All-inclusive resorts have a bad name in the UK. We tend to think of over-indulging on poor-quality buffets, drinking sour wine and competing with Germans for the best spot by the pool. Rosie’s stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya made her revisit these preconceived notions. Yes, it’s all-inclusive, but what it absolutely is not is the sub-standard experience we’ve come to expect from such resorts. It’s like luxury on tap; a constant flow of on-demand delight…
Even though the resort complex at Grand Velas is huge – spread over 82 acres, with three wings housing a total of 539 suites – it doesn’t feel like I’m competing with other guests for access to the unlimited facilities. That could be because there are 8 restaurants, 5 bars, 3 pools and 2 fitness centres to choose from, and the smallest of the suites is still a whopping 1,184 sq ft.
And what an experience these suites are: not only are they huge, with private plunge pools, sun loungers, and beds and bathrooms fit for royalty, but they also come with a mini-bar stocked with a limitless supply of wine, mezcal, soft drinks and snacks. Room service is also included and available 24 hours: a godsend when hunger strikes my jet-lagged companion at 3am, permitting her to indulge in a rib-eye steak served with a side of truffle fondant potato and a glass of Malbec. Midnight munchies will never be the same again.
Photo: Entrance, Grand Velas Riviera Maya
With only two nights to experience all that is on offer, I step up to the challenge for the benefit of future British visitors. And so it begins, in the elegant Koi Bar watching the England vs Colombia World Cup game on the largest screen I’ve ever seen. As we concede an equaliser with minutes to spare and the match goes to extra time, I need a strong drink to calm the nerves. In any other all-inclusive I might have been tempted to throw caution to the wind and succumb to the cheap tequila shots, but here I have a menu of bespoke cocktails including whiskey sours, negronis, and mango daiquiris to choose from. Several margaritas later, England has finally emerged victorious from a penalty shoot-out – and unlike my friends in the pub back home, my wallet hasn’t taken a beating…even if my head does feel a little worse for wear.
I wander to the pool, and rather than reinforce the stereotype of sunburnt, drunk Brits abroad in this high-class establishment, I quickly rectify things with an order of ceviche, lobster tacos and a blackened tuna salad to sober up. It all tastes sublime, and while the impoverished student still left in me wants to work its way through the entire menu, there’s something about knowing I have unlimited access to such exquisite food that prevents me from over-indulging and regretting it, and instead enjoying things as and when I please.
Photo: Koi Bar, Grand Velas Riviera Maya
As a result, my stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya is much more wholesome than I would have anticipated for an all-inclusive resort. My suite is in the ‘Zen’ wing, geared towards relaxation – and, conveniently, where the award-winning spa is located (there is also family-friendly ‘Ambassador’ and the adults-only ‘Grand Class’). Here I enjoy a wonderful massage and a class on how to make energy balls: armed with a supply of strawberry-coconut-chia bites, I’m not even tempted to devour all the M&Ms and Hershey’s chocolate that is sat in my suite’s fridge.
I also take part in a surprisingly strenuous aqua fitness class on floating mats: anyone who is able to complete more than 5 push-ups on wobbly water without their arms giving up clearly isn’t eating enough of the room-service sushi. The gyms have a full schedule of classes to choose from, as well as a personal trainer to give guidance while you work out: as someone who has always wanted a PT in London but struggled to justify the price, this service was just what I was looking for.
Photo: Beach, Grand Velas Riviera Maya
If these services aren’t enough, all guests are assigned a personal concierge to give helpful recommendations to maximise your stay: on the advice of mine I chose Piaf restaurant for a healthy dinner that didn’t compromise on taste. Although the highly romantic ambiance with candles, roses and a live harpist was a little lost on me, the escargots, scallops and rack of lamb certainly weren’t – paired with beautiful wines, it felt like a meal in a fancy Parisian brasserie, rather than on the Playa del Carmen.
I didn’t think my dining experience could be surpassed, but the following evening’s meal at restaurant Cocina de Autor blew my mind. The restaurant only serves a tasting menu consisting of a creative take on Mexican and Caribbean cuisine, with dishes such as pork served with cactus and camomile. I still couldn’t shake off the disbelief that all this is included in the room price.
Although the resort caters to a wide spectrum, it’s clear that it will never compromise on quality, choosing to innovate and diversify to continue pleasing guests. I met a couple who got married at the hotel, stayed for their honeymoon and now return annually with their two children – who are kept busy at the kids’ club while their parents enjoy precious time alone together. From romantic escapes to family breaks and everything in between, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who Grand Velas couldn’t charm.
Our only regret was not having the time to experience it all before we left. As a self-confessed all-inclusive resort snob before my stay, I’m now totally converted – and on a mission to find as many friends who are up for a luxury experience that knows almost no limits to join me next time. Who’s in?
Photo: Cocina de Autor, Grand Velas Riviera Maya
All-inclusive suites at Grand Velas Riviera Maya start at $434 per night, based on double occupancy. ‘All-inclusive’ encompasses a la carte meals at seven signature restaurants, 24-hour suite service, top-shelf beverages, onsite Kids and Teen Clubs, and recreational activities. Spa treatments incur an additional cost.