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Wendy: The Riviera Cancun

thatched roof shades on beach, Excellence Riviera Cancun
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

t's 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.

private massage hut on beach
After the rubdown: chocolate covered strawberries and champagne never tasted so good. Photo by Wendy Koro.

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 Mexican cuisine…

the writer's breakfast and drink
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 prepares Mayan Coffee and bananas flambé
Rudy goes all pyrotechnic for our enjoyment…with Mayan coffee and flaming plantains. Photo by Wendy Koro.

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 CancunTransfers.com, 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 English-speaking.

Lastly, some obvious and not-so-obvious advice:

  • 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 the water.

  • 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 Group Resorts.
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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

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

Hi Richard,

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 being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

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.

Julio

* * * * *

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

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

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!!

Cheers

--- 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

Thanks Ken..."álmost" 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,

Wendy

* * * * *

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,

Wendy

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

Hi Kim.

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!

--- Wendy

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

FEEDBACK 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?

--- Unnamed

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 ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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