All-inclusive resorts often get a bad rap, and deservedly so.
Too many skimp on the food and drinks, leaving you to eat sad sandwiches and boring buffets. And that's no way to spend your time between dips in the pool.
Fortunately, the best all-inclusive resorts take their restaurants and bars just as seriously as their picturesque lobbies and beach umbrella service. And it's becoming more common to find meals, wines and cocktails that you'd be happy to eat—not just at an all-inclusive, but anywhere.
That said, finding a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings is still not the norm. Unless you're at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, in which case it most definitely is.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya is located just north of Playa del Carmen, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Yucatán jungle. Fly into Cancun, and 45 minutes later you'll enter an all-suites retreat that will quickly make you forget about everything that exists outside its walls.
The property is set up in three sections, so you'll have to make a decision when you book. Zen Grand is the largest of the bunch—254 suites are tucked into the jungle, with private terraces sporting views of the pool and Koi pond. The 195 family-friendly Ambassador suites were recently renovated and are situated around a large pool that's just steps from the beach. And the 90 oceanfront suites at Grand Class, which have also been spruced up in recent months, are the most spacious, measuring 1,300 square feet, with Mexican artwork, private plunge pools, Jacuzzi tubs and sunset views. Most important, these rooms sit adjacent to an adults-only infinity pool and swim-up bar.
Dining at Grand Velas is an event. Sure, you can score a burger at the beach, or some solid ceviche by the pool. And you should do that. But when dinner rolls around, it's your time to shine.
Azul and Bistro are casual beachfront restaurants serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with great views. If you want to step it up a notch, Frida serves modern takes on traditional Mexican dishes, like al pastor-style salmon with grilled pineapple puree, or the duck confit with chipotle molasses and mashed sweet potato. Over at Piaf, you'll find a dining room inspired by 1940 Paris, and elegantly-plated French dishes served alongside food-friendly wines. Sen Lin has Asian cuisine, and Lucca is Italian. So you can mix it up each night.
Cocina de Autor is the signature spot here, and was the first restaurant at an all-inclusive resort to be awarded the AAA Five Diamond designation. The tasting menu format means you don't have to think—just sit back as creative plates roll out, and sip on tableside cocktails and sommelier-approved wine pairings. Dishes rotate, but recent examples include jackfruit with spider crab and succulents, cauliflower with bone marrow and caviar, and pork with black garlic, figs and watercress. This meal would be hundreds of dollars per person at most stateside restaurants, and it's hard not to feel a little giddy about that.
Follow up dinner with a night cap at Sky Bar, the adjacent space that serves an extensive cocktail menu of classics and originals, all with views of the pools and ocean below.
All that eating, drinking and lounging by the pool should work wonders for your stress levels, but if you want to work out some kinks, the SE Spa is one of the nicest spas in Mexico. Book a treatment, like the Bacal Massage, which incorporates traditional Mayan plants and kneads your muscles into submission with warm corn cobs. Or try the Organic Kaab Honey Experience, which uses local honey, vanilla and a medicinal elixir from the Chaka tree.
After your treatment, stick around, because the cavernous spa offers a complimentary Water Ceremony with each treatment. You'll go through eight water experiences, ranging from a dry sauna and steam room to an ice room, scrub room, hot tub and cold plunge. It's tempting to spend all day at the spa, and you could put that water ceremony on repeat. But eventually your body will remind you that, while massages and rejuvenating whirlpools are hard to beat, you've got a dinner reservation coming up, and you don't want to miss a single meal.