Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort Riviera Maya, which was just awarded five diamonds for lodging by AAA, is one of the newer all-inclusives in the region (just shy of two years old). However, it acts like it’s been doing this forever. The resort is all suites (from 1,000 to nearly 2,500 square feet) and it’s all-inclusive. Yeah, yeah. All-inclusive is a term that’s seen its share of abuse. Way too often it means you pay a lot of money for mediocre food, b-list booze, lazy service and predictable décor and amenities. But at Grand Velas they haven’t just given the concept of all-inclusive a new name (dubbing it “Grand All-Inclusive”), they’ve also given it new meaning.

Let’s start with the food. You’ve got a range of way-above-par (though not perfect) all-day dining options. But the real stars are the resort’s five gorgeous and gourmet dinner-only restaurants. Their signature restaurant, Cocina de Autor, is a marble-and-light-filled space headed by a pair of chefs who turn out Basque-inspired foam and essence creations that surprise and satisfy. I do not recommend trying to decipher the enigmatic (and lengthy) menu. Who knows what dishes with names like “lamb with a lightly bittersweet” or “veal cooked 36h/70” really are anyway?

No. Read the menu for amusement but order the tasting menu—and request a wine pairing. Heck, it’s all included, remember? Oh, and don’t make any other plans for the evening. My flawless dinner at Cocina de Autor took three hours and I enjoyed every moment and every morsel.

The next night I ate at Frida, the resort’s inventive Mexican cuisine restaurant headed by a 28-year-old chef. Any doubts I had about the abilities of such a young chef went out the window when the duck and anise taco appetizer arrived. I’ve eaten thousands of tacos during the 18 months I’ve spent traveling through Mexico and these were the first I’d ever encountered in a hard tortilla shell. They were also, by far, the most gourmet. Even after enjoying rich lobster and blue crab soup and sea bass in yellow mole the duck tacos stayed in my mind.

Pilaf, the resort’s French restaurant, serves the best seared tuna in the resort along with the best fresh bread and the best service. It’s also the most romantic of the restaurants with sexy red décor and plenty of intimate two-tops nestled behind screens and curtains.

Grand Velas is so confident in its restaurants that they’ve opened them up to the public and guests from other resorts scramble to get reservations. Even as a Grand Velas guest you must make reservations through your suite butler and, because demand is so high, reservations are only held for 10 minutes and there’s a $20 penalty for no shows. This feels a little harsh until you see how moderately sized each restaurant is for a full-size resort like Grand Velas.

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake I made. Book at least five nights at Grand Velas so you can try all five restaurants. With just three nights at the resort I was faced with a heartbreaking decision when it came to dinner reservations and I ended up checking out of the resort without having the chance to try the resort’s Italian or Asian eateries.

The bars at Grand Velas are also remarkable for the quality of the booze they stock and for the bartenders who actually encourage you to enjoy the best of the best. Order a Don Julio reposado tequila (a very, very good drink) and they’ll suggest you upgrade to Herradura Antiguo, a super premium plonk that’s only available in Mexico. Anything else you may need or want (or merely think you need or want) is quickly attended to by a staff ratio of 1,500 employees for the resort’s 491 suites.

Interiors are chic and decadent as well. Just as the resort owners have cut no corners with the food and beverages, they clearly didn’t cheap-out when it came time to choose the miles of marble, leagues of rich lumber and acres of art work that polish the place. Every inch is stylish and well-designed.

Accommodations are divided into three distinct “ambiances” spread across a section of the 250 acre property and serviced by continual van shuttles. All have the same luxe in-room amenities, services and their own wonderfully landscaped pools but they differ in their décor and their restrictions. Ambassador Class suites are on the water with ocean views and are open to guests with children. Master Class suites, also open to children, are off the beach with jungle views and a cenote-fed river running through the construction (a gorgeous feature behind all ground-floor rooms in this ambiance). This area also has the chicest pool and is located closest to the spa (more on that later).

When I walked into my oceanfront Ambassador Grand Class suite (which is the adults only section of the resort) the blinds were closed but with the push of a button my dramatic sea view was revealed as the curtains slowly rose on a scene of blue water and white sand.

This created a dilemma since I also wanted to look around my ridiculously huge (more than 1,300 square feet) room and appreciate the details like totally free in-room snacks and beverages, a Nespresso machine, a bottle of top-shelf tequila and a full range of Molton Brown toiletries including a lovely lavender pillow spray. The slippers were so great that I actually stole them. Now I put them on in lesser rooms and dream of my time at Grand Velas.

Still not enough indulgence for you? Check out the resort’s stunning 89,000 square foot spa—the largest in the Yucatan.  The spa is literally world unto itself with 40 treatments rooms and an elaborate meandering relaxation pool with elegant water bubble beds built into the water’s edge. The service menu is extensive and luckily there’s a spa concierge on hand to help you choose a treatment or one of the spa’s seven signature Journeys which combine traditional treatments, aromatherapy and other rituals. No wonder the Grand Velas spa was just named one of the “Best of the Best” spas in the world by Virtuoso Life.

Thoughtfully, Grand Velas has also spent considerable time, attention and money on its gym—a resort feature I rarely haunt but which became necessary given the food and beverage temptations at Grand Velas. A morning on the treadmill at the gym at Grand Velas is hardly a hardship. Chilled electrolyte drinks, an on-site (knowledgeable) trainer and a full compliment of machines, free weights, resistance bands, balance balls, etc. all in a roomy space with huge windows make working out (and working up an appetite) a pleasure.

The resort’s 1,640 foot long white sand beach would be spectacular enough left to its own devices but Grand Velas has found a way to improve on nature as well. Every day every inch of the resort’s beach is immaculately raked, cleaned and tilled by a “sandboni.” Just as a Zamboni grooms the ice at skating and hockey rinks, Grand Velas’ sandboni turns their beach into a spotless expanse of sand that’s been massaged into barefoot perfection.

Grand Velas means big candle in Spanish and, in my experience, no other all-inclusive in the country holds a candle to it. But be warned: The luxurious surroundings, enabling staff and gourmet dining is a dangerous combination that should only be tackled by experienced hedonists. Honestly, I was determined to go whole hog and order a BLT and a bottle of champagne in my suite at 3:00 am and enjoy it in my private patio plunge pool at least once during my stay at Grand Velas. However, the lure of my crisp and cushy bed, the sound of the waves and that contented feeling you get after a great (included) meal thwarted my plans every night. Maybe you’ll have more luck.

Rates start at: $579 double occupancy, all-inclusive

Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort ­
Carretera Cancun Tulum Km. 62
Playa del Carmen, Municipio de Solidaridad
Quintana Roo 77710, Mexico
Phone: (866) 230-7221 (toll free from the U.S.)


Our review of this resort was originally published by iTraveliShop

Visit our Travel Features page and our Hotel & Restaurant Reviews page to see all of our freelance travel stories.

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