My wife and I stayed at Secrets Maroma Beach in Feb of 2011 and tried desperately to book another trip there recently, but due to the cost and unavailability we had to "settle" for the Grand Paraiso. We stayed at Iberostar Grand Paraiso in May of 2013 and I intentionally waited a couple of months before writing a review as to get a more unbiased opinion of both. The following is a list of some of our observations for those who wish to compare. I recommend copying and pasting this review into a Word doc so you can see it in its entirety as it's very long.
First, I think it's important to disclose the type of people my wife and I are so you can have a frame of reference for our review. I am a military man who does not live lavishly but enjoys a pampering every now and then. We are both in our early 30's and live a modest lifestyle, working extremely hard for our income and understand the value of a solid work ethic. I bring this up because we met several people at the Grand who were, what I would consider, quite wealthy and probably have different expectations of an all-inclusive resort than the "average" couple. The reviews of both resorts should be read with that in mind. I've broken the review up into several sections, with the "winner" in each category. +- means it was pretty close, but a slight edge to the winner. + and ++ means the clear winner in that category.
The Grounds: Iberostar Grand Paraiso(IGP) ++
The first observation was the overall grounds of Iberostar Grand Paraiso(IGP). What wasn't readily obvious to my wife and I when we booked that the IGP is one of four resorts in the Iberostar complex. There are also the Lindo, Del Mar, and the Maya, any of which you have access to if you stay at the Grand(which is why they slap a bracelet on your wrist when you check in, allowing you access to all). When we first walked in, the first word that came to mind was "grand." Everything about the IGP is grand, opulent, royal. The structures on the property are so beautifully designed and maintained. There were gardeners and maintenance personnel working around the clock to make sure the Grand Paraiso lived up to its name. From that perspective, it's an amazing sight to behold. The one draw back to the enormity of the complex is we both felt a little lost at the resort. It was so huge, we didn't know where to hang out throughout the day. My wife and I like to know that there is one central location on the resort where everyone is at; the “cool” place to be. At the IGP, we found that the there were multiple places to hang out at and we had to find them on our own. To some, that may be a plus, to my wife and I, it was both good and bad. Secrets Maroma Beach(SMB) is very unassuming, meaning, if you walked by it on the beach, you'd probably consider it just an average all inclusive resort. It doesn't have the grander and "curb appeal" that the IGP has. But after staying there, it’s anything but average. It’s much much smaller than the IGP but to folks who want to know that the pool is the place to be, all day, every day, then SMB is your place. The pool and pool bar is the epicenter of all activities at SMB. All of the social events and fun activities begin and end at the pool. From that perspective, there isn’t much decision making when you get up each day. You eat breakfast, and go get a pool chair and chillax all day long. At IGP, there are some decisions that need to be made. To wrap it up think, Buckingham Palace(IGP) vs. the summer hunting lodge in Scotland (SMB).
The Food: IGP +-
I am not a foody, but my wife is so this is combo of both of our observations. The IGP has 2 buffets and four main restaurants, a French Gourmet, Surf and Turf, Hibachi, and Italian and you must make reservations that make it tricky to be spontaneous. The food at all the restaurants is what you would expect: very good. For a romantic dinner, it’s a great way to be by yourselves and enjoy a nice meal. Word of warning, the sommelier will come to your table and introduce you to all the fine wines of the resort(most of which are not included in the “all inclusive”). Be forewarned when you have an 80$ bill at the end of the trip. Hands down, the best food experience at IGP is the buffet; breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s located at the forefront of the resort right in front of the pool. The variety is unmatched, and food is magnificently displayed, and the service is great. On most nights, they have a theme for the dinner buffet (Mexican, Brazilian, Latin) so keep that in mind when you make reservations at one of the restaurants. SMB has much of the same, but 7 restaurants and no reservations required which is nice. I don’t recall the buffet at SMB being as good as IGP but it’s been two years. Overall, I’d say the overall dining experience, including service, presentation, and quality of the food, the IGP takes it...but again, only slightly.
The Service: SMB +
The people and staff at both resorts work extremely hard to ensure your comfort during your stay. The only reason I give SMB the blue ribbon for service is the Butler. We met him once during our entire stay at IGP, basically just to welcome us, then never saw him again. At SMB, our Butler was a part of our day, every day. He would greet us daily and ensure our stay was going well and made sure we wanted for nothing during our stay. At IGP, we met SEVERAL staff members who were more than willing to accommodate us and our needs, but we had to search out those people out. (props to Nelvi at the pool, Christina the cook, and Janine at the front desk). Again, both had amazing service, but if I had to pick one, SMB wins…slightly, but IGP had moments of greatness.
Rooms: SMB +
We first walked into our room at IGP and there was a distinct mildew smell that made it hard to focus anything else. My wife didn’t notice(or wanted to focus on other things as to not detract from our stay) but I certainly did. When we talked to the front desk, they said that most rooms are like that because “it’s Mexico” and quite moist. I asked if we could move to another room and they were quick to accommodate. The new room was MUCH better and didn’t have any hint of a mildew smell. The room layout themselves were comparable in style and elegance. The thermostat set at IGP had the lowest temperature at 21 degrees Celsius(70 F) which for a powerful AC isn’t bad, but we found it to be too hot for a restful nights sleep. No problem though, we inquired at the front desk to get a fan in the room, but they said they could remotely turn the lowest setting to 18 C on the thermostat which made the room much more comfortable. Just ask. But even the lower temp setting still didn’t’ make the room brisk(which I prefer) so I didn’t feel rested in the morning unfortunately. It was May, so it was getting in the 80-90’s during the days. At SMB, everything was perfect front the outset, but of course, we could have easily been given a less then desirable room at SMB and had a similar experience as IGP. A couple months after the stay at IGP, I can say that SMB takes it, slightly.
Room Service: IGP +
Always on time or early at IGP, brought to us just as we ordered it. At SMB, had a couple of times when it came significantly later than they promised. Granted, all we ordered at IGP was coffee at 7:30am, but it was still always on time. I heard of some of the other guests grumbling about pizza showing up late at 1am, but they admitted they were probably drunk and lost track of the true time.
Spa Experience: IGP ++
Again, the IGP has SOOO many options to choose from and one of them was the free spa. (multiple free spas) On the IGP grounds there was a massive indoor pool/spa area with a large gym, Jacuzzi, lounge chairs, anything you could possibly want at a luxury all inclusive. Walking in to the spa room, I thought I was walking into a modern Roman bath house. It was so lavish and unbelievably maintained. For those of you who have a contracting(home construction) background, the entire pool was tiled with 1”x1” tiles just to give you a hint of the level of detail(probably in 1’x1’ mats, but still). The attached pictures should give you a feel for what I’m talking about. Also, down towards the entrance to the Iberostar grounds were the resort spa(accessed by anyone staying at the IGP, Maya, or Lindo) which has multiple showers with varying temperatures and spray patterns, multiple hot-tubs with different temps as well, massage parlors(extra cost) and juice bars(free). SMB didn’t have anything like that, but still had multiple hot tubs, private pools(depending on what level of room you have) a massage parlor(extra cost), and a nice gym. IGP takes it though on the spa arena.
Entertainment: SMB +-
Both have an excellent entertainment staff that run the various pool sport games like pool volleyball, beach volleyball, soccer, etc. They are all very very friendly and most speak English fluently(with a few exceptions). Both hotels are very comparable, but our experience at SMB was slightly more enjoyable, but for full disclosure, here’s why it was better. The weather in February of 2011 was cool(meaning, in the lower 80’s, which made the beach experience so much more enjoyable. Plus, we played beach volleyball every day at SMB and made a lot of great friends doing so(some we still keep in touch with). The event staff at SMB were much more, how do you say, less awkward?? Some of the staff at IGP weren’t quite fully fluent in English so you could tell they were a little uncomfortable socializing with you and trying to get to know you(bad on me for not speaking Spanish). By and large, this was only a few of the entertainment staff and shouldn’t be a deciding factor when choosing either resort. But in hindsight, the entertainment staff at SMB were much funnier, more comfortable in their roles, which in turn made you more comfortable in participating. The nightly entertainment events were equal in quality. Bottom line: SMB was a more enjoyable experience…slightly.
The Pool scene: SMB++
First, my wife and I are fans of freshwater pools for obvious reasons. The pool at SMB was freshwater and you always felt clean and refreshed after getting out and didn’t have that sticky feeling afterwards. The pool at IGP was saltwater and you felt like you needed to shower off after getting in. I’m sure it’s much cheaper to maintain and more clean to have a saltwater pool, but still. There was a grill at the SMB pool which one could get food at quickly, then return to your lounge chair. They also had waiting staff walking around with trays of sushi, cocktails, and other delicious treats which made it nice not have to get up. Nothing like that at IGP. The bars at both pools were awesome with top shelf everything and extremely hard working staff. We did, however, have a slightly embarrassing episode at IGP when a drunk guy from one of the other resorts at the Iberostar complex(in the IGP grounds illegally) was getting a little too friendly with my wife and some of the other ladies at the bar. That significantly detracted from the experience, knowing that I had to be on my guard and immediately put me in combat mode versus chillax mode. I suppose that could happen anywhere at any resort, but it happened at IGP so it’s worth mentioning. I believe he was a guest of a wedding party(probably the drunk cousin they were obligated to invite) but regardless, he still snuck in and was asking folks at the pool bar to get him some top shelf liquor, and eventually graduated into disrespecting me and my wife(which I promptly put an end to). I did notice security folks at the IGP, but perhaps they should position one permanently at the pool bar at around 3pm and on. No such incidents at SMB. Overall, SMB hands down on the pool scene.
Overall experience: SMB takes it.
There were so many different areas where IGP took the blue ribbon, but the overall experience at SMB was second to none. Now, the question is was SMB worth the extra $1,000 for a 6 night stay. Honestly, if you’re going to shell out some green for an awesome all inclusive resort experience for you and your wife to have memories to last a lifetime, save up what you need and don’t let money be the deciding factor. Please don’t take this as we had a bad time at IGP. On the contrary, it was awesome, but SMB was better. It’s like comparing the difference between the first and second place winner of the 100 yard dash in the Olympics; they’re both excellent, but someone had to be first, even if it’s only a 10th of the second difference. The one scenario that I would recommend IGP over SMB is a wedding. IGP was so huge that you could choose to hang out with your wedding party if you wanted, but could easily escape and have some alone time without having to be too reclusive. We did see wedding parties at both, but from the armchair quarterback perspective, I’d recommend IGP for a wedding.
1. On the first day of your visit at either place, take the free bike ride tour of the grounds, especially if you’re staying at IGP. It will give you a glimpse of all the options that you may want to revisit. It will help ease your anxieties so you can be sure not to miss anything.
2. If you plan on relaxing by the pool all day, make sure to grab a chair early in the morning at either location. The rules say you can’t just keep a book or a towel at your chair to reserve it, and you actually have to be there, although everyone still does. My recommendation is if you see a chair that has a personal item on it, keep an eye on it for about 20 minutes. If no one is there, go tell one of the pool staff personnel that no one has been there and ask if they can remove the items. Don’t remove them yourself. I can imagine that there has been some altercations because of this. If the person comes back and wants their chair back, tell them that the pool staff removed their items and can be retrieved with them and it was empty when they sat down. That’s an easy way to defuse the situation.
3. At IGP, go to the lazy river at the Maya. It was our favorite thing to do by far during our stay. My wife and I would get some top shelf drinks at the IGP, then walk over to the lazy river to lounge for the afternoon(you can get food and drinks at ANY of the resorts as a guest of the IGP, but we wanted top shelf drinks). The other resorts have kiddos running around and some may be in the lazy river being, well, kids. But they quickly loose interest and move on.
4. At the SMB: lounge at the pool all day long. That’s the epicenter of all activities at SMB and where you meet all the other guests.
5. This is possibly the most important recommendation for both: meet other guests! Unless you don’t want to be bothered by anyone else, be friendly and get to know the other folks staying there. They will be the best way to find out the highlights of the resorts. Some of our greatest memories of both locations were made with the folks we were brave enough to say hi to. (offer to buy them a drink at the pool bar. That always gets a laugh since it’s free anyways)
6. This should go without saying, but bring plenty of dollar bills for tips. Yes, it's all inclusive, but you'd be suprised how far a five spot will go with the staff. They WILL take care of you if you do the same for them. Ever wonder why we don't have all inclusives in the US? Because no US company can compete with the bang for the buck in other countries south of the boarder. It's sad that the staff get paid what they do, so be sure to acknowledge their hard work with good tips.
My intent was to make this review as comprehensive as possible, but I’m sure I left out an area that may be of interest to people. Feel free to email me and ask more specific questions if you’d like!
Respectfully, Clive and Juliana
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.