Hotel Review: The Royal Playa del Carmen, Dressed Down Yet Elegant

A tranquil courtyard, green and decorated here and there with unusual metal sculptures, led arriving guests from The Royal Playa del Carmen‘s enormous lobby to the pools and the beach beyond. Standing there, it’s quite easy to fully appreciate the resort’s allure. Six or so elegantly beautiful Mexican hacienda-style structures, painted white for a more modern flair, rise above you in their modest grandness, their doric columns and intricate iron railing balconies both intimate and inviting.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen

Back in the courtyard, two paths on the opposite sides lead to the pool area, where two big pools sit, busy with guests enjoying their fruity cocktails and flanked with at least two hot tubs, possibly a couple hundred lounge chairs and several curtained cabanas, all arranged in a very appealing way. From here, you can hear the sounds of the waves as they kiss the beach, the famous Playa del Carmen beach, that lay just a few steps beyond.

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Cabanas at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I was almost sad to leave the brilliant blue waters of Cancun behind, which was where I was until an hour earlier. But walking onto that serene, cream-colored beach and seeing that familiar turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya again after so many months, I am reminded of why I prefer it over Cancun’s partying ways.

It was here where, a little over a year ago, I fell in love with the Yucatan Peninsula and this unfailingly intriguing country. Having a smaller budget then, I made do with a cheap-ish studio apartment that turned out to be more expensive than its actually worth. Picture rough sheets, no air conditioning to take shelter from the tropical heat, a ceiling fan that sounded as if it was about to fly off its base any minute to shred me to bits in my sleep, and the occasional roach in the tiny bathroom that, judging from their gigantic size, could also possibly murder me during slumber. The only good thing that AirBnB find had going for it, in fact, was that it was just a short stroll from Playa’s main tourist strip.

This time around, I find myself, with incredible relief, surrounded in luxury. With over 500 upscale rooms, the all-inclusive Royal Playa del Carmen is an adults-only, beachfront property whose well-appointed suites boasts a massive bathroom, a Jacuzzi, and at times, a private plunge pool. It comes, undeniably, with palatial elegance, from its architecture down to the excellent service, but that elegance is also somehow charmingly subdued. It is, in other words, posh without being stuffy and superior, upscale but sincerely friendly. It’s one of the many things I love about it.

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Suites with private plunge pools at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I also love its abundance of delightful surprises that you’ll truly be hard-pressed to find in other properties, let alone in an all-inclusive one. Consider, for example, its quiet pool area–a gorgeous hidden gem that you wouldn’t know existed until either somebody told you or you just happened to discover it while getting lost in the resort’s expansive grounds. Consider nearby the onsite coffee shop–an unusual thing for an all-inclusive property–that serves proper lattes and is always ready with plates of cookies and muffins for afternoon indulging.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Consider also the spa, whose bamboo-enclosed outdoor massage area may just be as glorious as those ones on the beach, the 24-hour snack bar where you can grab delicious snacks as well as good wine and cerveza any time of the day, the balcony hammocks that you wouldn’t have to fight anyone for, the pool concierge who is ready to lend a hand when you’ve run out of sunscreen, and even the friendly stray cats the staff has kindly allowed to stay on property for guests to dote on.

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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen

And I love the food, the delicious fares of Brazilian, Asian Fusion, Spanish, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and French Mexican type cuisines that you can indulge in, guilt-free because you are, after all, on vacation. And because it’s hard to stay at this resort and not indulge. The sheer loveliness of it, whether bathed in sunshine or swathed in dusky blue, will make anyone drop their guard and simply revel in anything and everything.

Though most of all, I love that it’s one of those places where you, without meaning to, just automatically drop your shoulders, straighten your spine and walk as if you’re wearing a thousand dollar dress. But really you know no one will look down their noses at you if you’re sweating through your cheap, Target-bought top after just getting back from exploring the ruins of Tulum under that sweltering, unforgiving midday sun.

Or when, on your last day, you just happen to take a slip on an oversized sandbag while you were walking on a neighboring beach (because why wouldn’t you?), and you’re walking back to your suite all gross, your legs sandy and your bottom algae-covered.

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Hotel Review: Club Med Punta Cana

Why Go: While many have several preconceived ideas of how a Club Med resort should be – opulent and luxurious, for example – the brand’s 4 Trident family-friendly resort, situated on the Atlantic shores of the Dominican Republic, slightly deviates from such ideas to match the island’s laid-back but active lifestyle. And it’s perfection.

Not to say that it falls short of being luxurious, of course. After all, it boasts a beautiful 5 Trident space, fittingly christened Tiara, which features a private infinity pool with sweeping views of the ocean, a dedicated concierge service, nightly turndown service, and beautiful, beachside family suites that offer ample deluxe living space for a family of four. Club Med Punta Cana, however, is more than just indulging in expensive accommodations and amenities.

With an ideal location – right next to the famed shallow reefs of Punta Cana and minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport, Club Med Punta Cana (the resort that introduced Punta Cana to the world) goes beyond the usual all-inclusive escape that mostly involve taking dips in the pool, sunning on the beach and indulging at the buffet table. With the help of its Gentil Organisateurs (GOs), the resort encourages an active and fun tropical vacation where guests partake in the many activity offerings, immerse in the local culture, make lasting friendships, and at times, push past their comfort zone, no matter their age and predilection.

Getting There: A mere 10-minute (or less) drive from the Punta Cana International Airport, which receives inbound flights from many major cities in the US and in Europe daily, Club Med Punta Cana is one of the most easily accessible resorts in the Caribbean. Grab a cab at the airport, which will only set you back $30 (up to 4 people), or arrange for private transportation.

Getting Oriented: Sitting on the shores of DomRep’s longest natural reef in southern Punta Cana, the lush Caribbean resort is one of the biggest Club Med properties in the Americas. Yet, a relaxing walk around the property and about half a day there will quickly get you oriented with where most of the important spots are, like the restaurants, the main pool, the beach, the sports areas, and the new CREACTIVE play space.

Tiara, the 5 Trident space at Club Med Punta CanaTiara, the 5 Trident space at Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Room Options: Club Med Punta Cana has a total of 553 rooms divided into 3 types (Deluxe, Club, and 5 Trident Space Suites) of beach house-style bungalows with unassuming yet colorful exteriors. All rooms have the usual resort features and family-friendly amenities that include air-conditioning, an espresso machine, hair-dryer, safe, iron and ironing board, and flat screen cable TVs.

Deluxe rooms vary in size, as do Club rooms, and offer different options for couples as well as families – including a 2-bedroom with a living area. The 5 Trident Suites, on the other hand, are all 2-bedroom oceanfront suites with a full bathroom and a ¾ bath, a receiving area, a living area connected to the main bedroom, a balcony that opens up to the sea, and convenient water access. If you are looking for a more luxurious option, a 5 Trident Space Suite is definitely the way to go.

In December of 2015, the resort is set to open their adult-only Zen Oasis zone to provide a perfect hideaway for couples and, of course, parents who deserve a much-needed break. Zen Oasis rooms will feature modern accents, spa-like bathrooms with rainfall showers, a terrace or balcony, outdoor daybeds, and classy L’Occitane spa toiletries, not to mention access to a lagoon pool, a wellness bar, and an adult-only beach.

CREACTIVE is one of the newest family-friendly attractions in Club Med Punta Cana.CREACTIVE is one of the newest family-friendly attractions in Club Med Punta Cana. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

For the Whole Family: Perhaps Club Med Punta Cana’s best offering right now is the new Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. CREACTIVE is an all-age, family-friendly outdoor play space where guests can seize a rare opportunity to be part of the circus and participate in more than 30 circus pursuits – from the swinging trapeze, tightrope and acrobatic bungee to mask making, make-up and dance. Since its launch in June 2015, it’s become a big hit with kids and adults alike!

From there, the list goes on. Water lovers have access to swimming, kayaking, sailing lessons, water polo, windsurfing lessons, snorkeling (additional cost), and kite surfing (additional cost), to name a few.

Prefer to stay dry? Beach volleyball, basketball, soccer, tennis school, and fitness classes are among the many land-based activities available. Punta Cana is a golfer’s paradise, with two world-class courses featuring 12 seaside holes between them less then 10 minutes away from the resort, so if you have an avid golfer in the family, make sure to sign him or her up for coaching sessions with Happy Golf at the southwestern end of the resort.

End your day with an amazing L’Occitane Spa treatment on the beach at sunset. Is there anything more relaxing than getting a full-body massage while listening to the sounds of the waves?

Kids' pool at the kids' club.Kids’ pool at the kids’ club. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

Just for Kids: Much like the resort, the kids’ club and childcare at Club Med Punta Cana is centered on keeping kids occupied and entertained while parents enjoy some R&R. Daily schedules are curated to include not just indoor activities, pool time and afternoon snacks, but also stimulating activities such as the trapeze (kids ages 4 and up), archery, acrobatic bungee, kayaking, and sailing (6 and up). There are even special themed days, so there’s never a dull moment.

The club is divided into four categories based on the kids’ ages – Baby (4–23 months), Petite (2-3 years), Mini (4-10), and Passworld (11-17), enlists especially-trained GOs, and has special considerations in place like allergy lists and sign-in bracelets to ensure the kids’ health and safety.

Savor delicious international cuisine with the whole family at the resort.Savor delicious international cuisine with the whole family at the resort. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

Where to Eat: Delectable options, both buffet and a la carte, are offered at the resort. International cuisine is the theme of its two buffet restaurants – waterside Hispaniola, which offers lovely views of the reef, and Samana, located near the pool and bar Cielo that offers non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to kids – to cater to every taste.

For breakfast, a must-try is the White Chocolate Bread (Pain au Chocolat Blanc), a Club Med exclusive pastry that will keep you and the kids coming back for more.

If you’re staying at one of the 5 Trident Space suites, welcome the day with a terrific basket of mini pastries, a plate of fresh fruit from room service and freshly-prepared hot chocolate made from local cacao, enjoyed on your sea-facing, private balcony. The tropical ripe mangoes are unforgettable!

Grab a quick snack at the Celeste Snack Bar to refuel between activities.

Insider Tips:

  • Club Med Punta Cana now offers paddleboarding tour that takes participants along the reef to a lagoon teeming with wild stingrays. $50 per person.
  • CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil is a perfect multi-generational recreation; so make sure to take the whole family, including grandma and grandpa, to test their acrobatic and creative skills.Included with your stay.
  • Near Samana are some shopping options, especially for families who are not planning on leaving the resort. Make sure to purchase some local goods to enjoy at home or bring back to your friends and family. Coffee drinkers will love Café Santo Domingo, which offers a smooth and mildly sweet blend, and hot chocolate drinkers will truly appreciate Cacao JLC.
  • Make sure to check out some of their nighttime shows, specified on the Daily Activities sheet.
  • The resort usually has an evening dress code. It’s non-mandatory, but a lovely tradition to participate in. Check with the resort before your visit, so you know which outfits to pack!
  • Going in the summertime? Slather on plenty of sunscreen and re-apply as necessary. And don’t forget the bug spray.

(Originally published on MiniTime.)

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Club Med Punta Cana

Following the launch of Club Med’s first collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, a group of us flew to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for the weekend to try on the new Club Med CREACTIVE by Cique du Soleil for size.

Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae

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Step out of Your Comfort Zone at Club Med CREACTIVE

From afar, it looks like your usual kids’ playground, what with its vibrant, fun design and printed words on the walls and on pathways aimed to inspire and motivate. However, a closer look reveals towering pole buidings, some with tarp roofs, all with unusual contraptions and long, massive ropes and cords hanging from their frames – it looks more like an outdoor practice arena for circus routines and performances. And in essence, it is.

Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana
Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana

Typically, I’m terrified of heights. I’m not one to go skydiving or bungee jumping or even crossing glass skywalks that show great depths under my feet, no matter how much you assure me that it’s completely safe. I’ll go on a rollercoaster, but I’ll still get that feeling of impending doom right before I get on. A few days ago, however, I was able to step out of the confines of my comfort zone and quell my fear of heights.

Granted, it probably wasn’t a typical week at Club Med Punta Cana. The kids were still splashing around in the pools and the adults were trying their luck with windsurfing and sailing as usual, but there was something distinctively different. It was a more inspired kind of different, with the resort having recently launched this exciting open play space they aptly call Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil, located not far from the nice stretch of sand on property.

It’s Club Med’s inaugural collaboration with Cirque du Soleil and simply phenomenal, offering an interactive and fully immersive circus experience for resort guests in a fun, gets-the-creative-juices-flowing-and-the-adrenaline-pumping kind of way.

Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana
Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana

CREACTIVE features over 30 activities from wild acrobatic endeavors like the flying trapeze, acrobatic bungee, wall scaling and trampoline to artistic pursuits like dancing and mask and face painting, and acting. Of course, an amazing crew of talented, well-trained, experienced AND multi-lingual Gentils Circassiens is there to show you the ropes, make things easy, and put minds of the less dauntless (including me) at ease. And in case there’s still a lot of hesitation to try on the acrobatic activities, the crew also puts on showcases to make the activities look even more appealing.

Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana
Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana

This new addition to the resort presents a perfect opportunity for kids (seriously, I’ve seen 5-year-olds do the trapeze) and adults (there were older adults doing triple flips!) to push limits and reach glorious heights. It’s here that many, from little daredevils to grandparents looking for new experiences, are now flocking to learn and do cool new tricks they wouldn’t have access to in most other resorts in the Caribbean.

Taking on the acrobatic bungee at Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Taking on the acrobatic bungee at Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. (Photo: Michelle Rae)

And it was here that I conquered the trapeze, albeit not without screams of trepidation, and did acrobatic bungee flips a good 10 feet off the ground. Yes, me who gets paralyzed when I have to look over a balcony despite the presence of stable railing. The experience was scary at first, but then it was fun and then it was exhilarating.

And then it was something I wanted to do over and over again.

(Originally published on Huffington Post.)

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