While the all-inclusive resort industry has long suffered what I'll call an "image problem,” particularly among the luxury travel set, the concept is not only single-handedly redeemed, but entirely elevated and profoundly redefined, at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. This magnificent, one-of-a-kind oceanfront resort has everything you would expect from a world-class, elite vacation destination though proffered with the convenience and ease an all-inclusive experience affords.
Located on Mexico’s marvelous Yucatán Peninsula, the resort is set amidst a staggering 205 acres of paradise and protected mangroves. The destination is replete with panoramic views of the azure Caribbean Sea, close-proximity oceanfront accommodations, fully one thousand square feet of sugar sand beaches, lush jungle flora and fauna, and extensive amenities beyond any and all other Mexican and Caribbean all-inclusive resorts. In fact, this family-friendly, pet-friendly, and eco-friendly resort is the only one in the Mexican Caribbean to receive the revered AAA Five-Diamond Award, and it is a Leading Hotels of the World-designated property. It was also cited in Forbes’ roundup of the “10 Coolest All-Inclusive Resorts.” Having vacationed at Grand Velas Riviera Maya to commence my own summer sabbatical season, I can attest that these accolades are extraordinarily well earned.
On the grounds, accommodations are divided into three options—the Zen Grand Suites that offer a tranquil jungle view, the ocean view Ambassador Suites that are great for families, and the most popular (and my choice) adult-only Grand Class Suites where occupants must be at least 12 years of age. All combined, there are 491 suites total that range in size from a generous 1,184 square feet even at the lower end to a spacious 3,767 square feet in the premier rooms.
The Grand Class offers a more exclusive feel among its 90 elite ocean view suites that measure 1,377 square feet. Added terrace square footage makes the rooms feel far larger. Each exquisite suite is decorated in warm, calming, and nature-inspired tones of brown, taupe, and cream, and beautifully accented with custom-commissioned artwork by local master artisans. This all blends seamlessly with the rich dark wood accents, travertine flooring, and granite countertops. Each and every Grand Class suite comes with its very own plunge pool on an expansive private, whicker-furnished oceanfront terrace as well as a bevy of high-tech conveniences like a 42-inch plasma TV, and DVD/CD/MP3 player and remote-controlled blackout curtains. Wireless Internet is also available for an optional per diem.
The amply-sized Grand Class suite bathrooms are a destination all their own, featuring a large Jacuzzi tub; separate floor-to-ceiling glass rain shower; walk-in closet with safe, bathrobe and slippers; and best-of-class bath and body products. The room’s inviting living space provide sample seating, while the sleeping area offers a choice of a king bed or two queen beds. The plush beds are replete with white goose down pillows and billowy comforters. You can also enjoy, at your all-inclusive whim, a fully stocked mini-bar, Nespresso coffee machine with varied flavor options, and bottle of premium Tequila resident in every room.
Imagine having your very own personal butler while on holiday. At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, this fantasy becomes reality as guests of the Grand Class enjoy their very own butler-concierge who will handle whatever a guest desires—from unpacking bags to setting up local sightseeing tours and reservations to arranging any last-minute plans, spa appointments, transportation and shipments. They’ll even make arrangements for a last-minute surprise. Essentially, your butler will do his or her utmost to ensure each guest’s stay at the property is as easy, relaxing, pleasurable and memorable as possible—something they are quite adept at since these butlers receive no less than180 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of service training before they are authorized to work with guests.
On top of this personal and very indulgent service by your butler, the entire staff at Grand Velas Riviera Maya delivers the same magnificent level of attentiveness and friendliness, setting the experience apart from so many resorts—all inclusive and otherwise. The ratio of staff to guest is three to one, which means you are catered to at every turn. The staff, including the butlers, is very culturally diverse and many are multilingual to make all guests at the resort feel at home.
Stellar staff treatment aside, the resort is teeming with top-notch all-inclusive amenities. In addition to the many on-site restaurants that singularly set this resort apart from the pack, there is also 24-hour in-suite dining, a dedicated pool and beach concierge, an expansive children’s pool and multiple infinity pools with swim up bar, Karaoke bar, live music at the lobby bar and sky bar, and valet parking. Also included is access to the state-of-the-art Life Fitness Centers for cardio and weight training, Pilates, and Yoga, meditation. Families with young kids enjoy the available Grand Kids Activities program that’ll ensure the kids will have a blast while the parents benefit from some alone time. Then there are non-motorized water sports like boogie boards and kayaks as well as activities like beach volleyball, water polo, pedal boats, basketball, football, ping pong and croquet, just to name a few.
Then there are the amenities that have a small fee, including wine and imported liquor service, laundry and dry cleaning, beauty parlor, spa treatments, art and ceramic workshop, tours and transportation, boutiques, on-site doctor consultation and diagnosis, catering, car rental, a travel agency, babysitting service, and airport transportation. A Hobie Cat is also available for rent. All combined, this resort has it all.
The property is also located near activities and points of interest, including tours to the Mayan ruins, natural parks and the Mayan jungle, horseback riding, swimming with the dolphins and off-road excursions. The quaint town of Playa del Carmen is a short 10-minute drive away where you can spend the day meandering among the multitude of shops and eateries.
Speaking of eating, Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s crowned jewel is its dining offerings. Far atypical of common all-inclusive fare, this royalty-caliber resort takes vacation victuals to a whole new level with no less than five gourmet restaurants conceptualized by world-renowned chefs. A virtual gastronomic voyage, each offers a diverse, upscale dining option focused on food and flavors from around the globe. The resort’s most pleasantly surprising offering is Cocina de Autor, its signature restaurant that serves up molecular cuisine that fuses classic and modern culinary techniques with science and technology to create an avante garde food adventure. Then there is Frida—vibrant Mexican fine dining that has garnered numerous awards for its fusion dishes, also winning the hearts of patrons with its welcoming margarita trolley. The on-site French restaurant, Piaf, boasts a chef who is only one of 300 in the world to receive the title of “Maître Cuisinier of France”, and the upscale Asian eatery, Sen Lin, combines flavors from Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam for a unique culinary experience. Lucca’s, a Northern Italian restaurant, serves up homemade pastas, specialty seafood dishes, and gourmet meats.
The property also provides a selection of casual dining options, including Azul where breathtaking ocean vistas are complimented by 5-star breakfast and lunch buffets and a dinner menu all serving up impeccably executed international cuisine. Bistro, a French brasserie-style spot overlooking the infinity edge pool and beach beyond, is a great breakfast choice for service that’s as tasty as the fare. Another casual locale, Chaka restaurant, focuses on organic ingredients and unique desserts set amongst a jungle ambiance.
In addition to the five gourmet and other more casual restaurants, there are still other food and beverage outlets on-site that offer something for everyone to savor. This includes everything from open-air snack bars, 24-hour in-suite dining menus, and five bars. In the evening, be sure to hit the Karaoke bar where you and others can sing to your heart’s content on stage while savoring divine margaritas along with a host of other local libations.
When it comes to a vacation spa location, few exceed the first-class experience at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. Boasting the region’s largest spa, this luxury oasis tops out at a staggering 89,305 square feet of soothing space designed with one singular goal in mind: to ensure your utter enjoyment and relaxation. Named “Best Spa” in the world by Virtuoso and having garnered a SpaFinder Readers’ Choice Award, visitors understandably have high expectations of this delight-driven destination, which are readily exceeded.
This spa sanctuary, with its international menu of treatments, is designed to stimulate all of the human senses through a variety of signature services. Many of the spa treatments here allow you to immerse yourself in local culture and lore, uniquely utilizing the region’s Mayan tradition and all-natural ingredients like cocoa, coffee, vanilla, and organic mud and honey. Some truly distinctive treatments are offered, including Fish Therapy where small fish nibble at your feet to smooth skin and promote circulation. There are also spa treatments designed just for men, including the Purifying Vanilla Facial, to soothe their sensitive skin. Holistic packages, salon services and traditional Spa treatments including massage, body wraps, facials and manicures are also available.
Beyond the amazing array of spa treatments offered is the look and feel of the two-level space. It was designed to look as natural as possible, with a décor rife with native artwork and furnishings, stones, wood, plants, and water at every turn to enhance the tranquil feel and help you feel connected to Mother Earth. There is, in fact, a magnificent 40,000 square foot Water Lounge and hydrotherapy facilities that feature dry saunas, cold plunge pools, vitality pools, whirlpools, herbal steam rooms with color-therapy, clay and ice rooms, and experience showers. Of course, those who prefer more privacy can opt for in-suite spa treatments. While none of the spa services are included in the all-inclusive price, they are well worth the additional fee for a serene spa experience of a lifetime.
Even though you may be on vacation, it’s still a great time to exercise and this resort has many options. Besides hiking tours and walks along the beach, you can sweat it out at the resort’s various fitness facilities and programs. There’s everything you will ever need to get in shape, including Pilates, Yoga, and Zumba as well as one-on-one instruction with personal trainers. The two on-site Life Fitness Centers have a wide range of modern equipment, including cross trainers, exercise bikes, treadmills, and stair climbers as well as resistance and weight training stations. When the workout is done, take a sauna in the spa to loosen those tight muscles and detox. If you prefer to be out and about, partake in one of the resort’s adrenaline pumping activities where you’ll have loads of fun in the tropical sun while getting fit.
Even amid all of the sophistication, grandeur and game-changing culinary prowess at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya that raises the bar all-inclusive resorts world-wide, it's the heartfelt service of the gracious employees at all levels that sets this ultra-luxe vacation experience apart. All combined, you are veritably guaranteed to have a giddy grin on your face and a spring in your step for the duration. Simply stated, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is Latin American hospitality at its finest.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***