Staying put is enticing once the slog of
air travel is accomplished but I discovered a slew of alluring
reasons to roam from one all-inclusive resort to another on a
Looking down is every bit
as lovely as gazing out to the horizon.
Fine reasons. Destinations of excellence.
Travel with your beloved.
Two changes of address are probably a big
enough goal but my trail points to six resorts in a partnership
that calls itself the Excellence Group.
Three use excellence as part of their name;
two declare themselves finest and the smaller boutique partner
is known as beloved. Another will open September of 2016 in the
My focus centered on the adults-only
Excellence Riviera in Cancun and the family-friendly Finest
Resort in Playa Mujeres.
The drive between them is only 30 minutes,
with views of downtown Cancun merging into the wetlands of the
tip of this peninsula, and a driver who lives nearby sharing
avoided all-inclusive resorts for decades, doubting I'd be able
to engage in local culture or notice the nuances of community
life in parts of the world far from my own.
Changed my mind in Cancun as I discovered
cultural heritage amidst the revelry of all-inclusive, abundant
Here's why I think my trail worked, meeting
my needs to interact with culture, heritage and tradition in the
midst of luxurious pampering.
Cruise ship dining through the years struck
me as excess and not necessarily fine dining -- probably why I
expected the same at my all-inclusive resorts. Wrong.
With 10 restaurants at Finest Playa Mujeres
and 11 at Excellence Riviera I discovered 21 executive chefs,
each with skill subsets and culinary styles distinctly different
from the other.
None of my dining experiences repeated the
ranged from tapas to multi-course formal meals, from buffets to
exquisite wait staff attention, to open-air palapa style spaces
or air-conditioned interiors.
Linen tablecloth full menu service for
breakfast, overlooking the sea, equals vacation pampering, and
indeed I found my huevos
motulenos delicious. That's fried eggs on a tortilla with a
sauce of ham, green peas and white cheese with fried plantain on
the side. Blue agave is the honey for additional breads.
However, the vast serve-yourself buffet
breakfast in a big enclosed setting fed my cultural needs
A glass of orange juice is possible if
familiar is the way you like to eat and drink while traveling,
but the Excellence Riviera juice bar lured me with its rainbow
of rich colors -- juices made from fruits not found on trees in
A glass of high-vitamin
juice with fruit by the sea enhances a spectacular
Sugar for coffee or perhaps toast at this
buffet requires pondering eight choices: muscovado, anise,
walnut, cocoa, almond, coffee, powdered and cinnamon.
Toast is complicated too because this is a
two-room buffet with one devoted to breads! At least half are
Mexican breads of exquisite varieties, prompting much
questioning of the baker on duty. That's a room of culinary
In another buffet display, bowls of
amaranth, ground wheat, dried apricot, pistachio, pumpkin seeds,
fine chopped nuts and grated coconut made me wonder how much
could I eat to experience each toping.
With 21 restaurants and
more executive chefs, food at Excellence and Finest
comes in delightful portions and exquisite design.
Lunch and dinner at both resorts offered
equally different details and opportunities to explore local and
Each also mastered the art of elegant presentations.
Portions at Excellence Riviera and Finest
Resort restaurants surprised me. These chefs appear to focus on
flavor instead of excess, pleasant pairings instead of
Looking behind the hedges
Learning to look beyond the beauty turns
out to be an important skill at these all-inclusive resorts --
not easy because gorgeous abounds. Neither Finest nor Excellence
seemed concerned with pointing out the cultural surprises that
excited me, but clearly built them in place.
You'd be right to expect an abundance of
colorful perfectly-sculpted landscaping. Roaming about one
afternoon in Finest Resort I happened to peer over a thigh-high
hedge and found a labyrinth. The next hour I had my own private
party, the meditative kind on a winding path of big flat stones
leading to a central peak, one rock higher than the others.
Quiet moments of reflection
in the midst of holiday revelry quite possible
this stone path at Finest Resort Playa Mujeres.
Want to muse about why that's a surprise to
stumble upon and not an item on the maps and brochures?
Hammocks are tucked in coves of trees away
from the main paths at Excellence Riviera, a nice touch for
privacy. Had I just hopped in and started dozing, good chance I
might not have noticed the sweat lodge.
This too is not broadcast, reserved I
suspect for the discerning traveler who would appreciate 90
minutes in an ancient ceremony with a shaman. This is high on my
list of reasons to return … with advance planning.
Find a true shaman at Excellence
Riviera Cancun, guiding an authentic sweat lodge
Add water to spa massages
A full-body massage or two clearly spells
vacation for many travelers but even more is routine at
Excellence Riviera and Finest Resort. Call it taking the waters.
Seventeen water treatments
boost the immune system before massages at Excellence
One hour in an astonishing array of 17
water treatments is considered the ideal preparation for each
massage. No additional cost, and your own personal valet
accompanies you each splash of the way.
The routine varies a bit in each resort so
did not feel redundant. Finest offered a pepperminty scrub
within the steam room; Excellence encouraged a longer walk on
the refloxology stones.
Water pressure felt more dramatic on neck,
shoulders and from a surprising belly massage spout at
Excellence; the cold plunge pool at Finest offered less shock
because warmer water was nearby.
Since I consider the baths in Baden Baden,
Germany, also in Budapest and the outskirts of Machu Picchu
among my finest international experiences, discovering these
waters in Mexico was a fine heritage surprise.
Abandon any notion of a hairdo because
water pours from above in several of the treatments.
The very idea that booking a massage
includes personal attention for an hour of water care designed
to strengthen my immune system told me I was on a trail of
Use this mini bar
Skittish about unwanted, unexpected costs
when you slip a soda or candy bar from a hotel mini bar?
Everything included means something different here.
Empty the ‘fridge, and the shelf above it
with spirits---bottles of rum, tequila, gin, vodka, whiskey, if
you like. More will appear.
Put the empties, or room service dishes if
you ordered any, in the nifty corner cupboard and they'll be
silently removed or replaced. This clever cupboard opens from
your room, and also from the outside wall with a housekeeper
No intrusive knocks on the door, no
unsightly trays in the hallway or your room.
More to the art than a glance
A big red LOVE towers over the portico at
Finest Resort and the same color red hangs from the lobby
ceiling in firm yet fluffy shapes.
Look up as well as out to
the sea at Finest Resort for ceiling sculpture by Pep
Good chance most travelers barely notice
them because the excitement of an unfolding vacation dominates.
I rather enjoyed sleuthing out the clues,
learning that sculptor Pep Llambias works in words, creating
visuals to evoke thinking of other words---unconscious or free
Don't you think
love is a good one
for a romantic getaway?
LOVE greets every arriving guest at Finest Resort
in Playa Mujeres.
Fantasy and Imagination appear abundantly
as emotion words, concepts and realities elsewhere at Finest
Resort too, in play spaces designed for children in groups of
ages from pre-schoolers through teens.
Rooms and suites
Pillow menus generally indicate a hotel
cares about comfort levels and if the six on my bed weren't just
right, I could order from a menu of five more. So I did.
My Excellence Riviera room included a sofa,
comfy chairs and desk space, but created a sense of anxiety
because the gorgeous marble floors throughout included a step
down to the living room.
With expansive picture windows and sleek
marble floors luring my eye outward, I was spooked about
forgetting to step down. My solution? Put the desk chair right
in the middle of the passageway.
Swim up to your room, and
out again at many resort locations
if you choose
certain ground level suites.
My Finest Resort room set new standards for
balconies flowing from luxurious bedrooms. The corner was a
Jacuzzi tub for two, with entry from the bedroom, and views to
the luscious grounds.
Slip back to the room from the tub or onto
a bed-sized sofa discreetly curtained on the balcony. Prefer
modesty? The large balcony patio includes comfortable wire
chairs, tables and unending views. Access those from traditional
sliding glass doors.
Artistic chairs, secluded
sofa adjoining jetted tub and grand views
level rooms and suites at Finest Resort.
Ground level suites offer swim-up access if
you think you'd like to float directly from your room to the
interconnected pools, lagoons and lazy rivers.
Keep exploring the options
Since experiencing more than one resort on
a Riviera Maya vacation is quite possible, contemplate your
ability to leave once settled into a life of luxury.
Families with children have
options too at Finest Resort. Excellence properties are
Day trips are alluring too because this
region near Cancun is rich with Mayan experiences and tours can
be arranged through the resorts.
American Roads and
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search it for you favorite places or new exciting destinations.