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    Posted July 5, 2014 by
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    First time at an All Inclusive - Cancun, June 2014

    I do not remember who hatched the idea of an All Inclusive Resort on the Mexican beach. Was it my wife or I? But I recall the dilemma - is Mexico safe enough for tourists? Is it true that people are safe within the walls of a resort? Will I be truly happy within the boundaries of manicured lawns and private beaches instead of indulging in local street food? Immersing myself in the by-lanes of local culture is my usual incentive for traveling. An All Inclusive seemed to be a highway designed for elitist pampering.

    It actually is. You have to first accept and want that. In my opinion, this is the special vacation where you should not have a “to do” list. No sub destinations. No planning within planning. Go for the correct All Inclusive if you want to repeat the following schedule for a few days:

    Start with breakfast with stunning view, eat as much as you want, then relax at a picturesque beach where attentive servers open the umbrella for you, prepare your chaise lounge to be in perfect shade and bring you a bucket of cold bottled water. Then you order as much drinks as you can enjoy - fruity cocktails, juices/ lemonades, with as much or as little alcohol as you want, and all such are served at your side table with a smile. When and if you get bored with the beach, go to the pool and repeat what you did at the beach. Then you can order lunch right there, and lamb/ shrimp kebabs and seafood ceviches will be served with salad and dessert. Or return to your room to change into dry clothes so that you can hit one of the restaurants serving lunch. Or order room service and take a nap. Repeat, repeat with variations. Drop off the kids at the kids club and dress up for the dinner. (Remember to ask your dedicated butler concierge to make the dinner reservations at one of the restaurants on premise). When you had enough of the above, wander into the Tour Concierge’s office to reserve a snorkeling or yacht or fishing tour for the next day.

    That was the picture I got when I did online research. Only a few resorts, however, had reviews where patrons had truly experienced the high quality of service and food that is advertised. Selecting the resort was an arduous exercise. While I was immersed in reviews and spreadsheets listing amenities and cost, my wife dropped by my study, as she often does, with the one clue that would eventually streamline the selection process. “Food”, she said, “get me one where the food is the best”.

    We chose Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen - close to Cancun. Family friendly (we have two kids), they offered us a rate of 900 bucks per night for the entire family’s room and board at a beachfront suite, including all food and drinks and the usual All Inclusive amenities. I chose the week before July 4th - to minimize airfare cost and ensure a relatively uncrowded ambience.

    The reservation process was smooth. Customer service responded to every email I sent, promptly. They reserved dinners and Spa for us (Spa is not included in All Inclusive). They also reserved the Airport to Resort Transportation once I provided them my flight itinerary. A small oversight on my part resulted in me using the wrong Credit Card to pay the one night deposit - as a result, I incurred a 3% foreign transaction fee. While it is not much, it alerted me to use the right card for the rest of the stay.

    The trip turned out to be lavishly fulfilling. I reconnected with myself. Cobwebs I did not know existed were identified and exiled. The food was out of the world, I could write another long article on just the food alone. The service was amazing. The attitude of the servers was a delight. Though the resort advertises its no tipping policy, I wanted to tip. I had carried 200 US dollars in 5 dollar bills just for this purpose. We consistently tipped five for regular service and ten for exceptional. It helped bring smiles and warmth on top of business as usual. The maximum tipping rate turned out to be around 40 bucks a day, so 200 was a good estimate for 5 days.

    I let my butler concierge know that it was my wedding anniversary, and he arranged for a small surprise - a bottle of cold champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries for the couple.

    We reserved a snorkeling trip (not included in the All Inclusive rate). That was the only time we ventured out of the resort. The sheer security around the bus and the area where we embarked the boats was remarkable. It was strangely sad to see that such a beautiful land abounding with nature’s gifts needed armed security to be enjoyed. May be it is not really needed, but they do it anyway to put tourists at ease so they return. I do not know about that. All I know is that I have two pre teen girls whose mother felt totally safe during the whole tour. Once we dropped them at the Kids Club and hit the Sky Bar and Cocina de Autor, the creative restaurant with a stunning view, she could stop worrying about them and be pampered like she deserved.

    If you are planning to emulate, a small word of caution. Though the snorkeling trip was fully paid for at the resort, we needed to pay 4 US dollars per head - in cash only - at the place of snorkeling entry, which was 16 bucks that I just happened to have as cash on myself. The day could have been different if I did not have that cash. No one warned me about this at the resort. I believe it was a small but significant omission on the Tour Concierge’s part. In fact, I also purchased an underwater camera from the same place for twenty dollars, so I ended up spending $36 in cash at the place.

    After enjoying the colorful reef and stunning fish, we turned our attention to the Spa. The Hydrothermal Journey was optional but included - we took it. I was impressed with the arrangements as well as the therapy. We were invited by the Administrative Office to attend a presentation on membership, in return of which we were given a $150 voucher that we could use towards the spa bill. That helped. The membership presentation was the only half an hour when the resort, as an entity, ceased to be humble and put on its “I am so awesome” hat. I declined their offer, as Velas needs more locations outside Mexico to lure me into considering commitment. They are probably among the best, but my wife and I choose to stay unmarried in a world with so many bests to sleep with.

    Five days went by like the bat of an eyelid. At the end, I didn’t regret not walking the by-lanes of Mexico and stopping by a shack to have fried street food. I will do that later, may be when my small girls grow up and choose different co-tourists. But for now, when I am still in charge of their safety and well being, Grand Velas suited me fine!

    A few additional tips for novices. There are many different kinds of All Inclusive Resorts. Please know the kinds before reserving one! There are the partying kinds, where activities include dancing, music, etc. There are the serene and tranquil kinds, like Grand Velas. There are adult only resorts (Grand Velas has an adult only section). There are resorts where fine prints limit the quantity and quality of drinks and alcohol that is included in the rate.

    A few areas where Grand Velas could improve? If I think hard enough, I would say that the stores on site could be more “touristy” - like they did not have fridge magnets! Our refrigerator has magnets from all the places we have been to. But we had to wait until the last day before buying an overpriced one from Cancun Airport. Also, the walls of Ambassador Suite, however grandly built and well kept, are not very sound proof. You accept the commotion that kids would introduce in a family resort, but it would be nice if the walls helped keep tantrums off.

    Would I go again? Of course, yes. When I seek pristine beaches, pampering service and mouth watering food, I will seek out the right All Inclusive in Mexico or the Caribbean.

    I will share details on the food and restaurants, if that helps anyone out, in a follow-up article.
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