Belair Management: Please see the end of this review for management comments.
We always do our research on Tripadvisor before booking a vacation and we really appreciate all of the reviews -- both good and bad -- because it helps you decide if a place is right for you. Also, hotel management often reads the reviews of their property (if their smart!) and it gives them a way to improve the stay for their guests, which helps everyone. With both of those thoughts in mind, I hope this review helps those looking for a vacation in the Xpuha (pronounced "Ish poo ha") region and adds some to what has already been written.
First and foremost, we give this property a solid four. The whole area from Cancun down to Tulum (this resort is about half way in between) is filled with all-inclusive resorts. Some are enormous and have waiters and waitresses at your beck and call and every nook and cranny is immaculately maintained -- as already mentioned many times previously, this resort is not that type of experience. Just like staying at an upscale hotel is not the same as staying at the Ritz. Our family was looking for a very laid-back experience over spring break where we wouldn't have to fight the crowds to get pool chairs, meals or be following throngs of people migrating from spot to spot. We also didn't want to worry about finding places to eat, planning a big itinerary or drinking the water at local spots (the water is safe at the resort in all of the restaurants and in all of the drinks and ice, by the way, but you need to brush your teeth with the big bottle of water supplied in your room and don't drink from the faucet or shower in your room -- this was one of my wife's biggest questions and we couldn't find it addressed in a review so now this information is documented :). The Belair was perfect for our goals.
Even during spring break we felt like the property (which is quite expansive like most of the resorts in the area) was really uncrowded. They do have golf carts that can shuttle you from place to place and we took them sometimes (luggage from the front desk to the room, when we were in a hurry to get somewhere, etc.), but most of the time we just walked. We had a group of six - two adults in their 40's, two teen girls and two older adults in 60's and 70's. Previous reviews gave me the sense that it wasn't possible to walk the grounds, but it only took about 5 minutes to walk from our room in the 500 group to the main dining area or to the lobby which is in the other direction.
We arrived for check-in at 4:30pm. No trouble with the check-in process. We received mimosas, the kids were given alcohol free alternatives and were then whisked off to our room. The rooms are clustered together in little pods. The 400, 500 and 300 are all very close together, so about the same time, give or take a minute or two to most of the spots on the property. We had an upstairs palapa which was very nice. Because we had four people in the room we had two double beds. The other adults in our party had one king sized bed in their room. The beds were very comfortable and all of the rooms had ceiling fans and a/c. All of the rooms have that awesome deck they show in the pictures and the hammock is fantastic. I think we used that every night. Our room overlooked the expansive area where the herbivores are housed, so we watched the deer, kangaroos, and capibaras in the evenings. There have been some reviews that alluded to the noise from the animals. I know they bring the big cats in at night and don't let them out until 9:00 am or so. We didn't hear any noise from the herbivores and we were very close to the aviary (which is totally cool by the way and I strongly encourage you to take the time to go in and visit, it is complimentary with your stay). The biggest noises we heard were from wild birds in the trees and we really enjoyed the bird that has a call that sounds just like the beginning of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (listen for it and you won't be able to resist whistling back). I think that the birds live everywhere in the region so that noise would be at any hotel at which you stayed in the area.
Layout and facilities: The lobby is located at the front entrance to the property. Animal enclosures are located around the property. Some reviews had me believing that wild animals would be coming up to us as we wandered the grounds. We did see a raccoon over by the fence one night, some coatis on the top of the 20 foot fence, quite a few iguanas and a cat. Other than that all the rest of the wildlife was in designated areas or enclosures. One of my daughters wanted me to point out that she saw a bee and it was VERY scary, but aside from the menacing bee, insects and bugs were minimal. We didn't use the bug spray we brought, but I did go home with one token bug bite -- I'm recovering well, thank you for your concern...
Rooms are clustered in pods and as previously mentioned 300, 400 and 500 are roughly in the middle of the property, about equidistant from the lobby to the restaurant. I don't know where the other room areas are because we didn't go there. Moving from the middle of the property toward the restaurant you pass the snorkeling/dive/kayak shop and the open air cenote (not the ones you see in the pictures with divers in helmets swimming through an underwater labyrinth of stalactites and stalagmites). I will discuss this a bit more under activities. Just past the dive shop is the main restaurant. Fifty feet from there is the kids play pool with waterslides, mushroom water things (you've seen them at your local kids waterpark). This looked like a total blast for little ones and I was a little jealous (only ten and under I believe). Just past that is the winding pool for the adults. Plenty of space under the awnings or you can pop up an umbrella for shade. The swim up bar and the poolside restaurant with burgers, chicken nuggets, AMAZING hotdogs (per my kids) and fries is here as well. You have to go order your drinks and food, but often the pool area waiter will then bring them to you. The older adults in our party were a bit disappointed at not being able to get the attention of the poolside waiter to order drinks, but they don't seem to come to you until you've ordered. Just beyond the pool is the cool star shaped lounge chairs, which I never saw anyone sitting in, but they make a great photo op and the sushi restaurant. They mentioned at the front desk that this restaurant served sushi and Thai food, but we checked the menu and it's just sushi. We had fish allergies in our group so we didn't eat there. Just beyond the sushi restaurant (this whole area from the main restaurant to the water's edge is about 2000 feet or so - it sounds bigger in the description...) is the little beach area. There are lounge chairs and umbrellas there and it looks out to the ocean. Now... I know there have been a number of complaints about the beach, but I would like to say a few words in defense of this little slice a heaven...
It looks out to the ocean! We came here to be by the ocean, so... after dinner a little leisurely stroll over to the beach area and sip a drink while sitting in the lounge chairs, maybe holding hands, staring into your loved ones eyes... romantic? Oh yeah! Great beach for swimming...not really. It is a bit rocky, although you can go down and get your feet wet if you want to and it looks out toward the Barcelo to the left. You can watch the throngs of people milling about on their enormous beach. I preferred our little slice of heaven. You can also walk on a little path that goes over toward the Barcelo beach (it takes a couple minutes), but I heard there is a guard standing over there after about 100 feet or so from the end of the path, but up until that point you have their beach all to yourself... ha! I didn't go over there because I didn't want to hassle with it, but I think that first part of their side belongs to Belair (I would check on that though). I believe another reviewer said there is good snorkeling to be had over there so it may be worth it. To the right of the Belair beach property is the little path that winds over toward the hurricane destruction side of the property. You can walk over there and past the old dock, but they have a metal cable closing off the the part of the property with the destroyed villas and there is a guy who stands guard in one of the villas (when he comes out of there at 5:00am when you're taking photographs alone on the old abandoned side of the property to tell you that the cable really means you can't go over there it freaks you out a bit, so don't say I didn't warn you).
For the swim beach, you go up to the front lobby and catch the shuttle that takes you over to the private beach that you have read about. You can look up this spot by searching La Playa Xpu Ha Restaurant & Beach Club on Tripadvisor. It's the same beach and they sublet a section of it to the Belair. It is beautiful and amazing. We always had plenty of room for our party of six under one of the thatch umbrellas. The Belair driver pointed us to the Belair section of the beach (just ahead and to the right, the bathrooms are the opposite direction across the parking lot about a minute or so). There is a little stand for the Belair by their section, but they don't open until 10:00am.
Activities: I always like to plan an itinerary, but this time we were trying to keep things low-key so here was what we did. Day one we woke up and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. Then we went back to the rooms and went over to the La Playa beach at 9:30am. The bar area didn't open until 10:00am, so I walked around the beach and scoped out what activities were available. The beach is somewhat windy (this is variable and not REAL windy - our drinks didn't blow away or anything) and there is a shop that rents kitesurfing equipment and lessons. They also have paddle boards for less windy days. There are two Hobie 16 catamarans and I found the guy who owns them by asking the ladies at the massage tent. We hired him to take two of us out for an hour and a half one day. $50 dollars including a captain (I used to have a Hobie 16 so he let me take it back, right up onto the beach! I was glad to have him there in case I ran into any trouble though). We went down the coast past the Belair and the Barcelo to a secluded lagoon where we snorkeled. There is an ancient Mayan structure at the far end of the lagoon as well, so it was a really cool experience. I highly recommend it. I was told by the Apple Vacation guy that you have to be careful of these local operators, however, as they are not insured. I felt very safe and comfortable with our captain though and it was a great excursion.
The water is great and the sand is fine and smooth at the La Playa beach. No shelling. Easy entry into the water and snorkeling is right off the beach maybe 10 yards or so. Water was warm. On the windy days waves were maybe 1 or 2 feet out a little ways, but they don't really come in that far. On the right day you might consider a little body surfing. I saw a kid with a boogie board, but he wasn't getting much in the way of waves. No boogie board or surfing rentals.
There are two massage huts here, one with white sheets and one with green. They both charge the same, $35 for an hour, $25 for 1/2 hour. No discount for multiple people, but you can get multiple sessions for one person at a discount. The ladies in our party felt that this was money well spent and were very pleased with the experience (Two had a massage at the "green" tent and one had the massage at the "white" tent. Rave reviews all around...)
Activities at the hotel -- We spent an afternoon going around seeing all the animals. We did attend the animal show at 3:00pm one day. There were about twenty people there and they brought the animals (birds and hairless dog) around to let everyone pet them. The show is only done in Spanish however, so you don't get a lot from it unless you can follow along. We went to the aviary and the herbivore enclosure. You walk amongst the birds and the herbivores which is actually pretty cool. They also have habitats for the pumas, lions, chimpanzees, tigers, coyotes, flamingos, crocodiles and probably many more, In regards to the enclosures, I'm not a zookeeper so I don't know what a proper size, shape, habitat should be, but it seemed very similar to any other zoo I've visited and the animals seemed well cared for, but I'm definitely not an expert.
We went kayaking in the cenote one morning. It was really cool. You just stop by the shop (they open at 10:00am and close at 4:30pm) and tell them you want to go kayaking and they get you set up. It is complimentary, of course, as a guest of the hotel. We didn't see the manatees, but we were told the best time to see them is between 12:00pm and 2:00pm. Paddling through the mangroves was a great experience. You can also snorkel here and they have all the gear. The water is very clear, but there seemed to be a paucity of fish life. Still a great opportunity right there at the hotel. Also, they have a full dive shop here. I am an SSI DiveCon (the equivalent of a PADI divemaster) and I asked about diving the cenotes. The lady at the shop said they take divers with advanced certification (I don't know how advanced, I just showed her my card) to the big cenotes for $130, 2-tank dive. They also have a four tank dive option for a bit more over toward the channel between them and Cozumel. I didn't do the dive, but great people here and seems like a small boat type of operation. Great to have this kind of amenity right at the hotel. Love to hear if anyone has done a trip with them and about their experience.
We went to Playa Del Carmen one day from the hotel. You walk right out past the gate and to the right about 20 feet. The Collectivo comes by every 10 minutes or so (we waited about 2 minutes). The cost was 30 pesos or 3 dollars each (that didn't seem right on the exchange rate, but I wasn't going to argue with the guy) for our party of six. I confirmed the price before getting in each time, just to make sure, but it was the same going and returning. You pay when you get to the destination. It's about 20-25 minutes to Playa Del Carmen. The Collectivo buses are lined up in PDC at the same place where they drop you off (I believe it is 2nd and 20th). We walked all the way down to the ADO station and then to the opposite side of town before asking the local tourist police officer where the Collectivo pick-up was located. 5th Ave is the main tourist thouroughfare and it is worth getting there pretty much straightaway. We went to the Walmart in town (I know, I know, but we heard they had inexpensive souvenirs) and bought some items, but the price at the giant souvenir store we found over on 5th was about the same. They have a Mayan show in the main square and it was amazing (five guys climb this giant pole in the middle of the square and then fall off the the pole at the same time suspended from four ropes and then spin down to the ground while the other guy stands on top of the pole playing a drum...it was super cool). They come around and asked for a little donation; money well spent in my opinion.
Photography: This is just a bit for the photographers out there. I consider myself to be a serious amateur photographer and I always try to research photos from the area to which I will be travelling. I looked up Xpuha on Flickr, 500px and photobucket before going and there is very little from this area. So, I posted a few photos from the trip on Flickr and tagged them with Xpuha and Belair in order to get things started a little. Hope they help give some ideas for good shots (even if mine aren't that good). I look forward to seeing some work from others posted soon. A few tips for the photographers -- the hotel sits on the eastern side, so only sunrise shots if you want the awesome sun/sky shots. Yep, that means getting up at 4:45am to get down to the beach. I really liked heading over to the right from the beach (the hurricane destruction side of the property and getting shots of the waves against the rocks and the dock). I really wish they would open up the roped off beach area for photographers, even if you had to get a guide from the hotel to take you over there...it would make for some really good shots. Lenses really fog up fast in the humidity. I found if I kept the camera out of my sling bag before the sun came up, it acclimated without fogging. Also, ocean spray loves to collect on the front element so bring a lens cloth and clean your lens every few minutes (my first day of shots was completely ruined by water spots all over my u/v lens). The animals make great subjects, but the feline cages (tigers, lions, pumas) are situated such that there is terrible glare on the glass pretty much all day. A dark colored, long-sleeved shirt can allow you to place your shadow on the glass and get a clean shot. A polarizer might also help, but I kept forgetting mine back in the room. Hope this helps.
Food: This one is a bit complicated. The food is good. They had a buffet for breakfast every morning and they always had freshly made omelets. Also assorted fruit and pastries -- just what you would expect. Lunch and dinner had a buffet the first few days of our trip (Thursday through Saturday), but on Sunday our waiter told us they were phasing out the buffet in favor of guests ordering off the menu. The menu had good food: salad, soup, entrees. We particularly enjoyed the crackling beef rib eye (a little bowl of fried beef rib eye served with three small tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole). The steak was very good. Most nights there was a special and my wife loved the pablano de pollo and I really enjoyed the beef pablano. The kids enjoyed the pizza (they were out of pepperoni a couple nights so we just ordered it with salami and everyone was happy). So, the tricky part of the restaurant is this: we were seated and given menus, then it took a really long time -- sometimes like 20 minutes -- before the waiter would come over. This wasn't a problem when there was a buffet because you can go and get salad or whatever and by the time you get back the waiters would come over and get your drink order. But... when there was no buffet...
Now, a few comments on this. I think the staff is trained to give you some time to look through the menu before you order. Like I said, I THINK this is true because I would see waiters standing dutifully at attention at the end of the room and inside I was thinking, "Why won't you come over here and get my order?" But they serenely stand there respectfully giving you time to look over my menu... again... and again... and again...
Additionally, once we had food or beverages that we obtained through stealth from the buffet or by pleasantly asking one of the staff for something, service was excellent. So this part of the review is for management. American customers expect the waiter to come up within the first few minutes of sitting down and get a drink order. We don't like long waits at the beginning of the meal. Do away with this policy.
The meals did get a little tiresome after a week, but they tried hard to mix it up a bit with specials and little extra dishes like fresh shrimp seafood plates, flaming coffee which our head waiter made table side and it was AMAZING! Alcohol free frozen strawberry drinks are called "frescadas" (pronounced fresada). The kids loved them and ordered at least three a day.
The pool grill was a nice change of pace for lunch and the La Playa beach offered ham and cheese sandwiches. No fries or extras, but something to eat at the beach, which was nice. We didn't eat at the sushi restaurant. If they added a Thai food menu there it would have been nice for a little more variety.
Last note about the restaurant -- they don't have a red sauce. Their main theme is Italian/Mexican fusion. I did have the lasagna one night and it was good, but no red sauce, so it was a bit dry. The pizza was essentially dough, cheese and toppings. The spaghetti and meatballs was in a yellowish soupy sauce. These were all pretty good, but could have been so much better with a red sauce. Another piece of advice for the restaurant management, contract a little italian grandmother to teach the excellent chefs at the Belair how to make a red sauce. It would make the difference between good and great. Please...I'm begging you...
Rooms: The rooms were clean, spacious and comfortable. I really hate having to sleep on a twin bed, but I don't like the idea of the kids being in a different room, so what can you do? The beds were comfortable though and linens were changed daily. The room and mini bar was kept impeccably clean by our room attendant, Jesus (Chuy). Each of the rooms has the standard hotel room safe and we did use it, but I must say that my kids left a lot of their stuff laying around and there was no concern with theft. One morning we had a dead bug on the counter in the room (it wasn't there the day before). I scooped it with a piece of paper and threw it outside. Other than that, no bug issues, except for the bee on the deck...
One important note: my room key had to be rekeyed four times. It just lost its' magnetism (maybe I rubbed off on it...). They warned me of this at the front desk and I kept it in a waterproof plastic container around my neck (they said it could become demagnetized if it rubbed against your clothes in your pocket or was near magnetic devices such as cell phones, etc.) My wife and I both carried our keys at all times and were glad we did as both of our keys became demagnetized at one point or another. This happened to the others in our party as well and the housekeeping staff was unable to assist in getting back into the room. When at least one key worked, it meant stopping by the front desk on the way to PDC or the La Playa beach. When there was no backup, it meant a nice little hike up to the front desk. Get an extra key and keep a few with you.
Getting around: as I mentioned previously, we walked almost everywhere. It was nice to burn off the big meal from the restaurant and check out the grounds. When we did need a golf cart, we called from the room and it was there in about 5-10 minutes generally. I never tried to flag one down, but there are little stops all over the property. Once or twice we hopped on one going from the front desk to our room and it was very handy.
Staff: Most of the staff are really pleasant. People smile and offer a warm, "hola," when you pass. It is very helpful to know a least some rudimentary Spanish as many of the employees don't speak much English. With even some basic Spanish, however, you can usually get your point across.
These final comments are for the management. The management of the hotel is obviously very interested in how guests feel about the resort. We were asked multiple times to fill out guest review cards in the restaurant and Housekeeping management stopped by to ask about housekeeping service in the room. On check out we were asked to review front desk service and overall stay satisfaction. We want to thank you for your concern and care. This commitment to constant quality improvement is very much appreciated. In an effort to help from the customer side we would make the following recommendations to improve the already great experience of your resort:
1. Focus on prompt engagement of the customer in the dining areas. Get drink orders in quickly and if resort census levels permit, have at least some self-serve options available.
2. Get a good red sauce for your Italian dishes. At least from our perspective, a lack of red sauce seriously detracts from Italian cuisine.
3. The room key situation really needs to addressed. I don't know if you need a new card machine, new cards or what, but at least have a contingency plan in place for when people can't get into their rooms, so they are not having to trek all the way back to the front desk to get the problem solved.
We received truly exceptional service from a few people and wanted to mention them by name. Bertha is the hostess at the restaurant and was constantly warm and welcoming. At times when she saw we didn't have drinks she personally came over, took our order and brought our drinks out. Jesus (Chuy) did an amazing job of taking care of our room. He was always smiling and willing to get us whatever we needed. Ruvicel remembered us from the first time we entered the main restaurant and went out of his way to always give us a warm greeting and bring us little special appetizers. Anything we needed, he was always the first to make it happen. Raul took care of us in the dining area on a number of occasions. He speaks perfect English as well as Spanish and helped us immeasurably. Thank you to all of these wonderful people for making our stay fantastic.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Bel Air Xpu-Ha is the newly open Resort of Bel Air Collection at Riviera Maya. Feel with your family the natural environment, the perfect place to rest and delight yourself. A unique place for a romance experience. Enjoy our facilities surrounded by natural beauty in an eco-paradise. A gourmet experience in each of our restaurants, from Mexican-Italian fusion cuisine to sushi & martini delightful Japanese style, all in a la carte menu selection. Premium brand drinks and appetizing snacks in our Bars at Lobby and pool area. A unique layout of a cozy and peaceful guestrooms in liberate getaway with all the luxury and comfort of a five stars resort, refurbished indoors with jacuzzi and branding amenities; a relaxed exterior and a spacious terrace with hammock. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Bel Air Collection Xpu Ha Riviera Maya Hotel Xpuha
- Xpu Ha Palace Xpuha
- Bel Air Collection Xpu Ha Riviera Maya Mexico - Xpuha