Grand Velas Riviera Maya and the Long Flight Home (Trip Report)

Yesterday I talked about my rough experience getting to Cancun. Fortunately that was the low point of the trip. My stay at the Grand Velas was outstanding. (Disclosure: I paid for flights, but the hotel room was comped, and while I was under no obligation to even mention the place in any way, I wanted to after staying there) The rooms are gigantic with none under 1,000 square feet. I mean, this bathroom is bigger than the entire apartment of pretty much any 20-something year old in New York.

My room was right on the water in the “Grand Class” section, and I had this view.

The high winds did put a damper on things a bit, but I wasn’t outside much anyway. I spent a lot of my time on the inside of a conference room which seems tragic. I was supposed to give a talk about air travel with Gary Leff from View from the Wing, but unfortunately he was sick, so I had to go it alone.

I did sneak out for some really good food and a “water journey” in the spa. I’m not a big fan of massages, but the water journey was amazing with a sauna, an ice room, a steam room, a clay room, a few pools, a whirlpool, and an icy plunge pool to round out the 80 minute experience.

My muscles felt surprisingly relaxed.

In all, it was fantastic to get to spend time with this group that I’ve enjoyed being a part of for 5 years now in one form or another. I can’t say enough about how good these people are at planning experiences, and I always love talking to them. Now, let’s get back to flights.

I had an 8:45am flight on Sunday, and the pickup was arranged for 5:30am. Ouch. The ride to the airport was just over half an hour in the dark, and when we pulled up, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very modern-looking Terminal 2. Southwest looks to be the lone US airline that flies from the clearly renovated Terminal 2 with the rest in the new Terminal 3. I went in and got my boarding pass (which, strangely, had Pre Check printed on it) from the ticket counter. Then I sailed through immigration/security and found myself with far too much time on my hands.

Cancun Airport, at least Terminal 2, looks like it was designed by the brains behind Heathrow. You want to go to the domestic gates? You have to walk through a very smelly perfume (and other stuff) boutique.

You want to go to the international gates? Go upstairs, walk through a giant duty free shop, and then you’ll get to the rotunda. The rotunda was nice with bright lighting, a ton of food options, and plenty of seating.

After flipping through my phone a bit, I paid MX$500 for a one hour wifi pass so I could do a little work. That helped pass the time, and after a quick bathroom stop, we were boarding early, just after 8am.

Southwest doesn’t have its usual boarding facilities in Cancun. When I walked up, all I could see was a sign saying A16-30. But there’s no way to line up in order, so it has some of the old Southwest-style scrum action going on. It’s not good, and people were hovering in the area to try to get a jump on others when the next group was called.

January 15, 2017
Southwest 321 Lv Cancun 845a Arr Los Angeles 1120a
Cancun (CUN): Gate A6, Runway 12R, Depart 48m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 24, Runway 25L, Arrive 35m Late
N7747C, Boeing 737-7BD, Canyon Blue Colors, ~99% Full
Seat 5F, Coach
Flight Time 4h57m

Since I had A27, I was on early and grabbed seat 5F. At departure time, the door was open and there was no sign of us moving. The captain came out into the cabin and announced that the flight plan had the wrong tail number on it. We couldn’t go until that was fixed. He hoped it would only be 10 to 15 minutes and we’d make it up in the air with weak headwinds. Uh huh.

It was over 45 minutes later that we finally pushed back. This is an airplane that spent the night in Cancun. How does this happen, Southwest?

Once we pushed back, we taxied by some long-parked airplanes. Aviacsa went under in 2010, but these two airplanes (the first former Piedmont, the second former Air New Zealand) have been parked since 2010. That Aeronaves TSM airplane is a mystery to me. It has 20 year anniversary titles, and that would have been in 2015. Could it still be flying?

Once airborne, we got above those low tropical clouds that make you know when you’re in paradise quickly. We headed straight west over the Yucatan and I drifted in and out of sleep. Around Merida, we turned north and headed toward Brownsville, TX. Then we followed the US border pretty much the entire way home.

We had a light chop for much of the flight, but kudos to the pilots for not turning on the seatbelt sign until it got rougher. Strangely, the pilots had the flight attendants sit down almost every time the sign went on. They were sitting down for probably an hour of the flight overall, and it never got all that bumpy.

I didn’t even bother trying with the internet. I did watch TV once we got over the US until we were just inside the California border when, as on the way out, it inexplicably stopped working. There wasn’t much on so I just watched a ton of NFL pregame coverage. (If only they didn’t have to move the KC-Pittsburgh game time due to bad weather…)

This time, there was no lav drama. I stood in line and nobody said a word. It was a much more pleasant flight (except for the chop), but I think Southwest has a real problem only having two lavs on its 737-700s. On long haul, it just doesn’t work well.

Having slept through the first drink service, I only had one cup of water and a bag of peanuts on the whole flight.

We surprisingly landed on the south runways at LAX and then had to taxi back to the north side. It was busy, and we had to stop multiple times to get traffic out of the way. It took 20 minutes to get to our gate.

Since this was an international flight, we had to park at Terminal 2. We were at the gate at 11:55am. Incredibly, I was off the plane, through immigration, and past customs standing on the curb at 12:03pm. Thank you, Global Entry. I love you so, so much. Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same for this Southwest experience.

If you missed it, here’s the trip report for my flight out to Cancun.

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27 Comments on "Grand Velas Riviera Maya and the Long Flight Home (Trip Report)"

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7 minutes to get from the gate to the curb via immigration and customs? That has to be a record. I thought I was lucky when I arrived at LAX on a QF flight and it took me around 15-20 minutes. Man, LAX has stepped up their game….


I am impressed at just being able to get from gate to curb in 8 minutes at an airport the size of LAX, even without Customs and Immigration. The best mid-sized or larger airport for that for me is TPA, which usually runs me about 12 minutes from wheels on the runway to feet on the curb.


US$23 for an hour of Wi-Fi? Ouch!


I was thinking the same thing; imagine if the exchange rate was what was it was from 6 months ago. It’d be even worse.

Eric in ICT

Thanks for another great trip report, Brett! These are still my favorite type of post to read. Is WN having widespread on-time performance problems that you know of? In my limited experience and observations recently, they seem to be having trouble leaving on time, even in good weather. I know you wrote something about their issues at LAX, but I had a similar experience a couple of weeks ago in Vegas and have seen the same here in ICT. Seems strange to me.

Bick Rowen


Great review and thank you for disclosing your comp… you deserve it.

Trump Press Secretary mentioned allowing bloggers into White House press core. Maybe you’ll qualify for this access? :-)


Overall, it dosnt sound that bad? 45 minutes late sucks, but thats not unique to Soutwest. On UA ORD-DSM ispend 1:10 on the plane at the gate and :45 in the air.

David Morrill

Cancun’s Terminal 3 has the exact same layout where you have to walk through duty free to get to the gate area.


Agree with you regarding two lavs on the -700s. It’s just not enough. One person needs to take a few minutes in there (it happens) and the line gets long fast.

Tim Dunn
Global Entry is the best.thing.ever for international arrivals. I am always out of the international arrivals area in less than 10 minutes unless I check luggage – which is rare. Since you are clearly a fan of window seats, can you start a campaign to require that anyone that sits at a window seat keep it open until at least 5 minutes after takeoff and raise it at least 15 minutes before landing or when cleared to land? I never cease to be amazed at the people who have no interest in seeing the earth from a perspective that humans… Read more »
David M

Some flight attendants will ask for window shades to be open for takeoff and landing. There’s a few safety reasons why they do this, including better visibility to what’s gong on outside the aircraft and so that passenger’s eyes are adjusted to the outside light levels. It’s definitely not always done; it might be just in some airline policies or required by some other countries aviation regulators.

Tim Dunn

Yes, and I love those airlines…. But I don’t think many US airlines do it outside of the regional carrier industry. And it is a sensitive enough topic that flight attendants shouldn’t be making up their own policies – as we found out about lav usage just a day or two ago.

Alex Hill

Why the surprise about precheck being printed on your boarding pass? It’s always been on my boarding passes for airlines that participate in pre check whether or not the flight originates in the US (or in an airport with Precheck).

I much prefer that the err on the side of printing precheck when it does no good than not printing it when it might do good!

Nice shot of those Aviacsa birds! I flew one of their 737 classics from Tijuana to Acapulco for Spring Break. The fare was dirt cheap, and it was a unique experience. It was a thrilling (scary?) approach to ACA. Too bad about the rapid decline of that entire area due to the gang wars. I doubt I’ll ever return. Another unique experience was the return leg. Upon landing and deplaning in TIJ, my friend and I were approached by a Mexican law enforcement official and asked to present our passports. It was not an international flight, and no one else… Read more »

Hey I read your post and I’m trying to understand what exactly is it that you didn’t like from Southwest.