January 1, 2016
After an uneventful New Year’s Eve of packing and falling to sleep by 10:30 pm, we woke up at 5:00 in the morning to catch the 6:30 Airport Express at the Petaluma Fairgrounds. A thick frost covered our front yard in 24 degree Petaluma weather, making the wood and slate steps down to the sidewalk slippery. Our friendly taxi driver to the fairgrounds received a call from a still-drunk partier looking for a ride home…apparently the New Years parties were a success! But alas, not for us.
There was almost no traffic on the way to the airport, which got us there impressively early. United Airlines has a fabulously efficient new check-in system where you not only print your own boarding passes and scan your own passport, but tag your own luggage as well. Our TSA Pre-Check status got us through security in record time, and we had almost 2 hours to kill before boarding. Fortunately, for the first time in my travel experience, I was able to take advantage of the United Club Lounge, which was quite a way to start the new year. Though I have been a member for years through my United Mileage Plus credit card, I have never been into a United Club Lounge because 1) You also need to have a valid boarding pass for a United flight that same day, and I usually fly Southwest or Virgin. 2) They mail you passes for the Lounge months and months before they are valid, so I either forget to bring them or have ones that are not able to be used. 3) The only times I have flown United and remembered the correct passes, I haven’t had enough time between check in and boarding to actually go to the Lounge. And we almost missed our opportunity yet again because our current passes aren’t active until August 2016 (what?! Why even bother giving us those 8 months early?!), but Todd found some active ones in his passport cover from a previous trip. YES!!
The United Lounge is such an experience. It is HUGE; WAY bigger than I expected. You have to check in at a receptionist desk, who scans your Club Pass and your boarding pass. Then you enter the front room, which has glamorous light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, and rows and rows of those fancy leather waiting chairs in a light tan color that makes them all look really clean and expensive. They are like big arm chairs, each equipped with electrical outlets to charge your electronics, and a small table between the two for drinks. The edges of the front room are lined with booth/table seating, much like the edges of the restaurant, and then a long, sleek bar is up against the window with the usual panoramic view of planes coming in and out. (I begrudgingly declined a mimosa…after all, it was only 7:30am.) Flight status screens are also in this front room so you can keep track of updates on your departure.
The space connecting the front room with the bar and the back room contains various restaurant-style freestanding tables/chairs, and the hallway to very private and spectacularly clean bathrooms. These are the kind of bathrooms with paper towels neatly stacked between the marble sinks and not a scrap of toilet paper on the ground. The back room of the lounge contains the buffet…free food and beverages!! All you can eat breakfast! Cereal and oatmeal with all the fixings, fresh fruit, croissants and pound cake, a cappuccino machine. I was in heaven!
Todd enjoying the breakfast buffet
After attacking the buffet like ravenous animals, we headed off to board our flight direct to Cancun.
The flight itself was unremarkable…nothing particularly memorable happened at all. Upon arrival in Cancun, we went through the normal process of Passport Check and Customs, which involved waiting in long lines and not much else. Then we burst forth into a humid and sweaty climate, clad in sweatpants and Ugg boots (horrible combination for the weather) to jump on board a shuttle to pick up our Hertz rent-a-car. The rental process was long itself, consisting of tons of paperwork and issues because the car was rented under Todd’s name but we used my credit card to pay for it, since Todd didn’t have his with him. You’d be amazed at how much trouble that caused. And then to get directions, we had to hear a whole spiel from a guy who was trying to give us a Hertz discount to go visit his hotel for lunch and maybe stay there next time we visit (we politely declined, but had to talk to him for far too long). Blah. Eventually, we were connected with Matt, our tiny and super pathetic red Matiz with no power steering and manual locks on every door.
Say hi to Matt
Armed with minimal knowledge of how to get to Puerto Morelos, and no descriptive map or GPS system, we headed out onto the Mexican highway for a dark and confusing commute to our hotel. By this time it was pretty late…after 8:00 pm or so, and we had been traveling all day, taking into consideration the 3 hour time change. A couple points about driving in Mexico: There are a MILLION signs on the road, and they are not at all clear. They use a variety of different fonts so they are all inconsistent, and the spacing and size varies which makes them hard to read. Plus the arrows are often misleading, and there are dozens and dozens of signs the entire way, so it’s overwhelming. Also, the speed limit changes frequently on the same road. On one particular stretch of road it changed from 80 km/hour to 60 and back again within about a quarter mile. What was the point there?! Also, the lines for the lanes are sometimes not marked at all, so chaos ensues. And then they have these police station/checkpoint buildings in the middle of the road from time to time and people slow WAY down. Very different experience there.
Anyway, back to our journey. So we eventually find the exit that gets us to Puerto Morelos, and through a vague memory of looking at Google Maps and Google Earth when researching our trip months ago, I was able to more or less guide us to the right area. We found our hotel, Hacienda Morelos, right on the beach, but it is certainly no 5-star, all-inclusive resort. The hotel itself is clean, but simple and old-fashioned. We were grateful for the small but convenient parking lot (many places don’t have these), and the lobby was open to the warm Caribbean night. The lobby itself contains wooden benches with decorative leather seats, and bookshelves lined with tourism pamphlets and old books for guests to borrow. An ornate wooden reception desk lines one wall, and the room opens up into a sitting area with couches, where you will usually find some tourists checking their emails and social media, since the lobby is the only place in the hotel that gets wifi. Suits of armor stand guard, and the lobby opens up into the restaurant, which we can never figure out when it is open. The restaurant has seating indoors and out on the patio, which is large and has plenty of tables, lounge chairs, hammocks, a small pool, and sits right on the beach, with our own private roped-off area leading up to the water.
View of the Hacienda from the beach, and the lobby
We checked in, where they handed us a room key (not a card…an actual key), and a manila envelope with a variety of remotes in it for the tv, air conditioning, etc. (interesting technique), and hauled our luggage from Matt up to our room on the third floor. Our room itself was very simple: 2 beds (pretty uncomfortable, actually), a sort of table/desk with one drawer, a luggage rack, a chair in the corner, and a wardrobe that is half closet, half shelves. There was a tv that played quite a few Indiana Jones movies and Friends reruns in English, but no phone. There were mosquito nets over the beds (only necessary if you sleep with the door or window open, which we didn’t), and a door to our own balcony, which had a great view of the ocean, but was also so tiny it could barely fit two chairs, and you certainly couldn’t sit facing forward in the chairs…no room! The bathroom was clean, but constantly damp.
View from our balcony
After depositing our luggage, since our own hotel’s restaurant is constantly closed, we walked down the street to find a restaurant just a few doors down open to get some dinner. This restaurant has open-air seating under a palapa (the straw roof, no walls) right on the beach, and we ordered beef fajitas and margaritas for dinner. Food quality was so-so, but much appreciated after the day of traveling.