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July 2, 2008

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DAVID'S DEN                               Cancun Travel Survey Guidebook



by David Zuchowski

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  • Book review: People's Choice Guide: Cancun Travel Survey Guidebook
    People's Choice Guide to Cancun offers a useful, democratic rating system.
    by Dave Zuchowski

    Back in early 2001 when Eric Rabinowitz, 39, flew to Cancun from his home in New York, he decided to purchase a few guidebooks to help him navigate through the bustling Caribbean resort town that draws close to 4.5 million visitors a year.

    When he arrived, however, he found his travel guides lacking. Not only were they written by staff writers whose opinions were subject to the vagaries of a single visit (or two or three), but some of the establishments he patronized weren't as good as described or were no longer in business. Others he found to be hidden gems were sometimes overlooked altogether.

    On his fifth visit to Cancun the following February, he was asked to bring along his band, Turbulence, to perform at one of the hotels in exchange for room and board. Because of his previous immersion experiences in the resort town, his fellow musicians began asking him for advice on where to dine and be entertained and eventually urged him to write his own guidebook.

    "Little did they know, I already had a loose plan starting to take shape in my head to do just that," he writes in his preface to People's Choice Guide: Cancun Travel Survey Guidebook.

    His methodology involved collecting and piecing together information sent to his website,, by thousands of visitors to Cancun, augmented by detailed descriptions of the types of services provided by owners and managers of more than 500 restaurants, clubs, bars and accommodations.

    The people who participated in the online surveys were asked to vote for the establishments they visited using a simple rating system. The votes were then tabulated and averaged to come up with a final score on the Poor to Simply the Best continuum.

    Accommodations, which include time-share resorts, condominiums, even youth hostels in addition to hotels, are listed alphabetically. An index at the end also identifies restaurants according to categories like: Belgian, café, contemporary, convenience store, family-friendly, fast-food, ice cream, romantic, steak and seafood among others. There's also an index for Hidden Picks in the Hotel Zone and Downtown Cancun as well as a section titled Gay/Lesbian Friendly Establishments.

    Each listing includes the essentials: name, address and phone number as well as details on what services are provided, everything from: bottled water and air conditioning to kids' clubs and wedding services for accommodations; free deliveries, specialty drinks, live entertainment and stunning views for restaurants.

    Accommodations are rated according to categories of rooms, atmosphere, grounds, food, service and price (of a single room for one night). Restaurants are rated according to food, atmosphere, service and price, which is determined by combining the cost of a single appetizer and entree.

    One special feature, the comment section, is a compendium of candid remarks submitted to the author's website. For instance, the commentary for the Best Western Plaza Caribe Hotel reads: "A great location for budget-minded individuals, families, couples and business travelers. This hotel is close enough to everything you would want to walk to in the heart of town and close to the bus station. I'd stay here again because I saved tons of dinero and was able to get to the Hotel Zone's beaches in under 20 minutes."

    The book even includes a notes section, where the traveler can write down his or her impressions of the establishments they visit and provide feedback on the author's website when they get back home. All participants who vote in the online survey receive a contributor's discount on the subsequent edition of the guide.

    Something extra most readers should find helpful is an introductory overview that include tips on: taxis, tours and excursions, weather (the rainy season from June to November is the best time to find vacation deals according to Rabinowitz), water and ice consumption, ATMs and credit cards, shopping and, yes, even possible dealings with the police.

    The author even gives advice on health matters like emergency medical care, dental care, prescriptions, hangover prevention and repelling insects. And he goes out of his way to include a Hotel Zone Proximity Guide, which lists establishments found in ascending order along Kukulcan Boulevard, the Hotel Zone's main thoroughfare.

    About the only thing missing is maps, something the author intends to remedy in future editions of his book.

    "Initially, I didn't include any maps because they're available free of charge at the airport," said Rabinowitz. "Incidentally, I actually made the book the same size and shape as the maps for easier handling by my readers."

    People's Choice Guide: Cancun Travel Survey Guidebook is available online at and Suggested retail price: $12.95.

    Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for twenty years and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers and magazines across the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. Currently, he is the travel correspondent for the New Castle News, a daily in the Pittsburgh area. In his spare time, he also puts his horticultural interests to good use on his 15-acre farm located near Centerville, Pa.

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