Can resort life be authentic? Does it provide a legitimate glimpse into a local culture? If you never leave the resort, can you say that you actually had a real experience?
All of these questions ran through my head going into this trip to Mexico. We are staying at Secrets Maroma in Riviera Maya. The white sand beaches are magical (despite the seaweed) and the resort restaurants are delicious and diverse. There is entertainment every night and activities every day. Excursions are abundant and varied – we explored Chichén Itzá today and we have a number of other adventures planned for the week, including snorkeling, biking through the jungle, yoga, etc. The resort is centrally located in Riviera Maya, which allows for easy access to Playa Del Carmen and other nearby cities like the Instagram-hyped Tulum. But you could easily spend an entire week here and never leave. Even if you stay at the resort the entire time, you can still have an authentic Mexican experience. In the end, a trip is what you make of it – it’s up to you to push your boundaries, expand your horizons, and ask questions.
I love dishes that are well-executed. I appreciate the art of the street taco as much as the art of preparing mole at a place like Puyol. While the resort may not have a restaurant with that type of critical acclaim, its offerings will please anyone. From French to Italian, to traditional Mexican and Hibachi, the options are as mixed as they are mouthwatering.
On our first night we patronized the French restaurant where my wife had a filet mignon with Mexican-style sauces, while I enjoyed escargots straight from the shells (literally pulled each one out). My main was mahi mahi straight from the sea (local catch of the day). The way they fused local ingredients with traditional cuisines (like French, which is dangerous to experiment on) caught me by surprise.
The same can be said about the buffet we enjoyed on the second night of our stay. It was a Mexican-themed evening complete with more salsas than I could count, tortilla soups, ceviches, tacos, and of course, churros. I tried them all. With the help of horchata and a few rounds of margaritas (started on the rocks and then moved to frozen as the humidity increased), I was in a happy place. They even had Mexican-style coffee that reminded me of the Cafe Cubanos I’ve had in Miami – sweet, but not overpowering, and very strong.
The breakfast buffet every morning has traditional American fare like waffles, pancakes, eggs, and bacon, but also pays homage to the local cuisine. I felt like I was in Grandma’s kitchen one morning when one of the señoras whipped up the first huarache I’d ever had in my life. It was almost like an open-faced breakfast burrito on masa dough – when I broke the egg yolk on top and let it spill all over its sides I wanted to dance in my chair.
Our enjoyment continued at the Hibachi restaurant. It’s the only dinner you have to make reservations for in advance because you basically rent a chef to cook for you and a few other people. I always had fun at places like Benihanas, despite their gimmicks, and this restaurant was cut from the same cloth. There wasn’t too much in terms of Mexican culture about the meal, but the chef’s knife skills, performance art, and overall preparation left us more than satisfied. And who wants to eat the same style of food every night anyways?
The resort has something for everyone and it’s up to you to push yourself if you want to experience different cuisines. When I’ve asked questions in my broken “spanglish”, the staff has been more than happy to answer. And with the food being all-inclusive and unlimited, there is no excuse not to give everything a try. You might just learn something.
Yes, they cater to an American crowd here. Some of the live music makes you feel like you’re hanging out in your dad’s garage (there is a large 50+ contingent here, but ages are well-mixed, and the good thing is – it’s adults only!). But with that said, there’s a performance of some sort every night and they choreograph the sets to perfection. They don’t overwhelm you with Mexican culture, but they don’t go overboard on Americana either.
During the Mexican buffet night, there were mariachi bands, knife throwers, and women in traditional garb. But on the next night there was a rock show with Mexican and other Hispanic performers playing everything from Guns N’ Roses to 70s classics. An aquatic show followed the following evening with gymnasts swinging from parallel bars and other trapeze-like contraptions over one of the main swimming pools. From the music to the lighting, everything was amazing and seamless.
This resort knows its crowd. Almost all of the performers are Mexican natives, but they don’t overwhelm anyone with Mexican influence. The performances may have a Mexican flair, just like any good fusion of cultures, but so far it’s always been the perfect balance.
I guess they are scared people might get bored. From dawn to well after dusk, there are resort-based activities and events every hour. Some are more culturally-focused like taking Spanish lessons or making traditional Mexican bracelets; others are active like kayaking or playing tennis; and many are just plain fun – for example, we raced remote controlled speedboats around one of the shallow pools. There is a dedicated entertainment team that organizes and hosts all activities. I call them the “hype men” because they all have enthusiasm dripping from their pores, and they love chants. It can be a little much at first, but once people let their guard down, it’s hilarious.
We’re more than halfway through our trip, and it’s safe to say, staying here is not just an American experience in Mexico. The food has not made me miserable like I thought it might; the service has been beyond spectacular; and now I am using the Duolingo app to learn Spanish (even though I took 3-4 years in high school). It’s amazing how quickly you can learn a language if you speak it everyday – the staff is really good about saying what they want to communicate first in Spanish and then translating in English. This constant interaction has enhanced my knowledge of the language by leaps and bounds. If only I can stay consistent with studying after this trip.
Trips to resorts can be as authentic as you make them. Plus it’s nice running around all day and returning to a clean, safe, and elegant room. It’s on you thought to push yourself and explore new surroundings. Nobody will do that for you, and nobody will force you to move your butt and that piña colada from the pool. And nor should they if that’s your idea of vacation.