I have been eyeing the Grand Velas Riviera Maya for years and trying to tack on a few nights here or there for the last couple of trips to Mexico. I’m so glad we were finally able to make it happen at the end of 2019 so I can add the Grand Velas Riviera Maya review to my site. Let’s just say that I went in with big expectations.
The resort is on a powdery white-sand beach along the Caribbean Sea but is uniquely situated within the Yucatan jungle, ensconced in mangroves. It’s characterized as “beyond all inclusive,” and after our stay, I understand why.
The way I’ve been describing the Grand Velas to family and friends since we go back is like this: imagine the finest five-star hotel in which you’ve ever stayed. Now sit it on a beautiful beach, add an amazing pool and a few really fabulous restaurants. Then make it all inclusive. This is actually deserving of being called a luxury resort — five-star from top to bottom. It has got to be among the very best Mayan Riviera resorts open to the public.
I’m going to break this resort review down into the following sections: accommodations, food and drinks, pools and beach, kids’ activities and entertainment. We stayed in the Ambassador area of the resort, and although I quickly visited all three areas, I spent 90 per cent of my time in the Ambassador, so this Grand Velas Riviera Maya review will focus primarily on it.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya review: accommodations
With fewer than 200 rooms in each of its three areas — Ambassador (the family-friendly zone), Zen (the eco-nature zone) and Grand Class (adults only) — Grand Velas Riviera Maya is very much a boutique resort experience, even though it sits on 80 acres.
And since each even the most basic rooms (with one king bed or two queens) are suites with an incredible 1,270 of square footage, you’ll walk in feeling like royalty.
We went with two queen beds and asked to have two rollaway beds brought in. We only got one of the rollaways, despite asking twice for the second one, but with two queens it wasn’t the end of the world. Miss Q slept with me, Big B had his own queen bed and The K Man got the rollaway, which he insists is the most comfortable one he’s ever slept on. In hindsight, I wish we had asked for a king bed and had two rollaways. Lesson learned.
Even the bathroom was enormous. There’s an area off to the left you can’t see in this picture that has a stool, large mirror and closeup mirror with a light great for makeup application. There’s even an optional look-through between the main room and the jacuzzi tub, which my kids used at the end of the day while they soaked themselves and watched a bit of TV before dinner:
We also had a large terrace shrouded in gorgeous pink flowers, creating total privacy between the neighbours, overlooking the ocean:
Our room amenities were plentiful:
- Excellent beds! Very comfortable, plush mattresses topped with premium bedding (including a goose-down duvet and beautiful pillows). There was also a pillow menu but, honestly, the pillows we had were so perfect in every way that I didn’t bother using it
- A stocked mini bar, replenished daily, with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages plus premium snacks (like Snickers bars and peanut M&Ms!)
- L’Occitane toiletries, restocked daily, for the bathroom — including bath bombs, which the kids LOVED
- A Nespresso coffee-maker and pods, complete with instructions (sometimes missing and not all Nespresso machines work exactly the same way)
- A hair dryer, iron and ironing board — none of which I used, but nice to know they were there
- A scale. But I’m not sure I ever want to see a scale on vacation again if I’m being honest!
- A safe — standard and essential
- Umbrellas! So glad we didn’t need to use one but I really appreciated having them at the ready
- A digital thermostat that functioned perfectly
We also enjoyed the nightly turndown service. The little cards with the next day’s forecast or the little chocolates (wrapped in satin bags!) or cookies for the kids was a lovely touch. Our towels were also removed/replaced twice a day thanks to turndown.
Speaking of towels, I appreciated the card you could put on your beds to indicate that housekeeping was to make beds only and NOT replace the sheets every day. Unless a bed becomes soiled, I don’t know why you’d ever need fresh sheets every day. We also only tossed towels into the tub if we wanted them replaced — otherwise, housekeeping knew that we would re-use them. Sustainability is important.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya review: food & drinks
If you’ve read any of my other Caribbean resort reviews, you know that food trumps just about everything else for me. I want to be fed well and have memorable foodie experiences for breakfast, lunch and dinner — and that includes the buffet.
Well, Grand Velas delivers. And then some.
Although we didn’t even come close to eating at all of the restaurants, we did as much “research” as possible in three short days. We ate at the buffet in the Ambassador area for breakfast and lunch, ate lunch once in the Zen area and enjoyed two a la carte dinners — one at Frida and one at Lucca, both in the Ambassador. Everyone was wowed.
Azul is an oceanfront buffet restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And because it’s open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., you can also easily pop in anytime for a snack, too. It was so great to pop in with our flip flops and coverups on after a morning of pool fun thanks to its casual dress code.
We found a little bit of everything at Azul at every meal. There were so many options that it was hard to choose what to put on a single plate (so of course we gorged ourselves with multiple plates!).
Some of the most notable things at the Azul buffet include the doughnut cart at breakfast and Iberico ham from Spain at lunch; this is the most delicious ham on the planet and it was carved every day.
There were three kinds of honey available: with vanilla extract, truffle extract and anise. And a small working hive dripping with fresh honey beside it!
At breakfast, I couldn’t get enough of the fresh juices, infused water and rice pudding (better than my Mom’s — and that’s my favourite rice pudding in the world. WAS, anyway).
The lobster cannelloni at lunch was so good that I stuffed myself with two of them. There were massive shrimps (done two ways) nearby and I indulged heavily in those, too.
It seemed there was nothing that Azul prepared that wasn’t executed with thoughtful presentation and gorgeous flavour.
I really wanted to see the Zen part of the resort, and the a la carte lunch that welcomed kids was enough of a reason to hop in a quick shuttle ride. After winding through a narrow road lined with lush mangroves, we arrived at what I must describe as a decadent spa-like environment. Not surprisingly, there is actually a full spa located in Zen (and I heard that it’s award-winning. Like, the best resort spa in the Caribbean or something along those lines).
Chaka is so-named because of the trees that surround the restaurant. And the story that goes along with it is so cool that I just want to take a minute to re-tell it.
According to Mayan legend, there were two warrior brothers — Kinich, the kind one, and Tizic, the angry one — who both fell for a beautiful girl named Nicte-Ha. There was a battle to the death to claim her, and both brothers died. In the afterlife, they begged to return to see Nicte-Ha again. The gods allowed Tizic to be reborn as the Chechen Tree (which is poisonous and burns anyone who touches it) and Kinich as the Chaka tree (which neutralizes Chechen venom), and both watch over Nicte-Ha who was reborn as a white flower. Near the Yucatan jungle, these two trees and this particular species of flower always grow in close proximity!
Now onto the food.
I love that the kids got menus of their own that went just beyond the usual cheese pizza or chicken fingers; all of the kids’ menus at Grand Velas are carefully prepared to offer kid-friendly food that’s inspired by the restaurants’ specialties.
While not every single dish entirely hit the mark, most of them were fantastic. The blackened octopus and grilled shrimp over risotto were outstanding, and the chocolate lava cake for dessert (if memory serves, it was — strangely — called fondant, but I ordered it anyway out of sheer curiosity) was worth the wait. But wait, we did. Lunch took more than two hours from start to finish, and there were very few people in the restaurant. Keep this in mind if you would rather spend your time in the sunshine.
Frida is one of the restaurants onsite that allows kids for dinner, and is a high-end fusion Mexican spot inspired by artist Frida Kahlo. There was even a musician singing and playing guitar while we dined — and my kids loved it so much they paid more attention to her than their food.
A four-diamond AAA-awarded restaurant with a menu imagined by Chef Ricardo de la Vega, this upscale space comes with a dress code to match — so take long pants and closed-toed shoes for men and leave the casual sandals and beach dresses in your room, ladies. Take advantage of an opportunity to get a little gussied up!
Every single dish — from apps to desserts — was incredible and served at the right pace. During a couple of breaks in service, we really enjoyed learning a bit more about some tequila and mezcal that came around on their own cart.
Chef Antonio Terlizzi Hassan’s Italian-Mediterranean cuisine was mouth-watering perfection. Another restaurant that welcomes kids and has a finer dress code, the pasta and seafood here were remarkable.
Start with the carpaccio trilogy of tuna, salmon and sea bass, then move on to the pecorino fondue — which is not fondue at all in its classic French sense, but more like a thick saganaki prepared without the flames and topped with goodies. Make your pasta dish the papardelle with duck ragu — it’s a WOWer. The risotto with gorgonzola cheese and fig compote, red wine and almonds was really nice and not too gorgonzola-y.
I stole a few bites of my kid’s pizza and it was everything a wood oven-fired pizza should be. My other kid’s spaghetti Bolognese was dead-on portion-wise and was prepared and presented as well as you’d hope for an adult pasta dish to be served in a proper Italian restaurant back home.
Have the Tiramisu. The end.
Snacks at the pool
If you’re feeling peckish ’round the pool or would simply rather stay at the pool or beach for lunch, there’s a pretty extensive food menu from which your Pool Concierge (we’ll get to that little gem in the next section) can order and deliver to you.
We had the nachos and shrimp cocktail and both were pretty darn good considering we got to eat in our swimmers!
The cocktails at Grand Velas Riviera Maya were truly excellent. They’re cocktails that are as good as you’d get at any urban city bar or lounge. For me, this is always a big one. Because a lot of resorts that do food well fall flat on the drinks front, using pre-blended slushie crap or just throwing basics together without any care or artistry.
Grand Velas clearly takes pride in every part of presentation and this includes drinks. I even found a new favourite: the coconut margarita. Creatively rimmed with tajin, I tried it both blended and on the rocks — the latter being the way I preferred it.
We tried a lot of cocktails, and I’m here to tell you that you won’t be disappointed.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya review: pools and beach
The Ambassador pool is breathtaking. A huge two-tiered infinity pool, separated by a boardwalk, appears to drain right into the ocean. There’s a shallow area just for littles and plenty of in-water seating and nooks for more private play and conversation.
One side was more heated than the other, which suited me nicely since I’m not a fan of being “refreshed” in a pool. Rather, I prefer it to feel more like a warm bath.
My kids live a pretty fortunate life and have gotten to swim in some great pools, but they both agreed that this one took the cake. I think I have to agree! (Maybe it had something to do with the massive, inflatable unicorn whose residence appeared to permanently be the Ambassador pool?)
But perhaps the best part of the pool experience is having a Pool Concierge. This was a whole new bit of wonderful and I now fear I am forever spoiled. With more than enough loungers for every guest, one could easily grab one’s own area poolside. But, no. The Grand Velas “beyond all inclusive” service really shines when it comes to this little extra. Your Pool Concierge will lay out your towels for you, bring bottled water in a bucket of ice and essentially be your food and drink server for as long as you stay.
Heading to lunch and don’t want to take anything but your flip flops and coverups? No bother. Just let your Pool Concierge know and they’ll make sure no one takes your spot or removes your belongings. Need a fresh beverage? Of course — just ask (or wait to be asked, because the wait won’t be long). Want some food? Your Pool Concierge will be only too pleased to deliver some. Need your sunglasses cleaned? Believe it or not, they do that too.
Our favourite Pool Concierge, Tayde, also offered my children ice cream one afternoon, which arrived in plastic martini glasses (and they thought it was pretty awesome to have someone bring them treats at the pool).
Tayde went above and beyond to make our visit to his section of the pool area a memorable one.
The beach has some of the most beautiful sand ever. You won’t need to worry about stepping on something uncomfortable. Just dig those toes in and enjoy!
The sargassum — which has plagued many parts of the Caribbean and Mexico for the past year or so — is not an issue (right now, anyway), but there was a tiny bit of muck along the shoreline and the ocean wasn’t clear enough for me to take a dip. But I’m picky. I want N-O-T-H-I-N-G in my ocean; I want perfect. This was just fine for my kids who care far less.
You won’t find any big waves on this stretch of beach because there are large rock-like formations here and there breaking up the surf. This is great for small kids but not as welcome for bigger ones who like to play in waves.
This seems like the right spot to also share a photo of the gardens and grounds at Grand Velas, which is being quietly upkept at all hours of the day, but far more discreetly than I’ve experienced at any other resort:
Grand Velas Riviera Maya review: kids’ club and activities
There is what appears to be a pretty fabulous kids’ club at Grand Velas, but with only three days to enjoy together, my kids wanted to hang out with us the whole time.
We did, however, pass by the kids’ club one afternoon and they were out on the grass having an art lesson. Complete with full-sized canvases, it looked like something out of our local 4cats art class that you’d pay big bucks for!
The teen lounge was also really cool and decked out with everything you can imagine that would tempt your tween or teen to spend the whole day there. Open until 11 p.m., this is a great option for older kids who are comfortable coming and going as they please.
I thought it was pretty awesome that when the kids’ club had activities in various areas of the resort, any of the kids could participate — even if they weren’t officially signed up.
From movies on the lawn to snowcones behind the pool to big inflatable fun in a rolly-polly pool ball, my kids got to engage when and how they wanted.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya review: entertainment
We missed the nightly family entertainment because our dinner reservations were at the same time, but there’s something happening every night of the week for those with kids.
We did, however, catch the Circus in the Pool one afternoon and it was crazy good! Think Cirque du Soleil meets aquatics. There’s a big structure set up in the Ambassador pool to hold rings, hoops and straps and a series of circus acts ensue, set to music. The costumes were big budget and watching the skilled entertainers move in and out of the structure via kayak was super unique.
5/5 (I think this may be the first time I’ve ever given an all-inclusive resort a perfect rating!)