The Barcelo Maya Tropical is part of a sprawling 5 hotel complex about 15 miles south of Playa del Carmen (1.3 hours from airport depending on traffic and other hotel transport pickups and drop offs). It has about 1/2 mile of gorgeous beachfront in the shape of two bites. There is a concrete wharf mid way down the beach that caters to scuba excursion boats and snorkelers. There are six theme restaurants: Spanish. Mexican, Italian, steak, Mediterranean, and Japanese. There are three lobbies for the hotels, a disco, and 2 large covered theaters and a convention center. There are 8 tennis courts, miniature golf, pitch and putt golf, one xbox360 and one ps3 console.
There are 5 buffet dining rooms and at least 3 pool side grill buffets. There are shuttles that run all day to move you around if you can't walk it all or have small kids. There is also a spa for adults and another for kids! This was our first stay at Barcelo (via Travelocity). 2 years previously we stayed at the Wyndham in Playa Del Carmen. This resort is of course all inclusive.
So here is my review: this is a beautiful location. Wonderful beachfront. Nice pools. Mini water park for little kids. Lots of functioning activities included e.g. snorkeling (requires credit card deposit receipt for fins/mask. Free for first hour and then $ per hour after), small Hobie cat sailing (free but you must reserve for lesson and for your sailing time and the wind cannot be blowing too hard. Check at the desk near the wharf), kayaking (1 and 2 person- reserve at same desk as above), tennis (rackets and balls provided; you may want to reserve- we never did and still got one of the last 2 courts. If you play after dark I think you need to pay $12/hr for the lights), pitch and putt (9 irons and putters provided; 4 holes about 50 yards from raised chipping matts and 2 practice chipping nets. this is quite fun for novice golfers- just take care to pay attention so you are not hit and vice versa as I saw this happen to some Quebecers!), mini-golf (there can be a wait for putters when it is busy; the holes are not very imaginative but it is a decent 18 hole course surrounded by lots of shade and it is illuminated at night and there are some parakeets and a parrot in a cage nearby to converse with while you wait!).
The snorkeling is good right off the pier! There is brain and other types of coral and many species of fish but not in huge numbers. If someone throws fish food off the pier you will be surrounded by mid-sized fish you can touch!
The staff are all very nice. Even the gardeners will say 'Hola' to you and you should return the favor. The concierges were quick to make our restaurant reservations when we first checked in. You must do this too to ensure decent times and availability. I need to point out here that at no time during our stay were we pitched a time-share by anyone in the hotel. I really appreciated this (at the Wyndham in 2011 we were hit by the concierge immediately). Our rooms were clean and included terry cloth robes and slippers (never touched them), fridge with water, sodas, and cans of Corona beer (if you ask for fridge refill it will cost a service charge so let housekeeping refresh it on their schedule), CRT TV (many channels had American movies/shows with Spanish subtitles). The beds were doubles, not queens, quite firm, the pillows small and like concrete (but I still slept well but my wife complained a little). A small balcony had 2 plastic chairs and a table and a pullout drying stand. There was no view of the beach from our balcony but I doubt anyone else had one except maybe the rooms closest to the pools.
There is also a regulation size soccer field where on 3 days a week at 5 pm you can play pickup games. We saw a Swiss team practicing there all week.
The food was good and plentiful at the buffets. Each night was a slightly different theme but all meals had some constant staples and the poolside grills were consistent. Breakfasts had great selections of cut and uncut fruits some of which I had never seen before! There were omelet and fried egg lines. My favorite were the fresh churros and donuts fried right in front of you. Forget Costco churros; these were really good! Dining room staff were helpful and friendly; they will fetch espresso drinks for you or you can stand and wait for them at the counter. They also will make fresh fruit smoothies! There are also automated cafe machines which aren't too bad if they are filled with the required ingredients. There are Mexican foods at all meals. My son had a hamburger at the grill one day and never had another but most of the other meats were good. There is always fresh lettuce and salad fixings at almost every meal. The restaurants are all at least 3 courses; when you reserve for Kyoto make sure you request to be seated at the grill so you can watch the cooking show which is fun! The Capri had good pastas and appetizers. The Santa Fe mixed grill entree was way too much meat for me. All of our meals at the restaurants were very good/excellent. The Mariachi Grill restaurant is one of the pool grills reconfigured for dinner and it is the closest to the beach with open air sides. We saw a Mariachi troupe at that restaurant one night but they did not come on our visit.
As with any AI resort there is another factor in the quality of your stay and that is the other guests. You should just be warned that there will be people who like to drink excessively by the pool bar, swear and act obnoxiously. That's their problem. The solution is to just move elsewhere; there are so many lounge chairs both on the beach, near the pools and under shade awnings but you better 'reserve' your chairs with towels or clothing by 7 am or earlier or they WILL ALL BE TAKEN!
The nightly shows start around 9:30 but sometimes there were pre-shows not well advertised. When the shows are accompanied by live music it is excellent. Drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, sax, and trumpet(s)! They were awesome. The vocalists were also very good. One night was karaoke (huge catalog!). Another was a small, low tech circus that was really fun to watch. A couple of nights the shows were not interesting to us. The shows all last about a hour and their are 2 bars at each theater and plenty of comfortable seating.
If you want to go to Playa Del Carmen just walk out the front gate to the highway and look for any small white bus called Collectivos. $25-30 pesos per person one way drops you at 15th ave and 2nd st 3 blocks from the southern end of 5th ave- the shopping street. Return to 15th and 2nd to catch same ride home. Always negotiate the price before you get in. A sign at the Collectivos stand says 30 pesos to the Barcelo. You can use US dollars but please get that price first and let them be lenient in the exchange rate or just get some pesos! Taxis are very expensive!
There are many excursions to entice you while on the Riv. Maya. We chose Mayan Adventures' Cenote dive, zip lining and rappel. The appeal was the lower price, lunch included, half day, not AI, non alcoholic, and a more natural setting. See my separate review for that.
We also used Olympus for the transports to and from the hotel. Yair, their friendly and knowledgeable agent, was quite helpful. It's a good idea to use these agents for all your questions.
The activities at the Barcelo were standard. Pool side dancing, vball tourney, darts tourney, Spanish lessons, dance lessons, etc. The staff were cute, out-going and energetic.
We enjoyed our time at the Barcelo. My only complaint was that in the early morning there was no place on the beach where you could grab an espresso drink, sit down and read a magazine while the hotel wakes up around you. Coffee was available only from the buffet area (7 am earliest) and it is a long walk to the beach and no tables to sit at. I highly recommend this resort to families of all ages and all couples!