The European Poker Tour (EPT) visits Cyprus for the first time this month, specifically the sprawling and beautiful Merit Royal Diamond Hotel Casino & Spa, adding a 26th destination to its long and storied history.
The location is an incredible 5-star resort on the northern coast of Cyprus, near to the town of Kyrenia.
The resort is essentially its own small village, with many visitors probably never even leaving the complex for the duration of their stay. That’s mainly because the resort is all inclusive, meaning food, drink and many activities are included in the price of your hotel room.
For all that, it can be a bit bewildering when you first arrive, until you get acquainted to the place.
Here’s a guide to help you navigate the resort and make the most of your stay.
Note: The above map is a screengrab from Google Maps with the image taken before the completion of the Merit Royal Diamond Hotel. Rest assured, it is no longer a building site!
ALL INCLUSIVE MEANS ALL INCLUSIVE (MOSTLY)
If you’ve never stayed at an all inclusive resort before, you’re in for a treat. You can stroll into any buffet you like and eat as much as you want; you can stroll up to any bar and order whatever you like; and you can even pluck whatever you like from your hotel room minibar without anything else appearing on your bill.
This does take some getting used to, but work on it. It’s fun when you get the hang of it.
There are some bars and restaurants within the complex where, for an additional fee, you can eat a la carte, or drink some premium brands. But there’s a lot of variety at all times of the day from the “regular” menu, and you can very easily not spend an additional penny.
The main Merit complex in Kyrenia comprises four hotels: the Merit Royal Diamond, the Merit Royal, the Merit Royal Premium and the Merit Crystal Cove. There is also the Merit Park hotel about 2.5 miles along the coast.
The EPT tournament room is the enormous ballroom of the Merit Royal Diamond (1). This hotel and conference facility is only a little more than a year old and is the most luxurious on the property. (It’s been completed since the latest Google earth update.) It is over a road from the coast, so rooms do not look directly down onto the sea. But it’s very nice indeed, nonetheless.
The Royal (3) and the Royal Premium (4) hug the coast opposite the Royal Diamond. Meanwhile, the Crystal Cove is the oldest property but is in many ways the most convenient. It is closest to the beach (with direct elevator access), it has the only indoor swimming pool and it is close to the turtle rehabilitation centre and aviary/farm.
The Crystal Cove (2) is also the most kid-friendly. There’s a kids club there as well as a good outdoor playground and a golf putting game. You can also breakfast in the company of a parrot.
1 — DIAMOND
2 — CRYSTAL COVE
3 — ROYAL
4 — ROYAL PREMIUM
GETTING AROUND MERIT KYRENIA
If you’re on the main Merit site, nothing is more than a short walk away. But there are also a fleet of golf buggies that buzz this way and that and you can hop in one of those from outside any of the hotel towers. Just tell the driver where you want to go and sit back.
If you’re in the Park Hotel, there’s a regular shuttle bus that runs four times per hour from outside, dropping you at the main Merit site. Double check with the PokerStars information desk for times.
BUFFETS & RESTAURANTS
Each of the hotels has its own buffet serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests in any tower can eat in any of the restaurants. It’s just a case of telling the attendants at the door your room number, and in you go.
There’s indoor and outdoor dining at each property.
While you’re most likely to go for breakfast in the buffet closest to your room, there’s no reason not to explore some of the other places for lunch and dinner. There will also be a buffet close to the main tournament room and in the cash game area, so you can pick up some food as you play as well.
Additional inclusive restaurants
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with some time to spare during the day, you can maybe mix up your dining experience by heading to one of the snack bars by the side of the beach (5).
Food here is included in the all-inclusive deal, so you don’t need to pay any extra. But you can find fried chicken, pizza, burgers and ice-cream among other things at a beachside food-court type arrangement.
It’s served in takeaway containers, so you can head to the beach to eat (weather permitting).
You can also eat and drink at the poolside restaurant in the Diamond resort (6). This is a bit of a hidden gem. It serves a wide and decent menu of all cuisines, which you can eat either indoors, beside the pool or on the covered terrace by the entrance to the hotel.
Additional restaurants for supplemental payment
While all food at the buffets is included in the “all inclusive” price of your hotel stay, there are a few other restaurants on site that offer a different, specialist menu for a supplement.
These include a Chinese restaurant in the Royal tower (7 – beside the main buffet); a seafood restaurant on the seafront promenade (8) and a Turkish kebab house (9) outside the Crystal Cove. There’s also a restaurant on the top floor of the Crystal Cove offering wonderful views across the sea (10).
5 — BEACHSIDE SNACKS
6 — DIAMOND POOLSIDE DINING
7 — CHINESE
8 — BLUE SEA SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
9 — OTTOMAN KEBAB HOUSE
10 — LAMBUSA RESTAURANT
RECREATION & ATTRACTIONS
One of the most appealing things about the Merit Kyrenia complex is the way it caters to everyone. There’s plenty to keep children entertained, for instance, with a kids club (11) and playground (12) and there are gyms and sports facilities in every hotel.
A couple of things to note in particular:
The beach is located between the Crystal Cove and the Royal, with easy access from inside both hotels. It’s strictly for residents only, but grab a towel in exchange for your room number, and you can relax on a sun-lounger on the sand, or on many of the boardwalk/jetties that rise above the sea.
There are also fresh water outdoor swimming pools at each hotel. If the weather is warm, these are great. If it’s cold outside, however, there’s also a heated indoor pool downstairs in the Crystal Cove (13).
There are two tennis courts outside the Royal Premium (14) and one beside the Crystal Cove (15).
This is the only destination on the European Poker Tour where you can visit a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (16). Conservationists rescue injured or orphaned turtles from the sea, nurse them back to health, and release them regularly.
There are usually four or five residents in the Rehabilitation Centre’s tanks and you can take a look and learn how the medical operations take place.
There’s also a farm and an aviary (17) in the same area, where you can stroll among the peacocks or stroke the ponies.
The best other place for an on-property stroll is out the back of the Royal Diamond hotel. There’s a nice, small landscaped garden (19) there (and an outdoor chess board, if you can’t resist the competition).
11 — KIDS CLUB
12 — KIDS PLAYGROUND
13 — INDOOR SWIMMING POOL/GYM
14 — TENNIS COURTS (PREMIUM)
15 — TENNIS COURTS (CRYSTAL COVE)
16 — TURTLE REHABILITATION CENTRE
17 — AVIARY AND FARM
18 — PUTTING GREEN
19 — ORNAMENTAL GARDENS
EPT POKER AT MERIT
As stated above, the tournament room for the EPT and Eureka festivals is in the Merit Diamond resort (A). You can get to it either through the main Diamond lobby (it’s floor L3), or through the entrance to the conference centre, beneath the dome opposite the Royal.
Registration details are to be confirmed, but expect the same process as with any EPT event.
There’s also a poker room on the lower ground floor of the Crystal Cove hotel (2). This is where you’ll find cash games, plus a player buffet.
A — MAIN TOURNAMENT AREA
B — CASH GAMES