As part of my participation in a company retreat a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to stay at the sprawling Barcelo Maya Grand Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico. This resort is comprised of five all-inclusive resorts – Maya, Tropical, Colonial, Beach and Palace – and happens to be one of the largest properties I’ve visited to date. That can have its pros and cons, depending on the reason for your travel, so I’d love to give you a little taste of what I experienced so you can decide for yourself if this is the right property for you.
First, one of the great things about this resort is there is a little something for everyone from the little humans to seniors so it works well for large groups like weddings, family reunions, retreats and any other group function that comes to mind. Each resort has its own unique feel to it with its own lobby, pools and specialty restaurants. I opted for the Palace considering all of its rooms are suites and offered the highest level of accommodations and adults-only options.
One of the least appealing things about this resort is that it is massive and everything is pretty far away from each other. We found ourselves walking a lot, which wasn’t always a bad thing because it gave us a chance to work off all the food we ate! But, if you have some type of disability or ailment, this resort will prove to be challenging. They do have shuttles that can take you back and forth between resorts, but they take time to get around the property and unfortunately, they are not air-conditioned, which proves to be difficult in 90-degree heat and when the shuttle is packed with guests.
If you’re a Golden Life Musings follower you can probably guess what my favorite part of the resort was. If you guessed the spa, you are absolutely right! You know me so well (smile). One area where the Barcelo brand really shines is certainly the spa. It was quite a trek from the Palace (30-minute shuttle ride with multiple stops or 20 to 30-minute walk depending on your pace) but once I arrived, it was well worth the struggle to get there. The relaxation room certainly lives up to its name, with multiple comfy lounge chairs, soft music, assortment of teas and fruit flavored water, and a beautiful view of the lush landscaping surrounding the property, another thing Barcelo does right.
I opted for the 90-minute Swedish massage, otherwise known as an hour and a half of heaven. From there I ventured off to the hydrotherapy section of the spa, where I spent the remainder of my morning and afternoon until I got hungry. For those who may not know, hydrotherapy is simply the use of water for therapeutic effects. Specifically, you use a combination or “circuit” of warm to cold to hot water, which serves to energize and rest the body, improving blood circulation and helping with detoxification. Just being completely honest, I absolutely hate cold water so the idea of intentionally submerging my body into cold water does not even remotely trigger relaxation. For that reason, I always opt out of that part of the treatment. (Don’t judge me.) But I will say the sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi are all amazing!
My favorite part of the hydrotherapy section of the spa was the outdoor pool. The design and size of the pool paired with the outdoor landscaping just makes it feel like your own private oasis. And I just happened to be there when there weren’t many guests so I was able to have the entire pool to myself for most of my visit. Winning!
Onto the food, which you know for me is one of the most highly anticipated parts of my travels. At large resorts like Barcelo, I always have to manage my expectations because the reality is, this resort has to feed thousands of people on a daily basis. I get it. With that in mind, I try to take it easy on the larger resorts but honestly, the buffet options are hit or miss for me. The breakfast every morning was amazing because they have omelets cooked to order, smoked salmon (which I would eat every day of the week if I could), and fresh squeezed orange juice. I don’t need much else but even those mornings when I ventured a little bit from my norm, I was pleasantly surprised with the options.
Lunch on the other hand was a different story. Any time I tried to venture away from anything else but chicken, I was disappointed. At that point, I was just eating to make the hunger pains go away. But I will say, the saving grace one day was the fresh fried fish they were serving as a feature item at one of the smaller buffet restaurants. It changed my entire life. It was so delicious I raved about it to my friends and recruited them to go back the next day for it but sadly, they were not offering it that day. If you have the opportunity to go to his resort and you see they are serving the fish on that day, jump on it! It can take up to 20-30 minutes to wait for it depending on how many people are in line waiting for it, but it’s well worth it! [Side note: Yes, it is a whole fish including the head, but it’s ok just deal with it, the meat behind the head is where most of the deliciousness is!]
For dinner, I highly recommend the specialty restaurants and that’s where having Premium status will come in handy because it is imperative you have a reservation at these restaurants. Premium guests have first dibs on these restaurants and you don’t have to stand in line to make them like the regular guests. I found this out the hard way because I was not paying attention and made a mistake by not selecting Premium status this time around. Upon my arrival, I had to spend the first 45 minutes of my trip waiting in line to purchase wi-fi and make my reservations for the specialty restaurants. And after all of that waiting I was told there were no more reservations for that night. Fail.
If you venture into the specialty realm, my personal favorites were the French restaurant, Spanish restaurant and the Brazilian Steakhouse. Barcelo does a great job of making you feel like you’ve stepped into another country by not just nailing the cuisine, they create an entire experience for you with ambiance and décor as well.
Other things to note:
- In general, the beach on which the Barcelo is located is on one of the best beaches of the world. However, we arrived just days after a storm so the beach was filled with seaweed. Fortunately, the pool areas of the resort are beautiful and more than made up for the seaweed-mired beach.
- Be sure to catch the sunset at least one of the days you are there. It is breathtaking.
- If you are a cruiser and have been spoiled by the great shows on cruise ships, you may just want to manage your expectations with the entertainment.
Overall, the Barcelo resorts are a solid choice. If you remember, I went to the sister property in Punta Cana about two years ago [see review HERE] and I recommended it particularly for group travel and even first-time travelers to Mexico. If you are looking for a more intimate 5-star luxury experience with your loved ones and you are a more experienced traveler, this would not be my first choice. One thing is for certain about the Barcelo brand though, they give you great value for the price and you will have a little something for everyone to love.