Disclosure: I won a 3-night stay at Barceló Maya Beach Resort during a Riviera Maya-themed Twitter chat hosted by Expedia in May 2015. I was under no obligation to write about the experience. All opinions and photos are my own.
It’s not too often that you can pinpoint the start of an adventure to a chance happening upon a Twitter chat during your lunch break, during which you only managed a few responses before having to return to the daily grind. But, I can now add that to the list of amazing things that have happened to me in 2015. Because, thanks to that fateful drop-in during May, I found myself the lucky recipient of a 3-night stay for 2 people at Barceló Maya Beach Resort in Puerto Aventuras.
With the certificate in hand, and a series of dates from which I had to select for my getaway, I aimed for early November for this short respite from the real world. Unfortunately, my husband had a big project at work that he couldn’t abandon, but, lucky for me, my BFF was able to accompany me. We had been talking about going on a girls’ trip for 5 years anyway: it was long overdue.
Our adventure began in the wee hours of Sunday, November 8th.
We hopped a small commuter plane to Dulles, then switched over to our final flight that brought us to Cancún. Thanks to short lines at immigration and customs, and not being randomly selected for screening, we found ourselves in the bright Mexican sunlight more than 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I was not complaining!
Since the resort is roughly one hour south of Cancún (about 10 minutes past Playa del Carmen), we booked a private transfer to the hotel through Canada Transfers. I can’t say enough good things about this company! Their reps were easy to find and courteous, we didn’t have to wait long for the van to be pulled around, they helped us with our luggage, AND, most important of all, we were able to pre-order cold drinks that would be waiting for us in the van. Sweet!
I was sure there was some catch. That when we arrived at the resort, I’d be told I really had to pay for it. I was wrong.
Check-in wasn’t fabulous. We were redirected to Barceló Maya Caribe Resort (which isn’t surprising, seeing as it was off season). What bothered me more was that the young man at the desk was not all that helpful. I don’t think he smiled once. Some of the 5 resorts under the Barceló umbrella at this location were under construction (Tropical and parts of Colonial), so we were shown where we would not be able to go, but he also neglected to inform us that the buffet at Barceló Maya Colonial Resort was open and available to us–a huge oversight, as that ended up being the best of the buffet options. And the pool at Colonial? It was simply amazing! But I’m getting ahead of myself…
We were whisked back to the Beach Resort on a golf cart with our luggage and walked up to room 2337 on the 3rd floor in the Coba Building. Room 2337 is a “Superior” room (the most basic room offered) with 420 square feet of living space, 2 double beds, a balcony facing the gardens, a bathroom with 1 sink, and an in-room safe. Wi-fi is not included in the room, but could be purchased for an extra fee. My girlfriend and I both paid for a data and texting package with Verizon for our stays, so we didn’t bother with upgrading for the wi-fi, but did find we blew through the 100MB data included for $10 pretty quickly. If you’re ambitious, there is free wi-fi available in the Maya Mall at Caribe 10AM-12noon every day (and yes, I did utilize it).
When you go to a resort like Barceló Maya Beach Resort, you’re doing it for the beach and pools.
Neither disappointed on this trip. We had 3 pools from which we could choose (when fully open, there are 4 if you’re staying at Beach, Caribe, Tropical, or Colonial; the 5th resort, Palace Deluxe, and its amenities are only available to those staying at that resort) and all of them were gorgeous. So many variations of blue, so many beach loungers, and lots of shade. You don’t want to get burned in Mexico–trust me. When my husband and I traveled there in May 2010, both of us developed severe sunburns that definitely affected the quality of our vacation subsequent to that oversight. Lather on the sunscreen, thoroughly and often!
The beach is the star. White sand, turquoise waters, and palms dotting the landscape, providing shade for sunbathers. Some areas at the water’s edge were populated with coral reefs, providing habitat for local fish, sea turtles, and stingrays. Sadly, I did not have a chance to snorkel on this trip, but there are many opportunities for doing so straight from the beach with fabulous results. Because of the quantities of coral, I do recommend water shoes. Even though the cerulean sea is rather crystal clear, the shoreline gets a bit murky from the waves crashing on the sand and you can’t always see what you’re stepping on. (I should add that you should do your best to avoid touching or stepping on any of the coral, but things do wash up and I was terrified of stepping on a stingray, so I erred on the side of caution.)
The beach and pool area at the Caribe seemed to be the most lively, with loud club music blaring from the speakers in the pool area. Beach was much more laid back and, aside from overflow noise from Caribe, much quieter. We found that they also favored music at the Colonial pool, but it was more local in nature, and far less annoying.
The food was, sadly, mostly disappointing.
I wasn’t expecting much. I knew that, because of our short stay, we would only have 1 ticket for a reservation at an a la carte restaurant; that the rest of our stay would consist of meals from chafing dishes and platters placed under heat lamps. I wasn’t even all that bothered by the idea–variety is the spice of life, right? What I wasn’t expecting was that they’d have such difficulty serving food at the correct temperature. Belgian waffles in a chafing dish that were ice cold and hard as a rock. Sausages browned on the outside but completely raw inside. Chilaquiles that made me question my former love for them (fortunately, I know better!). Warmish yogurt and cold cuts. The burgers were completely inedible, even directly off the grill, and most of the meats were dried out from languishing under lights for too long. It’s a wonder I did not get food poisoning.
We booked our one reservation for the México Lindo restaurant at the Beach Resort (Mexican cuisine). One night of feeling human again. One night of feeling special. One night of truly phenomenal food. I would have paid extra to eat there every night (and found out after I left that I could have). We started with an assortment of Mexican appetizers, then moved on to chicken breast stuffed with pumpkin blossoms with a trio of mole sauces. Each had its own strengths and I enjoyed them all immensely. Dessert: tres leches cake, of course! But the highlight of the evening? Accepting the offer of Mexican coffee, having no idea there’d be such theatrics in the preparation of it! Out came a cart with assorted bottles of booze, mugs, sugar, and scoops of ice cream. It was a careful choreography of dipping this, heating that, pouring this, and setting flame to that. Yes, setting flame. It was fascinating. The resulting beverage was a mixture of coffee, Kahlúa, Anisette, and tequila, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to top it off. We clinked glasses with the couple at the table next to us–who also ordered this elaborate concoction–and sipped blissfully. What a way to end the evening!
We did discover, on our last evening, that the best buffet on site was the Colonial‘s. With a wood-fired pizza oven, they churned out original pies that pleased our palates–even with all the perfect pizza we can find at home. The warm pasta station was fun, too, and tasty. The best salad bar on site is housed here, and the ambiance isn’t bad, either. Music consisted of instrumental show tunes, which brought a smile to my face. I wish we had found it sooner.
There’s plenty to do if you don’t feel like hanging out at the beach.
The Maya Mall offers a variety of shopping, whether you’re seeking souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, or items you may have forgotten at home. Strikers, the 24-hour sports bar with a bowling alley (for a fee), can be found here. So can the a la carte Italian and Japanese restaurants. On the other side of the Mall is a miniature golf course (which carries an extra charge). At the end of the Mall is a square with local artisans selling their wares, set up in front of Jaguar’s Discotheque.
A night club that doesn’t charge for booze is a very odd thing. We checked it out twice during our trip–the first night, we felt like we were interrupting a private party, as there was a rather large group there from Nova Scotia who would be attending their friends’ wedding later in the week. Alcohol flowed even more freely here than anywhere else on the resorts’ grounds. Bartenders frequently placed shots in front of us even though we didn’t order them, and I found myself drinking more than I intended because of this.
Booze-while plentiful–was also problematic.
One of the benefits of staying at an all-inclusive resort is, of course, the abundance of booze. While most of our drinks were pretty good, we did find the consistency was hit or miss. Some bartenders were better versed than others in how to mix drinks. Ordering a vodka tonic proved very problematic; some had no idea what tonic water was, others added their own extra ingredients (like tequila, which wasn’t bad, actually). The vodka martini I ordered nowhere near resembled a vodka martini–I have no idea how that went wrong, but it tasted of Anisette. And a Manhattan? Fuhgetaboutit. If you stick with tropical drinks, though, they excel here. Piña colada, mojito, margarita, tequila sunrise, etc. were all safe bets that had predictable results and went down easily.
Evenings were for entertainment.
The stage between the Beach and Caribe resorts hosted entertainment every night at 9:30 PM. The first night, we happened upon it accidentally and sat out a rather long video of an old Michael Jackson concert projected on the screen. It was a source of our own entertainment for that half hour. The magic show that followed, however, could not compare to shows I’ve seen back home, thanks to The Desultory Theatre Club.
The second night found us seated in front of a Circus Show. This was superb! Aerials with silks, straps, and a hoop made me think of my daughter back home and her Circus Aerials and Trapeze classes that she takes. So much strength! So much talent! Their acts were mesmerizing! Add to them some gravity-defying performances by the men, and I found myself thoroughly impressed. This is a do not miss show!
The third night, however, we were over on the Colonial property and the entertainment there consisted of a Michael Jackson impersonator. I do not understand the obsession with Michael Jackson at these resorts, but it has to stop. The impersonator, while he looked like Michael (at least, from my seat near the back of the theater area), was so obviously weak in choreography that people all around me started making comments about how his back-up dancers were better than he was. We had a few giggles over the show, mainly because, after spending 30 minutes the other night watching the original concerts off of which this show was adapted, we had a pretty good idea of what should be coming next–and were able to blatantly see the shortcomings. We left early.
Three nights is a very short stay, but I don’t think I could have handled more than an additional night or two anyway. Not because of any fault of the resorts, but because I can only sit still for so long before I want to get up and explore.
Would I return to Barceló Maya Beach Resort? Absolutely. In fact, on my journey home, I was pricing out potential trips for next year, hoping to introduce my kids to this tropical paradise. While I wasn’t happy with the food, and the entertainment could have been better, the beach and pools far outweigh it all in the end. It’s the perfect location to lay back, read a book, take a nap, and just plain empty your mind for a few days in the warmth of the hot sun. It was totally what I needed right now.