Boulevard Kukulcan Km 12.5, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico
With a wide variety of excellent dining spots, a stunning pool complex, and views toward the Caribbean sea from nearly all rooms, the adults-only, luxury all-inclusive Live Aqua Cancun Resort is a big step up from most competitors on the strip.
Live Aqua Cancun's parent company Grupo Posadas is better known for its Fiesta Americana hotels, high–end business–friendly properties throughout Mexico. Live Aqua is such a departure from those in style and focus that it's the flagship of a separate resort brand. It aims to be an all-inclusive for the discerning set, with finer finishings, a higher ratio of staffers, and better restaurants than most of its neighbors in this popular resort city. With assets like a VIP lounge floor, a well-regarded spa, and a full aromatherapy program, Live Aqua has plenty of attributes to set it apart.
The white building, in the shape of U expanded at the sides, soars above the beach at a prime spot in Cancun's hotel zone—out of the fray of the major bar–and–club area, but walking distance to upscale shopping and sleeker nightspots. Uniformed staff welcome new arrivals and whisk them to the lobby area for check-in, with a cool drink or a quick escort up to the club floor for those guests. The soaring space of this area is nothing compared with the view out the floor–to–ceiling windows: an elaborate network of eight swimming pools, all fronting the incomparably blue Caribbean—possibly the most lavish pool area in the city. One has a swim-up bar, one is long enough for laps, and others are best for gazing out at the sea from the infinity edge.
Down on the wide beach with lounge chairs and towel service, busy waiters fetch food and drinks while some guests play volleyball. You can reserve a daybed (for a sizable extra fee for non-suite guests) with curtains that will be a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta after your included foot massage. At both the pool and beach, don't be surprised if someone offers a cold popsicle, gives you a cool water spritz, or cleans off your smudged sunglasses. The one annoying aspect of this is the lack of sustainability. Single-use plastic water bottles are foisted upon guests so constantly here I started to think waiters get a bonus for the number of how many they disperse. (When I asked one for water that didn't come in a plastic bottle, he got visibly shaken, disappeared, and never came back.) Inevitably, some of those bottles end up blowing into the ocean or littering the beach. Pending local legislation may force an end to this by the time you check in though.
Restaurant spaces are varied and visually stunning. It's hard to get bored with the food here even if you're staying a week. There's a playfulness to the nine choices, with a sushi spot by one of the bars, a coffee shop, an open-air Italian restaurant nestled in the foliage outdoors, and a great Sea Corner spot. The latter overlooks the beach, serving real Mexican food like you would find in a beach shack outside the resort zone: delightfully fresh ceviche, seafood tacos, tostadas, and aguachile options with a cold beer.
The seaside Azur restaurant also has a terrific view of the beach and water, serving more upscale seafood dishes, sushi, and more for lunch and dinner most days. The most elegant dinner spot is MB, a romantic option with professional waiters on the ball. Here I had a habanero soup in a bread bowl, a watermelon salad with goat cheese, and delicious beef filet, then as I ordered dessert my waiter said, "I'm going to sing you a song in a little while." I didn't know what to expect from that, but sure enough, soon he sat down at the grand piano and belted out an opera song with no microphone. He came back and wished me a good night before fawning over some other guests and recommending dishes.
The main three-meal restaurant Siete 7, may just be the nicest buffet restaurant on the strip. It has seven columns with artistic renderings of Mexican icons through the ages, then a wall of glass facing the garden area that lets in lots of natural light. The cuisine is uniformly excellent throughout at Live Aqua Cancun, including at the buffet tables.
The signature dinner to have here though, which requires an extra fee but is worth it, is the In Laa' Kech experience in its own dedicated round building surrounded by water (said to signify a cenote) in the center of the garden. Here a master of ceremonies fluent in English guides diners through a variety of Yucatecan drinks and dishes that date back to Mayan times or have some strong local significance. You make your own cocktail mixing local ingredients, have some Mexican red wine to accompany your food, and go through nine appetizers and plates of food that provide a culinary tour of the Yucatan. Corn, avocado, squash blossoms, and beans all make an appearance, but also sopa de lima, the much-loved cochinta pibil marinated pork dish. Honey was so important to the Mayans that they had a god of bees. When the dessert courses roll around there's some rare melipona honey drizzled on that supposedly goes for $700 a liter.
The liquor selection is rather predictable at the bars, but the options do cover all the bases and there's a good array of tequila. Nice Mexican wines from Baja Norte are standard in the all-inclusive plan and you can order from a well-curated list for a special dinner. There are plenty of places to find a drink by the pools during the day and the clubby downstairs lounge open at night has a pool table and comfy sofas. Those on the club floor have more top-shelf liquor choices, including the incomparable Ron Zacapa 23 rum, Don Julio tequila, quality mezcal, and several single malt Scotch options.
Nearly all the sleek and modern-looking rooms here have a great ocean view and at least a standing balcony. Up to the suite level, they feel average in size, though they do have cool marble floors, mostly white furnishings, and carefully placed mirrors that help expand the space. They have a full sofa and a small table with two chairs. Aqua's guest who want more space make a beeline for one of the five styles of suites—even the smallest one is 762 square feet. These have private terraces, outdoor showers, and space for massages and other spa treatments. Mod Italian lamps and dark–wood furniture don't break any new ground in décor, but they're perfectly attractive. The real key in selecting a room, though, is to request one closer to the center of the building, rather than along the outer edges of the two wings—this way you'll avoid a view of the Aqua's neighbors.
Suite guests, status members of the parent company's loyalty program, and those who have upgraded have access to a private lounge with a view, a bar, and snacks set up at different times of day. This Aqua Club that serves 71 of the rooms and suites is on the hotel's sixth floor, with incredible ocean views. You'll probably be welcomed with some extra goodies in your room upon arrival too if you upgrade to this level, perhaps some chocolates, a bottle of wine, or some bubbly.
Amenities are extensive and tick off all the right boxes. Minibars are stocked with Mexican beers, sodas, and snacks; there's a coffee maker or espresso machine, the included Wi-Fi works well; inclusive room service is 24 hours; and there are ample outlets and lamps in the rooms. There are unique terrycloth gray hoody robes in the closets, along with flip-flops and a beach bag. Bathroom amenities are abundant, including double vanities and Molton Brown toiletries, and there's turndown service each evening. Aromatherapy is a big part of the theme at Live Aqua, with strong (but meant to be relaxing) scents following you around all the indoor public areas. In your room you get a choice of multiple oil blend options with names like "energy" or "romance" and contain scents such as mint, rosemary, and ginger. A few recent upgrades to the tech feel fresh, including curtains that open when the room door does and close when you leave to keep the place cool.
There's a daily schedule of activities here, but they're thankfully more low-key than the typical all-inclusive—no chirpy actitivities director with a microphone trying to rope people into games. Most are body and spirit oriented, with yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, beach volleyball and the like. Each evening there's live entertainment. The gym here is bright and well-equipped, while the cool spa is a welcome respite from the sun and humidity when it's time to and get a massage or body treatment. While it's attractive now, the spa is slated for renovations this year.
The obvious comparison on the strip is Le Blanc, which is a bit more stylish and hip. Live Aqua wins the war of the swimming pools though and has a service style that's more friendly and attentive. It's hard to find much fault here for those who already like all-inclusive hotels. Those who have avoided them because of fears of routine meals and rowdy kids just might be won over by this well-run beachfront resort for adults.
Web Address: www.liveaqua.com
Total Number of Rooms: 371
Published rates: $349 to $3,950 double all-inclusive with taxes
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.