require reservations and have a dress code. Now compare this to what you can find in town.

Playa is a Food Lover’s Paradise
The number of restaurants available within a block or two of any small hotel will be in the dozens. The resort zone has literally several hundred choices of where to eat. One will find Thai, Spanish tapas, sushi, steak (Argentinean, American and Mexican style), and Italian (often featuring excellent homemade pasta from expat Italians). There is traditional Mexican food, French, fondue, vegetarian, seafood featuring fish caught that day, or lobsters fresh from the tank. You will find local specialties like lobster macaroni and cheese, coconut shrimp and marinated barbequed pork tacos. Street-side cafes offer fresh coffee and Mexico’s famous chocolate. There are grills with hamburgers and hot dogs, street carts with tacos and empanadas. And don’t forget the Italian bakeries and gelato stores. And of course there are some familiar names like Burger King, MacDonald’s, Johnny Rockets, Haagen Dazs, Starbucks and even Dairy Queen. Or you can even have Domino’s deliver a pizza to your hotel room.

Whether you will only eat the same food you know from back home or want to experiment with something new, you will find many times more restaurants within steps of your hotel than you will in any major resort. And it is perfectly safe to eat at these places.

Yes, it’s Safe
Playa Del Carmen has an efficient system of health inspection. Restaurants in town are held to the same high standard by the same government inspectors as the kitchens and dining rooms of the large all inclusive resorts. There is no more need to worry about your health when eating in town than when eating at a resort. In fact it might even be safer to eat at a restaurant in the resort zone where the meal is prepared when you order it instead of having food which has been sitting out in an AI buffet for hours.

Beverages
And if drinking is a favorite pastime, you will certainly not go thirsty in Playa. You will find bars with swings, bars on the sand, bars with swimming pools, bars with dancing, bars with live entertainment and bars with big screen TVs showing the latest sports. A bar crawl with friends at an AI resort will most likely consist of a drink at the pool bar and one at the disco. In downtown Playa a bar crawl will become a fun filled fiesta stretching from one end of town or the beach to the other. And don’t worry about drinking the water. Purified water is provided in every restaurant in Playa’s resort zone, and ice in your drink is also purified. Most small hotels provide bottled drinking water for their guests.

Language

Another concern which leads people to stay at an AI is their own lack of Spanish language skills and the fear they won’t be able to speak to the people around them. It’s a needless worry.

In Playa Del Carmen and all of the Riviera Maya, the number one source of income is tourism, primarily from English speaking countries. Over the years this has caused a Mexican national workforce to develop which is fluent not only in English but other languages as well. It is not unusual to find a waiter or bartender with limited formal education who can speak not only Spanish but also English and Mayan. He or she will probably have some knowledge of Italian and maybe even a smattering of French or German, as tourists speaking those languages are frequent visitors here. You will also find most restaurants have English language menus available.

Of course Spanish is the primary language of Mexico, so it should not be a surprise to visitors that it is spoken in most places and circumstances. And while many Mexicans will be glad to switch to English for you if they can, it is still nice to remember you are a visitor in a land with a different language from your own. So even if you can’t speak much Spanish, just try a little…such as “hola” (hello) or “por favor” (please) or “gracias” (thank you). After all, part of the adventure of a new land is negotiating a new language. At the very least it will earn you a smile.

And it would seem to go without saying that your chances of meeting, speaking to and interacting with locals is much more likely in town than at a gated resort that most Mexicans will never see the inside of.

Cost

In the end, after the issues of safety, convenience, food, and language have been shown to favor the small boutique hotel, it always boils down to money. Some people believe that an all inclusive is cheaper because the guest doesn’t have to pay for food and drinks. That is simply not true.

There is No Free Lunch
One doesn’t eat or drink for “free” at an AI. The price of what you will consume during your stay is factored into the price of the room. Those prices fluctuate greatly depending on the resort and on the time of year you are visiting Mexico. The truth is a stay in a small hotel in town, even adding in the cost of dining out, can easily be less expensive than the cost of staying at a large resort. More importantly, the small hotel can make decisions about discounts and upgrades on the spot. Rarely do they need to forward your requests up the corporate chain for a decision by someone not even in the same country.

AIs may occasionally offer what appear to be very low rates. However it is important to remember that those rates are per person, not per room like you’d find in a small hotel. And of course there are often extra fees—for towels, for use of sports and leisure equipment, and for those mysterious “resort fees.” Be sure to factor in all costs and fees, or you won’t be comparing apples to apples.

Playa Won’t Break Your Budget
If you’re concerned about cost, do a little research to look for the best deal. Look on the internet. Contact the hotels directly. Ask your travel agent’s advice. Go to tripadvisor.com and other travel-based websites. And don’t worry about paying for your own meals and drinks. After finding the small hotel that is right for you, you can be assured that the costs of dining out in Playa will still be very low. Most of the restaurants in Playa are mid-range to outright cheap. Sure, you can find a four star, multi-course dinner for top price, but if budget is your issue, you can find plenty of places to stretch your dining dollars. Eating and drinking well for little money is a tradition in Mexico that has been passed on to its visitors.

A One of a Kind Experience
And a vacation is not just about cost. People work hard for their money and want a quality experience when they take some time off. Cheapest is not always the best. And if you’re looking for a unique experience customized to your interests, you won’t find it in an AI. Why? Because large resorts are generally owned by international corporations which standardize their services and costs. Food is mass produced—often ahead of time—in order to serve thousands of meals each day. Accommodations must be of the same mass-manufactured design so that furniture and fixtures are interchangeable. Tours, activities and events are chosen and marketed to the guests based exclusively on the commission paid to the hotel, and steps are often taken to limit the guests’ access to other activities.

And often any spirit of the people or culture is eliminated when creating cost-effective generic resorts. You might be in an AI in Orlando one day and in one in Mexico the next and not be able to tell the difference.

You can choose an AI and have a “cookie cutter” hotel experience similar to every other hotel or resort. Or, you can choose a small hotel vacation and have a unique, one-of-a-kind experience You can stay in cabanas right on the beach or in a classic Mexican posada, experience the trendy hip vibe of a modern Euro-style hotel, or settle into a quaint, peaceful Caribbean bed and breakfast set amidst a tropical garden. It will be a vacation unlike any other you have had. And you will remember it forever.

It’s Your Vacation; It Should be Your Choice
In the end, if you’re planning a trip south of the border, you should consider the type of experience you want to enjoy. If you choose to come to Mexico because of its physical beauty, because of its rich culture, or because of its unique traditions and heritage…and if you want the adventure of new experiences and to meet and get to know people who live life differently than you do…then don’t lock yourself away in a gated high-rise resort. As a friend once remarked to us, “There is more to Mexico than what you can see from the lobby bar of a big resort.”

Consider a stay at a small hotel in Playa Del Carmen where the flavor, the adventure, and the people of Mexico are right outside your door.

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Posted in Recommendations, Safety in Mexico, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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