The Azul Beach Hotel has a catamaran, motorboats and guides to take you out to explore the coral reef, kayaks – all available at modest additional fees. The hotel can arrange transportation to a marina a few miles away replete with options running from sailboat rentals to jet skis. A dedicated team of tour specialists on the property stands by to arrange tours – from exploring Mayan ruins to water adventures.
We opted for a day trip to Xel-ha, a natural preserve with spectacular snorkeling, rock formation exploration, cave swimming, cliff jumping, zip line flinging, and more. That is until we flung ourselves down on chairs to partake in the all you can eat Mexican buffet and bar service. Xel-ha offers up the natural beauty of swimming between mangrove canals and snorkeling among dozens of varieties of colorful tropical fish. Another option are inner tubes to float, soak up the sun and beautiful natural vistas, and make stops along the way such as for the ropes course or cliff jump. The entire property is a nature preserve, and they take ecology so seriously that they hold any suntan lotion you bring with you that contains artificial ingredients and hand you a small packet of all natural coverage. Trash cans offer separate slots for organic and inorganic refuse, too.
With admission comes unlimited food and drink, with bars dotting the water’s edge and several sit-down restaurant options including their Mexican buffet that includes over a hundred different offerings. With lockers to store your stuff and snorkeling equipment – including a brand new mouthpiece for every guest – you simply explore to the point of water saturation. For an additional fee you can swim with the dolphins or learn to “snuba” a new form of snorkeling with an air hose supported by a floating raft that enables you to dive down about 20 feet and have the experience of scuba without having to lug heavy equipment or go through extensive training. Overall, it proves a great day not to be missed as an area excursion.
A favorite evening find in the hotel: The Agavero Tequila bar with literally over a hundred different types of Tequila from clear liquid to the dark amber of a decade-aged special. Up to this point, I really only thought of tequila as a base for margaritas. But we got cured of our Americano ignorance in short order! Over the course of an hour, our bartender Javier served up tasting flights of tequila so we could educate our palates when it comes to this noble, agave brewed Mexican specialty. We learned to chase the tequila down with sangrita, a delicious and light citrusy version of spiced tomato juice, rimmed with chili pepper and salt in a shot glass. We begged Javier for the recipe, and he agreed to teach us how so we could make this at home.
Start with a 12-ounce drinking glass and fill it:
Best of all, the tequila, which includes some pricey varieties, comes included in the Gourmet Inclusive program of the hotel. This concept bar has been modeled on an old Bodego Cigar smoking lounges, with deep wooden furnishings and dark red walls. A modern twist: an ice-topped granite bar, kept chilled from beneath, helped keep our drinks cold. Definitely a bit of the boys’ club, but I felt mighty welcome inside.
In addition, the hotel renovation includes a theatre area for visiting acts from musical to circus that make nightly appearances for entertainment.
The brand new spa, just a week old at our visit, gleams with beige marble, water ways with beautiful metallic sculptures, an elaborate water hydration area (from whirlpool to ice cold plunge) and services ranging from nails and hair to massages and facials. I had their traditional massage, which started with an unusual grounding ceremony that I loved. You hold in your hands a small amount of uncooked rice, close your eyes and focus on one wish, while getting your feet bathed in flower water and picking out by smell your favorite aromatherapy scent to use during the treatment.
The massage itself was fine, not amazing as I’m biased as I’m used to superb massages at home and found this more of a light Swedish style with very repetitive motions. However, I emerged feeling completely relaxed and tranquil. Awaiting me in the relaxation lounge were herbal teas and refreshing mint-infused lemonade. Good thing my only assignment after this was to report to the beach!
They also have a Pink Spa Treatment for tweens and teens to introduce them to the spa experience. With scented nail polish and flavored creams, not to mention pink spa bathrobes for the girls and a bright pink wig for the treatment provider, it’s just plain fun. Plus, tween girls always clamor for something on vacation just for them and the new Azul Beach serves it up with a smile.
Lastly, but of huge import, the Azul Beach Hotel also specializes in hosting young kids. They’ve partnered with Fisher Price to keep babies and toddlers entertained for hours. Upon arrival, kids get their own welcome kit replete with a chocolate milk shake, a heap of new Fisher Price toys to choose from, and their choices of favorite foods to be sent to the room.
From the restaurants to the rooms, Fisher price toys and activities can be found for kids. From large dinosaurs to sand play toys, I the only noise we heard from young toddlers visiting the hotel was laughing. No fussing or crying because they were endlessly entertained.
For babies, Gerber’s all natural baby food abounds from getting stocked in your room and to being served up poolside at the snack bar and at the restaurants.
Also – and this is huge – you need not pack the mountain of stuff that usually goes along with traveling with children. The hotel guarantees that it will have a stroller, pack n play crib with bedding and toys, a changing table (replete with a mini-bathrobe!), baby monitors, bottle warmer and steamer, booster or highchair with play toys, and so on waiting for you when you arrive. You name it, and they seem to have thought of it!
Of note, not having kids in tow, we never found having kids around disruptive, so we would still recommend the Azul Beach Hotel as an adults-only trip for Mom and Dad as well.
Only one. With the over $20 million in completed renovations, some high tech pieces still have to be worked out. On the one hand the wireless Internet worked perfectly, on the other they could only get one electronic room key to work for our room. This meant planning who got the key when, and several trips to front desk concierge to re-magnetize the key when it stopped working. All told, a minor magnetic glitch to be worked out in an otherwise flawless stay.
At Azul Sensatori hotel, we were welcomed with freshly-made muddled mango Mojitos from their nearby Mojito bar, and honestly these drinks alone could tempt you to jump properties! The Sensatori, at about double the size of the Azul Beach Hotel, has four white towers of rooms, with long swimming pools leading up to their expansive beachfront. The rooms share the same luxurious features of the Azul Beach – just narrower in size, outside of the suites. We toured the oceanfront bridal suite and considered renewing our vows just as an excuse to stay there, as it was that magnificent.
The Sensatori features the all-inclusive gourmet experience, like the Azul Beach. We had an outstanding Italian dinner at the Sienna with a chef recruited straight from Italy who makes his own pastas and sauces. From excellent prosciutto and melon appetizers to perfectly cooked al dente wild mushroom risotto with truffle sauce and fuscilla all’Arabiata, the original dishes were superb. Definitely a foodie’s haven.
What we most wanted to try: the Le Chique restaurant with a four-hour tasting menu by Le Chique Executive Chef Jonatan Gomez-Luna Torres, a famous Spanish chef who’s won international awards for his innovative Mexican cuisine. One of the only restaurants with reservations required, it comes as part of the inclusive for guests staying at the Sensatori, which is why we simply have to return to stay there!
The Azul Sensatori caters to tweens and teens, and we could see why our teens would love hanging out here. First, there’s a game room that rivals the mall arcade, even down to sit on motorcycle games, air hockey and Dance Dance Revolution. (Wonder if Mom and Dad can play alongside the kids?) There’s also a kids’ only hangout spot with lounge chairs and cushions and a bar serving up mocktinis. They have special activities just for teens such as beach bonfires and sports. Whenever we travel, our kids’ first priority is on meeting peers to hang out with and at the Sensatori that clearly would happen Day One!
So if you’ve got older kids, think Sensatori.
The El Dorado Royale adults-only property features a highly modern, hugely spacious entry lounge from which vast winding waterways and sculpted garden plantings lead to their over 600 rooms. With buildings no more than three stories tall and pools just a few steps from any of the rooms, the sprawling resort feels more intimate with a neighborhood vibe.
All the rooms will have been renovated by December 2012, and share the elegant features of the Azul Beach Hotel rooms. This neighborhood motif becomes more pronounced in the El Dorado’s over 200 casitas- romantic suites with a luxury outdoor bamboo hut feel to them. The casitas exude romance, and with extensive concierge and butler room service it appears that many of the couples never venture outside! Small pools with swim-up bars and lounges serve as hangout spots for a grouping of the casitas. Thatched roof hut beds and beaconing lounge chairs appear throughout the property’s long beach front.
Don’t feel like walking the whole property? Golf carts whisk guests to their rooms and bicycles stand at the ready for explorations. And if you find yourself in the mood for a spa treatment, a beautiful new spa with dozens of treatment options stands and marble corridors and hydro-pools stand at the ready. If you’re feeling spiritually courageous, the spa offers a sweat lodge experience with a spirit guide along to guide your journey. Flor, the vivacious sales manager, swears by this having overcome her initial trepidation to give it go and having found it profoundly moving and connecting one to Mother Nature. With that endorsement, I’m intrigued!
Unique to the El Dorado is an extensive certified organic greenhouse, with football field size growing areas that feature a hydroponic growing system. Using the best in international technology, the hydroponic system, filters and pumps along with the organic fertilizer and natural pesticides (think cinnamon!) come from Israel; the greenhouse structures and venting systems that have to withstand both the tropical rain season as well as intense heat come from Portugal; and 14 full-time Mexican gardeners oversee the plants from seedlings to harvest. Year-round the greenhouse produces three different tomato varieties, cucumbers, green peppers, basil, cilantro and mint that go straight into the hotel’s kitchens.
They also supply all the neighboring Karisma hotel properties – producing over eight tons of produce every month! Extra produce gets sold to the resort’s workers at cost. We had a chance to chat with the head chef of the El Dorado, Tonathio Hernandez, who extolled the wonder of serving up in his restaurants vegetables freshly picked that morning, as contrasted to waiting for bi-weekly vegetable shipments where often a week has passed between produce being harvested and being served up to eat.
The tomatoes and fresh squeezed cucumber limeade that we sampled tasted delicious. We also got to sample these fresh ingredients with a lunch at JoJo’s seaside grill with Caribbean overtones. Starting with a sampling of exotic appetizers and then tasting fruit infused mahi mahi, the meal ended with a fabulous homemade coconut ice cream ball floating in tapioca balls with crème sauce. Definitely made a note to self to explore the casitas in a future trip!
Immediately upon returning home we checked online reservations to see if there’s any availability for the holidays to bring our kids along. With a simply superb experience, it’s only a (short!) matter of time until we’ll be back! If you have an upcoming vacation. I’d make this destination top of your list to check out.
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.