The Over-the-Water Option
We recently returned to Karisma’s all-inclusive El Dorado Maroma on Mexico’s Riviera Maya where we stayed in its new over-the-water bungalows, which as a group serves as a hotel within a hotel at the resort.
Palafitos at El Dorado Maroma have been long in the making at the resort and management pulled out all the stops to make them stand out. We stayed in bungalow No. 1611, which, like its neighboring quarters, has a small dining area with a refrigerator, a sleeping area and bathroom, complete with glass-bottom floors that let you see fish swimming below.
But it’s the outdoor areas that are truly special — the verandah has a small, private infinity pool, cushy lounges to rest on, and a dining area. There’s also an outdoor shower (alongwith one indoors). Here, a ladder descends to a mini dock from where we could privately try our hand at snorkeling or simply drop in to the water for a leisurely swim. Note: Butler service is the real deal at the Palafitos; we asked Tomas for some snorkeling gear and he had it to us immediately; he was also extremely attentive in helping us plan a birthday celebration during our stay.
Back to our outdoor activities. The water around the bungalows is about waist high, making it tempting to just saunter down our private ladder for a walk in the sea. We fell in love with the Over Water Ocean Grill and Wine Bar, this is the restaurant that is exclusive to those staying in the Palafitos. It has a nifty pitched roof and a menu with classics like Surf & Turf, Braised Short Rib and Alaska King Crab. (Be sure to save space for a nightcap of Disaronno or Frangelico; after-dinner drinks are brought around on a cart.) Do go early to sit outside with a glass of wine on the terrace. During our September visit we witnessed the harvest moon rising over the horizon, and Maroma’s clear skies made it a memorable sight to behold. There’s also an impressive presentation of live music every evening.
Sandals Royal Caribbean, Montego Bay has five over-the-water villas.
We loved the exclusivity of the Palafitos, but as we’ve written before, we’re fans of all things El Dorado Maroma and ambled daily over to the pool area that’s just outside Mio Cucina Italiana restaurant, where we had lunch daily. (Options include fresh fish, pasta and tacos). After lunch, we’d go back to the private beach area of the Palafitos, where there’s very doting butler service. For breakfast, we’d alternate an elegant meal at Over Water Ocean Grill with visits to the resort’s waterfront Papitos buffet for tropical fruits, freshly made juices, such as beet, carrot and grapefruit, sliced meats and cheeses, cereals and omelets.
Tip: The new general manager at El Dorado Maroma is Joslin Fuentes ([email protected]).
Meanwhile, the Over-the-Water Suites at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica, are now open. We hear the feedback for the upscale accommodations has been so overwhelming that expansion plans are already in the works. The first five villas are sold out for the next 18 months. We also hear that Sandals has potential plans to add over-water villas at three other Jamaica resorts as well as the Sandals Grande St. Lucian, starting with the Sandals Whitehouse on Jamaica’s south coast next year.
The five over-water villas at the Montego Bay resort are the first of their kind in the Caribbean, and an additional dozen such bungalows were in various stages of construction when we visited the Royal Caribbean last month (these smaller units are slated to open in March 2017). We spent three nights in the “earth” themed room, No. 9001 (others have design elements reflecting “wind,” “water” and “fire”), giving the amenities and Sandals’ accompanying private butler service a good test run before they open to the public.
The 2,000-square-foot villas are connected by bridge to the resort’s private island, where a pair of restaurants, beach cabanas, a pool, and a small clothing-optional beach can be found. Glass floors looking down to the sandy seabed sit at the foot of king beds, with large sliding doors affording views of the Caribbean. Spacious baths, nearly as large as the bedrooms, have soaking tubs, oversized rainfall shower, his-and-hers vanities with lighted mirrors and Molton Brown amenities, connected walk-in closets, and toilets with bidets.
Outside, a two-level deck is screened for privacy on both sides and faces out to sea; the same is true of the other villas, although some of the forthcoming bungalows will have land views. Guests can step down from a lounging deck directly to the shallow waters for wading or snorkeling. There’s also a soaking pool, a rope hammock positioned above the water, and a pod-like hanging couch that sways gently in the breeze. A low table with chairs facilitates room-service dining.
The kitchen has premium liquor, including local 12-year-old Appleton Estate rum (yes, please). Note: Private butlers are on-call via a dedicated mobile phone 24/7 to deliver snacks, meals and drinks as well as organize activities, tours and make dining arrangements at the resort’s eight restaurants. To book a special stay, contact Kitanya Mirander ([email protected]).
The close proximity of the Royal Caribbean to the Montego Bay airport means guests can get from the terminal to their water-filled deck loungers in less than 15 minutes, though jets flying over periodically may interrupt the sense of isolation at the villas. Note: We expect that the new units at the isolated Sandals Whitehouse, once completed, will be more comparable to the serene overwater experience found in Bora Bora.
Upscale Family Fun
Do you have a client that wants to travel in luxury but still have a kid-friendly environment? In June, we were invited to the opening of the first Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts property in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It represented Nickelodeon’s first-ever international property, a 208-suite hotel built by Karisma Hotels & Resorts and it’s far more posh than you are probably imagining. After our visit, we concluded that the best aspect was that the Nick theme of the hotel can be as big or as little as a guest wants.
Contrary to what we originally envisioned, Nickelodeon theming is not thrown in your face. Instead, there were just subtle reminders, meaning adults can also relax here. We were expecting to enter a room with SpongeBob SquarePants wallpaper and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pillows. But that was not the case. In fact, there are hardly any company logos here. Rather, the Nick touches are basically subliminal.
The network’s signature colors of green and orange are sprinkled everywhere in the resort — from the pillows in the rooms to the glasses at some of the hotel’s restaurants. Perhaps the biggest Nickelodeon presence in the rooms are the replicas of its iconic orange blimp placed in front of the beds, but even those did not say Nickelodeon on them. Contact Alexandra Rodriguez ([email protected]) for a VIP stay.
Good to Know: While the room décor has very subtle Nickelodeon touches, the Character Breakfast is where all that love for the network comes pouring out. This was by far the most interactive activity that we saw during our visit. Now, this is not a played-down theme, but rather all the Nickelodeon you can handle. Clients should expect appearances by such characters as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Boots, Marshall, Paw Patrol and others. The hotel’s Nickelodeon team members will take each character to every table, one at a time.
After all this fun geared toward the little ones, parents can escape to the hotel’s Vassa Spa, which includes an herbal steam room, a dry sauna, chromo therapy showers, bubble beds, a whirlpool, and arctic and warm-water pools. There are five treatment suites, one for couples, a luxurious bridal suite, and five “al fresco” outdoor treatment areas for those craving a little sand with their spa. Vassa Spa’s signature “perfectly pink” treatment program is available for young visitors. To book a special spa experience, contact Vanessa Disla ([email protected]).
A Guide to Adults-Only All Inclusives
Hyatt Ziva Cancun just introduced its Turquoize adults-only area. Designed as a “resort within a resort,” the new area offers 270-degree ocean views and butler service, as well as private airport transfers and a VIP check-in and reception area. The beachfront suites, reserved exclusively for Turquoize guests, provide nearly 700 square feet of living area and oversized balconies with hot tubs. The Turquoize Sky Swim-Up Oceanfront Master Suites include a pool off the balcony. Bath accommodations offer ocean views with floor-to-ceiling corner rainfall showers.
AMResorts has opened the Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa, an “Unlimited Luxury” concept property for adults, with accommodations that include bungalow-style and swim-out suites, as well as an expansive infinity pool, eight gourmet restaurants and the Secrets Spa by Pevonia. Guests at Secrets Cap Cana can also enjoy access to the high-end surroundings, including a championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a marina, an equestrian center with stables and polo fields, and a fishery.