Cancun Gets Ritzy

A new Ritz-Carlton Cancun emerges after Wilma

By: Maribeth Mellin

Boogie boarders zoomed atop waves beside the new sands of Cancun. Waiters delivered pina coladas and grilled lemon shrimp skewers to sea worshippers lounging beneath blue awnings. Before I even slipped out of my sandals, a Ritz-Carlton attendant appeared with gigantic white towels and led me to a private palapa. Within seconds, I was part of the beach scene at the new Cancun.

A year ago there wasn’t a grain of sand in front of the Ritz-Carlton or any other hotel on Cancun’s seven-mile beach facing the open sea. After Hurricane Wilma thrashed the hotel zone in October 2005, the Mexican government hired a Belgian company to dredge sand from the sea bottom and blast it against boulders and walls. The new beach is wider than before, though the sand isn’t quite as soft and white. But the water is gradually clearing to its classic shade of aquamarine.

I was visiting Cancun for the reopening of the elegant, Five-Diamond Ritz-Carlton, a hotel I always considered way too fancy for the beach. I was wrong. The Ritz adds a level of luxury that ups the bar for every other high-end hotel in Cancun. I got the message while sipping the best margarita I’ve ever tasted during a cooking class in the new Culinary Center. My appreciation for the finer side of vacationing blossomed over a dinner of filet mignon, foie gras and almond souffle at the Club Grill, long considered Cancun’s finest gourmet restaurant. The formal wine-tasting session with boutique Mexican wines wore down my resistance completely. Indulgence is fun and utterly appropriate in the new Cancun.

It took nearly a year for the Ritz-Carlton to open after Wilma. According to general manager Luis Marco, 90 days passed before the building dried out enough to even begin reconstruction.

“We wanted a healthy building, not a sick building with dampness,” Marco said. “It had to be done as a Ritz-Carlton should be done.”

The final 365-room hotel is much like the original. Your clients will be pleased to see the crystal chandeliers, plush carpets, lavish floral arrangements and formal furnishings Ritz-Carlton loyalists appreciate. Marble gleams throughout the lobby and guest bathrooms, and thoughtful touches like a neck pillow in the deep tub and fresh roses on the nightstand reflect a high standard of service. The beds, by the way, are sublime. The Kayanta Spa is so popular your clients should reserve their treatments in advance. They can also enjoy steam rooms and saunas at the outstanding fitness center, where attendants instinctively know when exercisers need more water or a cool towel.

Along with all new furnishings and art (including an impressive array of outdoor sculptures) the Ritz added 16 open-air casitas on the beach beside wood-slat walkways. Beachgoers lounge on the casitas’ white beds during the day, protected from the sun’s rays by gauze curtains. At night, tables replace the beds and candles and flickering torches add all the right touches for romantic dinners on the sand. Be sure your clients dine at least once on the beach during their stay. Even families find the experience utterly awesome.

But the piece de resistance of the new Ritz-Carlton Cancun is the Culinary Center.

“This kitchen is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” chef de cuisine Rory Dunaway said at the beginning of his Real Mexican cooking class.

The Viking Range Corporation partnered with Ritz-Carlton in creating the oceanview center, which is equipped with everything from a multi-temperature wine cellar to ranges that use magnets to create heat. Even the high-torque blender was impressive, especially when churning Dunaway’s secret margarita recipe.

Our class of four whipped up fabulous ceviche, huachinango veracruzano and lime flan. (Who knew flan contains a cup of heavy cream?) Our teacher was like a kid, encouraging us to play with our food, have fun with our knives and experiment.

“It’s your food,” he declared. “Do what you want with it.”

We toured the herb garden sipping wine as the kitchen “valets” cleaned our prep stations and set out plates and crystal. The aromas of tomatoes, olives, capers and oregano wafted from our fish, and the upended flan landed perfectly at the center of our roasted pineapple slices. The meal was divine. The students beamed with enthusiasm. In fact, the valets had to practically push us out so they could set up the next class.

Dunaway’s playful attitude stayed with me long after our class. In fact, his influence was so strong I ignored my to-do list and spent an hour catching waves at the beach.


Ritz-Carlton Cancun

Commission: 10 percent

The Ritz-Carlton’s $50,000 Culinary Center is the first of its kind in Cancun. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a kitchen like this at any hotel. Classes include Spa Cuisine and the complete menu for a Tuscan dinner party. Wine and tequila tastings are also held in the Culinary Center, where the wine cellars are stocked with superb vintages and guests sip from Reidel glasses. The two-hour classes cost $95 per person; wine tastings cost $55.

The beachfront casitas are available for private dining for $85 for a party of up to six persons.