Think relaxed beachside elegance, impeccable concierge service, and simply outstanding gourmet food, and you’ve arrived at the luxurious all-inclusive Azul Beach Hotel from Karisma in the Mayan Riviera. I just returned from a four-day press trip along with my husband Ron, and literally the minute we got home in a post-vacation letdown, we started brainstorming how soon we could return and went online to check for availability. We’re hoping to bring our kids back with us the week before Christmas. It was just that good.
Staying at this boutique hotel served as a pointedly marked contrast to my last foray to Cancun over 20 years ago when after staying at Club Med I had foresworn ever returning to the area. Over the past two decades the beach area south of Cancun has been developed with exceptional properties, working hard to earn the title of the Maya Riviera. These properties are a short 20-minute hop from the now very modernized Cancun airport, and we got immediately welcomed and whisked off by representatives from Lomas Travel who did a terrific job with all the transportation for our trip.
As the front desk works on your registration papers, immediately upon arrival at the Azul Beach Hotel, you get shown to a beautiful reception area with small sofas surrounding green bed swings and nestled against pebble-laden pools of water. The welcome drink handed to you, right after a cool refreshing washcloth, features champagne with blue Curacao. Listening to the tranquil water running and sipping the cool bubbles, you already feel at a remove from everyday life.
The Azul Beach Hotel has undergone a recent $21 million renovation. It shows in the gorgeously appointed and tranquil welcome lobby, and in the gorgeous new rooms. The new rooms come replete with beautiful furnishings and cushions, spacious layout including a table eating area and separate seating area, as well state of the art faucets and fixtures. My favorites: the open-topped water spout in the bathroom that pours out in a mini waterfall, and the rain barrel shower on the ceiling of the elaborately tiled bathroom, and a large free-standing Jacuzzi tub. Every detail from the furniture to the linens speaks modern elegance.
Upon check-in, we were offered our choice of pillow types (from those that mold to your head shape to hypo-allergenic), room scent (we picked a fresh sea breeze which proved delightful every time we entered our cool air-conditioned room) and sheet scents (we choose a lavender vanilla). The rooms come with a small fridge stocked with cold drinks, and awaiting us at the small dining table we found a chilled bottle of champagne, two flutes, and a fresh fruit plate. At the end of each day of our stay we would find new surprises waiting for us- such as plates of gourmet homemade chocolates!
The bathrooms are plentifully stocked with large tubes of all natural shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, along with shower gel, bath gel and bubble bath if you get inspired to try out the Jacuzzi. There’s an easy to use safe for valuables and two large closets along with a built-in dresser.
On the deck is a huge round lounge chair with cushions, along with two chairs centering a table. The swim-up suites located on the first floor have two full-length pool floats rolled up on the side for easy drifting into the pool area, and even easy drifting over to the swim-up pool bars. Beachside, there’s a lifeguard on duty during the day to keep an eye out for the swimmers, as well as boaters.
With pristine sandy beaches, a dramatic coral reef running about 200 yards offshore, and thatched roof huts with beach beds, pillows and towel throws, the Azul Beach Hotel makes letting go of everyday life and sinking into a floating sense of relaxation a breeze. Make that an ocean breeze, which runs continually off the water keeping things cool under the palm trees and blowing gauzy curtains around each beach bed. Beach butlers come by at regular intervals to check in, refill drinks, or bring food or snacks to you.
The bath temperature water of the ocean offers a refreshing rinse off whenever you feel too warm, with a sandy bottom and nearby beach hut offering snorkeling gear to guests. Also to be found if need of a diversion: beach volleyball, a small soccer area with a net, kayaks, a life-size giant chessboard and some poolside ping pong. Beach butlers come by checking in on bringing drinks your way, and also have on hand sunscreen and Evian water vaporizers, if you so desire. The beach hut, in addition to serving up towels, has shelves of paperbacks (in many languages) to borrow from. As part of the renovation, all the pools are heated during the cooler winter months.
Just this year, Azul Beach Hotel was certified by the Mexican government as a sanctuary for turtle eggs. Forget the kids finding this cool – we were fascinated. They’re currently watching in a netted off area, over 600 sea turtle eggs that are scheduled to hatch in September. Imagine how amazing to be there to see the baby sea turtles shepherded safely into the ocean!
The hotel has an impressively deep commitment to “sustainable tourism” – with room keys having to be inserted by the doors to turn lights on, and having them automatically all turn off when you leave with your room key. Other examples: they separate recyclable trash and use only bio-degradable bathroom products.
The food is unqualifiedly exceptional at Azul Beach – at all three of their signature dinner restaurants as well as their main restaurant and lunch spot. And if eating well matters a great deal to you on vacation as it does for us, the caliber of the chefs and their cuisine endlessly delights.
Chil serves up a beachside lunch on its ocean-facing terrace, with a traditional Mexican fare such as tacos but with creative fillings like slow roasted pork and tamarind shrimp. In addition to lunch being served as well at Blue, you can order up a beach picnic basket and they’ll deliver right to you at the beach. How fun is that! And at no extra cost, too.
So now comes the raves: it’s hard to decide which of Azul Beach’s three dinner restaurants deserves the longest standing ovation. Each décor outdoes the other – a combined effort of a Croatian and a Mexican designer that takes one breath away.
Tainan specializes in Japanese and Asian cuisine, with a sushi-boat river in a high-seat dining area featuring the sushi’s chef creations. The sushi itself was terrific – from fresh tuna and salmon sashimi to tempura rolls with tuna and avocado inside and fresh spring rolls. We also ordered some plates off the menu – from a light, well-seasoned glass noodle and mango salad to a fantastic rendition of caramelized pork pad Thai with a smoky onion and roasted corn twist that we’d never tasted before. This dish was so good, we came back a second night after dining at another restaurant just to have it again before heading home. I’m going to have to call it: this restaurant has to have been my favorite.
Latino restaurant features cuisine from all over Latin America. And it’s hard to focus on the terrific food given that they serve up in clear glass jars including the best Sangria we’ve had. We sampled only the reds, though they have four white varieties. Our favorite Sangria: mango, followed closely by pear. The red fruity base has complex flavoring, with strong cinnamon and undertones of perhaps anise? We loved it so much, that we completely forgot to ask the chef for the recipe. Worth pursuing…so stay tuned on this one.
The chef served up a variety of four Latin appetizers all of which were terrific if a bit on the spicy chili side for me (good thing for the Sangria to neutralize some of the heat), and my husband enjoyed the Mexican steak with three chilies.
Roma, the Northern Italian restaurant, has a floor to ceiling chalkboard that towers in the three story high space next to its open trattoria style granite kitchen. From long handmade breadsticks and fresh basil infused tomato salsa with aged balsamic, the dishes we tried included a steak my husband swore was the best he had ever had and roasted vegetable pasta.
The hotel also has an extensive DVD lending library – with selections to appeal to kids of all ages, as well as the grown-ups. Best of all: order up a DVD, and they immediately send along a popcorn service that features fresh popped popcorn, warm chocolate chip cookies, and Hershey’s chocolate and strawberry milk boxes for the kids. For Mom and Dad, just name your favorite drink.
Disclosure: Mom Central attended a press trip in order to facilitate this review in which all expenses were covered – the views expressed here are those of Mom Central.