Monthly archives of “November 2009

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On the Road: Riviera Maya


Before you read any further you should know that I’m a compulsive over-planner.

When I was a small child there were always charts involved regarding wardrobe choices, lodgings, attractions, etc. And ever since Excel has entered the world, that level of “organization” (I say tomato, you say tomato), can be taken to blissfully masochistic levels.

Therefore, had I know that the Riviera Maya was a region just begging to be spread sheeted I would never have bought our flights. And not as part of a package (because I became overwhelmed with all-inclusive options almost immediately and could not decide on a resort in the 3 hours before our JetBlue vouchers expired at 11:59pm August 4th).

Did I mention I’m also a procrastinator?

The ultimate irony didn’t strike until 3 weeks later when we finally (mostly) committed to a resort that was…Valentin Imperial Maya–my original choice during those frenzied hours on So maybe now I’ve learned to listen to my instincts and not untold hours of TripAdvisor-review-reading? Hardly. At any rate, one spreadsheet of 30 all-inclusive resorts later, I had a shortlist. The honorable mentions were:

Xpu-ha Palace.
I wanted to love this one, I did. In fact for almost all of the research process it was the standard which all the other resorts were measured against. Lots of critters for the FI and Robinson Crusoe (or is it Swiss Family Robinson?) bungalows for me. I could live with 2 restaurants and a non-existent beach since the Palace passport and free excursions seemed a worthy trade off. But I just couldn’t get past maxing out our budget for big black fences around an itty bitty pool. Sorry Xpu-Ha and your aviary…that I’m still daydreaming about.
There was Hacienda Tres Rios, part of a nature reserve! But astronomically expensive.
Grand Sirenis.
We actually seriously considered this like an hour after I found a review on TA with mention of a TON of bird species. I mean, haven’t you always wanted to visit the set of the Planet of the Apes sequels?
El Dorado Maroma.
Adorable bungalows. Or plunge pools on your balcony. Awesome deal. Sort of sad that the architectural discrepancy between the Mi Hotelito section and the rest of it is so horrifying it renders me totally unable to set foot on the property.
And lastly, Excellence Playa Mujeres. A great deal had through Amex Wishlist, that I’m still not entirely convinced they’re still not going to call me up and make me use. EPM (oh yeah, the Riviera Maya world is FULL of nonsensical acronyms) is known for its…wait for it…RTTs. Known in English as rooftop terraces, these come complete with plunge pools and giant outdoor beds. After an inappropriate amount of deliberation, this was given up for VIM, which was slightly more expensive but the reviews were more reliable and it allegedly had more animals. Is it obvious that I really wanted to go to EPM? Oh well, next time…
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VIM was stunning and I really can’t complain. Except to say that we weren’t there long enough. After playing Mexican roulette at customs (Scott lost and had all the shit–that’s right, because he was carrying both our bags–searched), we were picked up immediately. Thank you CancunTransfers–way to be completely on top of things, even when we rescheduled our return trip at the last minute!

I don’t understand the people who talk about Riviera Maya hotels in terms of not being close enough to the airport. I get not wanting to spend hours of your long weekend in a van, and probably would’ve regretted staying all the way in Tulum at some point or another, but VIM was like a sneeze away from the airport. I know don’t understand how people stay in Cancun proper without feeling like they’re at an airport hotel.

DSC_0194The driveway from Highway 1 (the Yucatan, much like Canada, really has one road) up to VIM’s “motor” entrance was endless, and I could practically smell the ocean in my excitement (enough research and map-looking-at and it’s like having internal compass). I entertained all sorts of daydreams about borrowing bicycles and riding along the driveway bird watching. Very ambitious, I would later learn. 

DSCF9438The entire place looked just like all the pictures in the best way possible. Complete with champagne. I got off to a responsible start by not finishing it in one gulp. Our swim up suite bred a level of laziness even I have never reached before. (Thank god we never ordered room service, because I seriously think if we had gone down that road, it would have been all over.)

The bed was comfy (so much for the hard Mexican beds rumor), the bathroom fairly luxe (though being spoiled I would’ve liked some tv in the sightlines of my spa tub), and the living area pretty useless, except for widening the distance between everything else and our pool access. (I did watch a movie and nap on the couch once to make it have purpose).

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Being able to walk outside and jump in the pool was literally a lifelong dream I didn’t even realize had never been realized. I mean, what little girl doesn’t want a pool? Especially during hot LI summers when every single one of her neighbors does? Pools to me, are quite literally the point of going on vacation. But I never really experienced what life would be like to truly have one in your backyard. It would be awesome.

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The beach was fairly awesome too. Mexico’s no Hawaii, but it was in serious contention with the Bahamas and rest of the Caribbean, and definitely surpassing California and Australia. And the best part—not a soul to bother you, no one selling anything! Beaches in Mexico are public, so it is surprising, and impressive that there was none of that. The VIM beach seemed to cater to every possibility, with plenty of quiet areas away from the volleyball, water sports, etc. The whole resort was very diverse in terms of people of different activity levels finding something for them.

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Our first morning there, I decided to take a yoga class. I was thinking, resort yoga class, that’ll be easy. Oh hahaha, tell that to “Eduardo” the sexy Mexican yogi a la pretty much every movie that’s ever featured vacation yoga. Hardest class I’ve ever taken–almost as rough as our 12 hour snorkeling extravaganza with Edventure Tours.

DSC_0821 The food on average was good to great. Not bad at all considering what we paid, and there really is something incredibly relaxing about not having to think about how much what you’re putting in your mouth costs.  After our Edventure day, we ate at Ginger, which was our favorite of the restaurants, I could have had a buffet full of their desserts, which sadly was not offered in buffet form. (For more food-related details, check out my review on Trip Advisor.)

After loads of Mexican food warnings, and the solid advice to do daily shots of Pepto, my delicate stomach was probably more affected by the possibility of getting sick than what I was actually eating. We ate all kinds of fruits and veggies (yes, I had salsa!) and drank the filtered(!) water, and for the most part were fine. In fact, there were several nights where I ate and drank such bizarre combinations of things (mudslides and sushi anyone?) that I‘m amazed I survived. (And the not fine could easily have been the antibiotics I’d taken a couple earlier that had, you guessed it, intestinal unpleasantness as a side effect.) I would advise to add some probiotics to the pepto routine and to keep taking both for a week after returning home.

We went in September which was hot, but bearable—you’re in or near the water most of the day anyway, and luckily for us it only rained briefly in Tulum and the morning we were leaving. Or maybe it rained other mornings and I just slept through them, haha.

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From someone who’s been there.
Don’t leave home without :
1) pepto, sunscreen and bug spray
2) a pool float – it’s worth the few bucks to not have to worry about whether or not they’ll be any around
3) singles!!  – the staff is great, and it’s so much easier to tip when you don’t have to track down the cash
4) more than one swim suit – today’s is not going to dry in time for tomorrow in all that humidity

What to do if you’re…
1) Feeling lazy. Book a swim-up suite – you’ll never have to worry about finding a lounger poolside when it’s right outside the room.
2) Feeling adventurous. Try Edventure tours. It really was the best day of our vacation.
3) Feeling thirsty. Find swim-up pool bartender David and ask him for his signature
mango, tequila, and milk concoction. Nothing short of amazing.