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Hotel Review: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Hotel Review: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Visiting an all-inclusive resort can sometimes be a juggling act of remembering what you paid for. These resorts often encourage guests to upgrade and get more perks. Sometimes guests wait to be seated at dinner because their all-inclusive level isn’t as high as their neighbors. None of these are worries at Grand Velas Riviera Maya which, in my opinion, is the best luxury all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya poolside suites

The architecture of the rooms and buildings at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya is outstanding.

Best All-Inclusive Resort in Mexico

Located on the Mexican Riviera Maya, you get what you pay for at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, in all the best ways. At first it might seem like the prices are high, and they are. Rooms begin at around $800 USD per night for two persons with a jungle view, $1,200 per night with a pool view, and $1,400 per night with an ocean view. However, these prices include all your food plus access to five AAA Diamond rated restaurants.  Also included are 24-hour room service, a fully stocked mini bar, all drinks including beer, wine and liquor as well as a personal concierge. At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, you get a lot for your money.

Mayan Connection

One thing I liked so much about the resort was how Grand Velas Riviera Maya embraces the Mayan culture of the region. The ceiling of the lobby areas and the walkways are designed in a palapa style, reminiscent of the ancient culture. One of the restaurants is named Chaka after local trees important in Mayan mythology. The spa treatments begin with a drink of ponche (a traditional Mayan drink) along with a Mayan blessing.  And the resort even offers a mezcal tasting, which Mayans considered a gift from the gods (and so do I!). Incorporating the heritage of the indigenous people of this part of Mexico, the resort helped me learn more about the Mayans, making my stay even more special.

covered walkways at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

Palapa-style covered walkways link the buildings of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

Spacious and Luxurious Rooms

The resort is broken up into three sections: Grand Class Experience, The Ambassador Experience and The Zen Grand Experience. Each experience is unique and geared towards a different vacation style.

Zen Room at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Spacious and cozy, my Zen Room at Grand Velas Riviera Maya was a perfect combination of luxury and simplicity.

I stayed in the Zen section. Every room in Zen faces the jungle area of the resort and is exactly what the section says it is. I’ve rarely stayed at a hotel where you barely see the housekeeping staff, but that’s what happened at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. It was like magical fairies made up my bed every day and did a turn down service at night. At over 1,000 square feet, my room was larger than some of the first apartments I’ve rented! There was even a private terrace with lounge chairs to relax on.

Closer to the beach are Grand Class, which is the adults section, and Ambassador Experience, which is a family-friendly area. Shuttle vans are always available and can get you anywhere in the resort within 5 minutes.

Zen Room with jet tub at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

My Zen Room even had a jet tub with louver doors looking into the room and patio.

Top-Drawer Amenities

Part of the beauty of Grand Velas Riviera Maya is the majority of the amenities are included in the all-inclusive pricing. That includes wi-fi (which was strong and never slow), the fitness center, beach & poolside food and drink service, kayaks, fully stocked mini-bar in each room and the fully supervised kids clubs, which are open late to give parents the break they deserve.

Beach activities Grand Velas

Beach activities are included in the all-inclusive cost at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

One thing not included in the all-inclusive pricing but something every guest needs to take advantage of is Se Spa. Located in the Zen portion of the resort, Se Spa is an experience unlike any other spa trip I’ve ever had. Even if you don’t get a massage try the Water Ceremony – you get 80 minutes of therapeutic treatments like sauna, clay room, steam room and the water therapy pool. I think it’s the best spa in Mexico and since I’ve tried a lot of them, I’m a pretty good judge.

Se Spa at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Se Spa at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya is truly a work of art.

Gourmet Food and Drink

Imagine having access to five AAA Diamond rated restaurants in one place and not having to pull out your credit card.  This is what you’ll experience at the restaurants at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

Lobster ceviche with avocado and lime salsa

Lobster ceviche with avocado and lime salsa was one of my favorite dishes at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

I was lucky enough during my stay to experience meals at the AAA 5 Diamond restaurant, Cocina de Autor, and the AAA 4 Diamond restaurant, Frida, along with several of the other restaurants at the resort. While all the restaurants were excellent, my top favorite had to be Cocina de Autor. With no set menu, each night guests are served courses based on the chef’s inspiration and what’s available from in-season items. A meal that takes advantage of all your senses, Cocina de Autor is based on molecular gastronomy or the science of physical transformation in food. All eight (yes, eight!) courses were smaller than you’d usually expect but well worth every bite. I couldn’t get enough of how the flavors were so large even if the servings weren’t. I also had the honor of meeting Chef Nahúm Velasco and he invited me into his kitchen!

Chef Nahúm Velasco at Cocina de Autor Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Chef Nahúm Velasco invited me into his kitchen at Cocina de Autor to witness the master at work.

Beaches and Pools

Sitting on the Caribbean Sea, Grand Velas Riviera Maya has a view of the sunrise that you won’t mind waking up early for. In fact, I highly suggest you do that at least once during your stay. It’s a peaceful way to start your day. Afterwards have breakfast at Azul, one of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya restaurants – you won’t be disappointed. During the day the beach has activities, lounge chairs and concierges to get your drink orders.

There are three pools at the resort. The pool at Grand Class is for adults only, and the pools at Zen Grand and Ambassador sections are open to everyone. While each pool is slightly different, all offer chaise lounge chairs, umbrellas and cushy towels. Poolside concierges are on hand to bring your choice of drinks and appetizers. Because when you’re half asleep from relaxing, who wants to get up to go to the bar, right?

Zen at Zen Grand Velas Riviera Maya

The Zen Pool at Grand Velas was just that – so relaxing and zen-like.

Can’t Wait to Return

Overall I can’t say enough great things about Grand Velas Riviera Maya. I know it sounds like I’m gushing and I am. Because the service at this resort is impeccable, the food delightful and the architecture splendid. I’ve visited many resorts in Mexico and think this is the best all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I highly recommend this visit for singles, couples, families and groups. You won’t find better service anywhere else. I can’t wait to return!

Se Spa Grand Velas honey vanilla scrub

Everything at Se Spa is done impeccably, like the set-up for my honey vanilla scrub massage.

 

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Visit Chichen Itza With Kids

Visit Chichen Itza With Kids

*This experience was sponsored by the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba and MariturDMC, and as always, the opinions expressed here are our own.

As global travelers, our family has always dreamed of visiting all 7 Wonders of the World and now we can cross one off the list. On our recent visit to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, we set out to visit Chichen Itza with kids in tow. These Mayan ruins have withstood the test of time and still remain magnificent in their history and grandeur. It’s an easy and interesting destination with kids.

Chichen Itza was originated on this land in around 600 A.D., and is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. From our luxurious resort accommodations and family vacation at Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, we hopped into a tour group organized by our very capable Maritur guide, Sergio. We were so glad to take a guided tour to learn much more about this historic site. I think if we tried to visit it ourselves, we would never have come away with so many amazing stories. Besides, the pressure of trying to parent and play tour guide at the same time is just too much for most of us. We prefer to let the professionals handle the guiding!

Chichen Itza with kids

Chichen Itza with kids is a fun adventure for the whole family.

We wondered if we could visit Chichen Itza with kids and avoid them getting bored or cranky. The resulting experience was quite enjoyable for all, so the short answer is YES.

(Even if the girls did keep calling it Chicken Pizza.)

Tips to Visit Chichen Itza With Kids

The drive from the Riviera Maya to Chichen Itza was a little more than two hours. Traveling in a shiny black SUV with AC and phone chargers, our family was a bunch of happy campers. Sergio told us about what we would be seeing, giving us the backstory and history of the site along the way. (The girls had their headphones on the whole time listening to music). Those of us that listened to Sergio learned a ton!

Here are some highlights and tips from our visit to Chichen Itza with kids:

Go Early

Two reasons: crowds and heat. Like many places around the world, Chichen Itza is a popular tourist destination that draws more than 1.5 million people a year. Getting there early will afford you some spectacular photo opportunities before some silly yahoo gets in the way of your perfect shot. Given the right position, we were actually able to get photos with nearly no one in the photos.

Chichen Itza main temple

If you get to Chichen Itza early enough, you can capture photos like this with no people.

Bring Water/Hat/Sunscreen

There are not a lot of trees on the enormous 1280-acre grounds at Chichen Itza. In fact, during its reign the facilities had absolutely no trees at all – all the trees onsite now have grown after the fall of the Mayan civilization. Because of this sunny disposition, it is usually pretty warm here (as in HOT). Bring shade and water with you. I drank two whole bottles of water while we were there, and never needed to pee. The girls actually poured cold bottled water over their heads.

Chichen Itza iguanas

Chichen Itza is literally crawling with iguanas.

Do Your Business at the Park Entrance

If your kids are anything like ours, they never say they have to visit the bathroom when you ask them. Then, after you’ve already started your excursion, they announce that they have to pee. Take our advice, visit the restrooms at the park entrance – there are none inside the park and you will be in there a long time. There are also snacks and drinks if anyone is feeling a little peckish after the drive.

Go Directly to the Temple

Best to walk directly to the Temple first and get your photos. We managed to get several shots before people walked into the frame, and were happy with the results. Also, listen to you tour guide because he/she will give you a rundown on the significance of what you are seeing.

wall with skeleton heads at Chichen Itza

Yes, those are skeleton heads carved in this wall at Chichen Itza to honor the ancient Mayan tradition of human sacrifice.

For example, when looking at the temple you see steep stairs on all four sides of the pyramid. Except those are not stairs. They were built as part of the human sacrifice rituals that took place at the top of the temple. When the priests would behead the people being sacrificed, they would roll their heads down those “stairs” to the waiting masses below. Fun times!

Allow Time to Wander

The entire campus at Chichen Itza is enormous, with so many interesting buildings and architectural monuments to see. Plan for your visit to last about three hours at least. With so many buildings and places of significance, it may seem easy to become overwhelmed. Actually with a tour guide the layout all made sense, and we knew what we were looking at. Sergio narrated while we walked, and we got a crash course in Mayan history, culture and people.

Chichen Itza serpents

The serpent was worshipped as an important cultural symbol at Chichen Itza.

Avoid Sunday Visits

On Sundays the residents of Mexico are allowed to visit Chichen Itza for free, and many do. This is a great way to experience this Wonder with families and many kids running around. If you prefer your visit to be a little less busy, you may choose to go on another day of the week. (Hint Hint!)

Chichen Itza columns

This columns are what remains of Chichen Itza’s version of a shopping mall. The kids were automatically drawn to it.

Visit a Cenote Afterwards for a Swim

After our tour, Sergio took us to the nearby Sa’amal Cenote near the town of Valladolid. This is an ancient cave now filled with fresh water, complete with fern covered walls and tropical fish. We were so happy to cool down in the clear, fresh water and splash under the waterfall. I even got brave and jumped off a platform some 25+ feet into the water – it was a blast. There was something very special about this swimming hole, knowing it has been here for thousands of years.

Sa'amal Cenote near Chichen Itza

After our tour of Chichen Itza with kids, we swam in the incredible Sa’amal Cenote nearby.

Our family highly recommends this excursion while you are visiting the Riviera Maya. If you are staying at the Fairmont Hotel Mayakoba, they can arrange the tour for you so you can visit Chichen Itza with kids and enjoy the entire experience!

floating in Sa'amal Cenote near Chichen Itza

The fresh, cool water of Sa’amal Cenote was so delicious that Triton had to float under the waterfall sprinkles.