This year’s Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit was held at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort, a beachfront all-inclusive in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The large complex consists of three sections (Zen, Ambassador, and the adults-only Grand Class), and we got to experience all of them, along with the resort’s eight restaurants and its spa. Lest you think we were slacking off amid all these palm trees and decadent meals, rest assured that we didn’t spend more than a few minutes at the beach. Contrary to the vacation vibe of the photos below we actually spent all our time working with the Trusted Travel Experts of the newly announced 2017 WOW List to make your next trips even better. But thanks to invigorating panel discussions with our extended team, and the hospitality of the Grand Velas staff, this busy weekend was still a lot of fun.
Here’s a tour of what Wendy, Brook, Jill, and I saw, did, and ate while we were there.
The first night, we all stayed in the Zen building, which has no beach access and is set amid the mangroves. Even though Zen has the smallest rooms of the resort, they are still quite large, have big bathrooms, and boast outdoor patios overlooking plenty of greenery. Tip for families: There are more connecting rooms in this building, and the kids’ club is here (a teen club is located in the Ambassador section).
The resort has plenty of the usuals when it comes to amenities: L’Occitane soaps and shampoos, loofahs, and a free mini bar (this is an all-inclusive after all). But the perks I was most surprised by were the beautiful woven sun hats and beach bags. Handmade nearby in Leon, Mexico, out of 100% cotton coated with resins and enamels, the glam hat has a super wide and wavy brim—very helpful for keeping the sun out of your eyes and any paparazzi at bay. The hats are complimentary for VIP guests and those staying in Presidential Suites; the bags are in every room and are free to use during your stay. Both are available for purchase at the resort’s boutiques.
The rooms are accessed via a raised, covered wooden walkway that makes you feel like you’re deep in the quiet jungle. There’s even a restored ancient cenote (though you can’t swim in it).
You’re not too remote from the resort’s amenities, of course—a few minutes’ walk takes you to a very pretty multi-level pool, the casual restaurant Chaká, or the spa. A shuttle van zooms guests over to the beach (maybe four minutes away), and it was our experience that we never had to wait more than a minute or two for a ride.
The hotel grows its own herbs for use in its various restaurants. Stroll along a path that winds past the Zen pool and you’ll find a miniature-golf course and a greenhouse.
Zen is also where the conference center is located and where we spent most of our time. The resort hosts many weddings too.
Ambassador and Grand Class are the resort’s two beachfront buildings; the main difference is that Grand Class is adults-only and the rooms are slightly bigger and have private plunge pools. But the Ambassador pool is the largest pool; it has many chaise longues, some in the sun and some comfortably under palapas. White-shirted servers wander around making sure you have drinks and snacks, and the Azul restaurant (which hosts a huge breakfast buffet) is on the left in the above photo.
Knowing who we were and why were there, the resort staff went out of their way to make us happy, with surprises like this one: our logo made out of colored rice that showed up on the beds one evening, and our logo on the telephone screens. But even random staffers I passed in random hallways stopped what they were doing to say “buenos dias” or help me figure out where I was going.
Guests can eat at any of the eight restaurants on site, ranging from the casual buffet of Azul to the AAA four-diamond, French-influenced menu of Piaf. Tip: Wine and cocktails are included in your room rate (though some wines and liquors cost extra), and so is room service…which tastes even better when eaten on your beachfront terrace.
All of the restaurants have two things in common. First, as soon as you sit down, a server will ask about any food allergies so that the chefs can customize your meal (and they did a good job of this; I am vegetarian with several food sensitivities, and I ate pretty well). Second, all of the food presentation is just beautiful. The chefs here take the “eat with your eyes first” mantra very seriously, and plates were artfully composed and then decorated with swoops, drizzles, and dots. Not that any of that beauty kept us from eating. The food was sometimes fussy (and the multi-course, molecular-gastronomy tasting menu of Cocina de Autor was hit or miss) but, for the most part, the food was very good.
Over the course of the weekend, we had the chance to experience a few special activities that the resort can arrange for guests or groups. One was what they call “Picnic in Paradise,” a gourmet lunch on the beach—but it rained the day ours was scheduled, so all the charcuterie, sandwiches, and cakes were moved to a presidential suite. We did get to experience a taco-and-tequila tasting on the beach, however: a sprawling buffet of savory Mexican treats, including grasshoppers, and a table each of tequilas and mezcals. This was a hit.
Brook tested out the spa. She reported back that the private men’s and women’s sections of the spa were designed to look like a cenote, the water-filled sinkholes that this part of Mexico is known for.
She took the spa’s signature “water journey.” Recommended as a complimentary service before any spa treatment, starts with a circuit of showers, saunas, and steam rooms.
“The water journey ends with plunges in the side-by-side hot and cold jetted tubs,” Brook reported back. “The better to get your muscles primed for that massage.”