Choosing our destination
June 2018: The kids’ summer vacation was fast approaching, and while we had our sometimes-yearly trip to Virginia Beach already planned, we had yet to book our “big” trip of the year. (Summer 2017 was our Disney Cruise.)
The conversation went a little something like this–
Me: Where do you want to go this year?
Hubby: I don’t know, where do you want to go this year?
After some back and forth, we settled on Cancún, Mexico!
Coming from New York, Cancún proved to have the most affordable flight options for a luxury tropical vacation for our family of five. We’d be able to fly there and stay at an all-inclusive 4-5 star resort with family-friendly amenities. In addition to being within our allotted budget, the Royalton Riviera Cancun caught my eye because it fit the following criteria:
- Minimum 4 star resort, per TripAdvisor
- All-inclusive with kids’ activities and a kids’ pool
- Situated directly on the beach (more on why this didn’t end up mattering, below)
- Located in the Riviera Maya, away from the hustle and bustle of being directly in the Cancún Hotel Zone or downtown Playa del Carmen
- Butler-service upgrade available
A few days after making your reservation, you’ll be able to visit the Royalton website and pre-select your room. Caveat: this service costs extra, and the actual cost depends on your room type and the premium fetched by the specific room you’ve selected. We paid $60 for the privilege of selecting our room in advance, and we think it was worth the additional cost! We happened to arrive the same day a HUGE travel group of dozens upon dozens of people did. If we hadn’t pre-selected our room and ended up being disappointed, there would have been little to no wiggle room for alternate accommodations.
Arrival & Check-in
Arrival, baggage claim, and customs flying into Cancun were swift and easy! Our vacation package included roundtrip group transfers through Amstar DMC, and when we arrived, there weren’t any others needing transportation, so we had the entire shuttle van to ourselves for the 20-minute drive to the resort.
Tip: If you’ve already arranged for your transfers ahead of time, breeze right past the kiosks and hungry-eyed reps who flank the wide hall right before the exit. Remember, you’re at a vacation destination, so unless you want to discuss excursion and attraction tickets with these folks, there’s no need to stop.
From the main highway, it’s a 3km drove (a little less than 2 miles) from the beginning of the driveway/private road that leads to the resort. There’s a security checkpoint at the very beginning, and another at the end. In between, you get sweeping views of mangroves and the open sky. It’s a gorgeous sight around sunset!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by one of an efficient-looking team of check-in clerks, our bags were tagged and left with the porters. The boys were all wide-eyed wonder as a crisply uniformed check-in agent whisked us through the tremendous open-air lobby to the Diamond Club lounge for check-in.
Our Diamond Club Suite
We stayed in a Diamond Club Luxury Presidential One Bedroom Suite. This room type gave us plenty of room to stretch out without being on top of each other. The Diamond Club upgrade gave us access to butler service, restaurant reservations, upgraded room service options, exclusive beach sections and pools, and daily minibar refills.
While we did technically have a partial ocean view with this room, it’s not a proper ocean view rate, so our second-floor view was mostly of the roof of the Diamond Club exclusive restaurant, Armadillo.
What we loved about our room
This suite is huge – at over 1200 square feet, this room is literally larger than most 1 bedroom apartments in the US. The bedroom features the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in (king-size), and a gorgeous bathroom suite, complete with a soaking tub and a walk-in rainfall shower for two. The living room had a sectional sofa with a full-size pullout, which when set up, was effectively a king size. There was also a second, smaller bathroom with a shower.
Because it’s twice the size of a standard room, this room type also gets a big spacious, double-sized balcony.
What could be better
While the proper bed in the bedroom is very comfortable, the thin mattress on the pullout is straight trash – poke-y springs and all — and not in line with the rest of the experience. Our kids said it was fine, but I’m sure they’d be singing a different tune if they were adult-sized humans. I’d heard that you could request a mattress to put on top to make it more comfortable, so we asked our butler for one, to which they responded that they’d be in touch with housekeeping. We didn’t press the issue, but we can only assume that the reason why the requested mattress never materialized is that the resort was nearly full during our first three days.
Despite the spaciousness of the balcony, it was vastly underfurnished for the room capacity, with only a single side table and two chairs.
You can choose to stay on the grounds for the duration of your trip, and you will have plenty of things to do, see, eat, and experience. However, if you want to explore outside of the resort, plan on paying a hefty premium for an excursion through a tour operator or for taxi service. The resort is secluded, and you will not be able to walk to any town, village, or attraction because it’s simply too far from everything. It is an expensive chore getting out of the resort and exploring unescorted – especially when you’ve got multiple children in tow.
If you want to take public transportation, you’ll need to get to the highway first. It’ll cost you a minimum of $10 one-way to get to the end of the private road so that you can catch a colectivo from the highway. Before you ask, nope, you don’t want to walk it— the mangroves are lush and pretty to look at, but you don’t want to be in the thick of them. Signs along the 3km road warn visitors of the presence of crocodiles and other critters. A ride all the way to Puerto Morelos (south) or to the Cancún hotel zone (north), will cost you a minimum of $50 roundtrip for a 4-person taxi. Those are the two closest areas where you might want to head to if you’re feeling like some impromptu exploration.
Overall Verdict & Booking Tips
We really enjoyed our stay at the Royalton Riviera Cancún Resort and Spa, and we’ll definitely consider returning to this resort when we visit the Cancún area again! We loved the secluded location of the resort, the food, and the courteous, friendly, and attentive service we received throughout our stay.
As a family that likes to sightsee independently, the lack of easy and affordable transportation options was an annoyance, and one we weren’t totally prepared for. In our planning, we had underbudgeted slightly for taxi fares, so the potential costs associated with unplanned exploration is definitely something we’ll weigh heavier when planning a future trip, especially if we return here.
During our stay in August 2018, sargassum (seaweed!) was a huge issue in the Cancun area, and the beach at the resort was unusable. Quintana Roo has been placing barriers out at sea to prevent the red piles of seagrass from making it to the shore, so we’re hopeful that the beach will better when we return to the Riviera Maya. According to Mexican News Daily, authorities are hoping the beaches will be mostly sargassum-free by the end of 2018.
- Constructed in 2014, this is still a very new resort, with a wide breadth of included amenities and highly rated restaurants. Book early to get the room type you want, and if room location is important to you, be sure to use Royalton’s online room selection option after your reservation has been confirmed.
- Whether the seaweed is a problem or not, we highly recommend spending a day to enjoy the turquoise waters and snorkeling at Xel-Há, near Tulum. Other places to visit for almost guaranteed crystal-clear waters include area cenotes, Isla Mujeres, or Isla Holbox.
- The Royalton theme song is an earworm. You have been warned.
- You will be approached for a timeshare-esque presentation. They’ll tell you it’s not a timeshare, but let’s be real, the actual experience of a vacation club membership works the same way. Reminder: it’s okay to say no to these sales pitches if you’re not interested! If you want the room calls and reminder hangtags to stop, be firm and kind when you refuse.
- Gratuities: If you’ve received the level of service you expected, you should tip. We tipped servers, bartenders, housekeeping, and other staff as we went, and we gave anywhere between 10 and 40 pesos depending on the scope of service. We also tipped our butlers, a perk of Diamond Club, a total of $30 USD for the entire 5-night stay. Others tip more, and others tip less— the bottom line here is, you should know that these hardworking folks don’t get paid all that much, and workers in the tourism, food service, and hospitality industries in Mexico rely heavily on tips. Are you American? Yup, this is just like the tourism, food service, and hospitality industries in the United States. Unless you are treated poorly or receive atrocious service, you should tip.