Holidays and Other Excursions

Category: Mexico

It all went technical!

Sunday 15 / Monday 16 / Tuesday 17 January 2017

The holiday may not have been a huge success – but we had come, we had seen and now we wanted to go home please.

Off to the airport, we all get checked in (and that is a lot of people on a Thomson Dreamliner), go through security and join the many other people waiting for flights somewhere in the terminal.  Except in our area people go through gates and depart.

Worryingly we see no sign of anyone to commence loading onto our plane.  Eventually an announcement is made that the plane had some error lights showing on the displays when the flight arrived and so they need to sort this out before we can load and fly away.

So someone pulls the master switch and the plane is turned off and then turned on again – it later becomes clear that the computer is the problem in some way.  It seems that did not work (and apparently rebooting a Dreamliner takes an hour or so and I thought my PC was slow!).  So they are now on the phone to technical support in Luton (Luton?).  The conversation was probably along the lines that “no-one has ever seen anything like that before – have you tried turning it off and on again?  Hmm, that should not happen, I think I had better get Seattle on the other line”.  Seattle of course is the place where Dreamliners are assembled.

After a few hours we are informed that even if it was fixed now we could not go anywhere as the crew are out of hours before we could land and so there will be no flight tonight.  We are told they will find hotels and get us all into rooms for the night.  And some of us are also checking what the compensation arrangements are as we are bound to be more than three hours late!  Turns out that the EU compensation works (at least whilst we are in the EU).

We have to go through arrivals and collect our luggage as we will need it for our overnight stay.  Luckily as usual slight over packing means that we have clean clothes.

By the time we get to the new hotel there is virtually no food available but something is better than nothing.  Whilst the hotel was not as great as Azul, being older and therefore a little worn, I am amazed that Thomson actually managed to find enough rooms.  Check in took quite a while – which was another reason we were late eating as we could not do that until we had checked in.

When we gather in the morning it is fair to say that staff used by Thomson are probably worse than useless.  When communicating with a large number of inevitably disgruntled customers some discipline needs to be applied – then make a clear and entirely certain announcement, do not be woolly and do not part reveal the outcome to some in advance of the meeting.  Similarly the previous evening passengers were seeking to contact Thomson in the UK who seemed unaware of the problem and where the website was showing revised departure times for later in the evening.

Later we assemble again to go to the airport and through check in and security.  Thomson (or their agents) give us a packed lunch as we get off the coaches.  Which would be nice except it includes both a bottle of water (which we spot and dump) but also a fruit juice (which we do not spot until the scanner machines do – which means all bags are rescanned after the juice is removed).  That really slows down progress through the security checks.  Everyone knows that you cannot take liquids through security these days – so why was this not even thought about?

No news Thomson is frankly bad news.  And there is no-one on hand to keep us informed.  Many hours pass.  At no time do we see any crew.  Anyone at the gate refuses to make an announcement – why is not clear.  Some information is extracted but the absolute refusal to make a proper announcement is baffling.

Information is hard to come by but piecing the bits together later it seems two engineers flew into Cancun with a complete computer rack and the relevant boards (not sure but I assume from somewhere in the USA rather than UK).  They replaced board by board, turning the Dreamliner off and on and off for each board replacement but were still getting faults.  Eventually the expensive solution was adopted – the entire rack was pulled out.  The new rack with new boards were all inserted and the plane turned on.  Apparently then it worked and the error lights did not come on.  Given that they had the whole lot there they should have replaced the entire kit at one go – it was presumably new and worked.  Piecemeal replacement is often a pain in the neck.

However we had been at the airport many hours.  Why were we brought into the airport so early at a stage when no-one knew when we might depart?  For the mother with no nappies and the others with no funds available being in an airport terminal is not helpful.  It would have made more sense to make the transfer back to the airport later as the hotels were meeting food and refreshment needs.

Then they summoned the crew.  To give the captain his due when he did arrive he did make a couple of announcements and talk to us all – but it was by now very late and we were now well over 24 hours late departing.  And even with a crew we did not board for ages as the flight crew had to go through all of their normal checks and load up stores and equipment.  Passenger patience was in short supply.  I believe it was close to 10 hours between arriving at the airport and boarding the Dreamliner.

Finally we board and take off not long before midnight on the Monday night arriving back at Gatwick well into Tuesday morning.

The next major faux pas from Thomson was that they delivered a written apology at the arrival gate which advised claiming from our insurers and did not mention their legal liability to compensate us under EU legislation.  Come on lads – if you screw up then at least admit you are forced to cough up, provide the right form and tell us what else you might need.  Leaving out such information and pointing us at insurers is simply the wrong approach to take.  In fact it is insulting in this day and age.

This was not the first time that a Dreamliner had gone technical in Cancun for Thomson – there were one or two press reports about it happening previously.  On the outward journey water had dripped on Jackie as we headed towards the ground.  So if water can get into the passenger space it seems likely it can reach the computers as well.

We claimed and compensation was eventually paid – but Thomson took their time.  Their crisis management was appalling, on the ground, in the terminal and on our return – I have no doubt that someone knew what was going on – but 300 plus passengers need looking after and talking to them should happen.

A really sour end to the holiday.

Mileage – 4959 air miles for a single journey so adding something on for the coach journeys the total trip adds up to over 10,000 miles which is not a bad start for the year.

Chichen Itza

Saturday 7 January 2017

During our Mexican holiday we took one trip away from the hotel.  There are a lot of historical sites across Mexico but Cancun is very much at one end of Mexico and consequently just about everywhere is a long journey.

Chichen Itza is one of two historic sites to which trips are organised and we decide that it is likely to be the better one of the two.  Even so it is still a lengthy journey to the site taking a couple of hours.

There is very little to see on the outward journey as we stick to the main road and it is pretty flat.  Apparently we are not much above sea level and due to the pretty thin layer of soil above rock it is not good territory for plant growth with the all pervading scrub on both sides not reaching a great height – 8 – 10 ft at best.  So no views.  So tempting to sleep and yes I did drift off!

The location was a major city between about AD 600 and AD 1200 for the Mayan civilization.  Like the temples of Siem Reap of the same era in Cambodia the site was rediscovered during the Victorian period with documented visits becoming common in the 1880s.  Tourists have been coming here to see the sights for well over a century.

We wander around the site which is dominated by the central “El Castillo” pyramid and my photos are here.

I went looking for the observatory – but did not find it.  I followed the signs and can only assume I simply did not go far enough; I came across a secondary gate and missed the turning no doubt.  Pity as from the photos elsewhere it looks interesting.  However it is hot and I do not want to wander too far.  We head towards the market outside the entrance but over pushy retailers put us off before we even start looking.

Around lunchtime we move on to a location where the main attraction is the cenote which appears in the photos.  A cenote is a sink hole and they often have cool water for swimming.  Subsequent research shows it to have been the Ik Kil cenote.  Neither of us feel like swimming; whilst I am sure it is safe it is a long way down and whilst it might be nice to cool down it is also time to eat.  Lunch is adjacent and so we have a leisurely meal and if I remember correctly some entertainment.

Our return journey includes a visit to Valladolid, but somehow this seems to have escaped my camera, so these photos come from Jackie’s phone.


It remains in the memory as we picked up some local dark chocolate which I can eat.



Wednesday 4 January to 17 January 2017

This was planned simply as a trip to enjoy some sunshine in the depths of winter and to see if we liked Mexico.  As we were not travelling out to see places on a day to day basis I am simply going to do a longish summary posting (this one) with two further posts which will cover the one trip we did take and the saga of our delayed return.  The three posts are effectively the bad, the good and the ugly in that order!

Our hotel is the Azul Sensatori, Cancun and is / was described as adults only.  Which is true of the accommodation (and in theory the adjacent pool) but not of the entire hotel.  The hotel does in fact have children on site and facilities for children on the other side of the central area but we certainly saw them at the “quiet pool” between our room and the Caribbean restaurant.  It also has a vast number of Americans which is far from surprising.

What we found was that the hotel was some significant distance from Cancun, or indeed anywhere.  Talking to other people who have stayed elsewhere in Mexico they had the benefit of being able to walk out of their hotel and onto the street and have other restaurants available (similar to our experience in Phuket and when we get there in a couple of months time Paphos; I am getting ahead of myself).  If we walked from the hotel to the main road at our hotel we would be too tired to walk back!  And as we are some distance from a town the taxi cost would not be insignificant (unlike some locations – eg Crete).  So once there you are there!

On arrival we are both feeling tired and so head for the restaurant and a bowl of tomato soup.  Restorative.  Nice room and reasonably well laid out.  Photos from Jackie Whitbread.

We head down to the adjacent pool in the morning and only find individual sunbeds so move two together.  All is well for about 30 minutes until the powers that be decide we all want to listen to the same loud music throughout the day.  Well I want to listen to what I choose from my phone (which might be music or voice) – but cannot because it is being drowned by the delivered music.

During our time here we sample the various restaurants.  The choice in the self-service is pretty wide and decently presented.  Le Chique is top end and very good.  Zavaz (Caribbean) for breakfast also provided some relief from the self service and we used this several times – it was also close to our room.  Zocalo was the Mexican restaurant and again the food was excellent but we only used it once as the noise (even after they turned the sound system down) was such that we could hardly hear each other.  We dined in Siena – Italian cuisine – several times but the quality of the food never quite reached the heights I think they would like.  Pizzza Dude is in the children related area and we did wander over there one day.  Nothing wrong with any of them and there is certainly variety.

Except over one aspect and that is the noise.  We went to Siena and were placed in the “overflow” room – and initially were the only occupants.  I think it took three requests to get the sound turned down so that we could hear the waiter, let alone each other.  On another evening we went to a special food and wine evening – but were still only offered red or white wine – and to hear the other people talk we once again had to ask for the music to be turned down.  (That evening was also marked by a joke which included a knife being pointed at Jackie; that should never happen even in jest).  Zocalo I have mentioned already as well as the noisy pool.  I got to the point of downloading a sound meter for my phone to see what decibel levels we were suffering, not illegal maybe but simply inappropriately loud!

Making bookings for the upmarket restaurants required queueing and the system changed whilst we were there – so simply not well organised.

There is an upmarket and more private section of the hotel and Jackie asked if we could use their sunbeds if it was not overcrowded and this request was granted so for the last week we were able to use this area:

Another Jackie Whitbread photo and clearly not heavily occupied at the time.

Doing nothing is tiring and so we often have early nights and do not do much of the entertainment.  Both of us suffered from bad colds and feeling grotty through our time here.  There were sneezes on the plane and I suspect we both were infected on the outward journey.  So feel grotty on top of everything else.  Once a week there is a market – which we wandered through but did not buy anything.

During our stay there was a more or less constant wind in from the sea, so not calm.  But there was plenty of sunshine.

The real aim was to see if the additional flying time meant that this was a better destination for some winter sun than the Canaries which have tended to be our normal destination.  I had expected something labelled “Sensatori” to be concerned about providing something peaceful – particularly as it was adults only (so we believed).  Well American adults on holiday like noise it seems.  To be honest there was nothing which would particularly appeal to us to make the longer distance journey again.

So a return visit is unlikely.  The next post is the good; the final post will be the ugly.