I have seen many reviews both glorifying and demonizing this place. I have had the pleasure of staying in some of America's finest 5-star resorts and Grand Esmeralda would certainly be one of these such resorts!
I will break it down to different aspects to make your interest easier to find:
*Rooms - We stayed in a garden-view room that was on the pool-side corner of building 5, "Palenque". The view from inside the room itself was of the rest of the resort, but when you stepped out onto the good-sized balcony you had a full view of the large pool and Caribbean. The room itself was small to medium sized by American 5-star standards, but medium to large by most international standards (about the same size of US travel hotel rooms such as in DoubleTree). The bed was exceptionally comfortable and the bed linens were very good (but not quite great) quality. The bathroom was on-par in terms of size and quality with American high-rated hotels. The towels were okay - neither poor nor great. Room amenities such as air conditioning (very cool and reasonably quiet, but not silent), ceiling fan (excellent Hunter brand), flat-panel TV (It was fun watching TV in Spanish, or sometimes in English with Spanish Subtitles), private safe, hair dryer (very high power unlike most hotel dryers), expansive closet space, dual-head shower and stocked mini-fridge (soda and beer) were all very good to excellent. The lighting was very good with a combination of fluorescent and incandescent bulbs and dimmer switch. There was a mild hint of mustiness in the room - probably from the extreme humidity. My wife and I both have allergies, but had no problems with it. The best part though were the daily towel animals and the curtain art! Very original!!!
*Food and Beverage - Being all-inclusive can sometimes equal mediocrity, but not here! We twice ate the dinner buffet at the Festival Restaurant (no reservation required). There are different themes each night - we enjoyed the Mexican and the Seafood nights thoroughly! Service at this location was actually good for a self-serve buffet - our wine and water (btw, the ice and water are *safe* here b/c it is all from filtered and bottled sources) never got too low! The other dinners we had were at the reservation-only sit-down restaurants. Reservations were not hard to obtain (a concierge was at each building as well as at the lobby) and available seating times were generally good until around noon. Only two choices were available on any given night. We enjoyed: Seafood (excellent food, excellent presentation, good service); French (excellent food, excellent presentation, excellent service); Steakhouse (very good food, good presentation, very good service); and Italian (excellent food, very good presentation, excellent service). We did not eat at either the Mexican or the Asian Restaurants. Breakfast and Lunch were at Jaal-Ha by the Caribbean's edge every day. Both had an excellent variety of local cuisine and a few choices of popular international dishes including an Omelet bar at breakfast and a Burger grill at lunch. The bars were each very good. The swing bar was by far the best in overall atmosphere and service (Irving was an awesome barkeep!). The pool bar was very fast and had no problem serving the drinks 'con mucho Bacardi'. The poolside service was so good that it almost made up for the lack of a swim-up bar. The sports bar was great for a cold cerveza in the shade and also had very good service. I can recommend the Mexican house white wines, but not so much the house red. The Mexican Sparkling wines are also good.
*Facility - As most have noted on here, this resort does indeed sprawl a bit. I am not a daily gym attendee, yet had no problem walking around the resort. At most it takes 5 minutes from the pool/beach to the lobby. Golfcarts usually were on the path and would always stop to pick you up unless full (the best crewmember at the facility was a driver/bellman named Jesus - great guy!). The gym looked great, clean and was nicely air conditioned. The spa was nice to look at, but hardly worth the resort prices. The grounds were well-kept and were manicured daily. The lobby was spacious and very inviting. Check-in was immediate and our room assignment was exactly as-booked. Lines did look to get long right at 3:00pm, but seemed to clear out very quickly. The stores at the resort had a fair selection and reasonable prices on sunglasses and clothing. Toiletries and sunscreen looked a bit pricey but not outright gouging like seen at some resorts (think, airport prices). The shows did look exceptionally lame. We watched a practice for the Michael Jackson tribute and everything from the stage effects to the choreography looked like a Junior High skit - so, just go to the 24-hour swing bar by the sea and enjoy some Don Jose Tequila! The poolside activities were fun (too bad I was just a spectator for the in-pool kayak race!) and the crewmembers recruiting folks to join in were encouraging without being too pushy. The pool itself was simply amazing. It is 4-ft deep and about 80-degrees. There are also lounge chairs that sit in the 1-foot deep section next to the 4-ft area. That was a great touch! The sea was a sight to behold. The water color changed from a darker greenish color near the shore to lighter shades of green, to pale blue to deep indigo. The waterline at about half of the resort was very soft with silt and seaweed with rough coral mixed in. But at the north-end of the resort the waterline was more typical of Caribbean experiences with a firm sandy floor and clear water. The beach was swept daily and guarded. The whole region around the resort seems to be a historic mangrove swamp and has the wildlife (and sometimes the smell in very isolated places - unnoticed in most places) to go with it. The birds and frogs sounded great while monkey-looking animals (I have no idea what they were) played near the paths and in the trees.
*Region - There were activities galore that could be booked... way more than anyone could do during a 1-week vacation! Tour operators had office hours at the resort who could book your off-site activities. I highly recommend the combined Tulum / Xel-Ha trip and the Catamaran Snorkel trip. They are not cheap, but you get what you pay for! We rode through Playa del Carmen on a return bus trip. It did not look that inviting, but it didn't look unsafe either. The resort has daily transfers to and from town for a nominal fee. The biggest issue around the region are Timeshare salespeople. These folks are *very* aggressive and are not above misrepresentation to get you to listen to their pitches. This was true at the airport first - the desk that was signed for transportation info was little more than a hand-off to the timeshare idiots. Even at the resort, we got a call one day from a person saying that we had not received a wedding gift we were entitled to, but it turned out to be just another timeshare person at the resort trying to get us to sit with them. The only other thing to note about the region is the weather. I'm used to high heat and humidity in Eastern NC from July through early September. Playa has the same sort of weather even in October. It is not unbearable, just plan on many clothing changes to account for the extra perspiration in the 95-degree, 80% humidity weather! I give the location 4/5 stars mostly because it is so far from all the regional attractions. Plan on over an hour to get to Tulum, Xel-Ha, and other Southern Riviera Maya destinations; over three hours to get to Chichen Itza.
*Culture/Language - I do not travel internationally to see or hear what I could experience in the US. As such, I try my best to respect the host nation. Mexico was a wonderful host! English was spoken reasonably well by most major service-providers at the resort. They were very helpful and understanding of my limited Spanish. Off-site, English of course was less prevalent. But by simply trying some Spanish, I usually had successful communication. The Mexican people seemed to be a very proud people who were eager to please visitors, and were very patient with even the crabbiest of the ignoble tourists who sometimes could be found.
*Overall - In sum, this resort and venue are wonderful. One problem any resort has is getting, then maintaining a 5-star rating. It almost seems a curse because 5-star in American society is equated with unfailing perfection. If you are expecting superhuman perfection, then no this is not a 5-star resort. I've never been to a 5-star if that is the criteria (Greenbrier, etc). But if near perfection in a relatively exotic location is your idea of a relaxing, luxurious holiday then you will not be let down by Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Ideally located in an area of 445 acres in a prime position on the beach on the Riviera Maya, BlueBay Grand Esmeralda combines elegant Mayan features with contemporary design and a wide range of service to suit the most discerning traveller. BlueBay Grand Esmeralda provides a relaxed atmosphere for holiday makers. The hotel features 979 elegant and well-appointed rooms and suites with the option of a sea or garden view. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Blue Bay Esmeralda
- Bluebay Grand Esmeralda Hotel
- Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Riviera Maya
- Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Mayan Riviera
- Grand Esmeralda
- Blue Bay Grand Esmerelda
- Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Resort
- Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Beach Resort Spa
- Blue Bay Esmerelda
- BlueBay Grand Esmeralda Riviera Maya/Playa Del Carmen, Mexico