Monday, April 26, 2010

No Speedy Gonzales in this Mexico!

Tips for Traveling Ft. Lauderdale to Cancun

Just returned yesterday from a four- day trip to Playa del Carmen (near Cancun) Mexico for a wedding. While the town was charming, and the wedding- on -a- beach a first for me, more unforgettable was the actual trip to and from. I felt I spent more time in the airport than in Playa del Carmen. Thankfully I have this blog to unload my frustration and share my nonjoyful experience to save readers from the same travel woes.

If you're planning a trip to Cancun or outlying town, please read this posting for some headache saving tips.


Never fly SPIRIT airlines for international trips.

Never fly via Fort Lauderdale airport for international trips

Avoid Cancun except in dead of summer perhaps.


First, the airline. In checking airfare, we missed the reasonable airfare on American Airlines out of Miami airport. This was a tragedy as then we were forced to fly Spirit Airlines out of Fort Lauderdale. While Spirit was $200 less per person, this does not include fees for advance seat assignments and does not include any food/snacks, not even water! Then the seats are more narrow than those at American Airlines. This is another negative but thankfully the flight to Cancun is maxium 2 hours flying westbound and 1.5 hours eastbound. To make your trip even more uncomfortable, the seats recline a couple of millimeters. Regardless of the flight time, most passengers were tired from waking up at 4am to catch their original flight. Or if you're like me, I only slept four hours the night prior in preparation, thinking I could sleep a little on the plane. The concept of Spirit airlines is definitely not for me. How I miss American Airlines!

The airports. Both the Cancun airport and Fort Lauderdale airport are not equipped with the staff to receive thousands of passengers at the same time. Beginning at the Fort Lauderdale airport, I was warned to get there at least 2-3 hours before flight promptly. Thank goodness I followed this sage advice. The security line at Fort Lauderdale airport was slower than a tortoise pace, that Christmas was going to arrive sooner! While there were physically 6-7 processing lines, only three were open.

Cancun airport. If there was a competition as to which airport is slower in terms of checking in passengers, security screening and processing at Immigration/Customs, it would be a close race between Cancun and Ft. Lauderdale. Upon arriving to Cancun airport, it took us little over two hours to pass through Immigration/Customs--LONGER THAN OUR FLIGHT! Several flights arrived at the same time. Is this peak season? Again only three lines at customs when eight lanes existed. I suppose Speedy Gonzalez is not the national motto or local hero mascot.

Thankfully we didn't have to wait long for our shuttle to the hotel. But Playa del Carmen is a solid 45 minutes away.

I woke up at 5:30am and arrived in Playa del Carmen 3pm Central time or 4pm EST. Almost the entire day gone.


THE RETURN TRIP

Waking up at 7am, we had breakfast and boarded our bus to the airport at 9am and arrived promptly at 10am. Since we did not pay for advance seat assignments on SPIRIT AIRLINES we could not sit together.

The flight was an hour late in departing due to a part replacement so the second engine would function properly. Thankfully it only took 20 minutes as the Captain mentioned. However we landed same time as a flight from Bogota, Colombia into Fort Lauderdale. The two jetways converged into the same exit tunnel towards Immigration. It was bottleneck traffic and another mindless hour waiting. Neither my mother nor I are humorous entertainers and our rollercoaster landing (forgot to mention the plane descended from cumulus bumpy clouds, then ascended abruptly, then dropped like an elephant in midair, and ascended again abruptly soaring into the sky and we circled the airport for a second attempt at landing-- some mixed signal from control tower about landing) filled me with nauseau. Green around the gills, I regretted not asking for assistance when deplaning.

In retelling my experience to coworker, she shared her positive flight experience returning from Dominican Republic into Ft. Lauderdale as a breeze. Could it be April is peak season to fly to international destinations? My last trip to Cancun was in the middle of summer (July) in 2001, NINE years ago. Of course I flew out of Miami airport (this was pre Sept 11, 2001) and Cancun airport was nowhere near as crowded. Maybe Cancun is the tropical destination of the year? Or maybe Mexicans were getting back at Americans for the Taco Bell chihuahua dog? (Actually studies showed most Mexicans were enamored with the dog).

My advice--fly out of Miami airport to Cancun. Miami airport is better equipped for mass exodus travelers. Skip Cancun at peak season unless you can spend a week or more. Otherwise you spend more time traveling than enjoying your trip.

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