Su-Jit Lin-DeSimone | January 11, 2016 1:30 PM ET
#Karismacation Recap – Part Two
PHOTO: Authenticity is a key ingredient of these Gourmet Inclusive® resorts, with El Dorado Seaside Suites going so far as to construct an entire Italian village for their new restaurant. (Courtesy Travel Impressions)
In my last post for Making Lasting Impressions for TravelPulse, I offered a teaser of the sensory feast my #Karismacation offered. Without further ado, let’s go ahead and gorge.
Amuse Bouche: Butler Service at Generations Riviera Maya, by Karisma
Typically, these gifts from the chef are things that are nice to have, but not something you’d consider essential to the meal. They’re added bonuses that serve as a gratis teaser to what you’re about to have, setting the tone for the rest of the night. The fact that butler service is a default offering at this resort and not even the biggest “best” of the brand should say something about how incredible our visit was.
You really can’t set the bar any higher than that. Luiz and Javier became indispensable to us, handling every aspect of our stay so smoothly, unobtrusively and gracefully (including tracking down the luggage the airline had failed to load) that the moments we were there to enjoy were able to be slowly savored.
Appetizer: Style…by Karisma
Your first impression of any Karisma Hotel or Resort is guaranteed to be a mouth-agape “Wow!” Appearances whet your appetite for sure at all of these properties, I’ve found, and the attention to detail they put into building up your moment of arrival is carried through all the way to the end. All hotels put a lot of design emphasis on their main entrance lobby; at Karisma resorts, all that decadence is merely a taste of what’s in store for the rest of your time there.
The rooms are massive. Not simply for the Riviera Maya—in general. I had the hardest time figuring out where to set my laptop in a suite that was bigger than apartments I’ve lived in. But beyond that is the care they clearly took in selecting every little thing that went in each square foot. Sleek, contemporary aesthetic at Generations Riviera Maya and Azul Five’s both older and new sections made me feel like I was in a chic, oversized Manhattan penthouse that just happened to have been dropped gently down into a tropical paradise.
The El Dorado Casitas Royale and overwater bungalows at El Dorado Maroma had that primal Indonesian hut feel—outdoor shower option and all—while providing the technology and luxury of modern fixtures.
In the restaurants, so much thought is put into the minutest of details. For instance, at El Dorado Seaside Suites, not only are they building an entire European village façade for their new Italian restaurant, but they’ve gone so far as to add a scaled down replica of a genuine Venetian gondola at the entrance and a massive table fit for a Medici constructed out of one solid, foot-thick slab of ancient wood for the private dining room.
Hand-chalked signs abound in the show kitchens (never buffet!), and opulent fabric choices are soft whispers of luxury. Beyond simple design, restaurants go so far as offering light shawls and reading glasses at any of their venues, providing them in a discreet manner before you have half a chance to ask. And for our site inspections, they had every detail nailed down to a single grain of rice—and that’s no exaggeration. In the sample rooms, customized renditions of our logo and theirs greeted us, made of dyed uncooked rice or little pebbles.
And those are just a smattering of the unique character and attention to every little thing exhibited by the properties. Each one is different; thoughtful elegance is the ubiquitous trait throughout design across all of the resorts.
Wine Pairing: Jackson Family Wines
Domestic this brand might be, but these vintages come from around the world to gather in Karisma’s wine cellars. A partnership with this prestigious brand of vintners means access to lush wines sourced from the Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Valleys of California, along with Monterey and Santa Barbara and Oregon; the Bordeaux region of France; Tuscany’s sunny hills; the McLaren Vale in Australia; Valles de Casablanca and del Maule in Chile; and the Western Cape area of South Africa.
Highly trained and passionate on-site sommeliers work with chefs on making pairings especially perfect, and visiting experts keep the learning process for guests and staff ongoing. To do the Gourmet Inclusive experience proper justice, you’re encouraged to lean on their expertise and try the fine wines they keep for connoisseurs, and to avail yourself of their recommended accompanying beverages. However, if you’re just getting into appreciating wine and aren’t yet ready to write your own tasting notes, this is definitely the place to expand your palate. Because of this partnership, even the included house wines are delectable—and often classic favorites.
Pasta Course: Children’s Amenities at Generations Riviera Maya Resort and Azul Hotels, by Karisma
Luxury doesn’t translate to the youngest of youngsters…but noodling around does, and that’s exactly what they have the freedom to do at Karisma’s family-friendly properties. Nickelodeon Experience aside (which boasts character interactions and special goodie bags, sliming, character breakfast, and private appearance add-ons), these kids clubs had us wondering if we could get away with skirting the age limits if our petite statures were close enough to the height requirements.
Generations Riviera Maya had a tree that slid into a ball pit bordered by a climbing wall, and adorable nap rooms with stuffed animals for when playing gets too hard. Bean bag chairs are set up in a circle for movie time in front of the projection screen; kumbaya get-togethers; or whatever exciting group activity the staff has planned that day. Azul Sensatori had separate pod rooms for different types of arts and crafts, as well as bitty chef’s jackets for the cooking classes. Azul Fives has MyGym, with tumbling lessons and gymnastics equipment. And they all have name-brand—Fisher-Price, LEGO, Xbox, Wii—toys and games and teeny, tiny toilets and designer sinks, plus darling step stools for the littlest ones.
Best of all, Karisma’s children’s programs are no mere afterthought. This focus on kids extends through every part of the vacation experience, from scaled-down robes and slippers in the room to permanent miniature buffet set-ups at kid-friendly heights with healthy selections parents want their children to choose. Gerber baby food is a standard. Umbrellas and lounge chairs made for tykes are found at nearly every pool, including those of their very own.
And as an added benefit, the hours of these supervised kids clubs are nice and long. They’re open seasonally until as late as 11 p.m.at some properties, so that the grown-ups can enjoy the beauty and romance of the resort and everyone can have exactly the vacation they imagined.
Fish Course: Balcony Pools at Karisma Hotels & Resorts
Swim-up suites are all the rage, but Karisma has always been a pioneer in the Riviera Maya when it comes to elevating standards. This time, they took it literally, putting infinity pools right on three floors of balconies at Generations Riviera Maya. I was impressed by the care they take to stay true to their family-friendly mission, going so far as to install child-safety measures on the gates of these amazing suites so that parents can book without fear or worry. El Dorado Seaside Suites, however, is planning on one-upping my home away from home with a whopping four levels of balcony pools in their adults-only new construction, adding a hilltop swim-up restaurant from that building’s pool.
For classicists, El Dorado Seaside Suite’s original sections boast one of the region’s first swim-up rooms—follow the lovingly painted sprouting coconuts left by honeymooners and other guests—and Azul Fives’ and Azul Beach’s many lazy rivers let you wade right up to your terrace, drink in hand.
Palate Cleanser: Vassa Spas and Na’ay Spas
There’s a reason massages, facials, body wraps and more are called “treatments” at the Karisma properties—I can’t think of a better way to treat yourself than to spend a day at any of the Vassa or Na’ay Spas at the Azul Hotels and El Dorado Resorts, respectively. You need only follow the signature aromas of lemongrass and clean, natural herbs and the sound of bubbling water in the sparkling Thalassotherapy rooms to take the express train to Cloud Nine.
It’s no typical service here. You’re welcome to indulge in a guided or independent hydrotherapy circuit (your preference) before the main event. Every treatment starts with a Mayan foot-washing ritual and aromatherapy/deep breathing to properly cleanse your mind of any ills; respectful, professional and soothingly hushed service made our massages the fastest hour of our lives.
Turkish steam rooms, scented with clarifying herbs, restored my post-flight sinuses like nothing else ever has—a perfect counterpart to the dry heat of the saunas. We could have lived in Azul Sensatori’s spa, and the Thai massage room at Azul Fives intrigued. For next time? El Dorado Seaside Suites’ mud room for me and the “Ice Room” for Krystal.
Fowl Course: Massive Accommodations
Birds of a feather flock together, and at these two properties, there’s more than enough room to do just that. Generations Riviera Maya doesn’t only live up to its name by providing space aplenty for Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa and the kids, but also for Uncle Tony, Aunt Michelle, and the second cousin everyone forgets about. Each door opens up to a private hall with three bedrooms; you can book one or all of them. Together, these units are bigger than most apartments and some homes … including my own.
The master category boasts a full chef’s kitchen with a Lavazza espresso machine; recessed bar stocked with top-shelf liquors; oversized sectional; dining room with seating for eight; and a guest bathroom. If that’s not an engraved invitation to gather the gang, I don’t know what is.
Similarly, Azul Fives, by Karisma, has private hall/multiple-room floor plans with full gourmet kitchens and dining areas, and something very, very special: rooftop decks. These lodgings almost double the already astounding square footage with sleek lounge areas, large dining table, an extra barbecue grill with a chef to hire, and an eight-person jetted tub … plus plenty of space to do the hostess circuit with a cocktail in hand. Still need more room to call your own? The Azul brand’s got villas, too.
For adults-only group getaways, like a bachelor/-ette or wedding week/-end, the two-story townhouse-style Beachfront Villas at Maroma Beach are a win, with your own private plunge pool and garden, marble bar, and gourmet kitchen.
Meat Course: Gourmet-Inclusive Dining at Karisma Hotels & Resorts
That really is the core of the brand, and after years of evolution, testing and, now, perfecting, that promise is more than fulfilled. Cuisine takes center stage with innovative insider experiences that few—if any—other hotels or even restaurants can offer. It’s clear that the menus are designed by food and beverage managers who dare to dream and chefs that are more artist than anything else. They play with your food at this brand, and that’s a very, very good thing.
Kids learn with the Little Eko Chefs program, part of the kids club; molecular gastronomy at Le Chique (currently undergoing renovations) changes perceptions; daily fresh-made pasta at all of their Italian restaurants are a joy to the tooth. Limitless sushi plucked off a conveyor belt at Tainan at Azul Beach or charming boats at the new Asian restaurant at El Dorado Seaside Suites is a fantasy come true for many.
Produce sourced from the 70,000-square-foot greenhouse located at El Dorado Royale keeps favorites newly picked and local while emphasis on seasonality keep cooks creative. Similarly responsible is their policy of authentic locality, with special cocktails designed by staff members and traditional, made-from-scratch street food of the region like cochinita pibil or fish tacos.
Authenticity doesn’t end there, though. They may be dedicated locavores, but when it comes to international cuisine, they import what they need—including the chef, as the case was for the Thai restaurant at Azul Fives and for the ongoing Canadian Beef Culinary Series at El Dorado Royale, a monthly cooking demonstration by masters from our neighbors up north. Also at the same resort is the Fuentes dinner theater, a live-action studio audience-like dining experience that walks you through how what you’re eating is made. Adding to the appeal? This and more are all included.
Dessert: Weddings by Karisma
Nothing could possibly be sweeter than to marry at any of the Gourmet Inclusive resorts. Themed designer packages made me contemplate the drastic measure of divorcing my husband only to remarry him (upon which Krystal reminded me that a vow renewal would be a much more logical solution). At Generations Riviera Maya, the spa’s bridal floor with rooms to match each theme made her as eager as the in-construction overwater bungalows at El Dorado Maroma did to find a Mr. worth her salt.
Live streaming video capabilities on panoramic rooftops overlooking jungles and the Caribbean Sea at Azul Beach and Azul Sensatori are a convincing argument that all your loved ones can join you on your special day, and charming on-site churches wed traditional and beach weddings.
Nightcap: “Bottle Service” and More at Generations Riviera Maya Resort and Azul Hotels
Nope, it’s not what you think at these resorts. Yes, you’ll be able to get a traditional cocktail at any hour of the night, but it was the complimentary baby bottle warmers in the guestrooms that made Krystal squeal “bottle service!” They take family-friendly to a whole new level by providing cribs, changing tables, infant tubs, and step stools for the sinks upon request; delivering milk and cookies to accompany turndown service for the juniors; kid-sized robes and slippers, plus a Nickelodeon licensed toy lending library for in-room lounging; and special rooms, scents, services, and treatments at the spa.
As stuffed as I am from this sensory journey, though, like any good menu, there’s still so much more to dig into and come back for. Which course are YOU most excited for?
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