To be published in an upcoming issue of ENTREE Travel Newsletter.
In theory, we’ve always been a big fan of the all-inclusive. Sure, you’re probably paying about the same at the end of the day, but there’s something to be said for not having to constantly reach for your wallet – to not have to reach in and pull out the twenty and go through the emotions of spending that money.
The problem is, as most of you know, that the term all-inclusive has traditionally been code for occasionally refreshed buffets and watered-down vodka drinks. Luckily, hotel owners are beginning to realize this, too, and so at their request we hopped a plane down to Cancun, Mexico, to check out the changes being made to the Live Aqua Resort.
We knew they were touting an experience that renewed the five senses, although we had no clue how they planned to go about it. Upon arrival, we were instantly greeted by the smooth, calming smell of peppermint that fills the lobby. The bellman stacked our bags in the corner, then led us over to the couches in front of the fountain and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. As we gazed out over the hotel grounds and Caribbean Sea, we were brought cold, refreshing green tea and chilled towels, and were encouraged to stretch out. When a woman approached with a plate of lotions and began massaging our hands we felt – considering her gentleness and the crisp tea and the pleasant smell – quite relaxed and welcome, not to mention impressed.
We were shown our room, an inviting ocean-view sanctuary, once again filled with a serene aroma, this one called Aqua, the resort’s signature scent. On our dresser we found a list of smells to choose from – romance, energy, tranquility, among others – and were encouraged to change it daily. Our room wasn’t the biggest in the hotel, but we chose it over one of the suites because it is part of the Aqua Club, which features a lounge only accessible to those staying on the floor. In the morning you could have coffee and breakfast in the lounge on a couch placed in the window, or in the late afternoon have a drink and snack on sushi to hold you over until dinner.
If you value space and in-room luxury over convenient and relaxed access to food and drink, then you’ll want to stay in one of the other four types of suites. Our favorite was Fuego, which provides views of both the sea and the bay – one of the only rooms on the property where you can view the sun as it sets over the bay (you can also see it from the aforementioned lounge, which has a bayside balcony). The presidential suite is extremely enticing, complete with a private pool and Jacuzzi on the balcony, but given the other options and the amenities of the hotel, we found the $7000 USD a night price tag a bit steep. Why swim on the balcony when they have eight pools on site?
If it is kids that scare you, head on over to the adult pool and swim-up bar, complete with poolside beds and cabanas. The circular infinity pool is perhaps the most impressive, very much a place to allow your mind to drift away and stare out into the green sea. Once we were tranquil, we enjoyed a Fusion massage and relaxed in the Spa Aqua, which has both indoor and outdoor treatment rooms. If you want a serious sensory experience, ask about the Temascal sweat lodge, an old Mayan ritual designed to push your limits and to promote inner healing. Buyer beware – this is no walk in the park – two of the writers on our trip failed to complete the hour-long experience.
For brunch, we recommend Siete – the service was excellent and the buffet delicious – complete with a sushi bar and mimosa station. But dinner is the true delight at Live Aqua. Something we rarely find at an all-inclusive resort: a Michelin-Star rated chef. Enticed from Italy by General Manager Eduardo Cruz del Rio, Executive Chef Franco Maddalozzo was friendly, involved and delighted to see the smiles on our faces as we sampled his cuisine. One appetizer in particular that we can’t get out of our heads: marinated sushi-grade tuna skewers with Granny Smith apple slices and fresh ginger.
Besides Tai Chi and yoga classes, Live Aqua offers you the opportunity to work alongside their great chef with a free cooking lesson. Taking it even a step further, if you’re traveling with a group and would like a private dinner, say, right in the middle of his kitchen, it would be Chef Maddalozzo’s pleasure to cook for you. Together, you can plan the meal (we had an octopus appetizer and sea bass with black linguine). If you’re too modest for that sort of attention, there are still plenty of other options on site. At MB’s, Celebrity Chef Michelle Bernstein’s restaurant, the boneless-short ribs are a must.
Waiting for us nightly in our room after turn-down service was a Zen garden or some other relaxation activity, along with a dessert plate and a note from the staff. Live Aqua has an impressive Web site with self-loading virtual tours on the main pages, head on over and take a look.
Rooms in the Aqua Club are $199 per person per night, all inclusive with a $50 spa credit. The Fuego suite is $299 per person per night, all inclusive with a $150 spa credit and a beach or poolside cabana. Live Aqua Resort, Blvd. Kukulkan km 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancun, Q.R., Mexico. http://www.feel-aqua.com.