“ Address: Playa Aventuras Akumal / Crtra. Xetumal / Cancun, Km. 251 / Akumal 77760 / Mexico „
I have been to this resort .TWICE so I should be a sort of expert. I went once with my partner seven years ago (for a week) and once with my daughter a year ago (for a fortnight).
The area - Riviera Maya is an area of natural beauty - which is mostly dominated by resorts and has the city of Cancun and two major towns, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. The Bahia Principe is situated in Akumal, a small town .
About the Bahia Principe
There are 16 hotels/clubs/resorts in the Bahia Principe Hotel chain. They are located in The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Jamaica and Tenerife. All of them are rated with 5 stars and are all inclusive.
The Bahia Principe website (www.bahia-principe.com) describes the Mexican Riviera Maya resort:
'The Bahia Príncipe Resort is formed by three 5 star hotels (Tulum, Akumal & Coba), the commercial and entertainment center "Hacienda Doña Isabel" and the best variety of services in the Caribbean.
The resort follows patterns of sustained tourism. Walking through the property you can admire the wonderful tropical vegetation, nice gardens and protected areas where ecology and architecure combine perfectly.'
I have helpfully tidied up the English in the quote - view the original for yourself on the informative (lots of pics) website.
However, it was not the website that lured me there; I happened on the resort by chance when I bought a last-minute bargain 7 years ago. Having been used to Greek holiday rooms, I was shocked to find myself in a completely different world.
Mexico has suffered a bit of a blip in its tourist industry recently with the swine flu deaths there. At the time of the outbreak, I thought of this hotel and how it would have been really hard to leave for an early flight home if I had been there.
On both occasions we travelled with 'First Choice' (one of the few travel agents that offer this hotel). I was very happy with the flight (extra leg room, good films, ok meals) resort transport etc. I had made special requests (veggie meals, room specifications) and they were mostly met.
My first visit, 7 yrs ago was a bargain basement package holiday costing around £400 per person for a week. The most recent visit was a bit of a blow out which cost me an arm and a leg - over £1000 each (standard costs for a caribbean holiday). It was a special holiday for my daughter and I to spend some time together. I think things will be different when she leaves home. Anyway, it's camping for the next few years now! The Bahia P website details that nights at the hotel chain can start from 51 Euros a night.
After around 45 mins drive from Cancun airport (a very easy straight road from the airport down the coast), you arrive at one of the palatial foyers of the resort. The three hotels within the resort are: The Gran Bahia Tulum (the oldest one), The Gran Bahia Akumal and The Gran Bahia Coba (the newest one). All the different hotel foyers are like Mayan temples with huge sculpture and water features at their centre and are spotlessly clean and very impressive. On arrival, you begin to feel like you are a terribly important person checking in to the lap of luxury.
Transport to your room (and to everywhere else) is by a little trolley-cart train because the resort is so massive. Even though you are checked into one of the hotels, all of the hotels are accessible to everyone (with the exception of the 'Gold' area - where there is limited access to people who have paid a premium (they have their own lobby and internet access). Without the little trolley trains, getting around would be exhausting. The trolley trains come every few minutes, they have friendly drivers who crack jokes and get to know you in a gentle way so that moving around the resort becomes a joy.
Whilst we were there, we saw some wheelchair users on holiday. I believe they must have been given ground floor rooms within easy reach of all facilities. The restaurants all had disabled access. I am aware that much of my knowledge of this is limited - but I would advise a person with a disability who wanted to consider this as a holiday destination to log onto the Tripadvisor Akumal Forum to check any of this out; the 'experts' would be very thorough on this issue od disabled access at the resort.
On arrival (the second time) we were immediately upgraded to a better room in the Coba section. This had air conditioning, balcony, two huge beds, lots of room, marble floors, ample wardrobes, large marble bathroom with shower and jaccuzi bath, big television, mini bar fridge and a coffee making machine. It is at this point that you start to see that the resort caters for a majority of USA and Canadian guests. THERE IS NO KETTLE! shock horror. Fortunately, we brought a travel one with us, having done major research on the resort beforehand (forewarned is forearmed).
The room was decorated in yellow/orange caribbean colours - but this did not look trashy at all. There were towels formed into the shapes of animals/birds on the bed and thick bathrobes. I had a go trying to make an animal out of a towel - it was impossible - I made a slug.
On arrival, I immediately tested the bed - as reviews on 'Tripadvisor' (an extremely helpful review site - please look it up if you are going to the Riviera Maya as there are very obliging experts on the Akumal Forum who will tell you about everything - I know - I was addicted to the site - www.TripAdvisor.co.uk) had said that they were hard. I did not find them so and slept well.
All of the rooms at the Bahia Principe are grouped around pools, landscaped or beach areas in three-storey villas (no lifts though). Ours was just before a set of three jaccuzi pools and a bar. We got to be regulars at this 'local' jaccuzi area, learning to enjoy afternoons guzzling cocktails and laughing with other tipsy people and the bartender (who sometimes came around the pools with a bottle - I did not know what it was at this point - which he poured directly into people's mouths; it felt like some sort of Roman hedonism). I once opened my mouth for a shot and he tipped it saucily onto my (ahem) chest area. In my normal life I might have been insulted but in this different world it was great - a bit of bacchanalian romp.
There were so many pools at this resort, all with bars, sunloungers, interesting features like bridges, shallow basking bits. There was often a problem getting a sunlounger at peak season (lots of American and Canadian 'Springbreakers' putting their towels on them on the way back from the club in the early hours). I once saw a poor family circle a pool several times looking for a lounger with some shade to put the kids in. It was a mistake they would only make once. One of them would be out at six am the next day for sure.
The grounds and pools
These are a delight, well manicured and almost spotless. There is a lot of wildlife that live in the little wooded areas: iguanas (some of them sooo huge), birds and some creatures that look halfway between gerbil and dog- you have to be up early to see these shy creatures). Only now and again I would find a ketchuppy plate left somewhere strange (like jammed into a hedge) after someone had been to a 24 hr snackbar in the night. I began to like these little moments of imperfection/reality in this somewhat pristine, sanitised world. I think it was a mild case of 'luxury fatigue'
There is a long stretch of beach belonging to the resort- white sand and cleaned every day in the very early morning by staff with big plastic bags. There was no real rubbish like condoms, sanitary towels and cans like you might find on a British beach; they cleaned up bits of rock, a small amount of seaweed - and once - I saw a dead turtle in one of their plastic bags - a sad sight. Some areas of the beach have waves and some calm sea. The calm sea used to be great to swim in because you could explore the reef that was very close to the shore. Seven years ago, this was amazing. I snorkelled myself silly looking at fantastical fish, sqid, barracuda, moray eels, corals of different types. Last year, the reef was fenced off! Imagine my dismay; the snorkelling on the resort reef 7 yrs ago had been THE best bit of the holiday. Apparently, the hurricanes of the years inbetween had wrecked some of the reef. I did some desultory snorkelling in the unremarkable shallows- until I found out the resort took people out at set times. I did see the reef eventually - but it was changed - and the marine life was less.
However, it was not all bad news. Research on Tripadvisor revealed that the nearby Akumal Bay was a wonderful place to swim with turtles naturally. We got the local bus there and spent hours swimming with many turtles (and barracuda, groupers etc). It was stunning. If anybody wanted to check out what Akumal Bay looks like - you can google 'Akumal Bay Webcam' and you will be directed to a real-time view of the beach and sea. I sometimes do it to torture myself.
One week all-inclusive was heaven. Two weeks had me longing for my own kitchen and some simpler food. Last year, I was in a transition from vegetarian to vegan - but to eat in a place that was catering for American expectations was hard (too much, too rich). I am aware though, that for the majority of people I do not do the food justice. Most people thought it was brilliant. There was lots of fruit, salads, stirfry dishes, cheeses, cooked food, rich puddings, ice cream - and if you liked crispy bacon - you were in heaven in the mornings. Sometimes the whole resort had an aroma of bacon. I think those Americans and Canadians really rated that bacon.
There were also a-la-carte restaurants you could book and go to (dressed up). The best bit about this was the attentive waiters who would indulge my desire to speak Spanish.
I think the happy staff make the experience at the Bahia Principe Mexico special. It seemed like they had good working conditions and did not seem to be oppressed. I did question them (in Spanish).
The other notable members of the staff were the 'Animation Team'. the men and women who were there to entertain/do sports. My teenage daughter became quite fixated with some of the boys - and they all got to know us well.
The best bit by far was the dancing that happened at the entertainment complex(The Hacienda Dona Isabel). Every night from 11 - 12 there was a salsa band and dancing - and the 'Animation Team' were there to dance with you. Now I have done some Latin dance training and I am always desperate to have a go. Here were some excellent dancers (good looking and charming and they WERE PAID TO DANCE with you). For every night we danced solidly for an hour with many different men. It felt like a sort of dancing prostitution - but it was splendid.
I have already used an excess of words in this review to describe the varied, interesting and fun-filled time that my trip to this hotel was and I am aware that I have not done it justice. This has been a whistle-stop tour around what the resort enabled me to experience.
At the end of the holiday, my daughter cried because she had had such a good time. A very sweet receptionist tried hard to comfort her. This summed it up for me. This was not an impersonal resort, despite its size. So, if you have the good fortune to go here one day - prepare to have a very good time.
Oh, one more final thing. There were shows put on in the early evening too. There was a Michael Jackson show with a unbelievable Jackson impersonator who did a great job of showing the star at his best. I don't need a ticket to the O2 Arena - I saw it twice at the amazing Bahia Principe Mexico.
UPDATE - Now with the sad demise of MJ, no one will be going to the O2 Arena. I expect that impersonator will be doing very well for himself at the moment.
5 Star all inclusive resort.