Our family (group of 2 grandparents, 2 parents, 2 adult grandsons, 2 teens and 2 children) just returned from a week at the resort to celebrate my husband's 75th birthday. My husband and I are seasoned travellers with years of international experience and have been to other AI resorts in the Caribbean, although this was our first time at a Barcelo chain. We chose the resort because it seemed to promise a lot for everyone, most particularly the little kids and the teens.
Like so many other reviewers, we found the beach, pools, activities, and general ambiance more than promised. Our last trip to Playa del Carmen was a disaster as far as beach facilities were concerned, so a clean, private, well-maintained beach with plenty of chairs was a treat. One thing I would note is that there are no artificial sources of shade so if you are fair or plan to be there for hours, take lots of sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Ask me how I know. The pool area has extensive covered areas, the swim up bar is a great place to hang out and there are "organized" activities such as water volley ball, dance lessons, aerobics, etc. if you want to participate. In another area of the resort is the Barcy water park for children under 6 and Pirates Island (extra charge) which our 10-year old enjoyed. The teens found the teen disco "lame," but seemed to otherwise enjoy hanging out in the sports bar and the billards area.
Rooms left something to be desired. Yes, they are well-decorated and the beds are extremely comfortable. But each of our 3 rooms had multiple, small annoying problems -- leaky showers, broken toilet paper holders, a hot tub that wouldn't drain, televisions that wouldn't stay on, etc. etc. I emphasize that none of these were serious enough to cause any trauma at all, but I would suggest that the resort hire some kind of a maintenance guru whose job is to check out all these details and get them repaired. I would estimate that everything that was wrong in our room could have been fixed in less than 1 hour and at a cost of about $10 US.
Housekeeping service otherwise was terrific. Never had to ask for anything and our room was always promptly made up when we put the sign on the door. My husband gave our chambermaid $20 the first morning, learned her name, chatted with her for 5 minutes, and we were set for the week. Likewise, housekeeping in the public areas was excellent -- the grounds are beautifully maintained. When we had heavy rains one day, people were mopping the covered walkways while it was still raining and there were caution signs everywhere.
Service in the restaurants and buffets was spotty. At breakfast, the waitresses at the tables were great, as were the waiters in some restaurants. Our waiter in the Japanese restaurant must have been having a bad day because nothing was right. The waiters in the Spanish restaurant were charming and spoke excellent English but enjoyed our feeble attempts at Spanish. We generally found that if there was a problem communicating with the waiters, just ask for the maitre d' whose English was much better. Overall, we found the service people eager to help but unable to cope graciously with our Spanish 101 ability. Unlike other reviewers, we NEVER encountered anyone who could be considered rude.
I don't need to add anything to the comments about the mediocrity of the food and drinks. Bottom line, the included wines are simply undrinkable. Seriously. And the wines offered in the restaurants are very good but pricey by US standards, even if you use the $10 and $20 credit coupons. The frozen "beach" drinks are blah, so if you want something good, stick to the basics. The buffets are plentiful, but we all found the food bland and boring. There is a lot of repetition from day to day but if you don't try to eat every dish every day, you get sufficient variety over the course of the week. The breakfast buffet is great. I disagree with the reviewer who said AI buffets are always like this -- we have had very good buffets at other similar resorts. Although we are talking about a buffet and not a la carte dining, there is still room for improvement.
The restaurants are problemmatic. Given that we were not arriving until after 6 pm and had 2 children, we wanted to make a reservation in advance. Could not do it, despite repeated e-mails with a "host." The reason given was that a reservation could not be made until we had a room number. It couldn't just be made in our names? We also wanted a private room for a birthday celebration but the only space available in the entire resort was La Cava which involved an extra charge per person and would not take children. After making dinner reservations for the entire week the day we arrived, including 2 much later than the children could enjoy, we saw that almost every restaurant had empty tables all evening. When I asked about this, I was told that people make reservations then just don't show up. We were advised just to go earlier and try to get in without a reservation. I'm not sure how an all-inclusive resort can address this problem, but it certainly is annoying. We found the food in the restaurants better than the buffets, but nothing to write home about. The Spanish is the best (try the leg of lamb), the Italian is okay, but the sushi at the Japanese restaurant was inedible and other dishes totally unappetizing. The food at the steakhouse was extremely variable -- 3 of us had good steaks, the others didn't. None of the side dishes stated on the menu were what we actually received (and who serves both rice and mashed potatoes on the same plate?) The seafood restaurant had a very good salad bar (avoid the marinated lobster tail -- tasted like cardboard) but the main courses were blah. We did not eat at the French restaurant or the Mexican.
A good alternative to the buffets is the restaurant at the 19th Hole, the a la carte restaurant at the golf course. It opens for breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 10, then re-opens at 11 a.m. and serves until 11 p.m. This is important if you eat a late breakfast and have a late dinner reservation, because with the exception of the sports bar (which has a small buffet), there is no where else to get a snack between about 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Finally, with regard to food and drink, I never did figure out the policy on alcoholic drinks in the restaurants. They will serve the included beer and wine plus the wine on the list, but if you want anything else, e.g., an apertif like Campari and soda or an after dinner drink, you have to go out to a bar and bring it in. Weird.
In sum, a note to management: I've been reading comments about the poor food for months while planning this trip but it seems the resort hasn't taken anything to heart. Raise your prices $10 per day and improve the quality of food and drink -- you'll get rid of a lot of complaints!
Bottom line, yes we had a great time. Yes, we would probably try another Barcelo resort. Our family all enjoyed what the resort had to offer. But I would not give this particular resort four and 1/2 stars.