On Location: A Weekend at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya

This past week, I had the chance to spend a few days at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive resort about an hour's drive from Cancun. The hotel officially open just last month (it was previously a Palace Resorts property) as the fourth all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel. 

First impressions: The resort is massive, and is divided into two separate-but-connected spaces: Heaven is adults-only; Hacienda is family-friendly. This makes the hotel a good option for family reunions: Couples without kids can stay in the Heaven side, while those with children have free range at Hacienda. Each side has plenty of space (even separate reception areas), so adults who want to avoid children won't have to make an effort to do so. For those who don't mind the younger crowd, there are no fences (only signs) dividing the two sides, so moving back and forth is not difficult. The balance of privacy and connection is hard to maintain, but Hard Rock pulls it off very nicely with this resort. 

Kid-friendly elements at Hacienda include HIT Entertainment's Little Big Club, Teens Lounge & Club, snorkeling and kayaking. Heaven, meanwhile, has the massive Rock Spa (seriously—it has 75 treatment rooms), four restaurants and three bars and lounges, including a premium service nightclub.

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The Pros

That Rock Spa (reportedly the largest in the whole Caribbean) is worthy of a dedicated afternoon visit, so make reservations early and prepare to do some serious relaxing. I had limited time available, so I wasn't able to try the hydrotherapy options. I did try a 50-minute Relaxation Massage, and can strongly recommend Claudia Gonzalez as a great therapist: She managed to undo the knots in my back without making the muscles ache afterwards. No small feat, that.  

I stayed on the Hacienda side in a Deluxe room (the most basic level, for the record), which came with a very nice range of perks. When Hard Rock says "all-inclusive," they mean it. Just about everything is included...and that means all drinks—even wine, beer and spirits—are available for free in each room. (Oh, the joy of grabbing a soda from the fridge and not worrying about the $5 surcharge on the bill! And, oh, how nice to have a Bacardi and Coke whenever you need it!) 

A Deluxe room...with Jacuzzi, white hardwood floors and unlimited drinks.

Beyond the in-room minibar (which is reportedly stocked with higher-caliber drinks depending on the caliber of the room), room service is also complimentary, and is reportedly available 24 hours. (I wish I'd realized that upon my 1 a.m. arrival, but that's another story.) On another night, I requested a lime soup and quesadilla (hey, when in Mexico...) and it arrived at my door in about 20 minutes. (The soup was fantastic and I want the recipe, but I regret not trying one of the specialty burgers, which looked amazing. Next time.) Another bonus: All of the ice at the resort is made from purified water, so go ahead and get that cocktail on the rocks. 

Oh, yes, and no worries about racking up massive roaming charges for calling the family back home: The resort also includes complimentary calls to the U.S. and Canada (with a few limitations). For computers and smartphones and tablets, Wi-Fi is also included and is consistent across the entire resort. You can go from your room to the pool to the bar without losing a signal. 

Each room has outdoor space, and it was wonderful to sit outside and listen to the DJ spinning at one of the resort's clubs. Most rooms had hammocks installed on the back balconies or terraces, making outdoor relaxing a snap. (Really, why do more hotel balconies not have hammocks?) Instead of a tub in the bathroom, there was a large Jacuzzi in the bedroom itself, so it's easy to watch a movie on the wall-mounted TV while soaking in bubbles.  

The hammock looks narrow, but it stretches out as needed. 

The Cons

Unfortunately, not everything was perfect, and I hope the resort will continue making some minor improvements in the coming months: The white oak hardwood flooring is very pretty, but not exactly comfortable for barefoot walking. And if there were slippers to reduce the shock of cold hardwood floors first thing in the morning, I couldn't find them in my room. (Bathrobes, however, were easy to find, and were very comfy.)

Because of the layout with the whirlpool in the bedroom, the room (which had two double beds) felt rather cramped and crowded, and there didn't seem to be quite enough space in the room for all the nice details the team wanted to include. For example: A small table sat between the two beds, but there wasn't much space on it for the room phone, the alarm clock, my mobile phone and all the little things bedside tables collect. At turndown one night, the housekeeper added a bottle of water and a glass to the collection on the table (a very thoughtful touch, usually), but when I went to answer my phone the next morning, the motion jostled the glass and knocked it to the hardwood floor. It wasn't a pretty picture. (Carpets may not be as pretty as white oak hardwood floors, but they can be very useful sometimes.) 

Also, there seemed to be little or no soundproofing between the rooms (I could hear the family next door perfectly clearly). 
 
And while the complimentary room service is indeed luxurious (there's really nothing like being offered a pot of coffee or tea with one's wake-up call), it wasn't completely flawless: On my last morning at the hotel, while preparing to head back to the airport, I asked for a pre-departure breakfast to be delivered in 30 minutes, and it didn't arrive before I had to leave. It's a small complaint, especially since the hotel team did so much to make my stay very pleasant, but it was sad to depart on a down note. 

Still, none of the cons outweigh the pros. The Hard Rock Riviera Maya has plenty to recommend it, and I'll need to go back and explore some more. I didn't have time to spend an afternoon in the spa, or get some sun by the pools (some of which have lounge chairs in the water—must try!), or hit the beach, or try all of the restaurants and bars, or play tennis or golf. There is a lot to try here, and the first visit was intriguing enough to warrant a second.

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