Review: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Grand Velas Riviera Maya is one of the finest resorts in North America—and for the price (not exactly cheap), it’s an astonishing bargain. I’ve made this declaration before, yet my enthusiasm is frequently met with skepticism. “But Brad,” the naysayers counter, “Isn’t Grand Velas one of those all-inclusive megaresorts? How could it possibly compete with, say, the Four Seasons in Punta Mita or Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos?”

Right. Good question. Those are indeed incredible, exclusive resorts with independent vibes and polished service, whereas Mexico’s all-inclusives are typically mass-market, inauthentic, herd-minded tourist traps with awful food and nonexistent service. So isn’t comparing Grand Velas with the likes of Four Seasons and Rosewood a case of apples and oranges? Um, no. Not at all—because Grand Velas is different. Way different. Grand Velas is a game-changer for the all-inclusive concept.

For starters, the food is truly remarkable. The restaurants are absolutely some of the best in Mexico—heck, North America—and if you’re staying here, it’s all included in the room rate. Take a look at some of these restaurants and judge for yourself:

Piaf is the resort’s French restaurant. It’s a bit over-the-top design-wise, an elaborate riff on a vintage Parisian cabaret. But with a talented French chef in the kitchen and with the music of Edith Piaf softly warbling from the sound system, it somehow works. Just look at this seared tuna, and that foie gras!

Cocina de Autor is the resort’s signature fine dining restaurant inspired by the modernist movement in Spain. The kitchen is overseen by chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso, owners of the famed restaurant Biko in Mexico City. The two Spanish-born chefs trained under Spain’s Juan Mari Arzak. Here, with the help of rising-star chef Xavier Pérez Stone, they serve some of the most avant-garde cuisine in the country, blending the unbridled spirit of the Spanish Basque Country with the unique flavors and finest local products from Mexico. If you aren’t staying at the resort, you can still dine here, of course, but it’s going to cost you hundreds of dollars (justifiably expensive). If you’re staying at the resort, it’s essentially all-you-can-eat-and-drink, gratuities included. Have I got your attention yet?

Frida is the resort’s elegant Mexican restaurant featuring an indoor/outdoor dining room with a bougainvillea-covered terrace overlooking the beach and a roving margarita trolley.

There are eight restaurants total, including one that serves casual regional Mexican cuisine (venison tacos, beef tongue sopas, etc.) and another that serves some of the best Italian food in the Riviera Maya (and if you know anything at all about the Riviera Maya, you know there are lots of amazing Italian restaurants in this region). But it’s not merely the food that lands Grand Velas in the same company as Four Seasons and Rosewood. It’s the accommodations. It’s the butler service. It’s all the little extras and surprises. It’s that magnificent beach! And the mother of all spas. Here’s a quick look around:

And yes, the resort is huge. There are nearly 500 rooms. But they’re dispersed across 80 acres and divided among three distinct areas (two beachfront sections, one deep in the jungle), each with its own unique vibe, pool, etc. My favorite section is the adults-only Ambassador Grand Class, which tops out at only 90 rooms, so there’s definitely a feeling of intimacy, remoteness and luxury. But all the rooms in each category are large and lovely. And they all come stocked with complimentary top-shelf tequila shots, replenished daily with fresh lime wedges and sea salt. Rates fluctuate by season and demand, but the high-season nightly all-inclusive rates typically start around $550 (single occupancy) or $700 (double occupancy); 866.230.7221.

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