We're a Canadian couple who really enjoy cruising, and have also been fortunate to visit a few Caribbean all inclusive resorts. We selected the Gran Bahia Principe Akumal [GBPA] Mexico for a November 2012 visit, based on our past enjoyment of GBP properties in Punta Cana. GBP provided great value and service there, plus Transat Vacations offered a very good price out of Toronto for Mexico. So off we went.
Our first good impression of GBPA actually occured prior to leaving Toronto, as we emailed to inquire on rooms and a la cartes. Receiving a prompt and friendly email from Vanessa Pacheco, Public Relations, we were warmly welcomed in advance. Seniorita Pacheco had reserved some a la carte selections for us, and hopefully a great room and location in the Royal Golden section. I had a feeling that we were off to a good start with Vanessa's superior customer service, and it was later a pleasure for my wife and I to meet her in person.
Transat's flight from Toronto was great and quick. They treat you right. However, Cancun airport was a total jam-packed mess. We stood in very long queues for immigration and again for baggage scanning, with no help or direction from airport authorities. This was the worst airport arrival experience we've ever had in the Caribbean. Were they understaffed or did too many airplanes land at the same time? Don't know.
We planned in advance to use USA Transfers instead of the tour coach. USA Transfers is highly recommended by us - very smooth and friendly. The driver stopped along the way for a drink for us, so we bought him one also. Consider using a private transfer if you like to leave the airport promptly without waiting for your coach to fill up, or stop at a number of resorts on the way.
We arrived and unloaded at beautiful Akumal lobby and were met by friendly staff. As Royal Golden customers, [Royal Golden is a section of the Akumal Resort] we were picked up by a tram and taken to another smaller lobby check-in - The Royal Golden. There, we were warmly greated by Guillermo who offered us a cold drink. There's a 24-hour snack/lunch spot next door the the RG lobby, so we had a bite while they readied our room. The ocean's azure blue sparkling water is just steps from this snack/lunch restaurant. What a great view.
We were placed in a fabulous third floor sea-view, just as I had requested. Guillermo said with a chuckle that I should be able to see Cuba from the room. We found our junior suite very comfortable, clean and spacious. It had all the usual amenities of a junior suite, king bed, sitting area, nice balcony, washroom, etc. Everything was great - except I couldn't see Cuba.
We started off the evening with a meal at the buffet, where the menu was American. Lots and lots of variety and very tasty. As the buffet is centrally located for the Akumal resort, you may find it a little bit of a walk from the Royal Golden section. Now don't worry, as it is not a long walk - I call it a healthy walk - as all big resorts are spread out and the walking is great exercise anyway. This is also the breakfast spot for us, however we did visit many other breakfast spots througout the week, as you are free to do. You can visit any of the buffets, the Coba or the Tulum, and in high season, Akumal's Dolce Vita [Italian] restaurant also opens for breakfast. More on the Dolve Vita for breakfast and dinner later.
The next morning, we found the beach awesome. We're not really pool people, preferring to soak in the sun and fun of the sand and ocean. The Akumal section has a coral rock break-wall that creates a very nice swimming area, protected from the Caribbean waves. There are both natural pebbles, stone and sand bottom, with crystal clear water. Do you need water socks/shoes? Not really, unless you have the most delicate of feet. We roughed it barefoot and had no problem. We later found that the area closer to the break-wall has a total sand entrance to the water. Also in this area were plenty of tropical fish that were easy to photograph. Bring your own snorkle and goggles and you'll be rewarded with many fishy friends. It was fun to use my waterproof camera and capture fish hiding in the various rock sections and crevices of the coral break-wall. Compared to our visit at the fabulous Grand Palladium, we found more fish at Akumal section than at the GP beach. We think this is a great basic snorkel area, and we wish our grandkids were with us, as many families with children were having a grand time at this location. We realize one can go to Akumal beach and elsewhere in Mexico and snorkel over real coral, but for the convienence, this was another win for us and added value to our stay.
One evening, we ate at the Dolce Vita - and it was awesome. In a relaxed atmosphere, we were served by Eduardo, a young man with great personality. If you are in a hurry, stay home and eat at McDonalds or the Swiss Chalet. But if you like a multi-course delight which is about two hours, you will love it. Appetizers are great, and the tomato and minestrone soup are very tasty. Jane enjoyed the salmon - rating it a 9 out of 10, and she eats a lot of salmon. I had the steak and potatoes - a safe bet. We shared a third entree, the shrimp and polenta, which I rated a good 9 out of 10. Polenta is a corn meal served like mashed potatoes, but different. So tasty. Tiramisu for dessert with tea for Jane, while I had the flaming Spanish coffee, which was both a good fire show and a delicious ending to a wonderful a la carte experience. As I said, don't be in a rush - enjoy the soft sea breezes blowing through the open windows as you soak in the elegant atmosphere and tantalize your taste buds at the Dolce Vita. A smash hit at the Gran Bahia Principe Akumal.
Part way through the week, we found the full breakfast available for Royal Golden guests at the Dolce Vita a la carte. Apparently opening as the busier season begins, it is a very short stroll from the Royal Golden section, and we found all the tasty items we needed, in a very relaxed, uncrowded restaurant with great service.
Another highlight restaurant for us was the Gran Tortuga. They served sea bass and salmon, along with a fabulous selection of very tasty grilled meats, brought to your table on long skewers. This was easily one of my top favorite a la cartes at Gran Bahia. Make it one of your dinner choices!
All of out meals have been super. No matter where you go here, we saw consistent quality, cleanliness and service. We simply can't say what was the best restaurant, as many will ask. It's your personal preference that will decide for you. We just enjoyed them all.
The grounds are lovely, clean and a joy to walk through. We suggest you visit the Hacienda area any day or any evening and browse the various shops. Great spot to buy a sun hat or Mexican artwork. Near that area, you can also visit the sports, tennis courts and bicycle shop. We suggest you grab a couple of bikes and use them to tour the whole resort, as we did. It's an enjoyable way to see the place at your own pace, checking out all the lobbies, resturants and beach and pool areas. The trams will take you everywhere also, but it's nice to get your bearings on a bike.
Evening entertainment was the usual theme shows in all of the three lobby theatres. Michael Jackson was in fine form again, as were the other shows.
For a day excursion, we highly recommend the XPLOR park. Do your own research, but we found it a fabulous, fun day of jungle all terrain vehicles, underground caverns, rivers and over the jungle zip lining, including a great meal.
In conclusion, the Gran Bahia Principe Akumal delivered on all counts. Consistent value and relaxing atmosphere. Would we go again? Yes. You should put it on your list of places to visit in the Mayan Riviera.
We couldn't possibly thank all the staff by name who made our stay so comfortable, so we hope some are reading this review, and to those who are, we say, "Muchas Gracias".