Travel: All-Inclusive Paradise Found

by Erica Moody

An oceanfront getaway in Mexico’s Riviera Maya provides the ultimate getaway. 

By Alice Shapin

Photo courtesy of Velas Resorts.

Photo courtesy of Velas Resorts.

The last time my husband and I went on an all-inclusive vacation was 15 years ago. The activities were great, but the furnishings were sparse and the food, although plentiful, was mediocre. We decided to try again, but this time with luxury in mind. We chose the AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.

We landed in Cancun in January, quickly shedding our winter coats as we headed to our waiting limo bus. Lush vegetation lined the wide boulevard where grand entrances guarded many luxury resorts. The road from the boulevard to Grand Velas Riviera Maya was a botanical wonder of tropical trees and plants, all leading up to the resort and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

The resort is nestled between the white sands of Playa del Carmen and the Yucatan jungle. It offers adults-only oceanfront, family-friendly ocean view, and jungle Zen-like tropical accommodations, all in separate areas. Sans children, my husband and I stayed at Grand Class, the adults-only hotel on the beach. It didn’t disappoint. Inside the lobby, the resort staff greeted us with a cool towel and a tropical drink while they checked us in. In the meantime our bags were whisked away to our room. We quickly learned that service would be paramount at the resort.

Once our concierge opened the door to our suite, we knew we were in paradise. On the entrance table was a beautiful bottle of high-end tequila for us. The 1,300 square foot oversized oceanfront suite was exquisitely decorated with Mexican artwork, a lounge area, and a king-size bed that made us feel as though we were wrapped in a cocoon. Centered in the middle of the room, the TV sat on a rich wood curved credenza that swiveled for perfect viewing either from the bed or the lounge area. Underneath a basket of pretzels, chocolate, and cookies was a stocked refrigerator with soft drinks, water and treats that were constantly being restocked. The huge ultra-luxurious marble bathroom featured a walk-in glass shower, a deep soaking Jacuzzi tub, and L’Occitane bath products. Just off the suite was a very large terrace with lounge chairs, a private plunge pool, and a mesmerizing view of the blue-green Caribbean.

Once my swimsuit and cover-up were on, it was time to explore. Cool breezes greeted us as we headed outside to the massive infinity pool. After dipping our toes into the warm water, we decided to return later and continued to the beach where lounges and cabanas were available. Grab a lounge chair and the beach attendants will bring you an umbrella, or take a cabana and they’ll happily strap down the sides to shade you if you wish. Ice and bottled water soon arrived. In the mood for a pina colada? We got those too. After some reading and a walk on the beach, we strolled over to the large family pool and checked out Azul, one of eight restaurants in the resort.

Throughout the resort are wooden walkways lined by lush greenery and flowering bushes with the blue sea as a backdrop. After we perused the extensive buffet at Azul, casual dining right off the beach, we sat outdoors and munched on croissant sandwiches. It was a great spot for breakfast too.

It’s almost impossible to say what the pièce de résistance of this resort was, but with eight very distinct restaurants, the food was certainly a major contender. Ambiance, presentation, and variety made Riviera Velas Maya restaurants standouts. Five of the eight restaurants offered a gastronomic tour of Mexican, European and Asian cuisine, perfect for foodies and very different from our former all-inclusive experience. Five of the restaurants were family friendly allowing guests under 16 years old to dine. Cocina De Autor, with celebrity chefs Bruno Oteiza, Mikel Alonso and Xavier Pérez Stone at the helm, holds the AAA Five Diamond Award, the first all-inclusive resort restaurant in the world to win this prestigious distinction. Cocina De Autor (literally “Author Cuisine”) showcases entirely new, thoroughly researched, creative dishes that reflect the Mexican and Caribbean culture without reinterpreting popular classics. And Piaf, named after singer Edith Piaf, features four-diamond French cuisine and an atmosphere reminiscent of 1940’s Parisian luxury with tones of red and black accentuated by stunning curtains of Swarovski crystals. In fact, each restaurant had a different atmosphere meticulously designed to evoke an experience complementing its menu—from the Mexican inspired Frida to the open air Chaká which puts you, literally, in the middle of the jungle.

Photo courtesy of Grand Velas Resorts.

Photo courtesy of Velas Resorts.

Speaking of the jungle, that’s where we found the resort’s third pool, set amongst tall palms and endless greenery. Tranquil and serene, the only sounds were those of the jungle, birds and frogs. Also in this area is the resort’s other claim to fame– the ultra luxury Grand Velas Riviera Maya Spa, named “Best Spa in the World” by Virtuoso in 2010. As soon as we entered, an overwhelming feeling of total calm came over us (as if we weren’t calm already).

The sanctuary, including 42 treatment suites and his/ hers hydrotherapy facilities, was built in harmony alongside the natural jungle and decorated with beautiful native art work. In addition to its extensive menu of treatments, was the “Water journey” which included a hydrotherapy circuit consisting of a clay room, ice room and experience pool featuring aromatic essences, flowers, candles and hot smooth stones. Each of the spa’s areas showcased unbelievable design beauty complete with soft lighting and natural materials.

If lounging around isn’t your thing, you can find kite-surfing schools, golf courses, nearby shopping, kayak tours, or explorations in the Mayan culture. Resort staff will happily make all the arrangements you need.

After a leisurely dinner and a luscious cocktail, my husband and I joined in karaoke, where I learned just how much of an extrovert other half is. But I was happy be on the sidelines. One evening we left the resort to see Cirque du Soleil, Joya. I was not sure what to expect since our other Cirque du Soleil experiences were in Vegas and a tent in Maryland. The location was over-the-top, Disney-like with a large lake, theater, and restaurant. At night it really did twinkle. We sat at a large circular table where the performers interacted with us, though the theater had no bad seats.

After our week in paradise, I’m officially hooked on all-inclusive vacations and ready to experience one of the other Grand Velas properties.

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