Playa’s All-Inclusive Splash in Cancun and Playa del Carmen
PHOTO: Gran Caribe Cancun Junior Suite Ocean View. (Photos courtesy of Playa Hotels & Resorts)
Over a span of ten years, Playa Hotels & Resorts has become one of the top all-inclusive hospitality companies in Mexico and the Caribbean, owning and operating 14 award-winning resorts in these regions. Three Mexican Playa properties currently making a splash are Gran Caribe, centrally located in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, along with The Royal and Gran Porto, twin resorts in the Riviera Maya hotspot of Playa del Carmen — just around the corner from the city’s lauded Fifth Avenue pedestrian thoroughfare.
Gran Caribe: Centrally Located
Cancun’s Gran Caribe resort is no one-trick pony when it comes to guest demographics. Weddings as well as business events are held here, and families are just as welcome as couples.
“One of the best things we offer here is this location,” Vicky Iniesta, director of sales & marketing for Playa Hotels & Resorts, pointed out. Gran Caribe sits in the middle of the curve of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, so the area’s best luxury shopping and nightlife are within walking distance. Farther afield are a number of top golf courses, plus the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum and Chichen-Itza.
Guests will, without a doubt, be equally drawn to the gorgeous stretch of white-sand beach and swimmable turquoise waters.
Rooms With a View
The stunning sea views don’t end just because you’ve headed inside, though — a number of the 470 rooms have an ocean view, and all feature a terrace or balcony.
As room categories elevate, the perks increase— Junior Suite Oceanfront comes with discount treatments at the property’s SPAreal, while guests staying at Gran Junior Suite and above gain access to the top-floor 24-hour VIP lounge, which has a commanding ocean view, a pool table and food anytime day or night.
The Gran Junior Suite Beachfront Walkout, as the name indicates, brings the beach right to the room. Guests “have direct access to the beach, they have sand on the terrace,” said Marianne Emmelhainz, sales manager, tour and travel for Gran Caribe.
Gran Master Suites contain a separate bedroom and living room, private balcony, and exclusive beach cabana, and there are a select few of this type (including the Gran Presidential Suite Ocean View — the resort’s top room category) that contain a double Jacuzzi.
Quality of spirits available from the in-room dispensers also increases with category — premium brands are featured above Junior Suite, while Gran Master and above feature local brands.
PHOTO: Gran Caribe Family Junior Suite
One room type is specifically tailored to Gran Caribe’s littlest visitors. Family Junior Suites are the same size as standard Junior Suites, but have child-friendly appointments (and no liquor dispenser). The room can fit up to two adults and three kids, and there is a bunk bed with a trundle bed in addition to the king-size or two double beds.
And according to Emmelhainz, this room type is “so popular because of the capacity,” that Gran Caribe has added more on the second floor.
Right outside the Family Junior Suites is direct access to Oki Fun World. Here, Oki Kids Club features supervised activities for ages 4 to 12, Oki Fun World Mini Golf and Oki Splash Water Park. The latter boasts giant pirate ship and castle water slides.
For kids who are a little older, T-Zone (for ages 12-17) contains video games, educational activities, and social opportunity.
Gran Caribe’s dining venues offer a range of cuisines, with both formal and casual vibes. Maria’s has authentic Mexican dishes and margaritas while Il Pescatore serves up sumptuous Italian dishes with an emphasis on seafood. Gaviotas has beachfront ambiance, plus Caribbean and Mexican fare.
For more casual (but no less elegant) eats, Albatros has extensive international cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as does the kid-friendly Sunset Grill. And for drinks with feet in the sand, check out the Trade Winds beach bar.
Tying the Knot
The resort also specializes in civil, symbolic and Catholic weddings, in addition to vow renewals, offering packages and diverse venues. Couples can wed on the beach, at the oceanfront gazebo, or the Our Lady of Guadalupe Oceanfront Chapel — the only consecrated Roman Catholic resort chapel in Cancun.
Playa del Carmen’s All-Inclusive Jewels
Head about 50 miles south on Highway 307 and into the heart of the Riviera Maya for a pair of Playa Hotels & Resorts hotspots in the bustling seaside city of Playa del Carmen: The Royal and Gran Porto.
Similar to Gran Caribe, the two accommodations are centrally located, but in a very different type of area. Wally Dagri, public relations manager of Playa Hotels & Resorts described Playa del Carmen as “a small fisherman village that has become very popular.” In fact, between 2000 and 2006, it was the fastest growing city in Latin America.
Zoning laws do not allow buildings to be more than four stories, so instead of Cancun’s hulking structures, “it’s more tiny streets,” Dagri said.
It’s the best of both worlds for The Royal and Gran Porto guests, as “you have the privacy of an all-inclusive resort at the same time you are integrated with town,” according to Dagri.
And just down the beach is the ferry to the island of Cozumel — its towering hotels just visible on the horizon.
The Royal: Adults-Only
PHOTO: The Royal, Playa del Carmen
Lauded with four AAA diamonds, and called “one of the most successful properties in our company” by Dagri, The Royal is adults-only and built in the Colonial Mexican hacienda architectural style, but with a minimalistic, modern feel.
Dagri also said that the 11-year-old accommodation is “not the traditional adults only property where you have only honeymooning couples, and that’s it… (The hotel) is very good for social groups, too.”
The hotel’s cavernous main lobby is more than just a check-in, check-out spot. Every night, the central dome area becomes a stage for “Mexico of My Memories,” a Cirque du Soliel-style show with dancers, acrobats and musicians paying homage to local culture.
PHOTO: A typical suite at The Royal, complete with double Jacuzzi
All 570 spacious rooms are suites, featuring a balcony with a hammock and double Jacuzzis — yes, even the lowest category sports this luxe indulgence. The only difference between rooms is location and associated perks. There’s Garden View and Ocean View, Oceanfront Swim-Up — which includes a semi-private pool off the balcony, a number of Beachfront Walkout suites; private cabanas for Master Suite and above and a private rooftop terrace with Presidential Suite rooms — the highest category.
Befitting its four-diamond status, The Royal offers Beach Butler service. They provide such free amenities as sunglasses, fresh towels, magazines or books in all languages, 20 different suntan lotions and bottles of water to guests relaxing by the pool and ocean.
Dining: Innovative Meldings
There is an emphasis on regional fare, often with innovative meldings when it comes to dining at The Royal’s eateries. The beachfront Pelicanos offers Caribbean fusion, the casual Spice has both authentic Mexican and American classics, the oceanfront Rincon Mexicano offers authentic Mexico bites, and the upscale Maria Marie melds Mexican and French cuisines.
For farther afield flavors, El Mediterraneo has Mediterranean cuisine and Asiana, Asian fusion. Interestingly, the latter is located just outside of The Royal’s confines, so guests “can feel like they’re in town… (and) not just staying all the time inside one building,” according to Dagri.
Chef’s Plate is the most exclusive dining spot — the only guests who can make the required reservations are those staying in The Royal’s Junior Suite Oceanfront category and higher, plus the dress code is more formal. The executive chef changes menus daily, choosing from a selection of international haute cuisine.
Every restaurant has a sommelier, who reveals such expert details as country-of-origin, grape blends and tasting notes.
Among the selection of bars and lounges is the Tequileria & Cigar Club, a place to choose from among 50 world-class tequilas (Mexico is the birthplace of the spirit, after all) and kick back with hand-rolled imported cigars.
Tequila, wine and Martini tastings are routine, and like the wine sommelier, there are tequila experts guiding guests through the length and breadth of the spirit.
For those who want the food to come to them, 24-hour room service is included, and cuisine is delivered to guests via a “Magic Box,” an aperture in the wall that accepts the vittles — meaning there are no trays strewn across the hallways.
SpaZul and Mayan Mysticism
PHOTO: The Royal's Mayan Temazcal hut
Massages, courtesy of The Royal’s SpaZul can be enjoyed in the spa itself, in the room, or on the beach, for an extra cost. Packages also incorporate the room’s Jacuzzi for aromatherapy in addition to the massage.
But that doesn’t mean you should skip a visit to SpaZul. Along with the soothing vibes of the treatment area, a powerful, Mayan-authentic experience awaits — the Temazcal, a kind of one-person sweat lodge conceived by the ancient civilization to represent Mother Earth.
A recording of a shaman plays and a guest is ensconced in complete darkness, while steam flows and special herbs burn. “It takes you to another dimension… You can throw out all the negative vibes you have,” Dagri said.
For Active Guests
Gym access is included, but The Royal offers much more than that for active guests. An activity schedule is given out at check-in, and highlights include bicycle tours every morning and afternoon, and oceanfront yoga. However, for the intrepid, there is scuba certification available on-site at a special private pool — and immersive underwater environments that guests can dive into once qualified.
Wedding and Romance Specialists
Like Gran Caribe, weddings, receptions and honeymoons are a major part of The Royal experience, with around 200 nuptials a year. The resort takes these elements of its business so seriously, that specialized staff is in place on the property. Along with wedding planners, there’s a civil registry onsite, as well as a bona fide judge, so paperwork is a breeze.
The “Big Day Preview” deal acknowledges the fact that “it’s very difficult to (choose) without knowing the place for the wedding,” as Dagri puts it. So the bride and a companion can visit The Royal for two nights and talk to planners. If she chooses to have the wedding there, she will get the money back from the initial visit in the form of a resort credit — it doesn’t matter if it’s a hundred-guest wedding or just ten guests.
Two “Romance Concierges” are available for honeymooners and guests making other kinds of romantic visits. Along with private check-in/check-out they can recommend special activities, romantic dinners or special spa treatments.”
Gran Porto: Personalized Service
PHOTO: Gran Porto panorama
Just across the street from The Royal is Gran Porto, a small, family-oriented Playa property.
In addition to location, its near-boutique size is a major selling point, which “allows us to give very personalized service to the guest,” Dagri explained, “in contrast to all the other resorts you can find on the Riviera Maya, some of them have 800, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 rooms — you need a golf cart to get around,” he added.
At 19, Gran Porto is the oldest Playa property, and its distinctive Mexican hacienda style was the inspiration for the hospitality company’s other accommodations, a style that Dagri said is very rare in the region.
All 287 rooms have at least a terrace or balcony, and perks similar to Gran Caribe are added on as the room category elevates, such as discounts on SPAreal treatments for Junior Suite Oceanfront guests. Gran Porto also has kid-friendly Family Junior suites with bunk beds.
Of course, there’s the cream-of-the-crop Grand Junior Suite Beachfront Walkout and Gran Master 1-Bedroom Suite Oceanfront accommodations, and adjacent to top-floor digs is a rooftop Jacuzzi, one of the highest in Playa del Carmen, and perfect for stargazing.
Drop Off the Kids
Gran Porto has its own Oki Kids Club with Fun World and T-Zone — plus you may spot some costumed characters roaming around. Parents can drop the kids off here and head over to The Royal.
Cuisine: Parallels and Skewers
PHOTO: S'Padas Brazilian Steakhouse
Since Gran Caribe and Gran Porto share the “Gran” name, there are many parallels in dining options, with a notable exception. S’Padas Brazilian Steakhouse at Gran Porto serves up authentically prepared beef, chicken, pork and seafood on giant metal skewers. Waiters roam the restaurant, slicing off bits of meat for diners.
At the moment, some of Gran Porto’s amenities are undergoing changes (though they are still open), however by September, according to Edwin Barragan, general manager, Gran Porto, the resort will feature “a beautiful, completely renovated spa and a new gym.”
The Grandeur of Fifth Avenue
“The most important attraction in Playa is Fifth Avenue,” Dagri said. As Playa grew, this two-and-a-half mile pedestrian street expanded from seven to 35 blocks, and contains a lively European-style scene with shops, entertainment, clubs, bars, restaurants and cafes — and it’s just a block away from The Royal and Gran Porto.
All Are Welcome
Though The Royal and Gran Porto are separate facilities, guests are welcome to visit the restaurants and use the amenities at either one (though children under 18 are not allowed at The Royal) — and Gran Caribe as well, should guests find themselves in Cancun for the day.
Vicky Iniesta best summarizes the Playa Hotels & Resort experience: “Our workers are working to give you a pleasant stay with us. Treating you like you are home. In all the details... We do everything with love.”
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