The Miami Herald

Young and restless at Cancun all-inclusive

It was like a scene out of CSI: Cancun. I awoke on an achingly bright Saturday morning to find that the curtains in my fifth-floor room at the Golden Parnassus resort had already been parted (or never drawn). The door to the balcony was wide open, so the room was as hot and sultry as the air outside. The TV was on, clothes littered the floor, and I'd fallen asleep in my bathing suit and T-shirt. I got out of bed and stepped into the remains of a burger and fries sitting on the floor that I'd gotten from . . . well, I don't know.

Man, I'd had a good time Friday night. I think.

But, really, who comes to Cancun to have a bad time? You want Handel and high tea, go to Palm Beach. For casino nights and Tecate by the case, Cancun beckons.

As a solo traveler, I'd had some trepidation. That's one of the reasons I opted for the all-adults Parnassus, among Cancun's older and more petite resorts, with 214 rooms that stair-step up six stories like a Maya pyramid. I figured the smaller size (many of the region's pool-and-palmed behemoths have 400 rooms or more) would make a difference when it came to socializing.

It did. Within hours of my arrival, I'd made a dozen new BFFs whom I'd continually bump into. Then again, ''forever'' can be a fleeting thing: A few weeks later I remember the resort fondly, the friends vaguely.

Wedged between the ultra-luxe Le Meridien and Ritz-Carlton properties, the Parnassus is like a well-worn bead separating two diamonds. Although it has seen better days (chipped paint here and there, outdated furniture, lackluster air conditioning in public areas), the resort gets most things right. Service at the five bars -- including a raucous watering hole near the pool that became my home away from home away from home -- is exemplary, the activity staff keeps things hopping without being overbearing (a perilously fine line), and the outdoor whirlpool is large enough that you can avoid that doofus from Sheboygan who's had four margaritas too many.

It's also more fun than its stuffy neighbors. I saw few people from either the Ritz or Meridien venture into the surf, and the only noise I could hear during walks on the beach was from the Parnassus and its sparkling, figure-eight-shaped Pool of Never-Ending Fun.

My room featured a pretty faux-wood floor, a bathroom with troublesome plumbing (never could get that %$&% showerhead to work correctly) and two double beds predictably sheathed in pastel-flecked spreads. No mini-fridge -- other guests were griping, but it took only two minutes to get to the lobby bar for an emergency tequila shot -- but that was more than remedied by my patio, a huge space with live plants, a table and two chairs, and a wide-angle view of the Nichupte Lagoon.

After a grueling but fascinating excursion to Chichen Itza, the Maya ruins a few hours southwest of Cancun, I chilled on the patio. When I returned from shopping at the Plaza Kukulcan and Plaza La Isla malls -- both within a quick hike along landscaped sidewalks -- I chilled on the patio. The day I ordered room-service breakfast, I chilled . . . oh, wait. The grub never showed up.

Otherwise, the food was great. I skipped Shangri-La -- the fanciest of the five on-site restaurants was also the only one with a strict dress code -- but I wasn't disappointed anywhere.

At Pier 12, a seafood joint on the beach, I ordered the crab cakes one afternoon to see what they were like (good if you like stuffing), but went back twice for the coconut shrimp. At the Paradise buffet, my waiter seemed genuinely sad when I told him I was returning to the States. And at the Old Barn steakhouse, I chowed down on guacamole and a decent slab of beef, while a couple from Chicago debriefed me on their jaunt to Xcaret, a park with an underground river I'd seen pictured ad nauseam on buses.

One excursion, however, had been more than enough for me, what with the Caribbean just sitting there. After putting Room 505 back in order, I spent the rest of Saturday on the beach, hunkered under a palapa, marveling at how one strip of surf could have so many shades of blue and watching a hulking lifeguard swat roving peddlers away like horseflies. But mostly I wondered when my vaguely memorable BFFs from the night before, who had pleaded with me to join them in a game of aqua-volleyball, would leave the pool so I could sneak back to my room.

I could have killed a day dozing by the sea, hiding from kindhearted souls who just wanted to show me a good time. And in the end, that's just what I did.

DETAILS

Golden Parnassus Resort, Kukulcan Blvd., San Miguelito, (011-52-998) 848-7550 or 800-233-51-62; www.goldencancun.com.

BEST FOR: Anyone who's freaked out by teeming crowds, screaming kids and gleaming resorts where you get lost trying to find the breakfast room.

WHAT WAS INCLUDED: Three nights' lodging; airport transfers; unlimited drinks; three meals a day, including room service and 24-7 snack bar; gratuities; in-room safe; indoor mini-golf; activities such as beach and pool volleyball, Spanish lessons, aqua-aerobics and yoga; casino nights and special shows in the Beer Garden; use of the gym, tennis court and pool tables; and bicycle and shopping tours of the area. A free shuttle is offered to the Great Parnassus, its sister resort, where guests can use all the facilities, including the restaurants, bars and pools. Current pricing: From $160 per night.

WHAT WASN'T: Internet ($2 for 10 minutes), bottles of wine, laundry and dry cleaning, excursions and spa services (massages from $120 for 50 minutes).

EXCURSIONS: Cancun may be one of the party capitals of the Caribbean, but it's also within a two-hour drive of one of the New Wonders of the World. So I opted for Chichen Itza over such boozy diversions as the Party Hopper Tour (seven hours of pub-crawling) and the Caribbean Carnival excursion, a ''crazy night of fun, music and dancing!'' The $84 Chichen Itza Plus excursion turned out to be a hot, tiresome, ultimately exhilarating trip to the ancient temples and pyramids of the Maya.

BEST FEATURE: Even with a view that was less than spectacular (who wouldn't prefer the Caribbean?), that huge patio was a great perk.

WORST: I'm no fan of sweating while I'm eating, so better air conditioning in all the restaurants -- particularly the buffet -- would have been worth a few extra dollars on my bill.




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