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On the Scene: Marriott CRN's Cancun Resorts Are Enticing

Maya flavors emerged on various levels when Meetings Today recently experienced the JW Marriott Cancun along with its connected partner property, the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort. Both properties are part of Marriott’s 100-strong Convention & Resort Network (CRN), the brand’s collection of its largest convention and resort hotels.

Somewhere between underground lagoons, Yucatan grouper fish and multiple price points, a bilingual wealth of ideas for groups emerged from every corner of both properties. A sensory overload of breakout spaces evoked the spirit of the landscape, both on-site and down the highway.

On the premises, massive spaces can accommodate just about any wild idea. It’s up to the planner.

“The only thing we can’t do in here is fireworks and water,” said Andrea Rivas, a destination sales executive, of the indoor spaces while showing us around both resorts.

Outside, though, many schemes seemed fair game. For example, not to brag, but it didn’t take much for us to win the guacamole contest. If groups booking at either property need a teambuilding exercise or extracurricular activity, they won’t get the same old cooking classes that countless other destinations provide. In the JW Marriott’s case, teams are given all the ingredients they’d possibly need to make guacamole at cooking stations outside on the grass. Contestants then improvise their own recipe on the fly to see whose guacamole is the best.

Executive Chef Israel Cetina and his staff judge the results. In my group’s case, we slaughtered the competition by keeping it simple: coriander, red onions, tomatoes, not too much salt and lots of habaneros. All of which made the judges quite happy.

Speaking of Cetina, he then took us over to an underutilized outdoor space between the two properties and pointed to a private herb garden he uses for dishes and drinks. Instead of a boring old cocktail reception, groups navigate the garden, pluck their own herbs and hand them to a server, who then adds fruit, liquor and whatever else the client desires in a drink.

Wendi Romero, director of event management, joined us for the interactive experience.

“Normally when you have cocktails, the agendas are the same,” Romero said. “So we want to try something different. We weren’t using this area before. We saw a lot of potential.”

More potential came in the form of ancient Maya spirituality. This was not the regular ethnic dance display in a ballroom during lunch—the kind of thing every seasoned conventioneer has seen a thousand times. Instead, dramatic Maya dancers took over the white sandy beach to perform fire rituals under the stars while food and drink stations encircled dining tables on the shore. The ritual was powerful yet serene. Earth, air, fire and water became inseparable from the group dinner experience.

With that small sampling of what the properties can offer on-site, we then hit the road for Tulum, where any group can tour the famous Maya ruins. They are a must on the Yucatan Peninsula, as are the cenotes, the various underground lagoons where groups can go swimming, snorkeling or partake in various recreational team-building activities.

Our frolic in the subterranean caverns and luminous azure-colored pools at Ecopark Kantun-Chi was an introduction to various group possibilities. Imagine branded events in the lagoons or scavenger hunts inside the caves, and we certainly could envision bonding with our fellow delegates while swimming in the underground streams.

Back at the CasaMagna, a fluently bilingual general manager, Chris Calabrese, held court at Sasi Thai Restaurant underneath thatched-roof canopies, and schooled us on the various awards won by the properties. The CasaMagna hires at-risk youth and brings them up through the system, and both Marriotts participate in programs to hire individuals that are hearing impaired.

Like their event options, the properties’ accolades go on and on. 

Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network

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Gary Singh

Gary Singh's byline has appeared more than 1,500 times, including on newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro Silicon Valley columns, "Silicon Alleys," was published in 2020. He still lives in San Jose.