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Mexico

Riviera Maya, Mexico: Five Days of Peace and Plenty, Part 1

As you've probably noticed from our adventures wrangling a boat in the Abacos, sliding down mountains in the British Virgin Islands, and bowling with coconuts in Key West, we aren't your typical vacationers. All-inclusive resorts, cruises, and organized tours aren't our speed. Sure, we like real wine glasses and fine china, but we also like getting off the beaten path, seeking out new experiences, and, most of all, getting away from other people. In other words, we're just not the "hang-around-the-hotel" types.

We are, however, the "all-you-can-eat" types. Which explains how we ended up spending five days at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico's Riviera Maya.

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It was the perfect vacation at the perfect time. First of all, it was March, the longest month of the year. March is the month that's supposed to pack up winter and all its miseries and hit the road already. But it doesn't. Instead, March settles in, hunkers down, puts its muddy feet up on your couch, wipes its dirty hands on your clean guest towels, and drinks all your beer. The damn thing just won't leave.

And second of all, the Blue Diamond Riviera Maya isn't just any all-inclusive. One of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Blue Diamond was featured in an article in Food & Wine magazine entitled, "The Riviera Maya for Foodies," which praised both the resort's fantastic food and the fact that there was lots of it. And that sealed the deal: There would be no driving for hours, only to find a closed restaurant. No wrong turns making us late for our next meal. No arguing about which one of us gets the last bite of dessert. There would be peace, and there would be plenty.

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There would also be, as it turned out, rest, relaxation, seclusion, and luxury. Or maybe that was just the unlimited cocktails talking.

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As luck would have it, we arrived in Mexico the day before three inches of snow arrived in New York City. In late March. It's always nice to have good timing, but it was downright sanity-saving to have gotten out of town right before winter could give us one last, frozen middle finger.

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The flight was short, the transfer to the hotel was speedy, and by noon we found ourselves in the stunning, open-air lobby at Blue Diamond.

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There, we were greeted with chilled towels, two Champagne glasses filled with fresh guava and pear mimosas, and an assortment of Mexican chocolate truffles. As the reservationist checked us in, she asked if it was our first time at Blue Diamond. We responded that it was. "Well, welcome home, then," she smiled.

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It would be the first of many times that we would be welcomed, heart-warmed, and outright spoiled by the kind, generous staff at Blue Diamond. Covering 36 acres of mangrove, lagoon, and beachfront, the adults-only Blue Diamond has a sophistication that belies its proximity to Cancún and Playa del Carmen, and an intimacy at odds with what you might expect, given the prevalence of mega-resorts in the area. It was chic without being snooty, warm without being rehearsed, and small without being claustrophobic.

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The property is long and narrow and, unlike most beach resorts, runs perpendicular to the beach instead of along it. As a result, the property "begins" at the palapa-topped lobby and meanders, via a wide flagstone pathway, past natural limestone pools called cenotes, dense jungle, and exquisite tropical landscaping, ending up at the small but pretty beach.

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Transportation is via chauffeured golf cart, bicycle, or these rarely-used things called feet.

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Formerly a Mandarin Oriental hotel, the Blue Diamond retains much of the Mandarin's minimalist zen vibe, seamlessly incorporating the discreet villas with the natural surroundings for a sense of peace and privacy.

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We chose one of the Villas Ribero, named for their location along the narrow river than wends it way through the property.

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Sure, there was a good chance Angel the Mosquito Magnet would contract malaria, chikungunya, or both, but it's not every day you get to reenact the Jungle Book in person. So I got him some of that Repel spray that comes with warnings about how it will eat your watch, your shoes, and your innards, figuring that having to buy him a whole new wardrobe and a kidney when we got home was a small price to pay for such scenic views.

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I myself was a little afraid that a crocodile or alligator or T-Rex was going to come lumbering out of that river, but the loungers were just too comfy to resist . . . and at least I'd get to go in my sleep.

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To show off the wild surroundings to their best advantage, the villas are clean-lined and simple, featuring natural materials like marble, stained hardwood, and polished bamboo.

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And, in our case, an enormous rainfall-style indoor-outdoor shower, a customized minibar restocked daily with full-sized bottles of top-shelf liquor (no measly pocket-sized bottles at this place), powder-scented TP (you read that right), a welcome bottle of Champagne . . .

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. . . and a wildly romantic outdoor bathtub.

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We even had our own pair of turtles.

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In fact, the names of the various birds and insects we discovered on the property read like a Dr. Seuss poem: There were great-tailed grackles and magnolia warblers; social flycatchers and leaf-footed bugs. Oh, and Rikki Tikki-Tavi.

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After dropping our things at the villa, we decided to forego the proffered golf cart ride, and instead ambled along the pathway toward the beach, where two of Blue Diamond's three restaurants, Ceviche and Aguamarina, offer sweeping views of the beach and the turquoise water beyond.

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We chose the more casual Ceviche and were promptly shown to a beachfront table for two.

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We decided to share the Peruvian ceviche with fresh-caught grouper, red onion, coriander, lemon, and garlic to start, which we quickly realized was the most unusual request our waiter had ever heard: We wanted to share an appetizer at an all-inclusive resort? Why not order two, or even three? In fact, why not order everything on the menu? It took a bit of getting used to, but if anyone is up to the task of getting their money's worth at an all-inclusive resort, I think the smart money's on you-know-who.

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The drink list was epic, spanning roughly a dozen pages and featuring everything from coladas and daiquiris to mojitos and margaritas, all made with top-shelf liquors.

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After lunch, we had a few tough decisions to make: Main pool, lap pool, or spa pool? Margaritas, mojitos, or pina coladas? Not feeling up to venturing too far after our 17-course lunch, we lowered ourselves into two chaises at the main pool, ordered up a round of margaritas, and took in the view.

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After a sufficient amount of tequila, I decided it would be a good time to explain my "new math" to Angel: Just as I am convinced that I'm actually making money every time I buy something, then change my mind and return it, I decided that absolutely everything on this trip was a fantastic deal because it was free. Never mind that the nightly rate was more than our mortgage. The money was already paid, which meant that absolutely everything we ate, drank, gobbled, or guzzled was now . . . free.

Back at our villa, we cleaned up for dinner at Ambar, one of two elegant restaurants serving dinner.

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Overlooking the property's central lagoon, Ambar is chic and sophisticated, even if it does serve beet sponges.

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It was our first-ever dinner at an all-inclusive, and any preconceptions we had about long lines and crappy buffets were quickly dispelled.

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Particularly when we ordered two glasses of wine and the waiter left the entire bottle on the table.

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I mean, they even had little stools for the ladies' handbags. If that isn't fancy, I don't know what is.

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One of the things that drew us to Blue Diamond was that the evening "entertainment" consists of moonlit strolls along the beach, cocktails near the pool, a Cuban cigar at the rooftop lounge, or a soak in the outdoor tub. Sure, I missed the 80s disco and the female impersonators, but I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give, and I will survive, hey, hey.

We chose the dark and sexy rooftop Cigar Lounge, which was conveniently located just above Ambar, so we didn't have far to stumble. There, we settled into what was soon to become "our" couch, then enjoyed some Mexican-style whiskey sours, a Cuban cigar for Angel, and a cloudless sky dotted with infinite stars.

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The next morning, determined not to miss a meal, snack, or anything in between, we headed over to the poolside restaurant, Aguamarina, for breakfast. We decided to walk from our villa, passing the lagoon . . .

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. . . as quickly as we could.

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(Confession: When I booked Blue Diamond, I debated between the Villas Ribero and one of these lagoon villas. But the thought of being eaten by a crocodile, before I could eat everything at the resort, was just too much to bear.)

Although I'm not generally a breakfast person, we quickly decided it was the best meal of the day, presumably because it was the only one featuring authentic Mexican dishes. Or at least as authentic as eggs Benedict with chipotle hollandaise over a corn muffin and crêpes stuffed with zucchini blossoms and huitlacoche and topped with poblano chile sauce can be.

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Plus, there was a varied selection of smoothies featuring local fruits, and even cactus, from the resort's "liquid chefs." I decided to try the Tulum with pineapple nectar, pear, and guava, while Angel needed some Soothing, with ginger, lemon, and mint. Of course we have smoothies in New York, but they are either full of fatty things like ice cream or scary things like kale, so we never drink them. But the smoothies at Blue Diamond were clean, fresh, and delicious, which is saying a lot for the only drinks at the entire resort that aren't spiked with alcohol.

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We lingered over coffee, enjoying the warm sun and endless view, then took a walk along the pier.

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We'd been at Blue Diamond less than 24 hours and were already so relaxed as to be nearly comatose . . . and we still had four more days. What else could we eat? How much more could we drink? Could we spend the better part of a week in a semi-conscious haze of sun, sand, tequila, and the resort's addictive French fries?

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You already know the answer, but you might as well read Part 2 anyway: Like everything else on this trip, it's FREE!
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Posted by TraceyG 10:21 Archived in Mexico Tagged riviera_maya blue_diamond Comments (8)

Riviera Maya, Mexico: Five Days of Peace and Plenty, Part 2

By now we'd been at Blue Diamond almost 24 hours, and the combination of sunshine, salt air, good food, and frozen drinks had left us pleasantly sedated. Combined with the utter lack of urgency -- no place to drive to, no restaurants to research, no reservations to make, no sights to see -- and we were a little unsure of what to do next.

So we suited up for a workout at the gym.

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Just kidding! I said "sedated," not stupid. We just needed appropriate footwear for exploring the Temazcal area and the surrounding cenotes.

For the uninitiated, a traditional Temazcal ceremony is where they squish you into this little stone oven and then try to bake your insides. Last one out is a fried egg! Or something like that.

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Actually, the Temazcal hut is supposed to be symbolic of Mother Nature's womb, and the ceremony uses steam and healing herbs to purify the body and the spirit. All I know is, it's going to take a lot more than steam and some herbs to purify my body after this vacation.

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While exploring the Temazcal area, we came upon a small outdoor spa, which -- like everything at Blue Diamond -- blended seamlessly with the natural surroundings.

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Then we checked out a few of the cenotes, which are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, revealing the green-blue groundwater beneath. The cenotes at Blue Diamond are unfortunately not suitable for swimming (though some in the Riviera Maya are), but they are beautiful just the same.

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The rest of the day was easy: Pre-lunch snack, lunch, post-lunch snack, later afternoon snack, and dinner, interspersed with cocktails, frozen drinks, and weighty decisions about whether to sun ourselves at the poolside day beds, on the pier, at the spa pool, or at the beach.

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After the fried cheese, pizza, and pina coladas, we made the only sensible choice: The deserted spa, where no one could see us waddle or hear us burp.

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There, we spent the afternoon alternating between the pool and the enormous hot tub.

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Eventually, the sun began to set, and the spa looked even more inviting in the waning light.

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That evening we decided on dinner at Aguamarina, just in time for a lovely sunset.

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The evening's menu featured dishes from the Côte d'Azur, so we started with a Champagne toast, then moved on to a chilled cucumber gazpacho with yogurt, mint, and ginger for me, and a pizzette topped with melted Brie and fresh figs for Angel.

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In between courses, I excused myself to take a few photos of the pool area and somehow stumbled upon a specialty drink stand set up next to the bar. I was the evening's first customer, so naturally I had to try the drink, a muddled lime and orange rum punch.

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Eventually I wandered back to the table, where I was greeted by the creamy lobster pasta finished with white wine and Grana Padano that I'd ordered, along with a perfectly cooked filet in red wine sauce with carrot puree and a potato gratin that I did not order, but would help myself to anyway.

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Then -- surprise! -- it was back to the Cigar Lounge, where we'd figured out that we were the only people at the resort who ever visit this place, which suited us just fine. So we snuggled up on "our" sofa and sipped our whiskeys to a playlist of super-slowed-down, oddly groovy versions of 80s classics from the Cure and Nirvana.

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If you can stop yourself from lip-synching to a whispery, so-slow-it's-almost-playing-backwards version of "Hungry Like the Wolf" using your drink stirrer as a microphone, you are a better woman than I.

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The next day we decided to try something different: The sexy day beds at the oceanfront lap pool. I was surprised that Angel agreed to this since he does not like pools, mostly because he does not like people and that is where they can often be found.

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He loved the day beds.

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We chose the one closest to the water, which was the most private and also afforded a light ocean breeze. We lowered the shades, fluffed up the pillows, buried ourselves in our books, and only looked up long enough to order more drinks. It was like having our own private pool . . . with waiter service and free everything.

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Soon it was time for lunch? pre-lunch? post-lunch? I lost track? but by now we had so embraced our inner sloths that we could not be bothered to walk the 200 yards to the restaurant. So we had the lunch brought to us.

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Then we disobeyed mothers everywhere and went swimming right after lunch.

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It didn't take us long to notice what turned out to be one of our favorite things about Blue Diamond: Everywhere we went, everyone we encountered -- from the cleaning staff and groundskeepers to the lifeguards and waiters -- greeted us not with "Hola," but with a nod and a hand over the heart. We quickly began returning the sweet gesture, which translates roughly as, "Welcome, truly, from the heart."

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Soon it was time for dinner, so we headed back to the villa to get ready.

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Before dinner, we decided to stop by the gorgeous lobby lit for evening.

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We'd visited Aguamarina the night before, so tonight it was back to Ambar.

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Although we thought we might get bored with only two restaurant choices for dinner, there were always tempting specials (and the menu at Aguamarina changes nightly); plus, we could walk from our villa, show up whenever we felt like it, and still get whatever table we chose. Best of all, we could hitch a ride back on one of the ubiquitous golf carts, on the off-chance that someone would keep us bringing drinks, and someone else would keep having to drink them.

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Again, our meal was fantastic: Grilled garlic bread, asparagus flan, and two orders of the delicious filet in red wine sauce.

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I guess you could say we liked it. Or licked it. Whatever.

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The next day we packed up our books and sunscreen and headed back to the poolside day beds. Not wanting to be repetitive, this time we chose the bed closest to the hot tub.

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Which, just coincidentally, was also closest to the bar.

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Before we knew it, our last night in Riviera Maya had arrived. And so we headed back to Aguamarina, for what turned out to be yet another perfect evening.

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The weather was glorious, so we lingered by the pool over cocktails first.

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As the sun began to sink below the horizon, we settled in for dinner.

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We were thrilled to see that the evening's menu featured a number of Mexican dishes which, if the breakfastsesss were any indication, would be delicious. And so we feasted on shrimp ceviche, a spicy chicken mole, succulent braised ribs, and churros with cinnamon ice cream and a tart berry sauce for dessert.

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Oh, and Mexican-spiced shrimp chowder, served in a bowl with a cute little divot just for the lime.

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After dinner, we enjoyed a poolside nightcap before heading back to the villa to pack.

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On our last day, we had time for one last meal before heading to the airport, so we opted for a late breakfast at Aguamarina.

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But not before a couple of Bailey's Banana Coladas. You know, as an appetizer.

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Then it was on to breakfast. As usual, we went a bit overboard, but I knew I couldn't leave without having the grilled grapefruit with brown sugar and honey one last time. Or the zucchini blossom crepes, eggs Benedict with chipotle hollandaise, "green eggs and ham," crispy bacon, a buttery croissant . . . did I mention it was all free? If only it had been calorie-free, too.

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Our time at Blue Diamond had finally come to an end, and even the check-out managed to impress us: When is the last time your limo driver asked you if you remembered to clean out the room safe, checked all the drawers, had your boarding passes, and remembered your passports? Of course, by then we realized it was just par for the course at Blue Diamond, and we both admitted that our preconceptions about all-inclusive resorts meant that we'd almost missed out on what turned out to be one of the best vacations we've ever taken.

And this time, it wasn't just those unlimited cocktails talking again.
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Where to next? Just a bunch of boring places like Paris, East Hampton, Key West, and Anguilla. Check back soon or, if you're feeling lazier than a couple of overfed sloths on a daybed, click here to subscribe and you'll be automatically notified when a new post goes up.

Posted by TraceyG 05:11 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

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