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Holiday Inn Cancun Arenas

The hotel is very clean and bright, in a great location at the north end of the hotel strip (quieter beach and less of the 'party' scene). Also, it's located in a bay more protected from ocean currents than the hotels further south, which made it excellent for swimming with our 8-year old daughter. The sand is white and super fine; it's the quintessential idyllic view out past the palm palapas to the aqua green water. The swimming area is fairly shallow, it never gets over your head. (Being a sandy beach it's not that interesting for snorkeling, but we highly recommend taking the ferry across to Isla Mujeres and snorkeling at Garrafon de Castilla (50 pesos beach access fee) where you're immediately surrounded by colourful fish).

Our room was immaculate and stayed that way all week thanks to Graciera's daily visit -- nice bathroom, huge shower room, lovely firm beds, and a balcony looking over the bay. Everything set up easily: in-room safe for our valuables, and wireless internet. I definitely recommend using Skype to call home over the internet; super easy and all free (calling out from Mexico on land lines is notoriously expensive).

The buffet meals at Arenas are extensive and varied. Being vegetarian we were pleasantly surprised to find at least a few dishes each meal without meat, and beautifully prepared: For Breakfast: lots of cereals, granola, yogurts (tons more traditional fare for omnivores) and for Lunch and Supper, Grilled poblano peppers in a cream sauce with onions, on rice; Cheese quesadillas; fresh and delightfully crunchy jicama salad; butter beans with red peppers; pasta with a white wine and cheese sauce; and more. The two reservation-only supper restaurants (Dilletto's and Mexican Grill) are more upscale and the meals are beautifully presented. We enjoyed the vegetarian fajitas (fresh tortillas steaming hot, with build-your-own fajitas filled with grilled vegetables (carrots, zucchini, onions) and lots of sauces depending on how much heat you like); and bean burritos at the Mexican Grill, and another marinated salad that looked like green beans but were actually strips of cactus, flavourful and lovely. We always received friendly attentive service from Benjamin, Alfonso, and the other gentlemen who were very patient letting me work on my infantile Spanish! All the staff were super friendly: Felipe, the lobby bartender, Luis at the Poolside Snack Bar; Omar and Jose on Beachside and Evening Entertainment.

Our daughter loved the two pools. We found them too cold to go in but it never stopped the few children who were in them all day long. There are two pools to choose from: one courtyard has a smaller pool no more than 5 feet deep; and the larger courtyard has a longer pool with a substantial deep end.

We enjoyed the fact that the hotel was smaller than the monstrosities further south, and that instead of catering to American tourists there was a distinct international flavour including Central American, European, Canadian and Japanese guests. The beach was also quieter than further south; we would often stroll down the shoreline before dinner and were often the only ones out walking.

So we highly recommend this hotel, bearing in mind that for a smaller hotel the value for money is still excellent and many, like us, will actually appreciate the personal service compared to being lost and anonymous in a 20-story hotel further down the strip. We went on an all-inclusive package which was exceptional value; still, bring plenty of smaller denomination bills for tipping these wonderful people who go out of their way to make your stay so memorable.

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