The Easy, Breezy Riviera Maya
Five all-inclusive resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coast.
Each morning, a chipper resort employee (sorry, animator) leads guests on a 20-minute bike ride on a path alongside the 307 highway to the ruins. While streams of tourists pour from buses, we pay a shopkeeper five pesos to watch our bikes and stroll into one of the most sacred sites in the Yucatán. It's a spectacular cliffside spot overlooking cerulean waters, the Malibu of Mayan civilization.
In my group are two American couples leaving the property for the first time. They figure a morning bike ride is a great way to take in some off-property sites, not to mention justify that lunchtime margarita.
Newlyweds Zach and Anne Ault are winding down what they call a perfect week-long honeymoon and will head back to Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow. "We basically told a travel agent we wanted to spend $3,000, and we were given options," Anne explains. "Then we went on the Internet and checked them out." The Aults can't rave enough about the food. Though their preference is for the authentic Mexican food served at the resort, they've eaten plenty at the Sunscape's simple and delicious à la carte Italian, Japanese, and Pan-Asian restaurants. Whereas some all-inclusives allot only a few tickets per week for the à la carte joints, the Sunscape has no restrictions.
The other couple, two young New Yorkers originally from Israel, pose for photos in front of the magnificent temples. Eric and Nourit Klepar were supposed to spend a month in Thailand and would have arrived the week after the tsunami. For obvious reasons, plans changed and instead they split three weeks over three Mexican resorts, starting with the Sunscape. They both love the place but wish that there were more people their age around. "I think it would be very good for older couples," says Eric, "or if you had children."
Later, over lunch and mudslides, Zach and Anne agree that the Sunscape is quiet--but that's exactly what makes it a nice place to honeymoon. "If you're here to relax, it's perfect," Zach says. "There's a lot to do if you want to, but if you don't&" He takes his turn at shuffleboard and forgets to finish his thought.
Fifteen miles south of Playa del Carmen, the Barceló Maya Beach Resort has 1,020 rooms and is situated on the largest beach by far of any resort I've visited. Beyond the long stretch of dedicated resort beach, lined by blue chairs, is another equally long span that's completely deserted, totaling more than a mile of white sand and swaying palms.
The facilities are a bit generic, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sitting at the lobby bar, with its jewelry shops and loud signs, I feel as if I'm waiting for a delayed flight. But the Barceló Maya is immaculate, and the staff is motivated to instigate fun.
Stephanie and Jamie Gallant, from Toronto, are sitting by the pool with their 4-year-old, Nicholas. The Gallants decided at the last minute that they needed to escape the Great White North. Stephanie's business partner had been to Barceló before and remembered there being an abundance of kids. "We did a lot of homework online about activities," says Jamie, "especially for our son." Nicholas, wearing a color-coordinated outfit and holding a pail with a shovel on a string, looks like he's been styled for a Visit Mexico! travel poster. Only two weeks prior to their departure, they paid $2,880 for the three of them, including airfare.
On the beach-volleyball court, a pack of rowdy Italians do battle with a family from Wisconsin that has a distinct advantage--two of the daughters play for their college teams. I strike up a conversation with Jon and Erica Guyer, a brother and sister from Detroit, who are on the sidelines. Jon's a freshman at Brown, and Erica is researching law on a Fulbright scholarship; they came to Barceló with their parents for a little family bonding. "We haven't taken a family vacation in a while," Erica says. "And we're really more city people; we don't usually do lie-out-on-the-beach-type trips."
As if on cue, mom Cheryl pulls up a chair. Mainly, she wanted to get the family together at a place where her husband, a physician, could "totally shut down and do nothing." So she consulted a Detroit travel agency that she trusted. "The Barceló had the biggest beach, with the most privacy," she says. They paid $1,300 per person for seven nights.
At the moment, Jon and Erica are reclining with books, but soon they're on the volleyball court. Earlier, they kayaked, and later this afternoon they'll try windsurfing--their last sunny activity before winding down for dinner, drinks, and a show. Both admit to being skeptical when their mom initially presented the mega-resort idea. They've come to realize, however, that life at the Barceló Maya isn't all that bad. And it's become clear to me that if you're not having fun at an all-inclusive, you're just not trying.