As you know last month I was invited on my first ever press trip by Marriott. I visited their Paradise by Marriott resort in the Grand Cayman. I tend to be a budget traveler that generally likes to find small affordable quirky hotels or B&B’s to stay during my travels. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the idea of staying in an upscale place, being pampered by super soft, comfy bed linens and treated like a queen. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? I’d be crazy not to.
But, I am also someone who has worked very hard to gain my readers’ respect. I hope readers have come to trust and believe in me for my fair and honest opinions and reviews about all things that relate to travel. I feel like I owe those loyal readers some facts and opinions about the resort that was gracious enough to host me.
I had never stayed on a Marriott resort property, so the experience was a brand new one. It was, by all accounts, a very pleasant first (and hopefully not last) for me and I did enjoy my time at the resort. I tried to view my experience through my audience’s lens, even though I was being hosted. I wanted to be impartial while still enjoying the extra special touches I was afforded, like the lovely wine and cheese plate in my room which I made short work of on arrival and the spacious, picture perfect ocean view room that I called home for five days. There is no doubt that the resort itself is beautiful and the word paradise would indeed be an adjective I’d use to describe it.
While there, I chatted up both staff and guests, asked to see an assortment of different level rooms, tried some room service and had a spa massage just so I could get a good feel for what was on offer. Yeah, I know. Really tough work, but someone had to do.
Based on my experiences, I wanted to share a few of the things I feel Marriott Grand Cayman has going for it.
1. Location. The resort is only about a 10 minute drive from the airport. It’s centrally located within walking distance of some great restaurants, shopping and nightlife. The port of George Town is also an easy few minutes away by car or local taxi. And the resort itself is on the smaller side, with about 300 rooms.
2. Seven Mile Beach. The resort is centrally located on the most beautiful stretch of sandy white beach. And it’s literally seven miles long. They have plenty of lounge chairs, beach towels, lounge chair covers and cabana boys that will drill a hole in the sand and put your own personal umbrella in the sand for you. And since the beach is located on the west side of the island, you’ll enjoy the best sunsets money can buy.
3. The Man-Made Reef. Marriott was nice (read smart) enough to create a wonderful man-made reef in its section of ocean. You don’t even have to leave the resort to snorkel and see beautifully colored fish. A nice touch.
4. Hospitality. Really, this should be reason number one. Every staff member from the front desk, to the servers, to housekeeping was gracious and helpful. Many went out of their way to make my stay better. I really had fun chatting with them all. And I witnessed the same positive vibe while staff interacted with other guests. The warm, happy, friendly, smiling faces definitely set the right tone at the resort.
5. Services. There are no lack of services here. There is a spa, a gift shop, a concierge, a small gym and a different theme every night at the Solana restaurant. A few noteworthy things you may not find in the brochure- you can order lunch or drinks on the beach and eat without leaving your lounge chair. They keep both lemon and lime infused water in the lobby which you can help yourself to all day. And they supply cozy white waffle-weave robes in every room.
6. Every room has a private balcony. Well, patio on ground floors and balcony on all other floors . Yes, every room. Some rooms are ocean view. Some overlook the lovely and serene courtyard. Others overlook a nearby hotel. The patios on the ground floor have a less private spot than those with balconies, simply because you could walk right into your neighbor’s patio space. If that bothers you, spring for a room on any of the higher floors.
7. Eco-friendly-ish. I was happy to see signs prominently displayed in all of the rooms, giving those who are interested in helping the environment the option to forgo new towels everyday. Housekeeping also asked about changing my sheets, which they generally do every three days (better than daily), but I insisted that my sheets be left untouched, seeing as I was only there for five. Spirit to Preserve donation boxes were located in the resort lobby as well. Talks at dinner with the VP of Marketing and Sales Coordinator revealed Marriott’s committment to volunteering in the local community. But for the life of me I can’t understand how printing and distributing 300, three-page documents, containing news clips and restaurant theme announcements, to every guest on a nightly basis, would support their message of conservation. Wouldn’t one general announcement board in the lobby with the ability to make a photocopy for anyone who requested it be a far smarter and less wasteful option? Just a suggestion.
And speaking of suggestions, I was encouraged that the few I made to the team during dinner seemed to be received positively and taken seriously. I genuinely felt that they wanted to hear my opinions.
My biggest beef has nothing to do with the resort itself, which is fabulous, but with the high-speed Internet service for which Marriott charges $12 per day to use, though you would be hard pressed to find that detail anywhere on the website. I equate these charges with the airline’s checked-bag fees, which by now you should know I abhor. My personal opinion is that anyone paying serious money to stay at a Marriott Resort shouldn’t be nickle-and-dimed for Internet service. Free wi-fi should be included in the room price. I can find a cheap hostel in Europe that includes this feature. I seriously wish Marriott would reconsider their policy on this.
I realize that some hotel chains do this simply because they can. Business travelers and their companies will pay this fee, but that doesn’t make it right. Honestly, being the travel writer that I am, I need Internet service when I travel. I would never be able to pay this fee (and didn’t on this visit, as I was hosted). My options would be to look elsewhere for a resort that included free wi-fi or seek out a local Internet cafe. That being said, there are computers and printers available for use in the lobby for a few bucks if you only need to connect for something quick.
One other important thing I wanted to mention involves the blizzard which impeded my departure from the island. Because of Marriott’s generosity, I ended up being hosted in paradise for an extra day. My contacts at the resort and Diamond PR, were quick to offer a solution when they heard about the impending storm and my predicament. They insisted that I stay there, safe and sound, and depart a day later. For that I am eternally grateful and will only assume that they would have made that same accommodation for anyone faced with a similar situation, albeit at the traveler’s expense.
Now, I am certainly not saying that the resort is perfect or inexpensive by any means. Luxury comes at a price and perfection is overrated. In fact, one must consider before visiting that as of this writing, $1 Grand Cayman dollar is equal to $1.21 US dollar. To put it in perspective, that means that a $50 dinner in the Grand Cayman will cost you $61 USD. Also keep in mind that every service, meal, beverage and room charge at the resort will have an extra 15% gratuity added onto it.
And though the Marriott resort brand is aimed at the luxury travel market, those traveling on a budget shouldn’t rule out a stay immediately. There are always specials to be had if you do some homework. At the time I traveled, they were offering a fourth-night-free deal that might just put the room rate within your reach. Traveling in low-season, June through November, is another option to consider. But as with any deal, make sure you read the fine print and factor in the conversion rates, taxes, resort fees and tips.
*My stay at the Marriott Grand Cayman was part of a press trip hosted by Marriott Resorts and Diamond PR. The opinions expressed here are my own.
You can view more photos of my Grand Cayman trip and the Marriott Property on Flickr.