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Top Resorts: Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Mexico

The Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort is for those who like all-inclusive resorts and, especially for those who donít. Situated on 200 acres in the Riviera Maya not far from Playa del Carmen, Grand Velas is a rarity: an all-inclusive property thatís earned AAAís highest rating of Five Diamonds.

We came to celebrate a milestone birthday. Because we invited extended family as our guests, we wanted luxury, good food, a soothing spa, plus the safety-net of a fixed price.
The Grand Velas Riviera Maya proved a great choice.

Forget about small rooms, limited spas and recycled buffet food. The accommodations are called suites because they range between 1000-1200-square feet. That makes each one bigger than a typical one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Of the three ďambiances,Ē or room locations, we selected the family-friendly, horseshoe-shaped Ambassador section because of its sweeping ocean view. The adults-only Grand Class, also beachfront, has a less dramatic, but quieter outdoor area. From the Zen units, set amid the tropical trees and mangrove thickets, a shuttle is needed to get to the beach. We didnít want that.

It wasnít just that guestrooms were large. The resort possesses an expansiveness that felt nurturing, from the outsized rooms, to the 100-foot high palapa (thatched roof) that tops the Ambassadorís lobby with its view of infinity pools that stretch to the sea, to the 76,000 square foot spa and the attentive staff.

As part of the Riviera Maya Water Journey, complimentary to all spa guests, we soaked under waterfall sprays and loosened tight muscles with all manner of water jets. We inhaled in the herbal steam room, slathered medicinal clay on our skin in the mud room, rinsed off in the multi-headed shower and cooled down in the ice room, where yes, we rubbed cold cubes on our skin. After that, we could have gone back to our room relaxed, but the best was yet to be: a wrap and a massage by a well-trained therapist.

We felt so relaxed that it seemed difficult to dress for dinner. In that case, order room service as itís included in the price. None of Grand Velasí five specialty restaurants costs extra. The arrival of the wine cart was the only time we were reminded that we were at an all-inclusive. A limited selection of reasonably good house wines are included, but premium wines cost extra.

Frida, the Mexican restaurant, and Sen Lin, the Asian restaurant, proved to be our favorites. While not flawless, the food at Grand Velas is very good. We still remember the veal osobuco at Frida, the Mexican restaurant. At Sen Lin, we especially liked the crab tempura and ordered extra helpings of udon noodles with seafood, but we found the Chilean sea bass just okay.

Cocina de Autor, the resortís signature restaurant, is a must-do, at least once. Serving Spanish fare, the chefsí inspiration for flavors and sauces comes from the itemsí chemical composition. The molecular cuisine created more than a few surprises during the meal. Items melted in our mouth, the tuna had mint and mostly, the mixtures tasted good. Only one of us would have preferred what he called ďa straight-forward meal.Ē

Grand Velas isnít perfect. While the beach stretches for 1000-feet and most of the time, there were enough shade umbrellas, the swimming area, created by a breakwater, is relatively small. Everything else was so nice, including the beach staff who kept stocking us with cool drinks, strawberry ices and nacho snacks, that we, a family of swimmers, didnít really mind the limited locale for swimming.

One day while lunching at Azul we sat at an outdoor table, watching the surf and enjoying fresh lobster tacos. As our relative commented, ďlife is really good.Ē

Grand Velas delivered many such moments.

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