**Disclaimer** My reviews are lengthy as they go through each day's experience. At the end of my review I list the "what I would like to see different" but I do believe this review provides excellent insight into our overall experience, and I hope you find the information valuable!
Why you should read this review: My family and I have traveled to Mexico 10 times over 11 years so I am confident I have a good sense of comparing AI (All-Inclusive) resorts.
This trip found my wife, my 16-yr old daughter and me on vacation.
The Grand Velas Riviera Maya is a true sanctuary, tucked away nicely in norther Playa del Carmen. If you are looking for the party scene a la Cancun then this resort is not for you. If you are looking for some fun, be it with small children or teenagers, and you don't mind doing without an evening show, this could be your spot.
We spent one week there and here are my notes and details about the experience. Feel free to email me if you have questions. I'm happy to try and answer the best I can.
Arrived in the Zen Suite Lobby around 3pm. There are two other buildings; Ambassador and Grand Class (adult-only). The Zen is tucked away from the other two buildings and it is much quieter and you feel like you're in a tropical rain forest.
We were met immediately by the concierge who greeted us by name (something that happened on a regular basis) and had us sign in. DIFFERENTIATOR: No wristlet/bracelet was necessary. The concierge said we could make dinner reservations for our entire stay. DIFFERENTIATOR: This is a far cry from some establishments that make you wake up at 6am and stand in line to make dinner reservations.
I would have liked, and this seems to be the case with most of the resorts in Cancun/Playa, to receive a much better map and explanation of how things worked. I'll get into some of the finer points later but safe to say the "campus" was extensive and it took a little while to find all the hidden pools and understand how to get around.
During our booking we chose the Zen Suite w/o the plunge pool. The suite was unbelievable. One of the main reasons we chose this resort was the PILLOW-TOP beds. Anyone who has been to Mexico, or an AI globally, knows that the beds are rock-hard. I know several travelers love that but for us, comfort is really becoming a major reason to stay in a higher-end facility.
The room was clean, no musty smell, no gritty sand, etc. It was spacious with a walk out patio with chair and chaise lounge. We were on the 2nd floor. Large shower that had a sprayer but the best feature was the rain-shower shower head built into the ceiling. There was a bench to sit if necessary. Water pressure was excellent. Water is potable but we always choose to drink the bottled water, provided as part of your AI experience.
The sinks were a little low for us (not very tall but 5'10 - 6'1) but that was not a negative. The toilet had it's own door. There was a jacuzzi tub. We didn't use it but it was spotless.
If you are not a member of Luxury Hotels Worldwide (LHW.com), as we were not, you end up paying for Internet service. VERY IMPORTANT: If you end up paying for the service, check the on-line contract prior to accepting.
The service was an acceptable price for me at $80/7 days. But I thought this was for all devices in my possession. (4 iOS devices). Unfortunately this was not the case. I went to the front desk and explained that the contract did NOT state it was PER DEVICE. They agreed and gave me a code for 3 other devices. This was EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE as far as I was concerned. I know...internet on vacation. Unfortunately I'm American. We're slaves to our devices! :-)
Since we chose not to make dinner plans for any of the restaurants (http://www.grandvelas.com/dining.aspx) we decided upon Azul, the main buffet restaurant.
Not sure if this was an off-night but the food was cold and the choices were mediocre at best. You can imagine our surprise and concern over whether or not the rest of the stay would be like this. IT WAS NOT!
One thing that bugged me was the fact that I had to sign for each meal in every restaurant. I recognize that because of not wearing bracelets this was the normal practice but I think I was just used to strolling in, giving our room # and then deciding whether or not to leave additional gratuity. We ALWAYS left at least $5USD per server as they really go above and beyond. They call you by last name and look you in the eyes. Great service.
We went to sleep early and there wasn't a ton of noise outside. Because we stayed at the Zen we were not directly connected to the beach/ocean and it was absolutely a quieter and more peaceful experience.
We had breakfast at Chaka, which is part of the Zen campus. It was excellent. Great choices, great food. Tons of fruit, pastries, etc. The only thing I wish they had were two chefs making omelets. This took a little longer than I would like but hey, we were supposed to be on vacation with no time table! :-)
After breakfast each day we got ourselves ready for the beach. In order to reach the beach (musical reference anyone) you had to take their shuttle service from the Zen Spa area to either the Ambassador or Grand Class sites. Funny they had this type of service considering they bill themselves as eco-friendly. The amount of gas/petrol they must use daily is hard to imagine.
The ride takes 2-3 minutes and the shuttles appear about every 5-7 minutes on average. If you want to visual the route think of a triangle. Zen is on top, Grand is the bottom left and Ambassador bottom right. The Grand and Ambassador are connected.
We didn't know much about the beach area and the driver said we should check out the adult section, which meant dropping us off at the Grand Class area.
The adult area really meant that your children behaved. They didn't run around kicking up sand, they didn't shout or cry, etc. POINT OF CLARIFICATION: We love kids. There is nothing better than seeing a little toddler at the edge of the beach letting the water tickle their toes. The staff is pretty serious about having your children behave so as long as they act proper and not out of control there are no issues.
If you want to build sand castles and do the normal family day at the beach, hang out on the Ambassador side, which is really about 1.5 football (that's American) fields away and through the rest of the property.
We spent all of our time on the Grand Class side enjoying the perfectly-combed beach. Beautiful white sandy beaches with ample chairs and umbrellas. We were there the last week of most everyone's spring break so this could easily have played into the availability.
We normally got down to the beach between 9:30am - 10:30am and were met by one of two gentlemen, Angel or Cesar. Sometimes both would assist but it was their job to take care of us, and take care of us they did.
Another visual: The pool area for the Grand Class was behind us, up stairs and directly in front of the Bistro restaurant. The hut where they made the drinks was no more than 100 yards from our beachside view! Drinks normally took 5 minutes, which was great.
Ordering food off a very broad menu was great, but it did take longer than we wanted so the food was sometimes a little tepid. This was a minor issue since you could wander down to the Ambassador side and either go up to Azul or partake in the food on the beach; hamburgers, hotdogs, pork chops, salad. It didn't change on a daily basis and even though the food was excellent, that daily routine was a bit stale after 2 days.
On the Ambassador side of the property the families and fun were never ending. The pool up there is bigger and the seating area is also much larger by a 2:1 margin. We didn't spend any time in this area but clearly everyone was having a great time.
When we went back to the room the maid service had cleaned it immaculately. There was not a speck of sand on the floor. I have never seen a room so clean on a daily basis. We believe in extra gratuity when warranted and the maid deserved this daily.
Dinner was held at Frida and it was very tasty. Reservations are on the 20's so we chose 6:20pm, which seemed to be right in the middle of families w/small kids. This was never an issue. A crying baby here or there - hey, I'm sure the same can be said for any restaurant you patronize back home.
My wife had the sea bass with a side of fried crickets. Yes, crickets. Basically they tasted like chili-flavored pumpkin seeds. It was fun and off the wall. My daughter and I had rib-eye and filet, respectively. I am always impressed by the beef in Mexico. This was no different, prepared just the way we ordered accompanied by vegetables on the side. DIFFERENTIATOR: Every meal they asked about food allergies. Since my wife and daughter have shellfish allergies they were very careful to not mix, not provide samples or anything that resembled shellfish. This was something I do not remember any other resort offering.
The Ambassador offers a piano bar and across the hall a karaoke bar. The piano bar is too small and was a little loud for the space. We never saw anyone at the karaoke bar during our entire stay.
Since there weren't any shows we ended up spending time watching movies we had downloaded (iTunes) but each room does have a DVD player if you want to bring your own movies to watch.
One thing we noticed was the lack of vendors walking the beach. While most of them are not a nuisance it was weird not having at least a few folks come up to sell jewelry, etc.
We ate at Sen Lien and found the food to be very tasty. The waiter, Eduardo, did a fabulous job explaining exactly what each course was, and once again they asked about food allergies.
Side Note: It was Easter Sunday and while we do not celebrate the holiday, I found it odd that none of the staff really went out of their way to wish others a Happy Easter. They are very religious so it was just interesting to note this didn't occur.
Very hot day; humid. We decided to go into Playa (5th Avenue) and do our shopping. The Grand Velas offers free/gratis one-way taxi service to your destination. The shopping is about 10-15 min away depending upon traffic. We tipped the driver $5 and did the typical tourist thing.
The cab-ride back was $20USD and we tipped him another $5 so for the 3 of us to travel it was only $30USD. Very reasonable for this excursion. Speaking of excursions, we didn't partake in any but the pricing from Delta Vacations was normally $129 for most every offering. This is extremely reasonable considering some tours and offerings can top $250USD/person.
We came back to the hotel and ate lunch at Azul. The food was much better than that first evening's dinner. Spent the remainder of the afternoon on the beach until dinner.
Patronized Lucca, located in the Zen area. Grouper, Lasagna, Penne and their antipasto bar was fabulous. Again, wait staff very attentive and catered to all our needs. I should mention that dessert in each establishment was excellent. Sure you get the rubbery, unidentifiable thing once in a while but Mexican chocolate, dark chocolate is superb, and it didn't disappoint.
Are you getting the pattern we followed? :-)
Dinner this evening was at Coccina, spanish-fusion cuisine. I have to say that it wasn't as great of an experience as we would have liked. Don't get me wrong, not having a menu and waiting to see what was coming out next is pretty cool, but how many little portions of fish can one person eat! :-0
The food was excellent, as it was in every restaurant. This restaurant (along with the French restaurant Piaf [we did not go to] is adult only. 16 years+ is what they consider adult but again, I think you can use your discretion and judgement on this.
Spring break had definitely come to an end as we noticed there was less staff than before. It wasn't enough to become troublesome but you could tell things took just a bit longer.
Very windy so went to Grand Class pool area. Great, not too loud. Families but no little kids. There was a Club Trip so got noisy in later afternoon. I ordered a cheeseburger and my daughter ordered the chicken baguette. Both items came out in less than 20 minutes and they were hot and delicious. The fries were pretty weak (darn) but otherwise it was very tasty.
We dined at Frida again and the experience was just as good as the first time we dined there.
We decided to actually stay at the Zen and go to the pool area right outside the Chaka restaurant. This was wonderful. Two pools of which both had a very shallow pool and the other was only 4' deep. It was broken into two areas; one for families w/small kids and the other for adults.
We took advantage of the SPA. We're fortunate enough to have been in other countries and seem to always compare massages to the one we received in Negril. Normally every guest has a $50USD spa credit on a daily basis. If you book a massage that is at least 50-min in length you are allowed to partake in their water experience.
It was a fun way to get relaxed and in the mood for the spa. Not only water (hot/cold) but sauna, steam room, clay room, etc. This was included in the price and while not mind blowing, it was definitely a fun experience.
Our daughter decided to order room service while my wife and I had our respective massages. She stated the food was received w/in 10 minutes and was fabulous.
This was our last day at Grand Velas. We really enjoyed our time except for a few minor inconveniences. Checkout was a breeze and the customer satisfaction survey they have you fill out is detailed and I was appreciative they did this upon checkout.
The shuttle arrived right on time (Delta Vacations) and our trip to the airport was without incident.
Overall I would rate our stay 4 out of 5. The reason is that many times when we asked things of the front desk or concierge it took much too long for things to occur. Follow through was not nearly as expedient as we'd have liked.
For example, after our daughter ordered room service and was finished I went into the hallway and spoke directly to the staff, who understood english, and asked them to have someone come pick it up. People were not leaving their trays outside the door. Not saying you couldn't do this but clearly the message being sent by the resort is they will take care of it.
Well, two hours later it hadn't been picked up so I ended up setting it outside in the foyer on a desk.
Another incident had to do with making reservations the final two nights. I did this in person down at the concierge desk. Rather than wait they told me they would inform me when my reservations had been confirmed. 24 hours later I received this confirmation.
The one complaint I really have is that the shuttle service going TO dinner sometimes was met with towels on the seats of the van. Because they were dropping off people who just came from the beach it would be a little damp. This wasn't cool, considering how nice each of us looked.
In summary, I would absolutely stay there again and recommend this resort for anyone looking to get away from the daily grind and desiring to be pampered and treated with the utmost courtesy and respect.
Folks who were exemplary in their service to us:
Angel & Cesar - Grand Class Beach
Bardo - Waiter at Chaka Restaurant
Alejandro - Check-in/Check-out
David - Staff member assigned to Zen suites
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Grand Velas Riviera Maya is one of the newest resorts to distinguish Riviera Maya as a premier vacation destination. The uniquely Mexican world-class hospitality we provide is "Beyond All Inclusive, Beyond All Compare", and we are proud to be the only family-friendly All Inclusive resort in the Mexican Caribbean to have been rated Five Diamonds by the AAA. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort, Riviera Maya Hotel Playa Del Carmen
- Grand Velas All Suites And Spa Resort, Riviera Maya
- Grand Velas Hotel Riviera Maya
- Grand Velas Riviera Maya Playa Del Carmen, Mexico