Monday, July 9, 2012

RESORT REVIEW: Royal Hideaway Playacar

Trip date: June 7-14, 2012
Location: Playa del Carmen, MX

Beach Junkie rating (based on 5 stars):

Beach: 5 / food: 5 / room: 5 / pools: 5 / snorkeling: n/a

This resort was never really on our radar but after going to so many resorts through the years, we had to up our choices because we won't settle for less. This trip was for our 6th anniversary and we wanted to stay at a resort that was adults-only and a bit classier than most resorts. After much researching on adults-only resorts, we both settled on this one. We decided we wanted to go to Royal Playacar back in February and did some serious price watching. When we finally saw it for $1500 all in with Air Canada Vacations, we knew that this was the best price (only to find out it dropped $400 per person exactly a week later). At either price, it was still a great price for what we would be getting. Everyone we spoke to at the resort was either a returning guest or was adamant about becoming a returning guest. This review will be an easy but difficult one to write because we want to do it justice. This is THE BEST resort we have ever been to and we want the review to be written perfectly so it will convince you that it's a resort you MUST go to. We can't say enough wonderful things about the resort and basically do not have anything bad to say about it.

But the flight there, that's a different story. It had to be the worst flight ever and by no means the airline's fault. We experienced horrific turbulence and a 50 foot drop. Needless to say, we were glad when we landed. The Cancun airport was a bit of a mess and there was a lot of lining up but once we were on the shuttle bus to the Royal Hideaway Playacar ("RHP"), we began our vacation. After 45 minutes, we arrived to paradise.

Check in
We arrived at 1:30 pm and the bellman took our luggage and directed us to the reception area where we were seated at a desk and greet with a glass of sparkling wine and a cold towel. We were given a map and a quick briefing about the resort. We had made a room request and our dinner reservations for the first four nights in advance. Our room key was handed to the bellman and were told to check in with our concierge at 3:00 pm as our room would be ready then. We made our way to the beach restaurant, The Deck in less than a minute (this resort is tiny, only 200 rooms and the walk from the lobby to the beach is under two minutes).

We were lucky to have our room request accommodated. We requested a top floor with a king bed in building 27 or 31. After lunch we checked in with our concierge, Carolina and she directed us to room 2723. The room was filled with an aromatic scent of oranges. What a beautiful room! The washroom is huge with a tub, stand up shower, two sinks, toilet area and a large walk in closet with an electronic safe. The room has a desk, chair, coffeemaker, fridge (stocked with water, soft drinks and beer), a DVD/CD player that is also a iPod/iPhone docking station and a flat screen TV. I will point out some cool features about the room:
  • Etro products - shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, bath foam, and soap
  • Tons of towels
  • Two luggage racks
  • Bathrobes and slippers
  • Clothes line in the bathtub
  • Turn down service with mint chocolate on your pillows, the bed prepared for you to sleep, lights turned down, refresh of towels
  • Washcloths
  • Mini water stocked with bottled water (we requested this)
  • Daily Royal Journal (to find out what restaurants are open and what guests are celebrating a special occasion)
  • 24 hour room service 
  • The electronic safe does fit a iPad (we read on a review that an iPad won't fit, they are wrong)
During our stay our room was spotless. We really enjoyed the turn down service. The resort was kind enough to decorate our room with balloons and left a dessert plate as we were celebrating our anniversary. We were so impressed by this.

In each villa, you have a dedicated concierge who will take care of anything you need, from making your dinner reservations to special requests for your room to taking care of your breakfast order, luggage pick up and wake up call for your departure.

Even though it's a small resort, there are a variety of restaurants to choose from. During high season, Spices and Las Ventanas is open for breakfast. Spices offers a buffet style breakfast and Las Ventanas offers an a la carte menu. For lunch, The Deck has an extensive menu while Spices serves a Mexican fare (sadly, we never made it here for lunch). For dinner, you need reservations, which can be made ahead of time or with your concierge. The restaurants are Spices (Mexican), Palazzo (Italian), Las Ventanas (their signature restaurant), Azia (Asian), The Grill (Grilled Specialties) and Club Royal (a theatre style dinner). All restaurants are a la carte and take about two hours because they serve 5-6 courses. Everything we ate was delicious and did not have one bad experience. What I liked was when you are greeted by the server, they always ask you if you have any food allergies and if you do, they will accommodate it. All servers are polite and will take care of you. Anything you want, they will do for you. An example of the quality of service you will get, they have a name card on your table and the servers will address you as Mr. & Mrs. [last name]. Please note that for dinner, men must be wearing a collared shirt, long pants (jeans are allowed at The Grill and Spices) and close toe shoes. People do dress up here.

Spices (for breakfast) - If you can't find something to eat here for breakfast, then you are truly a picky eater. Items offered: made to order omelets (you can even get an egg white omelet), french toast, pancakes, waffles, smoked salmon, cold cuts and cheese, pastries (mini cinnamon buns and crossiants are delish), mimosas, bacon, sausages, and different items each day like mushroom stuffed potatoes, Spanish omelet, vegetables, chicken mole, there are just too many things to mention.

Las Ventanas (for breakfast) - Unfortunately, we had no idea that they would close down the restaurant midway through our stay so we missed out. If we had known, we would have check it out on our first couple of days.

The Deck (for lunch) - As soon as we arrived at the resort, we were directed to grab some lunch. We were in awe as we sat down on their deck. You are treated to a beautiful view of the beach and pool. There's a lovely breeze too. The menu that they offer is so big that throughout our seven day stay, we weren't able to try out everything. Some of the things we did order: Shrimp cocktails, Shrimp burritos, different kinds of ceviche, fish & chips, beach burger (and 4 other kinds of burgers), sweet potato fries, marlin tacos, baja fish tacos, buffalo wings, caprese salad, calamari, onion rings, several pizzas - this is just a fraction of what is on the menu. For dessert, they have coconut ice cream with an oatmeal raisin cookie. This was a huge favorite!

Spices (for lunch) - We never made it. We really enjoyed eating on the deck, or getting our food delivered pool or beach side.

Club Royal - This theatre style dinner is only offered on Thursdays and Sundays. Since we arrived on Thursday, we decided to celebrate our anniversary with dinner and show. Because the resort knew we were celebrating, they sent over a bottle of sparkling wine and gave us a really nice table. Because the dinner is for the masses, it's a fixed menu - salad, soup, and entree choice of beef or salmon and dessert. Thursday night is the Mexican show, it was a treat to see the dances from the various regions of Mexico. Although we enjoyed the show, the dinner was a bit of a disappointment but it's something that you need to experience. When we return to RHP, we will skip out on this because all the other restaurants have so many dishes we want to try.

Spices - Out of all the restaurants (not including Club Royal), this was our least favorite. I don't know if it's because our entree took over 20 minutes to come out from the kitchen or if we had higher expectations for it being a Mexican restaurant.  The bar here makes different kinds of margaritas, if you are daring, try the tamarind.

Azia - This was our favorite restaurant, so we ate here twice. We are big sushi fans and the sushi here is pretty comparable for Mexico. You can eat from the teppaniyaki tables and enjoy a show, or you can order a la carte (you can still order the teppaniyaki but it won't be cooked in front of you). If sushi and teppanyaki are not your thing, there are other cuisines on the menu - Japanese, Thai and Chinese. Dishes to try: tempura, tuna sushi tempura and any of the nigiri sushi. Unforunately, we ate too much sushi and was not able to order dessert. A little tip - if you like Sapporo when eating Asian food, they serve the beer. We only realized it once we finished eating.

Las Ventanas - This is our second favorite restaurant. The decor has a Miami feel to it. When you look at the menu, it's a bit confusing as they list everything in the dish, you might question why two things would be put together but trust the chef, he knows what he is doing and the flavours of the dishes blend so well together. Beautiful presentation and expectional service. Remember to take your time eating to enjoy it and save room for dessert. If we could go back in time, we would have eaten here twice instead of going to Club Royal. Dishes to try: gnocchi, essence of tomato with lamb ravoli, lamb chops and definitely the desserts.

Palazzo - If you eat here, make sure you go hungry as the portions here are larger than the other restaurants. When we go to an all-inclusive, we never opt to eat at the Italian a la carte. We are sure glad we decide to eat at Palazzo. The food was excellent, the only thing is, we ordered an appetizer, salad, pasta dish and an entree. We were stuffed and couldn't finish our main dish. Dishes to try: gnocchi, black truffle pasta and osso bucco. We would eat here twice and skip out on Spices. There are so much delicious choice on the menu that you would have to come back.

The Grill - This steakhouse has so many options to eat - steak, fish, pork chops, sausage, etc. The food was okay but the view and ambience make up for it. The Grill is basically The Deck all done up with white linens and nice lighting. You also get the nice breeze from the ocean. Dishes to try: scallops and mushrooms and Argentinean grill for 2. A little tip - arrive a little early before your reservation and have a drink at the bar. You can even sit by the pool after dinner with a cocktail.

Bar Allergia - This bar would be considered the main bar. From 9:30 pm to 1:00 am, they have live entertainment and it changes nightly, anywhere from a jazz duo, karaoke, crazy bingo, trio latino, pop duo, crazy trivia game and international duo.

Piano Bar - We only discovered it on our last night. It's right beside Las Ventanas, therefore it's only open when the restaurant is open. They have a classier cocktail menu and a lot more seating than inside of Bar Allergia. We wished that we knew about this bar earlier in the week so we could have had a drink here first before heading to dinner.

High Tea - This is unique feature of RHP, not many resorts offer this and sadly, we missed out. High tea is served been 4-6 pm in the main lobby.

As you may have read in other reviews, the beach at Royal Hideaway Playacar is indeed back.  If you look at pictures from a few years back, you will see how much has been added to this beach.  It is amazing what they've done.  The week we were there, the ocean was flagged yellow to red most of the time but playing in those waves was amazing.  If you know how to body surf, you'll definitely have some fun.

There are lots of beach loungers and beach pods available. I would suggest just asking one of the beach attendants to help you with the beach pods at first cause as simple as it is to set up, if you don't know what you're doing, you can be there for quite a long time as I saw some couples really struggling with this. It's quite funny because once you see how it's done, it's as easy as 1 + 1.  Plenty of tree shade available  towards the back of the beach and it provides a nice cool breezy spot for you to relax or take a nap in. 

If you're too lazy to walk to the bar, the resort does provide beach service where you can order drinks and food (grab a green flag by the shower and just stick it in the sand when you want service).  Just keep in mind that during low season, the resort does cut the staff down so your wait times can vary.  Patience is key.

There are six pools in total at this resort. The main infinity pool is the closest to the beach.  Spots here are at a premium and it's the best view out of all the 5 pools.  We did notice towards the end of our stay that people started to save their spots with towels at this pool.  You'll see why though, the view is just awesome. During your stay, you might get a special treat of a cold towel and fruit kebabs in the morning and don't forget the ice cream cart that comes by the pool around 3 pm. The second pool is directly behind the infinity pool.  It's not as nice as the infinity pool but does provide what you need.  Loungers as well are readily available around this pool but keep in mind that it does get busy towards the weekend.

If you're looking for more of an intimate feel, there are four smaller pools through out the property that may give you the peace and quiet you're looking for.  The spa pool is located closest to the lobby and is directly beside the gym and spa.  An elevated second pool with jacuzzi is located just past Azia. You will also see the third pool just behind this one.  Finally the last pool with jacuzzi is located just before you reach the clearing to the main pool and beach. We love the feel of these pools but wished that they were cleaned more often.  Some of them had alot of debris in it such as feathers, bugs, leaves, seeds which we understand comes with having an outdoor pool but let's be honest, who wants to swim in a pool with all that stuff floating all around it. Keep in mind that the smaller pools do not have anyone to attend to you so if you are planning to stay there for the afternoon or morning, grab a few bottle of waters from the bar or some drinks if you like.

The entertainment is very minimal here at the resort. There are things to do but if you do not wish to participate, the entertainment staff won't be in your face. There is water aerobics in the pool everyday at noon, yoga in the morning and in the afternoon around 4 pm, there is a golf game, cooking class, spanish lessons, towel art...just to name a few. On some nights at Bar Allegria, there is Bingo, Karaoke or trivia game but that's about it. There is also the dinner theatre twice a week that you need to make reservations for but other than that, that's about it. If you are in the mood to party, jump around and be obnoxious, you maybe need to check out some other resorts. The entertainment team does their best to keep people busy (well, those who want to stay busy) but everyone I saw were either people watching on the beach or reading by the pool. The resort has a gym and spa, which we didn't use but we saw lots of guests using the gym. The two couples we met both got massages and raved about it.

The staff at RHP are by far the best team of employees we have ever some across. They are always working hard but have a big smile on their face. They are always willing to please and will bend over backwards for you. They remember your name, what you like to eat and drink and will always tell you "It's a pleasure" when you ask them for something. Juliette and Roxy at the reception did a great job checking us in and out  and ensuring that we had our first few reservations in place. Carolina, our concierge took care of us the whole week. Laura, Veronica and Norma, the lovely hostesses made sure we had the best table and that we always left the restaurant full. Alberto, Luis & Armando at The Deck kept the food and drinks coming. They made sure we were never without a drink in our hands. Isis at Spices who always made our green tea to go for breakfast. Jessie, Christopher, Pierre and Fernando and the lead guy of the entertainment team (we forgot his name), these guys work hard to entertain the guest from morning until night. There are so many others that helped us and made our stay so memorable but I do have to give a big thanks to Sarah-Kim Grune who helped us before we arrived at the resort with all the questions we had.

Check out
Luckily, we caught our concierge before she left for the day. We were able to arrange for a wake up call, luggage pick up and also for breakfast to be delivered to our room early in the morning. Our pick up time was 8:20 am so we were able to eat before heading to the airport. Check out was quite simple but we were definitely upset to be leaving.

We could go on and on forever about this place. It's heaven and paradise all wrapped into one. This is the best resort all around that we have been to. It's well-kept, excellent quality of food and drinks and has wonderful staff. We were lucky that we got a great deal but would definitely spend the regular price to come back because we know it's worth it. I am truly surprised that more people don't choose this place, instead they always go for the brand names and cookie-cutter resorts. It's going to be very hard to find another resort that will top the royal service we got here.

Lastly, our vacation would not be complete without meeting people who make our days more enjoyable. Christin & Jacob from Detroit, it's too bad we met you later in your stay but we had a great time shutting down Bar Allegria with you that one night and spending our last day baking in the sun poolside. Jill & Tim from New Jersey, we hope we didn't ruin your holiday away from the kids. You taught us the art of afternoon napping and waking up to late afternoon drinking while watching the sun go down. We had a blast with you guys and if you ever decide to go back to RHP, give us a holler, we will be there for sure!

Still not convinced? See what others think here


Elaine A (TOBeautyReviews) said...

yay so glad you posted this...BUT it's making me want to go away NOW!!!!

ellesy said...

what a thorough review - this resort looks incredible! and the food looks delicious - your photos are making me hungry. i love how you grouped the food photos with the name of the restaurant.

Leeann @ Join the Gossip said...

When we went to Riviera Maya we did an outing in Playa del Carmen and it was an awful experience. I was legitimately scared. At one point a man demanded my dad pay to use a public restroom. It was crazy. I think being in a resort would be a different story though. And you are the 3rd person to say you enjoyed your time there so maybe we just got real unlucky.

My parents want to go back to Riviera Maya for their 30th anniversary in January so I'll be sure to let them know about this resort! Great review - thanks for all of the info!

The Food Junkie said...


Sienna said...

love your reviews, there so detailed and helpful

Benlovesting said...

Lovely blog!

Anonymous said...

You've stayed at a lot of the same resorts as we have! We're going to RHP at the end of August-- it's always been on our radar too. I found your blog through your review on Tripadvisor. You've made me feel like we really made the right choice. Great review and photos!

Beach Junkies said...

Great minds think alike and also make good choices. You are going to have a great time at RHP. Drop us an email when you return and let us know how your stay went at RHP. Thanks for stopping by!

Anet said...


Craig said...

Very nice review, I just book for the end of August !

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting.
Me and my husband are going end of JUl for 5 nights and I had some hesitation when comparing to other 4/5 star resorts in the area. I feel more confident now


Carlos Gandolfo said...

Great Blog. We are headed there over Memorial Day weekend. Question: Can my wife tan topless at the RH beach or at the RH pools?



Beach Junkies said...

There are so many pools at RHP, even more private secluded ones and the beach is huge so I'm sure your wife will most likely be able to tan topless. I just can't recall if I saw any topless sunbathers while we were there.