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Riviera Maya Made Easy

Words by Susan Moynihan


All-inclusive resorts are great for weddings, but it can be tough to find the right one. After all, there are a lot of similarities: most offer various settings and packages at different budgets, unlimited food and activities, and they all make claim to luxury surroundings. But, just like “soulmate” means different things to different people, so does the word “luxury.”

So, what’s an engaged couple to do? Read between the lines, or better yet, read this, the first in a series on all-inclusives in popular wedding locales. For our inaugural edition, we’re focusing on Riviera Maya, Mexico. The area between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is lined with resorts in all range of budgets and styles. Here are seven we recommend, each for entirely different reasons.

1.  Kid-Friendly Cool: Azul Beach

Overview: Engaged couples with small kids face a unique quandary: How do you find a resort that's romantic enough to say “wedding,” but also welcomes younger kids? Enter Azul Beach. From the outside, this looks like a romantic boutique hotel, with 148 rooms set in white, Mediterranean-style buildings and thatched-roof tiki huts lining the beach. But take a closer look and you’ll see kids – happy kids, and equally relaxed parents. Any parent knows how stressful it is to travel with little ones, so Azul Beach formed a unique partnership that lets them fully stock rooms with all of the extras you need, from cribs to changing tables and diapers, even toys via a partnership with Fisher Price. The comprehensive kids club allows little ones from six months to 12 years old, with activities from piñata making to movie night.

Extras: The five restaurants are all child-friendly to varying degrees, with special kids menus. When you need some adult-only time, head to the sexy tequila bar, with 30 labels for tasting and an 18-or-over policy. Speaking of adult, kid-free friends will be equally happy in their sexy Jacuzzi swim-up suite and hitting the on-site spa.

Venues: Take full advantage of the setting with a ceremony on Sky Rooftop Terrace which overlooks the beach from four stories up. Décor packages come in six different styles.

2.  Boutique Chic: Viceroy Riviera Maya

Overview: This luxury resort just north of Playa del Carmen is one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, with 41 villas tucked in a stretch of jungle by the sea. At check-in you’re given a Mayan blessing to shake off the stresses of the outside world and it works: the place feels unlike anywhere else. Standalone bungalows are connected via winding jungle paths. Each has a cushy king bed, large patio with private plunge pool, hammock and chaise lounges; inside, the expansive bathroom has a soaking tub and rainforest shower, as well as a large garden shower. Rates change depending on how close you are to the ocean, and while the resort is not officially all-inclusive, they offer a comprehensive package that includes meals, snacks and all domestic drinks, including beer, wine and cocktails.

Extras: Viceroy may be small, but you’ll never find yourselves lacking. The beach has plenty of chaises and covered day beds for lounging and the pretty, lagoon-style pool is just steps from the sea. Dining takes place at the beachfront Coral Grill, with a wood-fired oven. For something more formal, the second-story Marea feels more like Tahiti than Mexico, serving up fresh seafood and top-shelf wines along with tequila and ceviches

Venues: For smaller events, hold a ceremony on the pier, then retire to a reception in the Xcalacoco Garden, a lawn edged by greenery with a great view of the sea. Or better yet, do a property buy-out and hold a party that takes over the pool and Coral Grill.

3.  Zen Scene: Zoëtry Paraiso de la Mar

Overview: This intimate hotel won converts in its original incarnation as Paraiso de la Bonita before turning all-inclusive. We’re glad to say nothing was lost in the transformation. The 90 suites are set in low, three-story buildings, every one facing the ocean and done in one of six décor styles. Every room has a separate living area, well-stocked mini bar and espresso machine, and sunken tub with Bulgari bath amenities. But we especially love the plunge pool suites which are separated from the beach by an oceanfront lawn, upping the privacy factor.

Extras: Zoëtry is built around the theme of wellness, so the vibe here is more mellow than you will find at a typical all-inclusive. There’s no loud music or volleyball games at the main pool; instead, you’ll find cushy chaises and well placed hammocks for napping. The excellent Thalasso Center and Spa is the only spa in Riviera Maya to specialize in treatments utilizing nutrient-rich deep seawater. In addition to massages, yoga and tai chi classes and facials, they have another unique feature: a traditional Mayan temescal sweat lodge, a great pre-wedding bonding experience. But all this wellness doesn’t mean dry; the resort serves up unlimited drinks at two bars, and rich dishes like gnocchi with truffle butter at La Canoa, one of three restaurants.

Venues: Our favorite venue is the spa lawn, facing the ocean and set apart from the main pool to ensure ambiance and privacy. Float candles in the pool, string lights up above and you have a spare, but elegant, ceremony site. In keeping with the resort vibe, incorporate a Mayan blessing as part of your ceremony.

4. Designer Glam: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Overview: This AAA Five Diamond hotel aims to make you forget what you think you know about all-inclusive resorts – and they deliver. The 491-room hotel spans a whopping 80 acres and is arranged in three sections: Zen Grand, set in the jungle with a Balinese-style pool and conference center; the Ambassador, facing the scalloped main pool adjacent to the beach; and Executive Grand Class, limited to guests 12 and over. Rates change depending on section, but wherever you stay, you’ll find chic, marble interiors with perks like patios, rainforest showers, Jacuzzi tubs and plunge pool upgrades.

Extras: The whole resort is an interior decorator’s delight, with artsy details from the South Beach-style Sky Bar to the eclectic, Far East-influenced Sen Lin. The spa is one of Mexico’s best, with an elaborate hydrotherapy circuit and dedicated bridal suite perfect for pre-wedding prep parties. The resort puts a special emphasis on dining, with creative molecular gastronomy at Cucina de Autour, classical French at Piaf or elegant Mexican at Frida’s. Bonus: You can draw from any for your event menu.

Venues: With this much space, venues run the gamut, from a secluded lawn set back in the jungle to classic beachfront, held on the quieter, southern end of the resort for more privacy. But our favorite is the pool deck in the adult section, which faces the beach. Elegantly presented dishes and a white-on-white backdrop mean you can get as formal as you want.

5.  Party Pleaser: Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun

Overview: Some couples want a wedding that’s quiet and sentimental; other couples just want a really good party. If you fall into the latter camp, consider this 412-room, all-inclusive right in the middle of one of Mexico’s very best beaches. It’s adult-only with lots of room perks, from junior suites with terrace tubs, to swim-out honeymoon suites that open onto one of 12 swimming pools. Upgrade to a Preferred Club category and you’ll be closer to the ocean and have access to a lounge with daily food presentations and top-shelf liquor.

Extras: Secrets Maroma draws an international crowd looking for fun. The six restaurants reflect the diversity, from teppanyaki-style Himitsu to elegant Italian at Portofino. After dinner, take in a live show at the open-air theater and hit the disco. Need to check-in with folks at home? It’s easy to stay connected with free Wi-Fi and stateside calls.

Venues: The beach here is amazing, a wide strand of sugar-white sand that’s considered one of the best in Mexico. But for something different (not to mention high-heel friendly), hold your vows in the picturesque wooden gazebo by the pool.

6.   Old-World Elegance: Royal Hideaway Playacar

Overview: If you’re looking for an all-inclusive with a romantic vibe, check out this 200-room, adults-only resort just south of Playa del Carmen. The dècor is old-world inspired, from the ornate chandelier and Spanish Colonial-style frescoes in the lobby to mahogany accents in the rooms. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, it draws an international crowd that returns year after year, giving it a special kind of warmth.

Extras: Six restaurants range from Mexican and Italian to creatively-presented fusion cuisine at Las Ventanas. Enjoy an English-style high tea served daily on the veranda off the lobby, or pay extra for a 12-course tasting experience at the Chef’s Table. We also love the location: It’s just a 15-minute walk into Playa del Carmen for shopping, dining and club-hopping.

Venues: The most popular wedding spot is the beach and four packages make planning easy. Add on to the basics with perks from a mariachi serenade to Moet Champage for your wedding night. For something fancier, rent out a restaurant. We love Las Ventanas, with a private terrace overlooking the garden and food that is as pretty to look at as it is tasty.

7.  One for All: Generations Riviera Maya

Overview: Weddings bring entire families together and that can be a tricky thing. Affluent baby boomer parents may want something luxurious that screams vacation, whereas younger friends with families may want something more budget- (not to mention child) friendly. That’s the issue solved by Generations, the newest brand from Karisma Resorts. Their flagship property spreads along the beach midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It’s only in phase one (more rooms, plus residential units and possibly a marina will be added in the next few years), but what a phase it is: The 144 suites range in size from one to three bedrooms. In addition to oversized guest rooms, large living rooms with sofa beds, full kitchens and dining for six comes another amazing perk: plunge pools on every floor, built out onto balconies for an experience unlike anywhere else.

Extras: The resort is thoughtfully designed to please all age groups. Take the restaurant options: The main restaurant, Chef Market Café, has everything from sushi and grilled prime rib, to jarred baby food. Enjoy family-style Asian cuisine at Jade, or fresh seafood, kebabs and Mediterranean-style mezze plates at Habb. The long, meandering pool has a big swim-up bar and natty green-and-white striped lounge chairs aplenty, including smaller ones designed just for kids. Speaking of kids, they’ll be well taken care of at the comprehensive Eko Kids Club.

Venues: If you want a beach view without the beach fuss, Generations has one of the most gorgeous venues in the area: a large refined deck off the Grand Café, with half-open glass windows that drink in the views in three directions.

Photos (in order of appearance): Karisma Hotels and Resorts (1st & 2nd), Viceroy Riviera Maya (3rd), Zoëtry Wellness and Spa (4th), Secrets Resorts and Spas (5th), and Occidental Resorts (6th).

This article first appeared in Destination I Do's Spring/Summer 2015 issue. You can order a copy here.

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