Km. 298.8 Carretera #307, Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
After running for four years as Mexico's only Mandarin Oriental, Blue Diamond Riviera Maya Resort now offers a mix of beach and jungle atmosphere under a true luxury all-inclusive a la carte plan, but with the same winning rooms and design.
Opened in early 2008 as a Mandarin Oriental that only lasted a few years, the Blue Diamond Riviera Maya Resort and Spa competes with several other fine resorts in the neighboring Mayakoba complex: Banyan Tree, Fairmont, and Rosewood. This one stands apart as a luxury all-inclusive for adults, however, one that's built on a much smaller and more intimate scale than most resorts trying to do the same. The Blue Diamond has a Zen–spare aesthetic dictating the room décor, and restaurant menus which offer haute Mexican and global fusion cuisine in two very diffent settings. Grupo BlueBay wisely left all the great design elements in place, spending most of the multi-million-dollar renovation budget on revamping the air-conditioning system: spacious suites will get bracingly cool if you want, a respite from the Rivera Maya's hot coastal days.
The hotel's a la carte luxury plan includes a bevy of luxury room and restaurant options that you can pick and choose from to personalize your stay so it's just the way you want it. There are none of the all-inclusive mainstays that turn off luxury travelers though: no wristbands, buffets, cheesy dancing shows, or social directors with a microphone at the pool. The drinks on offer are things like good Don Julio tequila and 12-year Flor de Cana rum. You have full liquor bottles and Dos Equis Amber beers in your complimentary minibar.
Like the Rosewood nearby, the Blue Diamond is a skinny property stretching from inland jungle, across a swath of mangroves, to the beach; however, it's a longer piece of land, occupying nearly a full mile between its front gate and the water, thus allowing a bit more breathing room for the same number of rooms. Getting from place to place requires a ride on one of the many golf carts plying the trails of the resort, summoned with a phone call. In theory you can rent a bike too, but set it up in advance to be sure as there aren't nearly enough of them when occupancy is high. The hotel offers a limited range of activities like wine tastings, Spanish lessons, morning yoga, and kayaking adventures—most included in the rates—plus a few that aren't like rounds on the Mayakoba an 18-hole championship golf course.
At the beach, chairs with drink and towel service are set up by the lapping waves. The blinding white pool area is set up one level, affording a great view of the turquoise Caribbean. In fact, there are two pools here—one large, and one smaller, long one for laps. The latter is lined by cabanas for getting out of the sun and there's a hot tub that's popular after the sun goes down. But it's the only real pool area. The only other place to lounge is the attractive but small pool outside the spa.
Not that the property never feels particularly crowded even when at full occupancy, probably because many guests find their gorgeous rooms worth spending plenty of time in. The smallest ones are 660 square feet, but the layout is such that you can often feel secluded—in the inland rooms, you can usually look out your window and not see another room. In all the various configurations, the rooms feel almost like apartments, thanks to an entry foyer that divides the sleeping and sitting area from the expansive bathrooms. Enormous walk–in closets with plenty of hangers and storage space are a welcome touch, so the rest of your room can remain clutter–free and as minimalist as it was designed.
With the exception of the five beachfront casitas, which are done completely in white, rooms are furnished with a crisp combination of dark wood and white walls. A good half of the floor space is dedicated to the bathrooms, all of which feature either an outdoor tub or shower and lounge area, along with full indoor facilities. A wide range of quality toiletries join robes, slippers, and thick towels, while some have double vanities (in alabaster, lit from within) and huge soaking tubs that can easily fit two.
The beachfront rooms and those immediately behind, set on a small channel, are in high demand because of their proximity to the water and balconies or terraces, but they are not the most private rooms. In the Beachfront Casitas and Premier Palafitos, for instance, the rooftop terraces have no screens between neighbors—potentially a bit distracting, especially in the Palafitos, which feature rooftop showers or tubs.
Guests looking for more privacy may prefer the Laguna or Cenote rooms, where floor–to–ceiling windows look out onto a terrace and greenery around the canals that run through the mangroves; the downstairs layout (Premier Laguna) includes a larger garden area, but otherwise the layouts are similar to the upstairs Deluxe Laguna option. One further distinctive set of rooms, the Selva rooms, are in the "art courtyards"—cool quads built around abstract sculptural installations by Mexican artists.
There are just two restaurants, but both are real standouts, serving all meals a la carte, with a presentation on par with any independent restaurant in Playa del Carmen. The seaside one looks through a wall of glass to the turquoise water and fittingly is built around plenty of seafood choices. The more formal Alma international restaurant is a real showpiece in the decor and on the plate. A romantic candlelight dinner here coincides with a thoughtful menu that includes varied wine selections. The only clue that you're in an all-inclusive resort is the lack of a bill after you've ordered whatever you want. Volume-appropriate live entertainment is on the inside, while outdoor terrace seating sometimes includes a crocodile viewing—one night during my visit there was a a mother and her youngster.
A nearby open-air cigar bar is set up like a hip rooftop lounge, with waiters bringing drinks to you while you kick back on a sofa. The bar by the beach and pool also stays open late for those who want to listen to the waves instead of the crickets and electronic music.
Closest to the lobby is the expansive spa, which has a vaguely Middle Eastern style. It features a domed, tiled steam room, as well as a vast heated pool with submerged lounge chairs; women can also enjoy the Rasul, a hot clay massage and steam treatment. On the more practical side after the good food and drinks, the gym is gigantic and well-equipped.
There are a few other high-end all-inclusives on this Caribbean Mexican coast, but for those discerning luxury travelers who put aethetics and fine dining at the top of their list, this intimate 128-suite resort may be the best bet.
Web Address: www.bluediamond-rivieramaya.com
Total Number of Rooms: 128
Published rates: $496 to $6,000 all-inclusive.
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.