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Since it officially opened its doors earlier this year, the 438-guestroom Panama Jack Resorts Cancun has been making its mark among the area’s many all-inclusives as a family-friendly, four-star option whose hallmark is friendliness and exceptional service (with 640 employees, the staff-to-guest ratio is exceptionally high).

The result of a partnership between Playa Hotels and Resorts and the Panama Jack brand, Panama Jack Resorts Cancun is the rebranding and renovation of the Gran Caribe Resort property, with the new feel being a nice, breezy mix of modern and retro. 

As Kevin Froemming, Playa Hotels & Resorts’ executive v.p. and chief marketing officer, explains, “This resort concept resonates with all age categories and greatly with the U.S./Canada market because of the widely known brand recognition that the Panama Jack brand has there. We are seeing great possibilities for growing this resort brand not only further in Mexico but also throughout Jamaica and the DR.”

Entering the spacious, airy lobby, a light take on retro comes into play behind the reception area, lined with knickknacks suggestive of vintage travel. Just across the hall, the expansive main bar, Jack’s Landing, has a view out to the kids’ area’s colorful pirate ship, and a stage with nightly shows from rock bands to traditional Mayan-inspired dancers. At the far end, the most recent addition is Panama Jack Coffee Co., with tasty brews and baked treats including signature cinnamon buns (a bell rings when they’re fresh out of the oven). Once I spotted a magician roaming the lobby, bemusing folks with his antics and tricks; as GM Matias Klein put it, “we like to offer our guests nice surprises!” Another quirky note is the sayings emblazoned on various walls across the property, such as “The difference between a rut and a groove is style and attitude.” 

Panama Jack Resorts Cancun offers guests an array of dining options.
Panama Jack Resorts Cancun offers guests an array of dining options.

Included among the resort’s half-dozen dining options is the dinner-only Casa de Rosa, where I enjoyed a fabulous steak with huitlacoche sauce, part of a well chosen menu of modern Mexican treats. Others include the main Ventanas buffet (featuring sweet sea views indeed), casual waterfront grill Deck 74, seafood-oriented Italian Viaggio (a guest favorite), alfresco At Sunset, and Jack’s Shack taco stand (where you can watch local ladies making these Mexican classics by hand). 

Just out behind the lobby, right next to Deck 74 and Las Olas Bar, the main pool and the beach beyond are of course guests’ main hangouts for most of the day, with daily activities including water polo, beach volleyball and Zumba, cooking classes, and surfing contests in the moderately kicky surf. Among other amenities are the aforementioned kids’ area, which besides the water-gun-equipped pirate ship boasts its own pool, other fun water attractions like a three-story waterslide, mini-golf, kids’ program Camp Jack (ages 4-12), and #Hashtag teen zone with video games and other activities. For adults, the intimate Aura Spa offers a nice little selection of treatments such as its signature Tequila Sunrise massage (involving blue-agave oil), along with a whirlpool and wet/dry saunas. 

The 438 units are distributed into 12 classes, more than half of them 387-sq.-ft. Junior Suites (I particularly liked the half dozen right on the beach, connected by their own pool). Located nearby in a villa annex, 115 645-sq.-ft. suites add separate living rooms, larger baths/showers, and private terrace whirlpools; 55 of these are oceanfront. 

Another perk especially worth a shoutout is Cancun’s only oceanfront chapel, Our Lady of Guadalupe, a serene, glass-sided affair gazing out over the turquoise waters. 

Finally, another key difference Klein likes to emphasize is Panama Jack’s social conscience and commitment to sustainability, with which the property was explicitly redesigned. That includes complex energy-saving and recycling systems, beach-cleaning campaigns, and onsite details such as notes to guests to reuse towels and limiting distribution of plastic straws unless specifically requested. These measures have won them recognition by international programs such as Green Globe. 

Hand-in-hand with this, the resort also sponsors a number of local social initiatives; for example, one of the available day trips takes guests 90 minutes south to the town of Tulum, famous for its beaches and seaside Mayan ruins but also home to the Melipona Maya Foundation, which works to preserve traditional but endangered Mayan beekeeping, as well as to re-establish it in local communities to provide income streams from honey and beeswax.

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