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Cancun and Riviera Maya: A Land of Dreams and Secrets

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Written by Jennifer Holmes.

I recently had the exceptional opportunity of taking a familiarization trip with several other travel agents, completing site inspections of resorts in the Cancun and Riviera Maya areas of Mexico. It was a whirlwind tour, visiting 24 resorts in just a few short days. During my time there I was fortunate enough to patronize two of the finest all-inclusive resorts Mexico has to offer: Dreams Cancun Resort and Spa (located directly in Cancun), and Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun (located in the Riviera Maya). Both Dreams Cancun and Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun are in truly breathtaking regions of Mexico, and the value for your dollar absolutely cannot be beat. If you have ever wondered whether an all-inclusive resort was the way to go, I can tell you from experience that the answer is a resounding YES!

Dreams Cancun is situated at the shore point known as Punta Cancun, and is the only resort in Cancun bordered on three sides by the Caribbean Sea. Located at the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Dreams Cancun has the best of both worlds: It is in the heart of the hotel zone, making it close to entertainment, shopping and nightlife. Yet, once you have entered the resort, you sense that you have circumvented the hustle and bustle and have now reached a more serene land. The gated driveway is not foreboding, in fact it gives you the sense that you are entering a secluded wonderland.

Upon entering the hotel I was immediately taken with the lobby, which has a bar, lounge, several gift shops, concierge desk and a check-in for guests staying in the more traditional part of the resort known as the “Pyramid Building”. I actually stayed in a part of the resort known as the “Club Section” or “Tower”, which is more exclusive and offers more amenities. The Tower is a separate building located toward the back of Dreams, with its own private check-in area. As I walked along the open and airy corridors which lead to check-in, I enjoyed the atrium that surrounded me along the way. Upon entering the Club Tower I was greeted by a friendly staff who offered cocktails, hors d’ouvres and cool wash cloths. The Club Tower lobby has its own bar and a private indoor lounge, as well as a spacious outdoor patio leading out to the ocean.

My stay in the Club Tower was nothing short of fabulous. You know you are off to a good start when you step off the elevator to your room and there are only 5 other rooms on the floor. It is quiet and private, with an exclusive atmosphere. I stayed in a Club Luxury Room, where a fresh fruit basket and welcome letter were there to greet me. The room was spacious and elegant, with marble floors, a canopy-style bed and a spacious private balcony perfect for relaxing in the sun. My room overlooked the ocean, and was peaceful and serene; the soothing sounds of the ocean waves crashing into shore are still with me. As a Tower Guest, I received luxury amenities in my room including a cozy bathrobe, hairdryer, bathroom with bathtub and shower, individually controlled air-conditioner, satellite TV, mini-bar, coffeemaker, iron and ironing board, electronic safe box, electronic keyhole, national and international newspapers, 24-hour room service and private concierge service. Even the toiletries were a step above the usual: In addition to the basics, (soaps, lotion, etc.), guests are given sunscreen and a shampoo that is exclusively designed for and used in the Dreams Resorts. Turndown service is given nightly in the Club rooms, with a rose and chocolates left on the bed. I was even given the next day’s weather report, so I could plan my activities accordingly.

Dreams offers everything a guest could want or need during their visit: Five restaurants, five bars and lounges, business center, two pools, an outdoor Jacuzzi, a fully-equipped fitness center, a swim-up bar, tennis, nearby golf, jogging path, water sports, sport fishing, swimming, snorkeling, deep sea diving, wave running, jet skiing, water skiing, ocean trampoline, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, water exercises, beach volleyball, pool games, Explorer Kids Club (fully supervised) for children ages 3-12 years, nightly entertainment, live music, stretching lessons, rifle shooting, Spanish lessons, darts, bingo, and Caribbean dance lessons.

As the name suggests, Dreams Cancun Resort and Spa is a place for pampering yourself. There are many options to choose from including facials (European, Elasto Firm or Free Radicals), massages (Relaxing, Sport, Aromatherapy, Moon & Star or VIP), exfoliation treatments, Reflexology, Turkish steam room, dry sauna or yoga classes.

Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa has great restaurants, each with a different specialty. The Oceana Restaurant is the place to go for fresh fish and seafood, with seaside views to boot. The World Café offers International Cuisine with a beautiful décor and casual atmosphere. The Himitsu Restaurant offers Pan-Asian specialties with a beautiful view of the lighthouse in Punta Cancún. The Seaside Grill has cocktails, snacks and grill specialties in an informal beach setting. Last, but certainly not least, the AAA four-diamond restaurant Paloma Bonita is the place to go for sumptuous Mexican cuisine and live music in an authentic Mexican atmosphere. All restaurants except the Paloma Bonita are included with your all-inclusive package. Dreams also has five bars, including the Azucar Caribbean Bar, which is considered the most prestigious bar in all the Mexican Caribbean (starting with the fact that it has over 100 different kinds of tequila).

I absolutely fell in love with the property during my stay. The grounds are just beautiful with a quiet, private feel to them. The first night I was there I spotted a romantic couple in the gazebo enjoying an intimate seaside dinner for two, complete with personal chef. That night vendors visited the resort and lined the corridors with their wares; between the vendors and the gift shop you don’t even need to leave the resort to get your souvenirs! I bought a lovely bracelet from one of the local vendors, but make sure that when you go you do not forget to haggle (Silly me — through force of habit I forgot to negotiate and paid full price!). Everything from jewelry to artwork to clothing is available for purchase. There is even a local man outfitted in traditional Mexican wear who brings his donkey, providing photo opportunities to tourists (for a price, of course).

Another great experience I had was attending the popular Captain Hook Pirate Cruise. Upon arrival my fellow travel agents and I were greeted by the crew (decked out in full pirate attire, of course!), and escorted aboard the ship. Half the guests then boarded the El Galeon and the other half boarded the El Bucancero. Both ships were 93-foot authentic replicas of 17th century Spanish galleons, and each held up to 350 people. The ships then departed in different directions to cruise the waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. There was an open bar throughout the night, and our fabulous meal included steak and lobster. After dinner, the entertainment began as our crew got the show started with music, jokes, party games and dancing…and boy did we DANCE! At first I thought I might be too self-conscious to dance in front of a group of strangers, but the crew introduced this game where they picked certain people from the audience and taught them a very simple dance. Then those people who just learned the dance picked others from the audience and taught them the dance (and so forth), so pretty soon everyone was dancing. It was a great mixer that ensured everyone was involved without making anyone feel uncomfortable.

Suddenly, in the midst of the entertainment, we heard cannon blasts and everyone rushed to the sides of the boat to see what was happening. The opposing ship was heading toward us and, before we knew it, their vessel had pulled along side us and pirates were boarding our boat! A battle ensued as the pirates of the rival ship engaged our crew in sword fighting, complete with climbing the ships’ ropes and nets, and swinging from side-to-side between those two ships. Cheered all the while by occupants from both boats, our crew managed to chase away the intruders and escape the danger. As the ships separated and headed back out to sea, the partying and dancing resumed, before returning to dock later that evening.

The next morning I left for the Riviera Maya, hating to leave Cancun but knowing I had another fabulous adventure was in store. After all, the Riviera Maya is known for being where “The Mystery of the Mayan Culture meets the vibrancy of the Caribbean”. How could I possibly go wrong? Located just 35 minutes south of Cancun, and only 5 minutes from Playa del Carmen, Secrets Capri is nestled in 71 tropical acres of lush scenery. As we approached the resort, I knew I was about to experience one of the best kept secrets in the Riviera Maya. Upon arrival we were greeted with cool cloths, mimosas (a refreshing cocktail of champagne and orange juice) and a hearty welcome from the Secrets staff, with live mariachis playing in the lobby. From the moment I set foot in that lobby, I knew I would want to stay forever.

Secrets Capri offers a gentle mix of colonial Mexico with Mediterranean influences. The resort’s architecture, combined with the natural beauty of the Riviera Maya, creates a serene atmosphere. As I looked at the sheer amount of foliage surrounding the hotel, I felt like I was immersed in a jungle, sans the animals and noise. I had this feeling of being ‘protected’, both physically and emotionally, from the hustle and bustle of daily life. There is not the frenzy of constant activity at Secrets like there is at some other resorts, and guests genuinely enjoy the more mature environment offered at Secrets Capri. The ambiance is peaceful and private.

If I had to pick one word to describe Secrets, that word would be “classy”. Secrets is an all-inclusive resort with fantastic amenities; during your stay you’ll enjoy the fabulous ocean and beach, 5 restaurants, 4 bars, spa, spacious swimming pool, swim-up pool bar, outdoor Jacuzzi, pool and beach waiter service, mini-bar, 24 hour room service, air-conditioning, satellite television, internet access, CD/DVD players, furnished patios or balconies and personal concierge on each floor. For those guests who wish to be more physically active while at Secrets, the resort includes kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, water aerobics, fitness center, billiards, beach volleyball, tennis and free daily scuba demonstrations in the pool. Secrets also has a full-service beauty salon, full-service business center, shopping galleria, tour desk and excursion center for guests’ enjoyment.

An absolute must when staying at Secrets is to visit the outdoor spa, which offers a variety of more than 30 restorative treatments and hydrotherapies, including a one-of-a kind spa garden. Situated in an outdoor tropical garden setting, the spa garden has whirlpools that feature cascading waterfalls, allowing you to lie in warm mineral water while water jets soothe your skin. Other spa services available include facials (choose from European, Elasto Firm or Free Radicals), massages (Relaxing, Sport, Aromatherapy, Moon & Star or the VIP massage) or an Aromatherapy Salt Glow.

The food at Secrets Capri is fabulous. One of my favorite things about the dining at Secrets is that all their restaurants (save breakfast at the La Riviera) are a la carte. I don’t know about you but, as good as a buffet restaurant might be, in my opinion it just never quite measures up to the quality of a la carte service. Better yet, none of the restaurants require reservations! You get to partake of gourmet food from 5 different restaurants, each specializing in a different genre: For Pan-Asian and Hibachi delicacies visit the Himitsu Restaurant; for fresh gourmet seafood in a quiet and romantic seaside setting, try the Oceana; If Italian cuisine is more to your liking, make sure you visit the Capri Restaurant. The Seaside Grill is defiantly the place if you are craving steak, and the La Riviera Restaurant offers Continental Cuisine with a variety of specialty items and classics. My personal favorite was the Himitsu Restaurant — not only was the food delicious, but I found it so fascinating to watch them cook the meal right at our table!

There was another aspect of Secrets Capri that I really appreciated: It is an adults-only resort. Don’t get me wrong, children are great, but there is quite a different feel to an environment where everyone is above 18 years of age. Without children present, the true romantic flavor of your surroundings shines through. Secrets really caters to couples, especially newlyweds. In fact, during my stay at Secrets approximately one-third of the entire hotel’s occupancy were people on their honeymoon (you can always spot a honeymoon room by the white cupid sash draped diagonally across the outside of the door). Many of the honeymooners had gotten married while at the resort, and I can definitely understand why. There is an elegant staircase for the bride to descend, before heading outside past the outdoor pool toward the gazebo by the beach. It is such a romantic set-up, and Secrets has several wedding, anniversary and honeymoon packages from which to choose.

A couple of my personal tips and recommendations while at Secrets Capri: Eat breakfast at the La Riviera at least once — they put on an amazing spread and, despite being buffet-style, everything is of high quality. Don’t forget to have the watermelon juice and the Mexican hot chocolate during the breakfast buffets –- they are two of my personal favorites. Make sure you try the Cream of Tequila, the locals’ favorite specialty beverage. I am not much of an alcohol drinker (never quite developed a taste for the stuff) but even I couldn’t resist trying the drink people raved about. It is rich, smooth and creamy and quickly became the favorite drink of our travel group. Spend some time in Secrets’ live jazz club and/or piano bar during your stay, will not be disappointed. Last, but not least, take advantage of the fact that on-site dive, tennis, work out, sail, surf and snorkel instructors are not only available to guests of the resort, but included at no extra charge.

Overall, this was a working trip but I can’t tell you how much fun I had and how fortunate I was to be there. It was the chance-of-a-lifetime and I learned so much during my 5 days there. I cannot wait to return to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, and I would go back to Dreams Cancun and Secrets Capri in a heartbeat. Of course, being an adventurer at heart, I always like to try new things so my next trip to these two areas will most likely lead me to different resorts. I already have my eye on Secrets Excellence and the Golden Crown Paradise… or will it be the Riu Palace? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: No matter the weather, the sun will never set on my sparkling Mexican memories.