Hola all, wanted to add a quick trip report as I just got back this Saturday from 2 weeks of vacation. I am definitely an Isla fanatic and spend at least 2-3 weeks there a year on vacation, but decided to try Playa del Carmen as well this time due to all the beach erosion on Playa Norte and just felt like a change after spending 2 weeks on Isla last July. It is a 5+ hour flight from LAX and we sat on the tarmac 30 minutes before takeoff due to congestion in Cancun so did not arrive until around 5:45pm on Saturday 2/10 which was an hour late. Short delay through customs and only about a 15 minute wait for my bag. Outside the airport was a zoo as usual, but somehow in the dark I found my Cancun Valet driver waiting with my name on the sign. I cannot say enough about how good Cancun Valet's service is. I have used them probably the last 6 or so trips and they have never failed to come through (and the ice cold 6 pack of cerveza waiting was not bad either! 6 beers, 1 person, 20 minute ride to the ferry - Porque no (why not)! Got to Gran Puerto and had just missed the 6:30 ferry so had a couple of reposada shots at the bar and caught the 7pm. I usually get in during the day so missed seeing the water and Isla on the trip over. Walked up Calle Hidalgo and was greeted by several locals I consider friends and trudged through a flooded street to Plaza Almendros for my first stay there since Los Arcos was booked. I had I believe room #2 which was through the entry way to the right overlooking the pool on the ground floor. 2 beds (could have sworn I had a queen confirmed, but was too tired to deal with it). Nice spacious, clean room, decent beds, safe deposit box, tv, good air and fan and free internet. Staff was very nice. I think I paid $70/night. I stayed out late most nights, but did not think the noise from the bars was that bad with the air on and it certainly did not keep me from having a sound sleep. Poured down rain Saturday night so went with a local friend for my first trips to Casa Blanca and Bronco's. Quite an experience and as the only gringo at either was glad I am fluent in Spanish, but no issues and had a good time. Ended up hitting Club Nitrox and had an Ugly American encounter (if the "big time" investor punk kid from Indiana who recently bought a house down there reads this I will say you are an assclown). Totally rude and his treatment of the locals and aloof attitude was sickening. He was starting a fight with my friend and was lucky he backed off as it could have been a bad incident for him.
Anyway, enough of the bad news, onto FOOD: Mexican rotisserie on Hidalgo for the media pollo - ate there twice and excellent as always. Also had nachos at Jax once, lobster and pescado Veracruz at Picus, lasagna at Rolandis were all excellent. Did not get to make it to Alexia y Giovannis for the chuleta a yucateca somehow as I love that place. Weather was pretty iffy all the time I was there although did go to Buho's for happy hour Monday afternoon for a few drinks. More beach than I thought would be there, but still a far cry from what was there last July. All in all a very quick trip and took the ferry over to Gran Puerto Wednesday the 14th to head to Playa del Carmen and Cancun Valet was waiting 15 minutes early to drive me down.
Playa: First visit there and I will have to say I really enjoyed it. The colonias definitely showed the poverty and tough living conditions faced by the Playa inhabitants, but everyone was very friendly and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I stayed at Luna Blue hotel which is owned by a couple from San Francisco that bought it a year or so ago and I have nothing but great things to say about the place. I think I paid $70/night or so for a superior room which had a comfortable queen bed, fan, a/c, safety deposit box and a great deck (I was on the second floor). It also has a lot of vegetation throughout the hotel grounds and is close to the beach and the restaurants (www.lunablue.com). No TV or phone which was nice. I was about 3-4 blocks from the beach and you got free passes to Mamita's beach club by staying at Luna which would get you a lounger and umbrella for no charge as long as you bought your food and drink from them. The beach was really nice - wide with soft white sand and stretched several miles in both directions. Actually had some waves for body surfing and a good bit deeper than Playa Norte. Weather remained so-so the first 10 days of the trip and on Sunday evening of the 17th it dropped to 60 degrees and with the wind was probably the coldest its been since I have been going to Mexico years ago. 5th street is the main drag there and stretches for probably a mile or two and has lots of restaurants and bars. Their specialty there is arrachera which is grilled flank steak and boy is it fantastic. I ate at a lot of different places including La Quinta Passion (4-5 times for the arrachera tampiquena which was awesome), Pizza Renza which had pizza by the slice for about $1.20, Restaurante La Deliciosa - excellent pescado Veracruz, Mamita's beach club had good chicken nachos, burgers, club sandwiches and arrachera quesadillas, Restaurante Cazuelas which had the menu del dia and had awesome paella. The people from the www.playainfo.com had their annual PeepFest get together and I met a bunch of people from the board who had been so helpful answering my questions about Playa prior to my trip and it seemed like seeing 60-80 old friends. They had beer bashes at local spots like Posada Freud and the Beer Bucket, a pub crawl one night, and a blender and burger bash at Luna Blue with blender stations serving up pina coladas, margaritas, etc with grilled burgers and live music which was a lot of fun. Had recommendations that the food at HC Monterrey and Chicago Don Jose were excellent, but did not have a chance to make it to them so will do that next time. Left Saturday the 24th and Cancun Valet was actually about 40 minutes late due to traffic coming down from Cancun, but I had the front desk guy at the Luna Blue call and found out they were on their way. This is the only time in the now 8-9 trips I have taken with Cancun Valet they have ever been late and Vic was right on top of things getting updates from the driver so I was not panicked. The driver sped me to the airport and did not have any worries although standing in an hour long ticketing line at United with a bunch of screaming kids was a rude re-entry back into reality. Paid the $49 to upgrade to an emergency aisle seat (nice scam you have going there United), but at 6'2" tall it was well worth it on the 5 1/2 hour flight. Landed in LAX at 9:25pm and customs was deserted and was actually home in the South Bay by 10pm which was amazing. All in all, I really enjoyed Playa and think I will be back there next time (probably July) as there are still a lot of things to see and do there. It is much more commercialized than Isla and they actually have a Burger King, Senor Frogs, and Carlos n Charlie's so for all you perpetual whiners posting about the change on Isla and how tragic it is you would probably hate it, but for people that want a little bit more night life and options (close to Xel Ha, Akumal, Chetumal, cenotes, etc) it was fantastic. Steer clear of the main drag and there were many excellent local restaurants and I found overall that the prices were similar for beer, food, hotels, drinks, etc as Isla. Finally had 4-5 good days before heading home with mid 80s and sunny which was nice. Had friends from Minnesota down that stayed at Luna Blue 2 nights and then 7 nights at Royal Porto Real all inclusive (now called Royal Playa del Carmen I believe) and they had very good things to say about it for all of those into AIs and I can attest to the fact that the grounds/pool/proximity to the beach were great. Hope you enjoyed the report and if anyone has any questions feel free to email me.
PS To the Canadian couple I had corresponded with regarding meeting at Buho's - I thought we were meeting Monday afternoon and found out later I had written down on a piece of paper we were meeting Tuesday so sorry I missed you guys. Hope you had a great trip to Isla.