Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: March 2018

Resort Review: Dreams Huatulco, Mexico

Despite much daily whining about life’s little trials and tribulations I have to remind myself often  how fortunate I really am in general but more specifically this Winter for being able to escape the cold for the second time in seven weeks at a luxury beachfront all-inclusive resort and enjoy the sunny southern Mexican serenity of the Dreams Huatulco .

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Famous for its nine bays that line this stretch of the state of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast, Huatulco  boast 330 days of sunshine each year and an average sea and air temperature of 28 Celsius year round but unlike other Mexican resort destinations like Cancun that vary from cooler and wetter in Winter to wickedly hot and humid in Summer what makes Huatulco unique is its climate which only sees the daily temperatures vary by only a few degrees throughout the year. The very dry Winter season runs November – April when the Sierra Madre Del Sur mountains are brown and some months like February see no precipitation to a wet Summer season May – October when the hills become lush and green. In short, it means the ideal climate for Canadians escaping a cold, dark Winter months to soak up the almost guaranteed sunny, warm and dry days.

The family-friendly Dreams Huatulco is set on a glorious golden brown sand beach on Tangolunda Bay, one of two bays along with Conejos that have resort development with the others left unspoiled within a nearby national park. There’s an excellent satellite map of the coast here.

Having contacted the resort ahead of time to share room preferences it was a nice surprise to learn I’d been upgraded from a lead-in Deluxe Tropical View to a Deluxe Partial Ocean View room  that came complete with a welcome sash draped across the hallway door and a bottle or sparkling wine. Sometimes being in the travel industry has its perks.

photo by author

photo by author

I expected the door cash to be taken down after the first day but it actually stayed up the whole week and it’s these little touches that helped make for an enjoyable stay. Other such door sashes could be seen along the hallway noting honeymooners, special anniversaries or repeat guests.

Room 4358 features two double beds,  a private balcony with two chairs and a small table that overlooks a pool and with good views over the bay.

photo by author

photo by author

The balcony also affords views of the small patio in front of the Mexican El Patio restaurant which is often used for theme nights such as the Oscars.

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There is a flat screen TV in the room with dozens of channels but few in English and an on-demand movie selection I failed to master as there are far more engaging things around the resort like watching the sunset with a cold cerveza.

The bathroom features his & hers sinks in a marble vanity, toiletries and an incense stick in case of overpowering odors as there is no exhaust fan which is rare in hotel/resort bathrooms in my experience.

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The lack of a fan was noticed most often in the morning when enjoying hot showers in the large tiled shower stall which has been retrofitted with a rainfall shower head.

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There are a 6 pools spread throughout the resort including a trio of infinity pools overlooking the beach that offer memorable bay views.


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The beachfront infinity pools are prime spots that are claimed very early in the morning as I found one morning when I grabbed a towel and set off at 6:45 AM to claim a couple of lounge chairs before an early breakfast only to find them all claimed! How early they were reserved is unknown but  getting up well before dawn to claim lounge chairs isn’t on my list of holiday priorities.  I should note that the resort is very proactive about discouraging guests from hogging the loungers for prolonged period of disuse but many are saved by family or friends travelling as a group so harder to spot or police.

The seaside pools feature a wooden canopy that shields pale gringos from the direct southern sun and a shallow ledge should you want to move your lounge chair into the water.

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Everyone’s preferences will of course vary but I found the beachfront pools a little too active for my liking with loud music from early afternoon onward plus regular activities such as water aerobics so I sought refuge in a quiet corner of the resort at the “L” shaped adult-only pool in front of the Asian restaurant Himitsu.

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This pool often had lounge chairs unclaimed after 10 AM and because of the buildings moved into total shade by 4 PM daily and after getting to know some of the other guests it became my preferred relaxation hideaway.

I found out about the strength of the sun while assiduously sticking to the shade while parked on a lounge chair but still picked up a mild sunburn as I hadn’t applied any suntan lotion but didn’t think I needed to being totally under cover. Lesson learned.

At any of the pools there is regular bar service from the personable wait staff that work hard to cater to drink requests.

The Dreams Huatulco strikes a good balance between adult-only areas and family-friendly zones such as the kids pool with its half-size little loungers just behind the Oceana seafood restaurant.

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The beach-lovers can opt to spend time at the waters edge under palapas.  The ones nearest the Barracuda beach bar are reserved for members of the upgraded Preferred Club rooms but there are others steps away available to all resort guests.

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The rocks frame the beach at one end and offer a good vantage point looking back up at the Dreams Huatulco.

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As Pacific Mexican beaches go Playa Tangolunda is my new favorite as it’s very clean, runs for a way beyond the Dreams Huatulco and is calm enough within the bay to allow for snorkeling, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. To put yourself on this beach there’s a great 360-degree view here.

The resort dining is excellent and varied with five à la carte restaurants, a buffet and a café as part of the all-inclusive program. No reservations are required and there is no limited as to the number of times guests may visit any of the restaurants.

One restaurant I visited more than once during the week-long stay is it’s that good is the Asian restaurant Himitsu which as the name, decor and menu suggests is essentially a Japanese restaurant with a few Thai and Chinese dishes thrown in for good measure to give it the advertised “Pan-Asian” flavor.

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Himitsu has both indoor and outdoor tables with the latter offering a blue hue next to the pool after sunset.

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The adult-only Italian restaurant Portofino was named to the lifestyle magazine Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for 2017  for its extensive 2000 bottle wine cellar with over 200 varieties of wine and champagne from quality producers and with various themes to compliment its menu. There 100-seat restaurant includes a small chefs table within the wine cellar which can be reserved at an extra charge.

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One of the resorts two Sommeliers are on hand to offer input on wine pairings with the cuisine on the restaurant’s menu.

While happy with the meal I wasn’t blown away with Portofino enough for a return visit as the space with it’s soaring stark white vaulted ceiling while eye-catching has too colourless a decor to match the traditional Italian theme for my liking.  That isn’t to say I think the restaurant must have  the stereotypical Italian restaurant decor of checkered red & white tablecloths, wax-dripped candles in wine bottles and murals of Rome but some vibrant ruby reds or other splashes of colour would help warm up this restaurant as fine dining doesn’t have to be so visually bland.

Note that Portofino is the only restaurant at Dreams Huatulco with a ‘formal attire’ dress code which means no sandals or flip-flops but rather dress shoes, collared shirts and long pants for men and dresses, skirts, slacks and blouses for the ladies.

The plaza in front of the El Patio Mexican restaurant is often dressed up with theme night outdoor dining the week including a Mexican night with the traditional fiesta party flags draping the patio and Mariachi bands playing local favorite songs.

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El Patio has a ‘casual elegance’ dress code which means pretty much everything except flip-flops and sleeveless shirts. The interior has a very traditional Mexican feel with rich wood accents and local art (see 360-degree view here).

photo courtesy of Shannon Poole

Dinner at El Patio begins with a visit, or two, to the self-serve appetizer bar which includes a choice of meats, cheese, veggies and fresh guacamole to make your own quesadillas, and tostadas. The tortilla shells come fresh off the grill hand made and fried by a cook. The restaurant’s  menu is more than the expected fare as there are regional specialties from around Mexico highlighted by the Oaxacan cheese and meat and the local delicacy chapulines, spicy grasshoppers.

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The grasshoppers  aren’t as crunchy as expected when eaten by themselves and their mild chili flavor complement the meat, cheese and guacamole when making a soft taco. I’m not normally too adventurous of a diner when travelling but have to say I’m glad I tried the local delicacy as it became a highlight of my trip and a good story to share over a meal with friends & family back home. The meal ended with a spirited dessert of a very thick almost fudge-like Oaxacan chocolate ice cream treated with Mezcale.

The aptly named Seaside Grill is a favored spot to enjoy buffet breakfast with stunning ocean views and the sound of waves washing ashore on Playa Tangolunda. By midday the venue serves lunch and at sunset dinner of hamburgers, grilled chicken and beef and fish.

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The Seaside Grill share space with the adjoining Oceana seafood restaurant whose menu has an extensive selection and a few surprises such as the salmon bathed in champagne and shrimp sauce. Both restaurants are ‘casual’ dress code which permits shorts, sandals, sneakers and flip-flops from all patrons and only excludes sleeveless shirts from the men.

The lone buffet restaurant open morning, noon and night is the large World Café whose bulk of tables are inside but a dozen tables on the outdoor terrace which I preferred for the gentle breeze and sea views.

The Coco Café is open throughout the day serving coffees, cookies and pastries and overnight with late night snacks and light bites. Within  the cafe are guest use computers and a handy book lending library I used to avoid a reading material crisis.

The lobby bar Rendezvous is a fairly quiet place during the day but comes alive after sunset with the resort activities team leading trivia and karaoke. There are two pool tables to one side and a well-stocked bar with premium spirits including local Oaxacan mezcale which is renown around Mexico as the country’s best.

photo courtesy of Shannon Poole

The Dreams Huatulco Spa by Pevonia has a cave-like feel as it’s built under the tennis court above and features ten treatment rooms including two for couples with message and body treatments, and hydrotherapy pools with relaxing loungers.

photo by author

photo by author

There are some unexpected elements about the Dreams Huatulco including a baby turtle release program July through December guests are invited to join and a falconer who oversees a pair of hawks who scare away the common beach birds that would otherwise annoy staff and guests at the outdoor restaurants.

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There’s lots to love about the Dreams Huatulco as it’s a high quality beachfront all-inclusive resort staffed with friendly and engaging employees and offering very clean and comfortable rooms with memorable views so I can see why many friends choose to return time after time and speak so highly of the resort. Add-in almost perfect weather, off-site sightseeing and direct air connections from western Canadian gateways and I’m already planning my next Huatulco escape.

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Flight review: Sunwing Boeing 737

After much anecdotal input on Sunwing from friends, family and clients with not all of it being positive it was with much curiosity and admittedly a little anxiety that I embarked on my first flight on this low cost carrier but despite the neutral to negative portrait they’d painted I came away pleasantly surprised after my flight to Huatulco, Mexico.

Having long heard about the tight 29-inch seat pitch in regular economy seats on Sunwing’s Boeing 737 aircraft I paid to upgrade to the Elite Plus seats on the outbound flight and selected an exit row aisle, 16D, for the 7+ hour direct flight from Edmonton with a touchdown Calgary.

The advantage of having a dedicated check-in line for Elite Plus passengers is lost if you check in so early that there are no line-ups but for those less anally early it’s a handy perk.

Considering the cost to assign a normal economy seat in advance is $20 per person one-way, the upgrade to Elite Plus at 2.5 times that amount to me isn’t too exorbitant given the extra creature comforts and priority perks which included my being the first passenger to board the flight.

Seat pitch in the emergency exit row aisle seat was excellent with a good 3 – 4 inches clearance to the seat pocket of the row in front.

The seat pitch was enough to allow the window seat passenger to step around me to access the aisle without my having to stand up.

The advertised “champagne” service was actually a small plastic cup of sparkling wine but I found the in-flight service from the crew to be very personable and attentive. The buy-on-board menu with dishes from Canadian celebrity chef Lynn Crawford is diverse enough to offer something for everyone. Seatmates enjoyed the pizza but having had a bigger breakfast before boarding in Edmonton I opted for the cashews and Mill Street Brewery Original Organic Lager for CAD$11.50 as I devoured a good novel.

Elite Plus passengers are to receive complimentary ear buds but failed to receive my set which wasn’t a big deal as I read the whole flight. The in-flight entertainment featured some recent movies on shared screens every few rows instead of seat-back TV’s.

My return flight was in a regular economy aisle seat, 12D, and my knees almost touched the seat pocket so the seat pitch is as tight as expected making the journey seem longer. As all passengers are dropped off at the same time at Huatulco airport making for longer check-in lines if I were to upgrade to Elite Plus only one-way I’d recommend confirming it on the inbound flight rather than the outbound flight.

I arrived ready to find fault but came away from my Sunwing flights with few complaints so wouldn’t be as hesitant to fly the airline again. I would however recommend upgrading to Elite Plus seats round-trip as to me worth it’s for the priority perks and extra legroom.

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