Relaxing gets personal at the Excellence Riviera
Cancun where your room price includes EVERYTHING, the staff to guest
ratio is 1:1 and crowds are never a problem. Photo
by Wendy Koro.
Recipe For a Perfect Vacation: Excellence
Riviera Cancun! by Wendy Koro
my third day at the Hotel Excellence Riviera Cancun and the Do Not
Disturb card is in the slot again. I'm feeling lazy and content mesmerized
by the view. A thatch roof tops my balcony vista, framing the brilliant
sky, pristine pools, ever-moving azure sea and powdered sugar beaches
below. Sunlight glints off the water and tropical breezes feel like
a warm caress, which along with the gentle dance of gauzy curtains
slowly pull me into a feline stretch.
But it's the sounds that have lulled
me to succumb to indolence. A sultry symphony of steady rushing waves
lapping the shore, the wind off-tempo, whispering secrets, a host
of wildly exotic birds punctuating the quiet rhythm with a mad cadence
of whistling, tinkling, lilting, chittering calls...
The overall effect is hypnotic. For a
type-A personality, I'm as relaxed as I can get.
For those of you who haven't yet had
the pleasure, an Excellence stay is an all-inclusive recipe for a
stress-free vacation…combining everything that makes a dream tropical
holiday perfect, in one place, for one price…EVERYTHING. All tiers
of liquor, super dining variety, real room service, great pools, stunning
beaches, beautiful suites, sports, fun in the sun…all "free" for the
price of your daily room rate-- no matter how much, how often or how
freely you partake.
The Riviera Cancun isn't the newest Excellence
Hotel, but it's one of my favorite all-suite, all-inclusive, adult-only
resorts where I've booked a luxurious oceanfront junior suite. Facilities
are five-star, with guest suites generously sized and well-appointed.
Lovely grounds and meandering pools are meticulously maintained and
just steps from every room. Even at full occupancy, the resort feels
spacious yet intimate. Popular with honeymooners and couples celebrating
everything but celibacy, the atmosphere is decidedly sensual and self-indulgent.
Thankfully, the Riviera Cancun achieves
this aura of opulence without sacrificing its natural surroundings.
Native mission style architecture, open-air restaurants and a friendly
inviting ambience capture the essential feel of Mexico, missing from
some of the newer I-could-be-anywhere posh designer hotels. Yet, as
we spoiled tourists have come to expect, this all-inclusive resort
boasts 10 bars and 8 restaurants, 24-hour room service and all manner
of sports and activities, most included at no extra cost. A few services
only involve reservations and additional charge: spa experiences,
deep sea fishing, and private dinners/massages on the beach. Evening
entertainment here is okay but not compelling. Most couples choose
to migrate to the music or bar setting that fits their mood or the
Excellence Club beds beneath the stars or otherwise entertain each
other in the privacy of their room. If you are traveling alone or
do not truly enjoy your partner's company, nightlife here may fall
short of expectations.
After the rubdown: chocolate covered strawberries
and champagne never tasted so good. Photo by Wendy
An incredibly wide array of cuisine awaits
Excellence Riviera Cancun guests: French, Italian, Mediterranean,
Pan-Asian and Mexican, as well as restaurants specializing in Brazilian
style steak, warm water lobster (Langosta) and pizza. There are several
open-air eateries, no reservations required and virtually no waiting
for tables, with ambience ranging from laid-back casual to classical
low-lit romantic formality.
One of the eight restaurants at every
meal becomes a formula buffet, touting fresh, top notch quality offerings
to satisfy every taste. My attempt at a healthy start each day is
to come to the Barcelona buffet for breakfast. Amid rich temptations
after a run on the beach, I find the sweetest, juiciest fruit imaginable,
smoked salmon, simple whole grain carbs and egg white options …compensation
for all the naughty food and drink sure to come later on. Although
most folks will be extremely happy, real foodies will be alternately
delighted and disappointed with the Riviera Cancun fare; all restaurants
have extensive menus with choices typically high-end (no extra cost
to you) and a very lofty reach. Some individually prepared
meals are superb; some exceed the grasp of the kitchen, I suspect
due to some degree of economizing on the most expensive base ingredients.
Admittedly, I am a tough critic who is seldom completely satisfied,
anywhere …and considering the talented, industrious staff at the Excellence
Riviera, even voicing this observation feels petty and a little unfair.
We don't travel to France with the expectation of eating the finest
My favorite healthy breakfast followed by a deadly
delicious "Ticket to Fly." Photo by Wendy Koro.
It comes as no surprise then that, in
my opinion, it is the Mexican fare at Agave that shines, "par
Excellence". Traditional Yucatan staples served with timeless style
in a beautiful and spacious outdoor courtyard make Agave an
authentic dining experience. The menu features many tasty, robust
regional specialties, most of which have been around for about 500
years. Two fabulous soups are especially delicious. Sopa de Lima is
a delicately balanced broth of lime, chicken and tomato served with
shredded chicken and fried tortilla julienne. Sopa Azteca is a simple
broth of tomato and tortilla perfected with a wild touch of epazote
essence, served in a bowl chock full of everything we know and love-queso
fresco, avocado, chicken, sour cream and fried pasilla chili pepper.
Entrees run the gamut, from the expected fajitas and enchiladas, chili
beef filets and fresh fish Veracruz to a baked duck in pumpkin seeds
and some mouthwatering empanadas. The oh-so-good soft corn dough turnovers
sport some surprising indigenous ingredients, including pumpkin flowers,
black corn, and Chihuahua cheese. Roasted cactus leaves and grapefruit
are among the toppings that grace the garden salad. Agave's flavors
throughout are bright, lively and satisfying, but true to most Yucatan
food, not overly hot.
Without a doubt, another of the Riviera
Cancun's best assets is its staff. They are dedicated, well-trained
and infectiously good-natured. Ready to please, and with a staff to
guest ratio of 1:1, the opportunities for them to do so are frequent.
A passing request for directions will likely get you personally escorted
to your destination. Declining dessert? Don't be surprised if your
solicitous waiter's concern results in a grand tableside production
of delectable Mayan coffee made with Kahlua and Xtabentun honey liquor…or
perhaps an equally ostentatious Latin version of bananas flambé, both
topped with rich vanilla ice cream. (Thank you, Rudy, for offering
and insisting on both!)
Rudy goes all pyrotechnic for our enjoyment with
Mayan coffee and flaming plantains. Photo by Wendy
At the Excellence Riviera Cancun, this
type of sweet excess is routine, a testament to the attentiveness
and commitment of its well-picked employees, who, unlike on a cruise
ship, are not guaranteed any gratuities. I actually look forward to
my daily contact with bouncy poolside waitress Amable, who enthusiastically
describes the special Drink of the Day… She pronounces the latest
one "Ta-ket-o-flea"… it's a delicious coconut cream concoction containing
rum, vodka, tequila, gin…and a splash of grenadine. It's a good laugh
later when I laboriously get the proper spelling and it turns out
to be (more appropriately) my "Ticket to Fly." Similarly, the amiable,
talkative Ramon is a friendly but unobtrusive presence at breakfast.
After asking the first day, a desired newspaper shows up on "my" preferred
outdoor table every morning. When asked, Ramon also shares a wealth
of information on the surrounding area. Personally, I choose to acknowledge
and reward great service. Whether required or not, I recommend you
budget a set amount for the exceptional personnel here who will enhance
your stay. Even small tips are greatly appreciated.
Now that travel advisories to Mexico
have been lifted (for CDC described healthy adults under age 65) it's
a great time to take advantage of lower airfares and reduced room
prices, with a weather caveat (read on). The Hotel Excellence Riviera
Cancun offers even the most careful traveler a safe all-inclusive
vacation in a beautiful location just north of Playa Del Carmen, only
20 minutes or so from Cancun Airport. To make your trip hassle and
worry-free, you can pre-book your transfer to the hotel through
even paying in U.S. currency on-site if you prefer not to pay ahead
by credit card. Very visible as soon as you arrive and enter the main
terminal, this transportation service is uniformed, organized and
Lastly, some obvious and not-so-obvious
Check before (and after) you
book any last-minute stays for the likelihood of any inclement weather
or hurricanes, generally possible between June and November and
also when you'll (usually) get your best deals. Many websites other
than weather.com offer 10 and 15 day detailed forecasts. Between
accuweather, intellicast, myskeye and wunderground,
you should get a realistic picture of the anticipated weather.
Once there, if you choose a
ground floor or swim-up suite, be prepared for the possibility of
seeing some teeny-tiny ants, especially if you leave food hanging
around. They're not a fixture or even that much of a nuisance, but
they come with the territory.
Use common sense with your
valuables as you would at any other hotel; your suite will have
its own safe. Although the Riviera Cancun is a protected upscale
resort, the beach area naturally is unsealed, so take the same precautions
here that you would at any public beach. There is very little outside
foot traffic, only the rare person out for a run or strolling along
Prolific readers get a nice
perk in an informal book exchange rack outdoors by the main pool
area. Excellence Club members also have access to a larger library
indoors, as well as computers, and yet another spot for food & drink.
For a complete list of all the hotel's amenities and additional
photos, visit Excellence
I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article
about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking
a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick
- amongst many!
--- John & Maggie - UK
FEEDBACK FOR JULIO
The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze
and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend
to some first time visitors to Caramoan?
--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA
Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed
there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You
can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the
small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you
might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right
by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have
to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping
but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts
located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately
there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan
Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now
I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and
almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May.
June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come
during early December.
* * * * *
Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you
know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!
--- Ann, Manila, Philippines
Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for
Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!
FEEDBACK FOR WENDY
For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand
In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service
to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd
Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during
winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include
a 4-wd rental.
If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy
extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!
--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ
* * * * *
New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making
the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble
with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article,
and the more there are, the tougher it gets!
--- Ken W., Camarillo CA
is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted
this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out!
I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes
I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.
Thanks for writing,
* * * * *
Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please
reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage
your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't
have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to
New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?
--- Carl A., South Easton, MA
Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian!
But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the
only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and
a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a
quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest
flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super
Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party
mode. There's just that pesky background check...
Thanks for writing,
For Excellence Riviera Cancun:
Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in
a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations
at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you
recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you
travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,
--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC
Sorry for the delay in responding...you
had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants
are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically
no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly
the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal.
Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere,
though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for
their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.
The spa experience was worth it, though
my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so
rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very
different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the
serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.
We did not travel away from the hotel
this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit
your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.
Have a great time!
FEEDBACK FOR NINO
I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening
terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually
impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation.
Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!
--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA
FOR RUSH & CHUCK
Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,
Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle
accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but
not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of
what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?
Dear Rush and Chuck,
I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday
prior to President's Day.
My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground.
We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the
car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered
onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car.
My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to
walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but,
to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off.
I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his
information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye.
When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had
jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written
the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we
were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?
I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident.
The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital
but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that
it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were
all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are
able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for