I received the most recent print edition from GoGo Worldwide Vacations, full of enticing photos of all-inclusive resorts in Cancun. What caught my eye was the side-by-side comparisons from page to page about each of the resorts, with helpful information like the number of restaurants and bars, the number of pools, and entertainment information.
“How helpful!”, I thought. They all looked fabulous! Mainly because all of the photos showed amazing pools or beachside views, which of course, is the highlight of any Cancun trip.
If you are planning an all-inclusive vacation to Cancun, then I know this about you:
- You are looking for a relaxing vacation mixed with fun
- You want sunshine and warm weather
- You want easy access to an amazing pool and a white sandy beach
- You want a worry-free vacation where you don’t have to worry about travel logistics
- You don’t want to worry about how much you are spending on food and drinks
So while these are very specific wants of your vacation, the problem is this: all of these are non-negotiable requirements of an all-inclusive resort in Cancun!
So what do you do when all of the resorts have all of the basics covered? How do you differentiate them from one another and pick one that’s right for you? Close your eyes and point? Draw from a hat? How do you choose from hundreds of all-inclusive resorts?
Most people who travel to all-inclusive resorts have little to no intention of leaving the resort. Why would you when you have all of your meals within walking distance, have a beautiful beach calling your name, and other amenities like a spa and entertainment? So since the resort is essentially your whole vacation, you don’t really want to make a random selection because you’re going to be there the entire time.
So in sets the overwhelm because there are just too many options. When I started to plan my Cancun honeymoon a few years ago, I experienced the frustration that comes with choosing an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. I felt like I just couldn’t put any more brain power towards planning my own honeymoon while simultaneously planning a wedding. I went from excitement to overwhelm to indifferent reeeeal quick. This caused me to do very little research and go with a resort that wasn’t 100% suited for our honeymoon. So I can vouch that you will want to spend some time narrowing down your options!
But how do you do that? You’ve got to have a good long think about what things are most important to you in a resort – what are your priorities? I’ve come up with 7 differentiating factors that you should consider when finding your perfect all-inclusive resort – I call them the BIG 7. Read on, my beachy friend!
1. Decor & Architecture
Let’s start with how the resort looks. You want to walk into the lobby and your room and say an audible “Wow!” don’t you? In order to feel that way, the design of the resort will need to appeal to your style.
- Secrets the Vine is a modern and upbeat resort in the heart of the Hotel Zone that features chic rooms in a high-rise that feels very Vegas-y.
- The Grand Velas Riveria Maya captures the feel of Mayan jungle.
- The Live Aqua Boutique Resort in Playa del Carmen is contemporary and minimalist with a focus on restoring your mind, body, and spirit.
- The Now Natura Riviera Maya is inspired by the surrounding jungle with an emphasis on surrounding yourself with nature while enjoying modern amenities.
Another super important consideration is the size of the resort. Remember that you will be making your way on foot for the duration of your trip, and if you aren’t planning on doing much exercise on your vacation, you might research how far of a walk it is to the beach, pool, or restaurants from the guest rooms. Some large resorts do have golf cart chauffeuring available, but there is the chance that you will stand in line for the golf carts.
2. Guest Atmosphere
A biggie for many people is the type of guest the resort caters to. You might be a couple looking to escape screaming kids, or you might be bringing your kids along. There are both adults-only and family resorts available, and it’s crucial to know which way a resort swings if this is important to your vacation.
Adults-only resorts will be boldly advertised, but beware: even some resorts will advertise “adults-only” for their adults-only areas, but kids are still allowed. If you don’t want to set eyes on a child during your vacation, it’s crucial that you choose a true adults-only resort.
If a resort has kid or teen entertainment activities available, that’s a good indication that you’re looking at a family resort. Kids don’t enjoy lounging on the beach like adults do, so family all-inclusive resorts do a good job of providing lots of activities so that the kids don’t get bored. There are some resorts that offer specials that allow teens or kids to stay for free.
If you are traveling with a group of friends looking to party, you will want to find a resort with like-minded guests or risk getting mean-mugged the whole time by folks not at your level. Likewise, you want to make sure that you don’t choose a resort that is all about serenity and healing or risk being bored out of your mind.
If you want a quiet resort that is focused on holistic wellness, or a romantic experience with your partner, Cancun has options for those, too! A general rule of thumb to finding these options is to avoid some of the large, well-known resorts and seek out more boutique resorts.
If you plan to spend any time at all in the pool, remember that not all pools are created equal! There are many factors that can affect your pool experience:
- Pool Style: the modern infinity pool is a favorite among guests, but not all resorts have one.
- Loungers/Covered Tables: Are you a lay-by-the-pool lounger? Figuring out the layout and guest-to-lounger ratio may be an important thing to consider.
- Bar Service/Swim-up Bar: Maybe you’ve always wanted a swim-up bar in the pool, or maybe that turns you off. Do you expect bar service to come to you at your lounger?
Research reviews or reach out to the resort about the vibes around the pool. A personal example I have is from my honeymoon. Our resort was not an adults-only, but it had an adults-only area and pool. Upon arriving, we found out that the adults-only pool is behind the resort building not facing the beach at all; meanwhile, the larger pool that does face the beach was always overcrowded with kids. I understand the reasoning for the pool placement in an effort for a more relaxed atmosphere, but the bar was not even open at this pool! Long story short, we were literally falling asleep, bored, and decided we were feeling the vibes and enjoying the views at the super crowded pool more. We only wished there were less kids.
Also remember that pools are as much about quality as quantity. In the GoGo Worldwide Vacations magazine that I was browsing through, each resort had a bullet point for the number of pools. The reader thinks at first – oh wow, I have 12 pools to choose from?! But if you are trying to decide between a resort that has 12 pool and one that has 6 pools, don’t let the number be the determining factor until you do more research.
- Consider the guest-to-pool ratio. Maybe a resort has more pools than another because it has more guests.
- Research the types of pool After doing some more research on some of the pools, I learned that there is really only 1 large infinity pool and 11 smaller pools scattered around the resort, most of which are swim-up pools to guests’ private rooms.
4. Beach & Surf
I’ve heard many stories of travelers being disappointed that the beach wasn’t as pristine as the photos, or not being able to swim in the ocean on their Cancun vacation. In some areas of Riviera Maya in Cancun, and in Playa Mujeres north of Cancun, there can be a seasonal seaweed problem that can ruin your perfect photos. Sadly, 2019 was an exceptionally bad year for seaweed in these areas.
Unfortunately this is in nature’s hands, but if having a pristine beach is one of your priorities, perhaps you should visit the Hotel Zone in Cancun for a better chance at having a perfect beach. Note that many of the resorts do their best to control the seaweed by cleaning it up daily on their beaches.
Has anyone ever been to Cabo? Yeah, you flat out can’t swim there because the surf is too strong. Well, how disappointing would it be if you were looking forward to hanging out in the ocean and you couldn’t? In Cancun, the waters along the north side of Cancun’s 7-shaped island are generally okay for swimming, but the waters can get pretty rough along the long part of the “7”. South of the main Hotel Zone in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the surf is usually perfect for swimming, but there is a greater chance of seaweed.
Also consider the time of year if swimming is a priority. The ocean gets cooler in the winter months, and January – February are generally too cold for swimming if you are a southerner and acclimated to warm weather. Some northerners may still find the water pleasant during winter.
5. Food & Drink
You’re going to be eating every single meal at the resort for the full duration of your vacation. You paid for it upfront as part of your booking, so you don’t want to go in thinking “If I hate it, I’ll eat elsewhere”.
So if you are foodie, this is a big deal! You will want to be sure that there is at least enough of a variety of restaurants so that you aren’t bored with your eating options. Check out the number of restaurants is important compared to the length of your stay.
You will also want to check on the style of food. I will say that most all-inclusive resorts in Cancun do a great job of providing a variety of cuisine. Most resorts will have a Mexican, Seafood, and Italian option. Other resorts may have French, Asian fusion, or general International restaurant options.
If health and wellness is important to you, some of the standard all-inclusive resorts with the gluttonous buffets may make you want to vomit, but there are resorts that put more of an emphasis on holistic and organic cuisine.
One tip is that resorts from the same hotel chain will tend to have the same options for dining, and many of them will even have the same restaurants and same menu.
Do you enjoy dressing nicely and want some level of formality at your resort? Maybe you expect the hotel staff to deliver exceptional and formal service. Some all-inclusive resorts come with a personal butler, which you would absolutely love.
On the other hand, you might picture yourself still in your swimsuit cover-up eating dinner at the beach restaurant and would be totally put off if a restaurant told you they had a strict dress code. And the butler? Why is that guy hanging around so much?
It can be hard to judge the formality of a resort online, but try to read how it portrays itself on its website. A good indicator is to check out the dress code for restaurants, and then read some reviews to see how strictly the dress code is enforced.
7. Distance to Airport
I throw this one in because for some people, once they step off the plane, they don’t want another long leg of traveling. Or maybe you don’t care as long as you find the absolute perfect resort.
Resorts in the Cancun area can range from 10 minutes to 2 hours from the airport. In all cases you will need an airport transfer, but the price can greatly increase the further away you are from the airport. Below are the distances from the airport to the major areas with all-inclusive resorts:
- Cancun – Hotel Zone: 10 – 20 minutes
- Playa Mujeres: 30 – 45 minutes
- Riviera Maya: 30 – 45 minutes
- Playa del Carmen: 1 – 1.5 hours
- Tulum: 2 hours
How Do I Choose an All-Inclusive Resort?
So there you have it: the BIG 7 important things to consider for your all-inclusive Cancun vacation. Which of the 7 is most important to you? Which is the least important? Try your best to list these 7 factors in order of your priority from 1 to 7.
Then take a step back and ask yourself: what is the #1 goal of your vacation?
- Relaxing as much as possible.
- Eating, drinking, and being merry.
- Snapping some amazing photos of the beach.
- Doing something you’ve never done before.
- Doing some soul searching.
Knowing your #1 goal and understanding which parts of an all-inclusive resort experience are more important than others will do wonders for helping you weed through the masses to find the resort best-suited for you.
But I can’t sugarcoat it: it’s still a lot of work. After you’ve narrowed down your hotel options, you should spend some time reading reviews from travelers who have been there to really get an insider’s perspective before making the final choice. Keep in mind that reviews can clue you in on certain things that the resort may not advertise, but what’s negative to one person may be positive to another.
If these tips have thrown you into a further spiral of overwhelm, consider hiring me as your personal travel advisor to do all of the work for you. I’ve already got a ton of research under my belt and have some familiarity with these resorts already, so I can help save you a ton of time and discover the perfect resort that fits your travel style and budget. I truly believe there is not a one-size-fits-all vacation, even with the all-inclusive resorts that seem to be identical.
One Last Tip: There are hotel groups with multiple locations in the Yucatan Peninsula. If you have visited a Secrets resort before and were happy with the service and amenities, there’s a good chance you will be happy with another location. If you weren’t satisfied, try a new hotel group – there are plenty to choose from!