Atlanta was fun, but it’s time to ratchet this party up a notch. Day 3 of our girls’ “weekend” starts with an early morning wake-up call to ensure that we don’t miss our flight to Cancun. Our airport “chauffeur,” Bill (who greatly resembles our grillmaster from the night before), is prompt, efficient and congenial despite the early hour (I’m sure he got paid handsomely later).
The quick 2.5-hour flight from Atlanta to Cancun was uneventful and pleasant. Upon arrival, we breezed through Customs, retrieved our bags without incident and began our quest to locate the driver we had prearranged through the hotel. We were prepared to be accosted in the arrivals hall by a swarm of free-agent taxi drivers, and our expectations did not go unfulfilled. One particularly pushy woman pulled us aside, trying to convince us that she was not with a taxi company and just wanted to help us locate our scheduled driver. We were almost foiled by the scam but luckily reason prevailed and we exited the hall to find our smiling driver waiting for us with the name of our hotel emblazoned on a placard and cold Coronas in hand. Now, that’s more like it! Once in the comfort and safety of our air-conditioned vehicle, the real vacation could begin…
The short 30-minute ride south brought us to the Riviera Maya region (just north of Playa del Carmen) and our hotel, the Rosewood Mayakoba. The beautiful Mayakoba complex is made up of three resorts (with a fourth on the way) — the Rosewood, the Banyan Tree and the Fairmont. Once you enter the resort complex, you immediately feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of the busy highway.
The Rosewood Mayakoba is nestled amongst 1600 acres of natural forestation and wild mango groves. It’s immediately apparent why the resort received a Rainforest Alliance Certification for complying with the highest eco-standards. The mile-long drive to the hotel lobby is akin to being on a wilderness expedition, only this excursion leads you to a beautiful oasis. We were greeted with cool, fragrant cloths to wipe away any last remaining hints of our travels and a refreshing tequila cocktail which tasted of basil, mint, and lime juice.
Designed to blend in with the natural surroundings, the main lobby is an open-air retreat that overlooks one of the resort’s two pools and the breathtaking lagoon below.
It is the natural lagoon, around and into which the entire resort is developed, that makes the Rosewood Mayakoba so unique and special. After a brief check-in, we were escorted down to the boat landing for transport to our awaiting suite.
The Rosewood is not designed like your typical high-rise beach hotel. Each 2-story suite is its own individual over-water retreat, nestled into the stunning natural landscape. The journey to our suite, weaving in and around turtles and bobbing water fowl, was simply awe-inspiring. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought we had arrived in the jungles of Costa Rica.
As the boat pulled up to our private dock, I knew I would never want to leave this place.
Each of Rosewood’s 130 suites, regardless of size, is equipped with a private plunge pool, rooftop sun deck, garden shower and individual boat dock.
The accommodations are beyond luxurious. But there was another element of the resort that was even more impressive, something that really set this hotel apart — the extraordinary level of service, which was subtly apparent from the moment we arrived and would continue to amaze and surprise us throughout our stay. As an unexpected welcome gift, the resort acknowledged our mutual birthdays with a bouquet of balloons and a gorgeous Mexican chocolate birthday cake.
Moments later, our cheerful and invaluable butler, Juan, having overhead us comment that there were only two lounge chairs by the plunge pool, vowed to promptly have another brought around. And so it was…the unrelenting pampering had begun.
We desperately wanted to kick back and relax by our pool, but first things first…we had exploring to do, and it was lunch time! No time to get settled…we quickly rummaged through our suitcases for swim suits, and off to the beach we went. Once we left our room by land, we realized that the resort is a maze of winding pathways that would ultimately require some serious navigating. Luckily, the hotel golf cart shuttles were numerous and quick to arrive when called. We hopped aboard a passing cart which whisked us away to the beach club for some much-needed nourishment and liquid libations.
When we arrived at the Beach Club, we were assaulted by the sheer beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, composed of a stunning mosaic of vivid blues and greens and bordered by meticulous white sand beaches. It was literally breathtaking.
The distinctive, briny smell of the saltwater triggered a terrible thirst for a margarita, so we grabbed a beach-side table and started pouring over the menu, anxious to dig in to the fresh, local cuisine. Reality struck, however, as we were reminded that a resort of this caliber doesn’t come cheaply, and the menu prices were a clear testament to that unavoidable fact. Margarita – $20. Glass of wine – $25. Guacamole appetizer – $16. First lunch bill – $150. View from our table – priceless.
I had been looking forward to having some Mexican ceviche since before we left Atlanta, so my eyes stopped scanning as soon as I spied it on the menu. I adore ceviche and make it often at home, so I was particularly excited to sample their version with fresh-caught fish which happened to be sea bass that day. There were two preparations on the menu, and I decided to go with the local preparation. When it arrived, I was quite surprised to see that it was black.
Not being one to shy away from a food challenge, I dug in without trepidation. First impression — it was slightly gritty and tasted very strongly of chili powder (hence the dark hue), although a variety of chile powder with which I was unfamiliar. To be completely honest, it wasn’t a flavor or texture that I particularly enjoyed, but I powered through best I could as not to insult the chef. Later that night at dinner, our server asked where we had dined for lunch. Upon mentioning the beach restaurant, Punta Bonita, he exclaimed, “Oh, did you have a chance to try to the ceviche? It’s our local specialty, and it’s SO delicious!” I guess it’s an acquired taste.
That night, our dinner meal at Agave Azul, the resort’s lovely Asian-style restaurant, didn’t disappoint however. Located near the main lobby, the restaurant’s open-air terrace provides an uncompromised view of the lagoon and the twinkling lights of the property.
And the impressive quality of the food was an even match for the unforgettable ambiance. At our server’s recommendation, we started with the spicy edamame and the tempura shrimp, both of which were delicious.
The shrimp could have benefited from a couple more minutes in the deep fryer to boost the crispiness of the tempura batter, but the flavor was wonderful and the spicy mayo drizzle added a nice finish. The spicy edamame was a welcome surprise, as it was prepared similar to the way I make it at home, a preparation that I discovered in London and have not been able to find at any restaurant in the States. Instead of typical steamed edamame sprinkled with salt, these were first blistered over a flame (the smoky flavor was addicting) and then quickly tossed with a spicy sauce that clung to each pod. I do mine in a very hot skillet and toss it with garlic, soy, chile flakes and a touch of black bean garlic sauce. I will share my full recipe for Pan-Blistered Spicy Edamame in an upcoming post.
Kathy and Susan ordered the Massaman Curry and Pad Thai respectively. As the official “royal taster” of the group, I can attest that both were expertly prepared and delicious. Since I had effectively sated my appetite on birthday cake and beach-side pina coladas earlier in the day — and then practically inhaled the edamame and tempura shrimp starters — I decided to order just one spicy hamachi roll which was very well prepared and delicious. And that imposed self-restraint proved to be a wise move on my part because, no sooner had we finished our meal, the staff surprised us with yet another birthday cake and complimentary shots of 1921 Tequila Cream liquer (which, if you haven’t had it before, tastes a bit like Bailey’s – 1921 Tequila Cream Liquer). No, not a single detail is overlooked at the Rosewood Mayakoba!
Day two in paradise, and we were up early for some much-needed morning nutrition to soak up the previous day’s libations. Our room rate included two complimentary breakfasts which I gladly allocated to Susan and Kathy, not being much of a breakfast eater myself. The extensive breakfast buffet was tempting, however, so I cajoled the girls into bringing me some manchego, chorizo and proscuitto which I eagerly washed down with a delicious smoothie made from locally sourced ingredients. The girls enjoyed fruit from the buffet and special-order omelettes.
With full bellies, we wandered to the lobby to inquire about procuring bikes, an ideal mode of transportation to navigate the resort’s web of pathways. We shouldn’t have been surprised to find that there were plenty available and they, too, were complimentary. We giddily hopped on our bikes and were off to the spa for some rest and relaxation.
I’ve been very blessed to have had the opportunity to visit a number of spas both in the States and abroad over the years. But even with a portfolio of experiences, I was overwhelmed by the beauty, the facilities and the level of service at Sense, the Rosewood spa. While it doesn’t have as many of the fun water features that some spas offer, particularly European spas (and the spa pool was closed for renovations while were there), it made up for that slight deficit in many other ways. Nestled into the natural, jungle-like setting that comprises 90% of the resort’s grounds, the spa is even more peaceful and serene than most. While awaiting my treatment, I relaxed in the outdoor lounge (below), sipping my grape and aloe “amenity” (amenities are plentiful at Rosewood, but more on that later) and taking in the symphony of bird calls and dribbling waterfalls in surround-sound. It was pure bliss and a feast for all of the senses, as the spa’s name aptly implies.
To reach the treatment rooms, guests are guided down a winding wooded path (more of a narrow-plank boardwalk actually) amidst tangled vines, naturally growing orchids and bananas plants. Once in the individual treatment bungalow, I was given a music menu to choose the level of relaxation I desired, and my feet were washed and massaged. My therapist then asked about my various aches, pains and stressors and selected aromatherapy oils to address my ills. My 60-minute massage was on par with some of the best I’ve had. I was so relaxed that it actually felt longer than an hour. I hate when you pay for a 60-minute massage but you could swear that it was only 45 minutes at best. This wasn’t that — I got my money’s worth and then some (which is saying a lot considering the price of the treatment). Afterwards, I took a moment to recover and return to the “real” world by lounging by the spa’s beautiful, tranquil cenote (below). Cenotes are fascinating naturally formed deep-water reservoirs, often accompanied by caves, that are prevalent throughout the Yucatan peninsula. I will mention others later in this post.
I could go on and on about the spa, but there’s much more to cover, so with our first spa experience concluded, we hopped on our bikes to head back to the beach. Once we were settled in our plush beach loungers, it seemed fitting that we would toast our good fortune with a round of fruity drinks. When I tell you that this place has thought of everything, I’m not exaggerating. All the drinks came in insulated Mason jars to prevent meltage in the hot sun, and Susan’s Jalapeno Margarita featured ice cubes made with fresh jalapeno slices. (Earlier, Kathy’s Diet Coke contained, what else, Diet Coke ice cubes!)
But that’s not all…every hour or so, Sergio would come around with a different “amenity” (there’s that word again). First was a frozen gin and lime shooter; then a tiny corn salad (not my favorite, but interesting); later an individual flan (delicious!). But the best amenity of all was surprisingly not something we could eat or drink. What could be better, you ask? How about a personal facial massage? Yep, Sergio came around with a big smile and a tray of frozen cucumbers, chilled Evian spray and cool washcloths. He reclined the lounger, carefully placed the cucumbers on our eyes, spritzed with the Evian spray, rested the cloth over the cucumbers and gently massaged the face and temples. I’ve stayed in some damn nice resorts, but I’ve never received a beach-side facial massage!
Every day, we looked forward to Sergio’s hourly rounds bearing a variety of goodies and culminating with, of course, the much-desired facial massage. It doesn’t get much better than that! (It’s important to point put that Sergio is the resort’s adorable 19-year-old intern who is industriously working his way through school in hopes of landing a permanent job in hospitality after graduation. In my opinion, Sergio gives ‘hospitality’ a new meaning. He was mature well beyond his years, conversational in an easy, yet confident way, and exuded a witty sense of humor. Good luck to you, Sergio! You have a very bright future ahead of you. And keep singing those classic 70s tunes. Queen rocks!!)
On that note, I would also like to point out that we were impressed with every member of the Rosewood staff we encountered during our stay (and they were abundant, believe me). It was almost as if they all had a mystical sixth sense and would appear out of nowhere even before you knew that you needed something. “Can I adjust your chair for you?” “Is your umbrella positioned to your liking?” Ice buckets of complimentary bottled water were replenished regularly. We never had to wait for a server to come around for our drink orders. And, more importantly, every member of the staff seemed sincerely happy to be working at the Rosewood. I’ve been to resorts where the staff appears to be going through the motions, robotically executing the requisite things they were trained to say and do. Not so at the Rosewood. We often commented that their staff seemed genuinely content, which made our stay all the more pleasurable.
While I’m piling on the compliments, I should add that the grounds were absolutely immaculate, as well, from the lobby to the beach and every square inch in between. The photo below shows a member of the landscape staff scrubbing the rock face of one of the natural waterfalls…
Look closely at the photo below and you will see that the rear boat is mounded with some sort of grass. Each day, the crew dredged up boatloads of grass from the lagoon, for ecological purposes I presume, but also for aesthetic reasons I’m suspect.
The resort even hired a beautiful rescue Harris hawk (and his trainer) to patrol the beachfront and ward off any offending birds or seagulls who might want to prey on leftover lunch scraps. I told you that they’ve thought of everything.
Speaking of lunch, we decided to return to the beach-side Punta Bonita, and I was determined to up my game in the ordering department. We started with their house guacamole which was fresh and delicious, but enormous (plenty for 4-5 people as an appetizer). Kathy ordered a margarita pizza from their wood-burning pizza oven and Susan had a burger, both of which were fine but nothing special, especially when you consider the accompanying price tags. I decided to go with the spicy tuna tostadas, and when they arrived I was very pleased with my choice. There must have been 3/4 of a pound of beautiful fresh tuna mounded onto crisp homemade corn tortillas and topped with pork cracklings, pickled onions, spicy mayo and cilantro. It was all delicious, but much more than I could possibly finish. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so much guacamole!
Later that afternoon, as we were biking back to our suite, I peeled off from the girls to explore the “chef’s garden” that I had heard about from one of the shuttle drivers. Entering through the grape-vined arbor, I was sufficiently impressed by the rows and rows of raised beds containing every herb, pepper, and vegetable imaginable, from cilantro and habaneros to jicama and corn.
Beyond the double doors, an extensive orchard of bitter orange, sour lemon, mango, avocado, soursop and many other local varieties of fruit trees spread out in front of me. Even a conveniently placed hammock, in case passers-by have the uncontrollable urge to get horizontal and soak up the peaceful surroundings.
Then, at the far end of the orchard, I stumbled upon a curious sight – an expansive hibiscus garden laid out in a maze design not unlike the boxwood hedges of formal European gardens. At first I thought it was just for fun, like a corn maze at the pumpkin patch, but then I realized that this was more than just a folly, it was their cutting garden – the source of all of those beautiful hibiscus blossoms that we had been enjoying on our beds and in the bathroom, as well as the hibiscus juice that we were offered as an “amenity” at the spa. I was astounded at how many different hibiscus varieties they had cultivated, my favorite of which was the silver/gray-tinged one pictured below. And I was even more astounded when, while out biking, I discovered that there were at least three or four additional hibiscus “maze” gardens scattered throughout the resort grounds.
Later that evening, feeling a bit fatigued from the sun and afternoon cocktails, we debated about staying in and ordering room service, but reason prevailed and we set out for Casa del Lago, the resort’s Italian restaurant which occupies the same space as the morning breakfast buffet. Since we were in no hurry to eat, we stopped for a drink in the lovely open-air lobby bar…because we needed another drink. And then off to dinner we went…because we needed another meal.
I was happy to see that Casa del Lago’s dinner offering was not buffet-style, and the a la carte menu featured multiple items I wanted to order. But first, more wine! I had been struggling with the fact that a single glass of wine at Rosewood Mayakoba ranges from $13 for local Mexican wines to $25 and up for imported wines. I simply can’t stomach a $25 glass, so I opted to stay local. At lunch the first day, I had tried their least expensive Mexican white ($13) which was a light, dry blend not too dissimilar to a Pinot Grigio. Being more of a Chardonnay drinker myself, I then sampled their other house white, Casa Grande ($15), which was reasonably well-balanced and drinkable. I had found my go-to wine.
Dinner at Casa del Lago, concluding once again with toasts of 1921 Tequila Cream, proved to be well worth the effort to get prettied up and make the move to the lobby area. Now, it was time to return to the comfort of our suite and rest up for day three…