Photography by Yuri Krasov
The most popular vacation destination on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, Cancún boasts so many hotels that they form their own territory, Zona Hotelera de Cancún – a narrow strip of land protruding far into the turquoise sea and covered with sugar-white sand.
Cancun is a favorite with all kinds of vacationers from newlyweds and extended families to corporate execs, because one thing is always certain – here, like nowhere else everyone will get what they are looking for – full relaxation or active adventure, the joys of leisurely care-free life, and excellent service.
In the last few years, the fast-growing company, Excellence Group Luxury Hotels & Resorts, became a symbol of the quintessential Cancún hospitality. It operates three all-inclusive brands – adults only Excellence Resorts, all-ages Finest Resorts and boutique Beloved Hotels.
My personal experience includes only the first two brands, and only for a couple of days each, but what I’ve learned about the Excellence Group in this short period of time speaks of unsurpassed perfection and keen attention to detail in every aspect of accommodating the resort guests.
As it happened, my husband and I were delayed by the carrier for our connecting flight, and after sprint-running to the gate only to discover we were four minutes late, stranded at the LAX for another 12 hours. Distraught, I asked my husband if we should venture into the city and try to make the best of it… “We’ll spend so much time in traffic you won’t be able to really enjoy Los Angeles,” he said. “One Delta delay is enough. You don’t want to miss our Cancún altogether!”
No, I didn’t want that. When we finally landed on the blessed land of Mexico close to 7 a.m. after a tiring red-eye flight, we quickly discovered that the tropical sun, the cloudless sky, and the ocean breeze provided a boost of energy sufficient to sustain us for the day. Who needs sleep if an endless sandy beach is awaiting you just beyond the swaying palms, and the five-star luxury is at your disposal every step of the way?
Excellence Riviera Cancún is located in the vicinity of Playa del Carmen, 15-20 minutes from the airport. Its multi-million dollar renovation was completed only last year, and the creamy-white buildings with open terraces, the gorgeously appointed restaurant entrances, and open air fountains and sculptures throughout the entire territory surely look inviting.
Upon a quick efficient check-in we were escorted to our room – an oasis of calm and coolness decorated in aqua and sandy color scheme, with a balcony overlooking a free-form swimming pool running like a blue ribbon between manicured lawns and flowering bushes.
After a much needed full breakfast, during which we couldn’t get enough of freshly-squeezed tropical juices, smoked fish, meat and vegetable stews, omelets to order, yogurts and flans, and freshly-baked pastries, we embarked on a stroll around the resort.
There are ten restaurants on the premises of Excellence Riviera Cancún – Agave (Mexican cuisine, art glass décor, and nightly mariachi music), Barcelona (our lavish breakfast was had here), Basmati (Indian cuisine, Indian art décor, and the chef is from India), Chez Isabelle (French, upscale, live music every night), Flavor Market (food from all corners of the world), and others – equally enticing. The amount of love and creativity invested in food preparation and plating is simply astounding!
Ten bars include a pool bar, a non-alcoholic juice-and-smoothie bar (try O-Vi with guava, peach, mango, grapefruit, and pineapple), an exclusive Excellence Club bar, a coffee bar, a martini bar, and the list goes on.
Miilé Spa looks like a white palace on an island formed by the resort swimming pool. Long white curtains at the entrance billow in the wind like sails. Inside, there’s a complex system of 17-step hydrotherapy massage, guided by an attendant, and of course all kinds of regular massages provided by skilled therapists.
Every morning, the resort guests get a newsletter, titled, The Excellence Times, that lists restaurants and bars, massage specials of the day at the spa, tours and excursions departing from the hotel lobby, romantic specials, like champagne breakfast in bed, fresh flowers service, and dinner for two on the beach, as well as tons of daily activities from tennis and beach volleyball to cooking lessons, Zumba and Texas Hold’Em.
After two glorious days at the Excellence Riviera Cancún, we made a short ride to the brand-new Finest Playa Mujeres on the opposite side of the Zona Hotelera, located among the sandy dunes across from the beautiful island Isla Mujeres.
In the light spacious lobby of the hotel we found ourselves right in front of the imposing Golden Bar, actually made from copper, but shiny nonetheless. Here, an attentive bartender created lychee martinis for us, decorated with a little butterfly, carved from a carrot, sitting on a glass rim.
Later, for lunch at Le Petit Restaurant, served on a white table cloth, the most delicious pumpkin soup was delivered to the table in a white porcelain teapot, and poured over grilled shrimp and croutons.
Pre-dinner cocktails at Tinto & Tapas included a rainbow of mixed drinks, Spanish red wine, and an array of hors d’oeuvres, like imported from Spain jamon Serrano, gazpacho, and potato omelet tortillas.
Our multi-course dinner at Lizo Cocina Mexicana started with a tasting of hot sauces used in traditional Mexican cooking. I’ve always favored chipotle and arbol, but now discovered even more exciting varieties – la costena, cuaresmeno and habanero diablo!
The Lizo dinner, prepared and presented with the same perfection as everything everywhere in Excellence Group, continued with crab cocktail (onion, tomatillos, plantain chips); guacamole tortilla with shrimp, dried cheese, and chili; beef ribs in chipotle sauce; and for a sweet finale – a decadent caramel flan with pineapple candy and Mexican vanilla.
There are ten restaurants on the territory of Finest Playa Mujeres and more than a dozen bars, including Piano Bar & Cigar Lounge, where we spent a joyful evening dancing to the disco music alongside hotel guests of all ages hailing from all over the world.
One Spa at the Finest is a very special place, where the hydrotherapy massages, saunas, steam rooms, and contrasting pools and showers (one, called the Cuban shower, features a wooden bucket of icy cold water overturned overhead at a pull of a rope) conclude with the most skillful and relaxing massage of head, neck and shoulders, administered by the talented therapists.
A very special attention at the Finest is paid to the littlest vacationers. Kid’s Plaza includes mini-theater, mini-spa with hair, nails, and massage services, and an amazing swimming pool/playground with waterslides, waterfalls, fountains, and no borders, like a sea lagoon. At The Market Kitchen restaurant there is an entire area with low counters for children to pick their own food, and even to fill their own ice cream cone. The Finest Day newsletter defines all the daytime activities and nighttime entertainment for the guests of all ages.
The Excellence Club, only for adults, and The Finest Club, for all ages, offer heightened levels of luxury, customized services, more privacy, and more pampering (if that’s even possible).
For more information on The Excellence Group and its brands of resort properties, go to www.excellencegroupluxuryresorts.com.