I was done with all-inclusive resorts. I had been to too many sprinkled across the Caribbean. No matter where I was, they seem to all blur together in one homogenous blob with very little to set them apart from one another. The food tasted the same and each hotel room seemed to be designed by the same person. Very few were memorable or unique.
I was quite sure that I had stayed at my last one. That was until I was invited to check out the Paradisus in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. My first instinct was to say no. Seen one, seen them all. My stubbornness started to get worn down when I started researching the amenities of the hotel. What got my attention initially was the wide variety of restaurants, including Japanese, Mediterranean and one created in collaboration with a top Michelin-starred chef.
Photos of the restaurants seemed to indicate something interesting was going on. The décor had a sophisticated sexiness that rarely saw elsewhere. It skipped the usual tropical palette of neon colours, the kitschy sombreros on the walls and fake festiveness that I found annoying.
The clincher for me was that we’d be staying in a resort within a resort called La Perla. It was a much more intimate setting with its own restaurant and its own pool for guests. And I was just a bit excited that it was adults only. While I understand that parents have developed a special talent for tuning out screaming kids in pool, I have not. I have no desire to hear the little darlings while I’m trying to relax in a poolside cabana and read a book. I was sold on this property even before I even left home.
My optimism didn’t fade once I arrived – greeted by hot towels and a cocktail, then swept away immediately to our room. A luxurious spacious one bedroom suite with a small sitting area and an over-sized soaking tub on the private patio was gorgeous, bright and light with white the dominant color.
Sweetening the deal was an extra for La Perla guests called Royal Service. It’s a lot like having your own butler at your beck and call. The highly professional staff was also finding ways to surprise up and make us feel pamper. One night we came home to dinner to find a bubble bath waiting for us, complete with rose petals and candlelight.
We stayed up late quite a few nights at this resort. There was always something to do even if it was just sitting and socializing in one of the bars. I became a fan of tequila quickly after attending a tutored tasting. It’s amazing to taste the wide variety of styles and flavors in tequila. It’s no surprise that the tequila bar became our bar of choice.
The food was a pleasant surprise. I knew it was supposed to be good, but I hear that all the time and I’m often disappointed. I didn’t have a bad meal at Paradisus Playa de Carmen. I fell in love with guacamole, made by our server tableside, at Mole. I can make a pretty good version at home after getting some tips, but it’s not as good as the version we had there.
The restaurants were very laidback, but guests didn’t show up in tube tops and cut-off denim shorts. That elevated the experience overall. The one night we did dress up was for Passion by Martin Barasategui, one of Spain’s most celebrated chefs. It’s not part of the all-inclusive meal plan, but it was well worth the small surcharge. (I think it was US $35.) We had the seven-course tasting menu, which covered a lot of bases, from seafood (slow cooked octopus) to beef and beautifully prepared fresh vegetables.
Somewhere along the way, we got hooked on ceviche – seafood “cooked” in lime juice. I think we had it at almost every meal and then we would order it from the 24-hour room service. It was fresh and tasty every time. Once in a while, when getting out of pyjamas was way too much work, we were content to hang out in our room and order snacks in. The fridge in our room was filled with beers, soft drinks, water and tequila, but we barely put a dent in it.
The pool was one of our happy places, too. Devoid of screaming children, it was wonderful for just relaxing. They had plenty of lounge chairs, but they also had beds covered with a thatched roof. I love that they were cozy and semi-private. A lot of naps happened there. Servers would come by regularly to bring us drink refills and restock our bowl of nacho chips and salsa.
It was hard to leave paradise, I mean, Paradisus. I know that so many all-inclusive resorts don’t come near what I had enjoyed here. But you can always come back, right? I credit this property with making me believe that all-inclusive holidays can be done right. I’m a believer.
Michele stayed as a guest of Paradisus Playa del Carmen. As always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos courtesy of Michele Sponagle and Melia Hotels International.