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No, he was­n’t a real genie but the way our per­son­al concierge tried to antic­i­pate our needs as he wel­comed us into the Grand Velas Riv­iera Maya Resort in Playa del Car­men, made us feel like he was. The five dia­mond, all-inclu­sive resort, tucked into the pow­der white sand of the Mex­i­can Caribbean felt like an opu­lent mirage.




The Rooms


As he opened the sol­id, dark wood­en door to our spa­cious, 1100 square-foot room, he made every attempt to let us know he was at our com­plete dis­pos­al dur­ing the dura­tion of our stay. He opened a leather-bound pil­low menu and went through the options to pro­duce our per­fect night’s sleep. He pulled open the mini-bar, stocked with pre­mi­um, full-sized bot­tles and snacks and reas­sured us that any­thing not in the room would be avail­able any­time through room service.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean

© Rina Nehdar



Dressed in the garb of a con­tem­po­rary Mayan home, our room end­ed at a patio filled with vibra­tions of the jun­gle, fat palm fronds and hang­ing vines. A stream qui­et­ly bab­bled a few feet from our lounge chairs. It was like a moat, pro­tect­ing this Mayan themed fan­ta­sy from the real world for the next few days.




The Grand Velas Riv­iera Maya calls our rain­for­est-filled sec­tion of its resort the Zen Grand Expe­ri­ence. And no won­der. The 254 suites in this part of the resort are steps away from the SE’ Spa, which we dis­cov­ered lat­er in our vis­it, and three of the eight gourmet restau­rants. The oth­er two Expe­ri­ences of the resort are the 195 suite ocean-view Ambas­sador Expe­ri­ence, close to the kid’s and teen’s clubs, and the Grand Class Expe­ri­ence, 90 ocean­front suites with ter­races and pri­vate plunge pools.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean

Very Classy © Rina Nehdar



Out­side our door, trop­i­cal foliage filled every area between the walk­ways and pol­ished, dark wood bridges, thick with thatch cov­er­ing, con­nect­ing the clean struc­tures of the resort. Ceram­ic white planters lined the halls, con­tem­po­rary, thin trees pok­ing out. Shal­low pools, set into the lob­by floor, pre­sent­ed mosa­ic art pieces and every­where Mayan crafts served to remind guests of their indige­nous world.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean.

© Rina Nehdar



The Tequila Tasting


Noth­ing is spared to bring an authen­tic, lux­u­ri­ous expe­ri­ence craft­ed by this ancient civ­i­liza­tion. Three of the food­ie restau­rants earned four and five dia­monds from AAA. There are also sev­en bars striv­ing to cre­ate unfor­get­table moments. The Piano Bar is the site of an Ances­tral Bev­er­age Tasting.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean © Rina Nehdar

Ancient Mex­i­can Secrets © Rina Nehdar



Our teacher, Bran­don, patient­ly explained to our group how many types of alco­hol are derived from the agave plant, how they are processed and how long they’re each stored. “There are 320 dif­fer­ent agave plants,” he told our tast­ing group, “Tequi­la is made only from the blue agave.” Turns out, alco­hol is super reg­u­lat­ed in Mex­i­co and this is an actu­al law. As we tast­ed our way through the his­to­ry of the region­al drinks, we learned tequi­la is pro­duced in the Jalis­co region, while Mez­cal is from Oax­a­ca. Mez­cal is the smoky tast­ing cousin of tequi­la. “It was made as a present to the gods by the Mayan peo­ple,” Bran­don told us. The Espadin agave plant is com­mon­ly used to make the mez­cal and the rea­son for that smoky fla­vor is because the plant is lit­er­al­ly burned, first as a whole and then in pieces, before it’s ground up and added to water and yeast to fer­ment. Anoth­er, new­er to the U.S. alco­holic bev­er­age is called Raicil­la. Raicil­la also comes from the Jalis­co region and was large­ly pro­duced on the sly so farm­ers could avoid pay­ing tax­es on it to their Span­ish con­querors, which is why it’s only recent­ly become a thing in the U.S. It uses a vari­ety of agave plants to pro­duce. Raicil­la is also burned like mez­cal instead of steamed like tequi­la and, unlike mez­cal, is usu­al­ly dis­tilled only one time so it retains more of the fla­vor of its region. Final­ly, there is Sotol from Chi­huahua which does­n’t even come from agave though many think it does. It comes from the dasyliri­on plant and is a bit sweet­er than the oth­ers. Tasters could also explore the dif­fer­ences between how long each bev­er­age was aged: sil­ver or joven is only zero to two months old, reposa­do is two months to a year while ane­jo is between one to three years old. I think our entire tast­ing group agreed that his­to­ry and geog­ra­phy lessons through dis­tilled spir­its are a great way to learn.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean © Rina Nehdar

Bran­don: Our Tour Guide Through Liq­uid His­to­ry © Rina Nehdar



This is a fun activ­i­ty to do while the kids are being enter­tained in the (includ­ed!) kid’s or teen’s club where they can par­tic­i­pate in snorkel and kayak tours and play beach games. Lis­ten. They need a break from us too, so don’t sweat it. And hey, they’re being educated.

After your class, take a walk on the pow­der, white sand beach, framed by ten­ta­tive touch­es of the azure ocean. If you real­ly must, you can join your kids in the ocean (yes, I had to) or look for the drink mixol­o­gist, craft­ing his gar­den and cel­lar con­coc­tions on a mobile cart around the pool.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean.

Now that’s a con­coc­tion © Rina Nehdar


The Restaurants


Every dish we con­sumed, at every restau­rant in the Grand Velas resort, was spec­tac­u­lar. Each could stand alone as a high-end restau­rant out in the actu­al world, how­ev­er, the pre­sen­ta­tion at Coci­na de Autor felt more like an art show than a dinner.



Gazpacho with raw tuna, avocado and apple at Cucina de Autor

Gaz­pa­cho with raw tuna, avo­ca­do and apple at Coci­na de Autor © Rina Nehdar



Each of the eight cours­es pre­sent­ed exquis­ite plates with unusu­al and delight­ful tex­tures and fla­vors. There was a com­plex arrange­ment of trout balls on crispy wafers over black rice. A dish called The Sea in Mono­chro­mat­ic Green showed off poblano pep­pers, green toma­to and corian­der. Seri­ous­ly unusu­al and craft­ed by genius.



Trout Balls at Cucina de Autor

These are the Trout Balls at Coci­na de Autor — not what you thought, right? © Rina Nehdar



Every­thing came out slow­ly so con­ver­sa­tion poured freely around the table with the accom­pa­ny­ing wine. 



The SE’ Spa


Just when you think it can’t get any bet­ter, you dis­cov­er the spa. The award-win­ning SE’ Spa is 89,305 square-feet of jun­gle heav­en. Surly cre­at­ed by your genie, the spa is a lux­u­ri­ous cross sec­tion of the out­side rain­for­est. Its stone walls are pan­els of cliffs from which giant fans of fronds and flow­ers spring. Water­falls pro­vide a sooth­ing sound­track to immerse your­self into the relax­ation experience.


Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean. SE' Spa



Every 50-minute treat­ment starts with a com­pli­men­ta­ry eight-step Water Cer­e­mo­ny. Yes. You can spend much of a whole day here. Guests are tak­en through a rit­u­al that involves clay masks in a steam room, a dry sauna with cucum­ber slices for your eyes, a polar room with a euca­lyp­tus-scent­ed, a damp facial tow­el, and an infin­i­ty pool with cor­ners full of bub­bles and actu­al tur­bo jet stone beds.



Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican Caribbean. Se' Spa



After the cer­e­mo­ny, you can choose from a boun­ty of the best treat­ments gath­ered from around the world. I chose the Per­son­al­ized Mas­sage that start­ed with my feet rest­ing in bar­ley and includ­ed hot stones but I could have had the Thai or Hin­du Foot and Scalp Rub or the Lomi Lomi. My genie must have taught my masseur how to read my mind because my mas­sage felt that personalized.

After you’ve reset the spark and col­lect­ed pre­cious mem­o­ries with the prod­ucts of it, you can send your par­ents off to enjoy the gift of this Mayan fan­ta­sy hol­i­day through the Grand Velas Riv­iera Maya Grand­par­en­t’s Pack­age. Their deal includes a dai­ly spa cred­it and an Eco Tour but the offer­ings rotate fre­quent­ly and are designed to meet each guest in the exact place where they hap­pen to be in their lives. It’s like an all-inclu­sive pro­gram that includes your own genie.




Getting There



There are many non-stop flights each day from LAX and some with one and two stops out of Hol­ly­wood Bur­bank Air­port to Can­cun Air­port, which is 40 min­utes from the Grand Velas Riv­iera Maya Resort.