Quirkiness abounds throughout the hotel’s extensive grounds. Immediately west of the outdoor patio of the Fuego restaurant is an area of tropical foliage with a waterfall. Naturally, this is a favorite spot for wedding photographs. The Maya does a big business in wedding receptions and parties, offering as it does a relaxed, vacation-like atmosphere but high standards of service and food quality.
The wackiness continues just off to one side of Fuego, where there is an outdoor hookah lounge and private cabana – which looks like something out of the Arabian Nights. While the cabana is perhaps a little faded and blowsy in bright daylight, at night the hanging chains of the cabana’s love seats are festooned with lights, providing a party touch.
Talking of cabanas, the area containing Maya’s big, fairly shallow outdoor pool – heated in winter so it is great for a cool-weather dip – features a number of what the hotel calls “floating cabanas”.
These are fixed wooden platforms in a shallow pool next to the main pool. Each is fitted with gauze curtains on three sides and contains a couple of loungers, so they allow fairly private sunbathing. Short wooden paths lead up to each cabana.
The hotel also boasts the obligatory hot tub next to the pool – ah, Southern California! – and ‘Tiki’, a thatched pool bar which serves drinks, and food brought from Fuego. But the Hotel Maya also has two features which definitely are not common in Long Beach hotels.
One is a huge umbrella, 14 feet high and boasting a 42-foot diameter. This hosts entire outdoor events, even in less-than-ideal weather conditions. Nearby fire pits and mushroom-shaped outdoor heaters – ubiquitous in outdoor bars and restaurants in balmy SoCal, for when the weather dares to drop below 60 degrees – make the umbrella a convenient place to hold an outdoor function.
The second feature is the ‘Playa at the Maya’, a 6,500-square-foot artificial (and slightly inland) beach which is the only one in downtown Long Beach. The Playa, which contains 285 tons of local sand, can be hired for functions and events but otherwise is generally available for guest use.
As you might surmise, all these features – plus the nearly 500 palm trees on the grounds, and the two beach volleyball and two tennis courts located northwest of the hotel complex – take up quite a lot of space. Depending on who you listen to, the Maya has anywhere from 11 to 14 acres of grounds.
Although much of the property’s space west of the hotel between the buildings and the nearby Queensway road is taken up by valet car parking slots, the Maya’s grounds border the shore for more than a quarter of a mile from the Queensway bridge to a little marina at the southern end of the property.
People aboard the sailboats which moor at the marina often come ashore for a lunchtime or afternoon drink at the Maya’s pool bar about 50 yards away. During a walk along the path there one misty morning I saw a large heron perched on the frame of a small pier. It then sped off very low over the water, which was still as glass, and flew back again about five minutes later.
If you’re planning on visiting either of the city’s two biggest visitor draws, the Aquarium of the Pacific and the RMS Queen Mary, the Maya is ideally located midway between the two. The aquarium is just the other side of the Queensway bridge, about 15 minutes’ walk away, while the Queen Mary is about half a mile from the hotel down Queensway in the other direction.
Downtown Long Beach, which has hundreds of restaurants and bars and tons of things to do and see, is a bit farther away, probably a least a mile and a half to two miles walking along California’s not-always-pedestrian-friendly roads. But the city’s free Passport shuttle buses make a stop on Queensway right outside the hotel and run from 6:00 a.m. until midnight.
However, you don’t need to go into downtown Long Beach to find good food. In the care of its oft-awarded Executive Chef Victor Juarez, the Maya’s own restaurant, Fuego, offers both a fine breakfast buffet (as well as à la carte breakfast choices) and a superb menu of Latin America-themed cuisine for lunch and dinner.
Fuego is spacious, seating 146 inside and 80 outside on its patio. Boasting as it does a wonderful view of the ocean, the skyline of Long Beach across the harbor and the Queen Mary nearby, the patio is especially favored by wedding parties and other large dinner groups. And me.
On Fuego’s patio, on the evening of December 7, 2012, with two old friends who live in Orange County, a husband-and-wife couple, I had one of the more memorable meals of my life. We sampled some of Fuego’s wonderful specialty cocktails, drank superb wines and ate mouth-watering ceviche, guacamole and quesadillas before we started on our sumptuous fish and meat main courses.
Of course, we had no room for dessert; but the staff of Fuego, primed before the meal by me, knew it was the birthday of my one of my friends. So a huge slice of cheesecake came out, with a lighted candle on top. This was duly blown out and the delicious cheesecake consumed entirely by three suddenly hungry people. Afterwards, glasses of port somehow evaporated quickly.
As luck would have it, although everyone else on the patio that night was either concentrating on their food or having too much of a good time to notice (a large pre-Christmas party was underway next to our table, which was fairly near the patio’s edge), just at the end of our meal the birthday boy spotted something that made our evening even more special.
From his seat facing the water, he exclaimed, “Wow! Look at that!” I turned immediately, in time to see a bright streak and then to watch something explode in the clear sky with a brilliant yellow-green flash far above and off the port side of the Queen Mary.
At first we thought it was a spectacular firework, but then we realized there was no corresponding explosion. We knew then that we had seen a big meteor explode many miles up in the atmosphere, far south of us. That was a wonderful way to round off a superb meal and since it was my last night at the Hotel Maya it put a terrific exclamation point on my short stay there.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. My wife Paula and I are visiting Long Beach for a few days’ vacation in the fall, and I plan to book at least some of our nights at the Hotel Maya. I think Paula will enjoy it as much as I did last time – and I think I’ll really enjoy staying there again.
The Hotel Maya by DoubleTree is located at 700 Queensway Drive, Long Beach, California, 90802. For more information or to book, call +1 (562) 435-7676 or visit www.hotelmayalongbeach.com.