My husband and I stayed at the del mar from 7-21 January and had an excellent holiday. It was without doubt the most relaxing holiday we've ever had. We were told that the hotel was running at approximately 40% occupancy so it felt very quiet but I can imagine at fuller occupancies it would feel like a less idyllic holiday experience.
The hotel is very nice and the grounds are immaculately kept. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful and work very hard to ensure you have a good holiday. It definitely helps if you can speak a few words of Spanish because sometimes there is a distinct communication barrier with the staff if you can't.
Lots of reviews comment on the size of the property and the amount of walking you have to do. For us the size of the property and the walking was a plus rather than a negative. We enjoyed the walk through beautifully landscaped grounds to the beach and the lobby - it's one way of keeping your weight in check on an all inclusive holiday and besides if the property was smaller you'd be living in much closer quarters to other guests. I would recommend that you bring an umbrella because we had 4 days of rain and you will get wet walking from your room to the lobby wherever your room is on the resort.
The shopping centre is okay we didn't really use it for very much other than the ATM, the shop with the internet terminals, and to get yummy ice creams and crepes from the ice cream outlet which is part of your package.
The evening entertainment was a bit hit and miss. The animations team star friends work very hard but some of the nightly shows were much better than others. If you are a big nightlife lover this probably isn't the resort for you as it was dead by 11ish each night. There is a very cheesy star wars themed nightclub on site and a sports bar which appeared to be permanently dead. I'm not sure how great a resort this would be for kids either - there weren't a vast amount of children when we stayed and didn't seem to be an awful lot of facilities for them either.
We had a go at some of the activities on offer - try dive in the pool which was fun and the bike ride. The bikes need some maintainence, one person's pedal fell off mid ride and all the bikes needed the tyres pumping up, but it was a fun way to meet people. The gym was large and well equipped but the air conditioning was inadequate.
I thought the beach was picture perfect. There are a couple of large black rocks but they are visible and easily avoided. The sea slopes quite gently and you can swim out about 15m and still stand. The sand is powdery and there are lots of sun loungers and palapas. The towel game is played with some flair unfortunately so you need to be at the beach by around 9-10 to get a decent spot with shade. Weddings are a regular occurence on the beach. They look nice but a little industrial to me with very little space cleared for the ceremony. I felt a bit sorry for some of the wedding couples I saw because they were literally surrounded by sunbathers chugging down pina coladas gawping at them from a few metres.
Although very large, I found the pools were too cold to spend much time in. There were plenty of sunloungers round the pool but the chances of getting a cabana were rarer than hen's teeth because of the towel game.
The room was fine for our needs - clean and reasonably spacious with a nice balcony overlooking landscaped grounds. The mini bar was well stocked and replenished daily with water, fizzy drinks and beer. The room had a number of features which I appreciated namely a full size ironing board and iron, decent air con and a quiet ceiling fan you could leave running all night, blackout curtains, a seating area in the the room, a drying rail on the balcony, and a safe that was big enough to stow everything valuable we had. We had no problems with our safe during our stay. The only slight negative point about the room were the bathroom floor was very slippy when wet because of the marble floors - take non slip water shoes or flip flops to avoid failing over and the hairdryer was rubbish. I would also recommend that you take a couple of clothes pegs to pin swimming suits etc. on the balcony. We used room service a couple of times - it was fine and also the laundry service is reasonably priced and very efficient. There are no lifts so if you have any type of mobility problems you'll need a ground floor room.
FOOD AND DRINK
Generally I thought the food at the buffet was excellent and varied. It was possible to eat as healthily or unhealthily as you liked. Both buffets are open air so you do get birds and there are plenty of feral cats around. The cats do come and miaow at your feet for food at times because guests feed them. We also saw people feeding the Koatis (racoon type animals) near the beach buffets and heard plenty of stories about people being scratched and bitten. We never ate on the beach because the Koatis are a nuisance there but we did use the two smaller buffet restaurants immediately off the beach and both were very good.
The service in most of the buffets was excellent. They did close the buffet at the del mar for most of our holiday for lunch and dinner so there were days when it was busy and therefore harder to get drinks and you had to queue for tables and to get food. I think that was my biggest grip about the holiday - if you book a resort you book all it's facilities and they should be freely available despite whatever occupancy the hotel happens to have that particular week.
Following on from that point the tropical and gourmet restaurants were also shut for the duration of the stay. I was disappointed by this because I had been looking forward to the gourmet. We did however have reservations at the Japanese, Steakhouse, Meditterean and Brazilian. All were very good except the Brazilian - service was very slow and most meats were overdone and tough.
I did begin to feel like i was trapped in a very large posh butlins at time particularly when it rained. The resort isn't really geared up for bad weather. We also forgot our driving licences which didn't help.
If you want to escape there is a taxi service which runs from the shopping centre to playa del carmen for $4 or 40 pesos. That makes for a good day out - you do get a bit of the 'come in my shop' hassle but it's nothing compared to other countries i've visited such as Turkey and India.
We also caught the local bus service from the bus stand just to the right of the main hotel entrance to downtown cancun. that cost us $5 in comparison to the $40 for a taxi for the same trip. Be warned that you will have to run across both carriages of the highway (think motorway) on your return to get back to the hotel. That alone is an interesting experience - imagine doing that in the UK?
Bring something to entertain yourself if it rains - playing cards, books. You can't buy a novel in the hotel for love nor money - there are vastly overpriced magazines in the hotel shops. If it rains go to reception and get the pool cues and balls and go play pool in the games rooms.
We didn't use the spa - it was very pricey at £100 a massage. We met people who golfed who said the course was excellent but expensive at $350 a round plus shoe and club hire and ball purchase. Apparently if you commit to one of those awful timeshare presentations you can get a round of golf for free.
We didn't do any of the tours with our travel agent first choice because they were very expensive - more or less every tour is $100 per person. The rep is nice but completely focused on selling you tours and little else. The hotel's tours are cheaper and we did a tour with edventure tours for $210 for 2 people which was outstanding see http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150813-d1015204-Reviews-Edventure_Tours-Tulum_Yucatan_Peninsula.html
We also did the morning glory snorkelling tour through the hotel and were both disappointed. It was poorly organised and bad value for money - little more than a hour in the water for $124. Beautiful water, nice coral and fish but you are made to swim in a big group with a guide who told us nothing but did manage to kick the coral, lift up an obviously planted conch shell, and pick up a stingray. They seemed to have very little respect for the environment they were trying to show us or give their customers an interesting and enjoyable experience. I got kicked in the head several times because we were so tightly bunched together.
Ultimately Would I go back to the del mar again? Yes in a heartbeat. The small things that I found disappointing and annoying are all massively outweighed by the overall experience which was genuinely excellent.