Carratera Cancun-Tulum km 62, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Living up to the “grand” in its name in every way, the Riviera Maya version of the Grand Velas experience, is big, brash, and impressive. This luxury all-inclusive lays everything on thick and houses restaurants that are some of the best on the entire coast.
The first Grand Velas all-suites hotel north north of Puerto Vallarta set a new standard in Mexico and showed that a big all-inclusive hotel could provide an experience as luxurious as one in a traditional hotel where you are paying individually for every meal and drink. The Caribbean Coast version has followed the same blueprint of large decked-out rooms and noteworthy a la carte restaurants, but has taken it up a notch with celebrity chefs, high design public spaces, and an even longer stretch of beachfront than its sibling.
The 1,640 feet of beachfront is dotted with palapas, cushioned lounge chairs, and beds with billowing curtains. This beach is better than most in the area, partly due to protective bulbous long sandbags placed out in the water when the resort first opened. Several swimming pools are more popular, including the huge one with swim-up bar in the family area. A smaller adults-only infinity pool with its own bar is a welcome sight for those who want a quieter escape. Yet another is near the rooms in a third area further inland.
The 491 suites of the resort are in three defined sections. The Ambassador section is aimed at families, the Governor building is for adults only. These two are by the sea. The inland Master area—reached by complimentary shuttle—is where the extensive convention facilities and the spa are located. Adults have free run of every facility, while children are barred from some of the upscale restaurants and clubs.
Picky kids and foodies with a refined palate will both find plenty to choose from here and it’s not a stretch to say this hotel has the finest selection of restaurants on the entire coast, even in comparison to the Royal Playacar to the south, the Mayakoba resorts nearby, and the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun. It’s easy for a resort this big to pull off variety of course—there are eight distinct restaurants to choose from here:mdash;but what really defines the dining experience here are the incredible interiors and the flair for presentation that is consistent throughout. (It’s typical for diners to remark that they can’t believe this is an all-inclusive hotel.)
Most sophisticated diners first make a beeline to Cocina de Autor, a Basque tasting menu experience designed by Spanish chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso. with a dose of Mexican flair tossed in by Xavier P?rez Stone. This is the only AAA 5-diamond restaurant on the Mexican Caribbean coast that's in an all-inclusive hotel. Piaf is a classic French restaurant and Bistro a less fussy one, these two also open to adults and children 12 and above. The other outlets are all open to families since over the years, they have come to dominate a larger and larger share of the clientele. Service is far better than would be expected at such a big hotel, with waiters fluent in English bringing around one surprise after another and serving it with a flair.
The more casual restaurants are open all day, one in each defined section of the hotel. Many of the daytime spots have a sea view and at night the dinner restaurants are magical, with designer interiors that would not be out of place in Mexico City or Los Angeles.
The same goes for the five bars open at night—two of them until the wee hours. These are some of the most sleek and inviting lounge spaces in the Riviera Maya, but with no cover charge or huge bar tabs to worry about.
The brash restaurants are matched by the rooms themselves, the smallest being 1,184 square feet. Most are set up as expansive marble junior suites: an interior lounging area with sofa bed, a king or two queen beds, desk, outdoor lounging area (some with whirlpool or plunge pool), and a large marble bath. These baths have a wood screen that can open onto the rest of the room, giving the person in the tub a view to the water, and they contain a separate shower. Flat-screen HDTVs of 42 inches have DVD players and plenty of channels in English, minibars are restocked with beer, soda, and wine, and iPod docks have great sound. Plenty more gadgets and amenities are in place, including robes and small bottles of tequila. Anything from the long room service menu is available 24 hours at no extra charge.
Although the Master Suites are lovely, with a more Oriental feel and a relaxing setting among the vegetation, the inland location makes them a clear second choice for those not using the huge 3,000-person convention center—or plans to be in the spa every day.
The larger suites can be worth the upgrade for some guests. The Grand Class suites provide more room (about 250 square feet), an outside plunge pool or whirlpool of some kind, a larger TV that swivels toward the living area, a bottle of Don Julio tequila, and a walk-in closet. Remote controls close the blackout shades. A few two-bedroom suites are available and there are plenty of connecting rooms. The whole facility is very wheelchair-friendly, with each room using a huge door on one swivel hinge, but some are specifically equipped with bathroom handles as well.
Like many aspects at Grand Velas, the gym here is bigger and better than at just about any resort on the coast, with a wide selection of new machines and weights, plus organized classes for yoga, pilates, and aerobics. Getting to the spa requires a shuttle ride, but once there you find an extensive hydrotherapy facility that comes gratis with any paid treatment. You make a circuit through various stations in an impressive facility that has high ceilings and lots of natural light.
The kids’ club is extensive and staffed by bilingual attendants, non-motorized water sports are included in the rates, and the bars use premium brands of liquor.
During my first visit this resort had only been completely open for two weeks, but was already running smoothly on all counts. Years later, it's a well-honed operation and the barriers put in the water at the beginning have ensured a much wider beach area here than at the other resorts on this hurricane buffeted coast. It’s too big and spread-out for some, no doubt, but in many ways Grand Velas All Suites and Spa Resort proves that with the right designers, managers, and training, bigger can be better too. This resort is significantly more expensive than the ho-hum vacation factories dotting this whole Mexican coast, but as soon as you get to your room you see why. Grand Velas is in a different class of its own, a true luxury all-inclusive resort that works.
Web Address: rivieramaya.grandvelas.com
Total Number of Rooms: 491
Published rates: $347 to $1,750 per person all-inclusive
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.