Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Estero Beach Hotel in Ensenada, Mexico

The Estero Beach Hotel in Ensenada has a lot of things going for it a cool location, nicely manicured grounds, a lot of activities. It could be top-flight resort if it would just stop messing up the little things.

It's aggravating, really, because I did like this hotel. But I can't give it a whole-hearted recommendation until management starts paying attention to the details.

Let me start with the positives. The Estero Beach Hotel is located on a large scenic property at the south end of Ensenada, with an expansive view over the entrance to a large estuary. If you're looking for security, you will have no worries here, as the whole parcel is surrounded by walls or monitored gates.

The grounds are attractive, with nicely tended lawns and flower beds surrounding a fun central pool. The pool has a swim-up bar.

The hotel does have a small private beach, though since it's not directly on the ocean, it doesn't have any waves. If you want a "real" beach, you can walk a few minutes around the corner onto the broad public beach. My son and I went boogie boarding there and it was OK, though the waves were rather choppy. No one was surfing while we were there.

The rooms are clean and have air conditioning. The beds are comfortable, and the staff is friendly. The restaurant and bar on site is decently priced with a range of foods.

The most popular activity at Estero Beach is swimming in the pool, but you can also rent kayaks, jet skis and bikes. There are tennis courts, a sand volleyball court and a ping pong table available at no extra cost.

Now to the negatives. Prior to our arrival, I wondered if our room would have a refrigerator, so I found an email address on the hotel's "Contact Us" page and sent my inquiry. It immediately bounced back as an invalid address. Persisting, I found two other email addresses on the website and tried both. I never got a response.

Finally, I called. The man who answered told me that "all" the rooms have refrigerators and if ours didn't, they would put one in (huh?). As it turned out, our room did not have a refrigerator, and it took two phone calls and a four-hour wait before they brought one to our room.

Arriving at the hotel, we found an odd problem we couldn't figure out where to check-in. After meandering around the grounds, and finally asking someone, we discovered that we had passed the office located in a completely unmarked building as we drove in. 

At the pool, I went to the "towels" desk but found no one there, nor any towels (eventually, another guest told us to go into the housekeeping department; that worked).

There was no TV remote control in our room when we arrived. An employee brought one promptly when I called. But even then, the TV only worked, literally, every other time it was turned on.

My son and I wanted to kayak, but when we went to the beach we could find no one, and no sign, to explain how to rent one. I finally went back to our room, called the front desk and found that we had to go to the gift shop. We did that, paid our money and went to the beach then were told that we would have to come back in an hour because so many paddles were broken they didn't have enough.

None of the above issues are major. But together they add up to the impression that the hotel is sloppily run.

There was one issue that was nearly serious. The Estero Beach Hotel, like many in Baja California, offers a "Fast Pass" that allows U.S. guests access to a special lane when crossing back over the border. This is a HUGE bonus, as it can mean the difference between waiting 15 minutes and waiting two hours to get across the border.

Upon check-in, the woman at the desk assured us that all we had to do was pick up our Fast Pass when we checked out.  But at checkout, they told us, sorry, they didn't have any Fast Passes. "Our website isn't working," a staff member told us.

I was infuriated, but I gotta give them credit for quickly coming up with a solution. We were able to pick up a Fast Pass from their sister hotel, Las Rosas, on the way out of town.

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