We recently returned from a wonderful vacation to the Riviera Maya in Mexico. We stayed at the beautiful El Dorado Royale all-inclusive resort located about 20 minutes outside Cancun. We chose this resort because the picturesque beaches and high ratings on TripAdvisor for resorts under the Karisma Hotels and Resorts name. We’ve had many family members and friends close to us ask for a thorough review of the resort in preparation for their own travels, so I’ve compiled everything here. Get ready, it’s a long post!
Another reason we chose this specific resort is because of its unique all-inclusive features. The resort prides itself on being a “gourmet all-inclusive,” meaning meals are served as a multi-course experience rather than the tradition buffet-style at a typical all-inclusive. We knew we wanted this vacation to be based around relaxation, so an all-inclusive made the most sense. We were sold by the unique approach by Karisma resorts.
Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted with sparkling wine by Alfonso, our personal concierge for the week. He discussed with us our hopes for the trip and walked us through the resort’s many restaurant and bar options on the property. Based on our conversation, he booked reservations for us at four restaurants, a dinner on the beach, and a dinnertime shuttle to Playa del Carmen mid-week. We found his expertise to be valuable throughout the week and were thankful to have someone to turn to when we had a question about our stay.
Our room was a third-floor junior suite in building 42 close to the southern most edge of the resort. We were thrilled with the location of our room as we were close to both the beach and quieter pools. While we were farther from the main pool, bars and lobby, we really didn’t mind because of how peaceful the surrounding areas were. As a recommendation for future travelers, we would recommend either a third-floor room for the privacy and quiet or a first-floor room for the swim-up entry to your patio. Building 55 has an oceanfront location and would be perfect. If you stay in the Casita portion of the resort, there are third-floor rooms with pools on each patio, which is the best of both worlds.
There are three separate resorts on the extensive property. Our resort, the El Dorado Royale is the largest of the three resorts and has the most pools, bars and restaurants. It caters to those looking for a getaway in paradise, as it has a beach spa and is for adults only. Winding paths snake around the expansive resort and the beautiful grounds are manicured daily. The staff always address you with a courteous “hola!” when they pass you, and golf cart rides are available when you want a ride across the property. There are various patios, docks and beaches constructed for events and weddings. We saw weddings happening at the resort every day of our trip!
The El Dorado Royale Casitas resort (also adults only) is a more intimate experience, with nicer rooms featuring outdoor showers, vaulted ceilings and the option for a swim-up patio regardless of which floor you stay on. The Casitas are organized in “pods” each having their own pool and swim-up bar. For couples looking for a more romantic experience, we highly encourage a trip to the Casitas. The family resort on the property is called Generations Riviera Maya and has a more-typical resort layout where every room has a beach view and balcony infinity pool. There are daily activities for children and a stunning rooftop for events. All three resorts are all-inclusive. Guests from Royale and Casitas are welcome to the Generation’s property and restaurants and pools, but the Royale and Casitas are reserved for adults only.
We found a lovely beach near the presidential suites that we went to almost every day. It had beach beds that we never had a problem reserving, as well as a bar with friendly bartenders and a small buffet lunch selection beginning at 11. We loved that it was quiet and everyone was so friendly. A quick walk down the beach would lead you to an enclosed salt water pool where you could snorkel and see small fish and crabs. While the beaches of Cozumel are probably a better bet than Cancun for snorkeling, this salt water pool ensured you could get snorkeling time in daily regardless of the tide.
We also enjoyed the pools during our experience. Each salt water pool has its own swim-up bar where you can get anything from a piña colada to a scotch on the rocks. We found two pools closer to our room that were connected by a lazy river. When we were looking for something to do, we would bar hop from pool to pool, making lots of friends along the way. We truly enjoyed getting to know people from all over the world. While the main pool is surrounded by some of the best restaurants and most beautiful bars, we decided to devote our time to rest and relaxation. If you are looking for a perfect bachelor/bachelorette weekend or party experience, the main pool and bar is perfect. But if you are looking for something more relaxing, there are plenty of experiences available for you as well.
In addition to beaches and pools, there are daily activities you can partake in throughout the day. There is morning yoga, bike rides, cooking classes, tequila tastings and crafts throughout the week. Every evening there is live music and a show that you can attend to meet lots of people. We were there for a Michael Jackson tribute band, a karaoke evening and a fire show on the beach.
We tested almost all of the restaurants and felt we left with a good impression of the “gourmet inclusive” experience.
Breakfast: Most mornings, we chose to have our meal at Cocotal, the only restaurant on the grounds that serves a buffet-style meal all day. Cocotal is centrally located underneath the lobby. There is a massive buffet complete with fresh omelets, cold and hot options and a mimosa/bloody mary bar. We ordered room service two mornings and while we loved having breakfast on our patio, the quality of the food is better in the restaurants.
Lunch: We elected to have all our lunches at outdoor restaurants. At the Health Bar, we enjoyed fresh juice, the chilled carrot ginger soup and the beautiful ocean view. The Pizza Bar was more what you would expect from a pool bar – flat bread pizzas, burgers, nachos -and while convenient, was quite hot as it was guarded from the ocean breeze. Our favorite lunch spot was JoJo’s, a seafood grill located beside the beach. We went three times and always ordered the ceviche to share. The menu was extensive, and any type of fish we ordered was always good.
Evening: You split your options between restaurants that require reservations and those that do not. Certain bars stay open late for you to enjoy drinks after dinner or while you’re waiting for your table. Our favorite restaurant that didn’t require reservation was Kampai, the Japanese restaurant, because of the freshness of the food and hospitality of the wait staff. We especially enjoyed the spring rolls, sushi and fried ice cream. Our favorite bar was recommended to us by our concierge and friends whom honeymooned at the resort a few years back. While not typically my type of drink, I have to say that the chocolate martini at Martinis was the best drink of the week.
A note to wine drinkers: While there is an extensive wine list in the restaurants if you are willing to pay extra, we only encountered three included wines in the all inclusive package: a chardonnay that wasn’t heavily oaky or buttery, a pinot noir and a sweet sparkling wine. After tasting everything, we stuck to the chardonnay throughout the week as it better suited most of our food and it was hot as hell outside. Beer and hard liquor are included and are served at all restaurants. Some restaurants had special drinks you could get at their location (i.e. the Japanese restaurant served Sapporo). This might be something to consider though if you wish to have nicer wines with your dinner.
We were scheduled for a dinner on the beach, but the location was changed due to a storm. The beach meal is typically a more romantic experience that most people save for a special evening. Nobody knew quite what to make of the two of us the entire trip, seeing as we were simply vacationing and weren’t celebrating an engagement or honeymoon or birthday or anniversary. Our waiter seemed mildly devastated when we explained to him we weren’t honeymooners, and we didn’t understand his reaction until this dessert came out. I could not stop laughing! I think I’ll make it our Christmas card.
If you are looking for a truly spectacular experience, the Fuentes Culinary Theater cannot be beat. The restaurant features a five-course meal alongside optional wine pairings for $40 per person. While you are served your meal, a chef walks you through the cooking process of your food, as well as the cultural meaning behind your dish. Cameras project live video of the chef to four large screens easily visible from all parts of the restaurant. After the cooking presentation is complete, a sommelier explains the wine pairings in terms that are approachable and practical. While I was initially hesitant to include the wine pairing with my meal, I am so glad I did! It seemed silly to me to spend additional money atop our prepaid all-inclusive fees, but the wine pairings enhanced the experience making it so worthwhile. We actually enjoyed the final pairing – a tequila creme – so much that we purchased a bottle to share with family back home. Reservations are required at Fuentes and the menu changes every two days. Our single regret was that we only booked one evening here!
We decided to take a shuttle to Playa del Carmen for one evening outside of the resort. While we were initially excited to get away, I think we simply took the wrong approach. The part of Playa we were in was extremely touristy. I kept telling Zach that I felt we were back in midtown Manhattan! We received a restaurant recommendation from someone at our hotel but were fairly underwhelmed by our meal. Next time, I think I’ll ask for recommendations from friends on Facebook and strive for a more authentic experience.
Overall, we found our experience at the El Dorado Royale to be quite positive. We enjoyed how the extensive grounds allowed you any experience you want, whether that be a party with new friends or peace and quiet. If you get tired of the formality of the multi-course dinners, there are more casual options and room service available at all points of the day. For us, the beautiful beaches and pools were enough to make us mopey on check-out day. They were just so perfect! If we were to return, we hope to bring friends along to share in the experience. To enhance our stay even more, we know now to stay in the Casitas and ask for a swim up room. Until next time, Mexico. Thank you, El Dorado Royale for a terrific week!
See you soon.