Tuesday,  September 28, 2021  4:16 am

On location: “We miss Canadians”: PAX tours Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun with Sunwing


On location: “We miss Canadians”: PAX tours Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun with Sunwing
PAX visited Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun with Sunwing in July. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Last year, Cancun didn’t just get a new ordinary adults-only hotel. It got a chic hotel.

Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun first surfaced in June 2020 after Blue Diamond Resorts (the hotel division of Sunwing Travel Group) announced that its Royalton Luxury Resorts product would be expanding with a few rebrands.

The glitzy, beachfront property in Cancun’s Hotel Zone was previously called Royalton Suites Cancun – a family-friendly hotel that opened in February 2019.

Rebranding the site as a Royalton CHIC, as such, transformed the hotel into an “adults-only oasis,” adding to an already-active Royalton CHIC property in Punta Cana while focusing on a new audience altogether. 

Why did they decide to go the adults-only route?  

Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

“We didn’t receive as many children as we thought we would,” Omar Duenas, general manager of Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun, told PAX during a recent stay at the glossy all-inclusive (“All-In Luxury”) hotel from July 6-8, 2021.

A prime location on the strip also had something to do with it – Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun is steps away from the adults-oriented Party Zone, an epicentre of local nightlife where buzzing venues, like Coco Bongo, are found. 

And the decision to focus on big kids is paying off, it seems.

Since reopening on Oct. 29, 2020, following a temporary pandemic shutdown, Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun has seen a strong response from its main market, which Duenas describes as young adults from ages 25 to 40 “looking for fun and parties.”

Omar Duenas, general manager of Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

“When we reopened, we were planning on having 30 per cent occupancy for November [2020],” Duenas said. “We almost doubled that figure.”

That was, remember, at the height of the pandemic when COVID anxiety was high and vaccines were nothing but a prayer. 

Now, the pent-up demand for travel in Mexico, this summer, is bubbling – primarily among vaccinated Americans enjoying a taste of second-dose bliss thanks to the United States’ vaccine rollout last spring and restored lift options.

The lobby bar at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

Supported by new health and safety protocols (more on that later), the attitude at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun is this: be alert, be cautious, but try and make vacations normal again.  

“It has to be a balance,” Duenas explained. “It’s about keeping everybody safe, but at the same time, we have to start rebuilding our economy.”

“In Cancun, 90 per cent of the economy is based on tourism.”

Sunwing returns to Cancun

PAX’s visit to Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun unfolded three weeks ahead of Sunwing’s big return to Cancun (and other sun destinations) from Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) and Montréal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL). 

Sunwing service from YYZ to Cancun resumed July 30 with direct flights operating on Fridays and Sundays; starting Aug 21, a Saturday flight will be added.

Sunwing service from YYZ & YUL to CUN resumed July 30. (Sunwing)

Flights between YUL and Cancun also began that day – direct flights will run on Fridays and Sundays.

READ MORE: Back in business - Sunwing resumes flights to select sun destinations

This winter, vacation packages to Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun will be available from other Canadian airports, too, including Regina, Saskatoon, Saguenay-Bagotville, Hamilton, Waterloo, North Bay, Halifax, Moncton, Fredericton, St. John’s, London, Thunder Bay and more.

Contactless service 

Our trip began with a quick 20-minute transfer from Cancun International Airport c/o Sunwing Experiences and NexusTours.

As part of Safe with Sunwing, a health and safety program introduced last year, several new protocols that focus on contactless service stand out at this stage of the trip.

The transfer from Cancun International Airport to Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun takes about 20 minutes. (Pax Global Media)

Mask-wearing reps, for instance, keep a distance when greeting customers face-to-face, and guests are encouraged to download the Sunwing App, in advance, so they can communicate with a virtual concierge anytime, anywhere.

Drivers treat their vehicles like sanitized shrines – the seats in our electric-blue-lit van just felt clean.  

Decals were spotted on the vehicle windows, serving as a reminder for us to sanitize our hands (there’s a dispenser), practice social distancing (capacity is capped) and wear a mask. 

Health & safety symbols and clean seats with Sunwing Experiences/NexusTours. (Pax Global Media)

As Alejandro Vázquez, corporate director of guest experience at NexusTours told us, guests can look forward to a “frictionless travel experience under our wing.”

“Our hybrid service/assistance model will make their lives much easier and their vacation more enjoyable,” Vázquez said.

Alive & thumping

Ooncha-ooncha-ooncha. 

The lobby was alive and thumping with diva-vocal dance beats as we entered Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun, where we were met by well-groomed bell men, vested butlers and a tropical shirt-wearing greeter named Alejandro, who offered up a rose-pink, Frangelico-spiked cocktail with marshmallow garnish.

Staff greet guests at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

Off to the side, there was a blonde-haired DJ wearing a candy-red pilot hat with gold trim, bopping along to the music while pointing her finger to the ceiling, which signalled one message: THERE’S A PARTY HAPPENING AND YOU’RE INVITED. 

The lobby at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun, with its angular, cobalt-blue, gold, grey and silver furnishings, at first, feels like walking into an oceanfront nightclub from the future.

But it doesn’t take long to realize you’re simply in a cool place – no, a chic place – with likeminded adults (couples and friend groups, mostly) who just wanna let their hair down and relish the task of enjoying some fun in the sun.

“The pandemic has impacted everybody. People want to live more and enjoy the moment,” as Duenas put it.   

These suites are chic 

Those enjoyable moments add up quickly.

Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun has the tools one might (and should) expect from an all-inclusive luxury hotel, such as unlimited reservation-free dining, rain showers, fast and reliable Wi-Fi, 24-hour room service, a super-soft beach and Insta-worthy views of the ocean – 50 shades of Caribbean blue, in this case.

Suites with Insta-worthy views at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

The 457 suites are, yes, chic: in the tower, accommodations start at Level 4, which means the views are high up and either face the lagoon to the west (where the sun sets) or the ocean to the east.

There are four categories – Luxury Junior Suite, Luxury Suite, Luxury Presidential Suite and Luxury Chairman’s Suite – and all of them come with different services.

“We call them suites because they’re big enough,” Duenas said. “Even the most basic room looks like a suite.”

Lots of space at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Supplied)

The suites are big, bold and full of glam-ooor, but sometimes it’s the simple details that stand out the most – a bedside button that cuts the power to all the lights (so you don’t have to search around for light switches at bedtime) is a genius-level feature that frequent vacationers will appreciate.

Rooftop glamour 

Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun is a destination in and of itself thanks to some star-quality, stand-out amenities.

For starters, there’s the “Level 18 Rooftop Cabana Lounge” – a glamourous space that has a sparkling pool (stretching the length of the roof), cabanas with private pools, an à la carte restaurant and 360-degree views of the Caribbean Sea on one side and Nichupte Lagoon on the other

he Level 18 Rooftop Cabana Lounge. (Pax Global Media)

This sky-high area, with bodies of water to the left and right, feels like the top deck of a cruise ship from some angles, making it strikingly unique.

It’s also open to locals and other travellers – you don’t necessarily have to be a hotel guest to visit.

Soaring views at Level 18 Rooftop Cabana Lounge. (Pax Global Media)

There’s a window-wrapped lift – reminiscent of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – that connects the roof and lower floors, offering panoramic views of the lagoon and greater Cancun (hot tip: ride this elevator at sunset for full dramatic effect).

More, more, more

In the world of “revenge travel” – the idea that people are taking “revenge” on their inability to travel during the pandemic and spending more on upgrades – Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun is positioned well.

The “Diamond Club” is an upgrade that adds premium services, such as preferred room locations, private pool/beach areas, personalized check-in/check-out, access to a member lounge, one hour of hydrotherapy per day (based on availability), and other perks, like premium drinks and pillow menus.

A private pool for Diamond Club guests, photographed at sunrise. (Pax Global Media)

Diamond Clubbers, for instance, receive all-inclusive domestic bar access on that gorgeous rooftop (whereas non-premium guests, on the roof, have to pay for drinks).

Personal butlers also come with the package – a service you may not think you’ll need at first until you forget your phone in your suite once you’ve nestled into your chair on the beach and your butler, available via WhatsApp, offers to kindly get it for you.

The butlers, in an authentic way, take care dinner reservations and any other last-minute needs that may come up during your stay.  

Diamond Club guests are also invited to a private buffet gala dinner on the rooftop every Wednesday.

After a rough year, more guests are buying into this YOLO upgrade – or “any other upgrade we have,” Duenas said, from treatments at The Royal Spa to excursions.

“We’re seeing more guests buy premium liquor, romantic dinners on the beach…paying more for room upgrades,” he said. “They want to enjoy more. That’s the trend.”

Personal butlers are available to Diamond Club guests. (Pax Global Media)

The must-do Chef's Table  

Diamond Club or not, if your clients want to spoil themselves, point them to the C/X Culinary Experience | Chef’s Table – a deliciously-creative private dinner affair led by an artisan chef who, in an open kitchen, prepares seven courses that are unveiled one at a time with ceremonial presentations.

Each dish – from candied yam and tempura to tuna and black annatto to duck to filet mignon, to name a few – comes with paired wines and cocktails (prepared in front of you) and the atmospheric room, where it all unfolds, evokes feelings of flying through outer space.

This costs an additional $80 USD per person, but it’s worth every bite.

Here’s a video we filmed from our experience, just to give you a taste:

Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun is just as much a culinary destination as it is a party place.  

The included restaurants are buzzworthy, from the sprawling buffet (Gourmet Marche) to Hunter Steakhouse to Jade (Asian) to Grazie Italian Trattoria to Agave (authentic Mexican), to Score (sports bar and grill) to the rooftop eatery (international).

Authentic Mexican cuisine at Agave. (Pax Global Media)

In fact, from Sept 19-26, Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun will host its first annual Food + Drink Experience, which will see 16 internationally-renowned chefs lead a culinary festival showcasing cuisine and mixology demonstrations, barbecues, chef pairing dinners and after-hours parties.

“It pays to have protocols in place”

As PAX previously reported, the tone at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun (and most hotels these days) is less tense compared to eight months ago when venues were operating in the shadow of a virus that, at the time, had no vaccine.

The select American guests PAX spoke to all claimed to have had their full series of COVID shots months ago.

The outcome is a community of confident travellers who are moving on with vacations and, cautiously, doing what they have to do to protect themselves and others.

The Royal Spa at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

Sure, not everyone wore their mask at all times, but watching these scenarios play out like a fly on the wall, staff would routinely approach maskless guests (especially in food areas) and remind them to cover up – without argument.

Combined with Safe With Sunwing, there’s Royalton’s program, called Safety-Assured Vacations, which works with Cristal International Standards, a third-party auditor that’s paid to review the hotel’s COVID protocols each month.

The protocols are all there at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun (mandatory mask wearing indoors, temperature checks, routine hand sanitizing, spaced-out seating...etc) and it serves the hotel to enforce the rules.

Health and safety awareness and temperature checks at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

Not only because protocols keep guests safe, but also because the government allows hotels to operate at 20 per cent more capacity for passing audits. 

Mexico's COVID-19 Traffic Light Monitoring System, which is based on local case counts, is still at orange and caps hotel occupancies at 60 per cent. 

But Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun, for having passed its audit twice now, is allowed to book 20 per cent more, if needed. At least until the end of summer when the next audit takes place.

Beachside at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun. (Pax Global Media)

“It pays to have protocols in place. There’s an incentive to enforce them,” Duenas said, noting how all staff now participate in six hours of COVID training each month.

For pre-departure testing, the hotel provides on-site antigen tests (mostly geared towards Americans) and PCR options (for Canadians), the latter of which can run anywhere between $30 to $60 USD (prices can vary). 

One protocol that has noticeably been reversed is the elimination of serving utensils at the buffet.

Barriers separate cooks from guests at the buffet. (Pax Global Media)

Last year, hotels turned to serving customers one by one at buffets by placing staff at stations to eliminate the frequent touching of tongs and ladles.

But buffet-goers at Royalton CHIC Suites Cancun are back to (mostly) serving themselves due to an understanding that everyone sanitizes their hands upon entering the restaurant and wears a mask when walking around.

“Our audit has approved for us to do that,” Duenas noted.

People are booking last minute 

The hotel, at the time of our visit, was sitting just below 60 per cent occupancy, which gave people more than enough space to spread out and stick to their social bubbles. 

But bookings, this summer, are still coming in strong – even if “travel habits have changed,” Duenas explained.

The resort's fitness facility faces the ocean. (Pax Global Media)

“We have more short-term vacations – three nights is the average stay,” he said. “In the past, it was six to eight days.”

Guests are also now booking two, three weeks out, Duenas noted. 

“We have very last-minute vacations,” he said.

“We miss Canadians"

While the local COVID situation isn’t perfect, Cancun is making progress as the eligibility for vaccines recently opened up to more people.

And hoteliers are optimistic this summer as the U.S./local markets begin to hit targets that match pre-pandemic levels, Duenas explained.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

All that’s missing are travellers from Canada – an important market that Duenas hopes to see again, soon, as air lift resumes.

“We miss Canadians,” he said. "We hope they start travelling again soon.”


Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!  Click here to follow PAX on Facebook. 

Indicator...