A little about me, I am in my mid thirties traveling with my spouse and 4 other couples of the same age range. I have travelled the world from Asia, Europe and central America, stayed in a multitude of hotels from 3 to 5 star and ultra luxury hotels. This is my forth visit to the Riviera Maya area and my 8th trip to Mexico. I have stayed at Riu, Bahia Principe, Barcelo, Palladium properties and a recent stay at the Iberostar Quetzal Tucan in 2011. I always try to budget an all inclusive getaway per year keeping in mind my max is 1300-1400$ per person.
I would also like to remind reviewers that hotel ratings vary from country to country, from vacation providers and such. For example the European rating system only takes into account amenities offered on the resort whether there’s a mini bar, pool, spa etc determines the star level nothing else. Vacation providers use a similar rating system, taking in to account customer experience and profitability (they appear to favor hotels that give them a kick back). Furthermore big hotel chains such as Riu’s, Iberostar’s and Bahia Principe’s etc. offer different 5 star options at different price points remember the higher price points such as the Grand Hotels (Iberostar) Palace (Riu) etc. will give you newer hotel with more elaborate amenities and options. This by far was a true representation of a 5 start resort other than the beach.
Location: 5/5 15-20 min. safe taxi ride to Playa Del Carmen. The resort is located about 5 min from Puerto Aventuras Resort area 10 min to Akumal Beach (recommend). Travel time from the airport is about an hour depending on other stops. However during this trip we were the first ones off with subsequent scheduled stops to Barcelo, Grand Sirenis and Bahia Principe. Free shuttle service to Playacar Golf Course is available through the hotel twice a day 8h30 or 10h30 with a scheduled return at 15h10 and 16h10. You can walk to Playa Del Carmen about a 10 min walk from the Playacar Golf Course. I have read other reviewers saying it was in a bad area which is completely false the golf course is in the Playacar Resort area where the Riu, Iberostar, Wyndham among others are located many clients including myself walk this road many times it is very safe monitored by the Tourist police frequently. A nice plus during our stay was that the shuttle dropped us off at the Playacar Palace entrance and day passes are still available however it is unclear whether this option will be available once the name change happens.
Check-In: 4/5 We initially booked rooms on the cove side of the resort however upon arrival we were dropped off at the Spa end of the resort as the Cove lobby was closed due to our late arrival. We were advised that we were upgraded to partial ocean view rooms on the Spa side as we were all adults in our party. Checkin was quick however they failed to check us in for the entire 7 day stay which created an issue with the $1500 credits which was quickly rectified the following day. However, it still was a nuisance. No bracelets required throughout the resort which is a huge plus!
Beach 3/5: Despite being well aware that there was no beach or a man made beach prior to booking we remained optimistic and hoped the lagoon area was swimmable. Well it wasn’t the man made beach area has hard sand. When entering the lagoon you realize that there is algae at the bottom and do not want to swim further. I hope with the upgrades planned for the Hard Rock transition, they will add fresh sand on the beach area so that it could be used for sun bathing. There’s not much they could do about the lagoon. Not much to offer for snorkeling. On the plus side they still offer access to Playacar Palace which is a definite plus as the playacar beach is one of the best in the riviera. Hopefully the rumors of ceasing to offer this perk when the transition happens are false as this was the main reason why we decided to go ahead and book this hotel. Other alternatives in the area are the Puerto Aventuras Beach and Akumal Beach. The latter is about a 10 min ride at 13USD per way from the hotel. Akumal beach is beautiful offers great snorkeling with sea turtles, sting rays and a pretty good reef.
Grounds 5/5: Beautiful lush mature vegetation is located throughout the resort. Most restaurants are located beach side and ocean front. Waterfalls, fountains and all other expected amenities and decor you would expect from a 5 star resort and the associated wildlife.
Pools 5/5: There are 3-4 outdoor pools, and 2 indoor located in the spa area. Two huge free form pools the largest located in the Cove side which includes a pool bar, was empty throughout our stay as it was on the family side of the resort. The spa side free form pool features a pool side bar, 3-4 whirlpools, most adults congregate in this area as the activities music are located there. There’s a small current pool which is in a quiet area. Overall there is a place for everyone to find an area by the pool. No Towel cards which is a definite plus
Bars: 5/5: Top shelf drinks readily available pick your poison never had an issue with top shelf availability. Service was great. Wait staff around the pool and at the bars were great. Excellent service throughout. Not as much service pool side on the Cove side. As the area was empty.
Rooms 5/5: Linens, towels readily available and frequently changed. Amenities such as shampoo, soaps ect. restocked daily. Alcohol dispenser available, mini bar restocked daily, rooms cleaned thoroughly. The whirlpool tub does take a lot of room but is a nice feature we used it often. Hammock available on the balcony. Elevators available in every building. Room Service was quick, breakfast in bed available. Excellent!
Entertainment 5/5: Entertainment staff available throughout, lots of activities available, nightly shows are run of the mill resort shows. Activities included fun and group oriented poolside activities to sports oriented. Great Fitness Centre with Spin, Yoga etc. Live bands poolside on Mondays, music throughout mostly Rock due to the transition. Live rock, latin, piano performances in both central courtyards at the Cove and Spa. The Disco is in the Cove section needs to be renovated as it is showing it’s age. The conventions that were going on during the week we stayed there kept it hopping.
Food 5/5: Above par run of the mill resort hotel food with better choices than some never left hungry. Wait staff was excellent. Never had an issue with access to the A-la-cartes no reservation required the Italian was the most popular. Never eat at the buffet during the evenings as there a multitude of options available throughout. The lunch buffet was above par. Breakfast was OK. For those with children staying on the Cove side you will not have access to the 3 restaurants located on the Spa side as they are adults only which limits your selection however the options on the Cove side a very good.
Spa 5/5: As all know this is the highlight of the hotel. If staying on the Spa side you can use all 1500 of the credits towards Spa services. Book early as space is limited. We booked on our second day. Availability was a nuisance however we were able to schedule Deep Tissue, Hot Stone and couples massages which were all great. Facials, pedicures and wraps had good reviews. One in our party had used the spa credits for a wax and a haircut. Spa had a steam rooms and tubs etc. Excellent
Service 6/5: The strong point of this hotel Exceptional attentive staff from all points. Buffet and A la Carte service was excellent. Maid service excellent. Beach/Pool service excellent. Lobby bar service excellent. Service with a smile at all times. Waiters always talked and joked with patrons. The only hiccup was the credit issue but it was quickly corrected by guest services who hunted us down to tell us the issue was resolved.
Overall I would highly recommend this hotel, if not for the lack of a beach. The hotel would be an exceptional 5 star hotel should they have one. I will return if they continue to offer the access to the Playacar Palace as its a good alternative to having a beach on site. Don’t listen to the bad reviewers I find they are usually from Palace Time Share members that expect too much for what they paid for. I doubt the hotel will be offered at this price point once the conversion takes effect as the Punta Cana prices have shot up about 500 to 700 dollars when it converted so take advantage of the low pre conversion rate!