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Last month we attended the grand opening of the new Iberostar Playa Mita on Mexico's Riviera Nayarit. The 452-room all-inclusive resort is the Spanish brand's first property on Mexico's Pacific coast and features 120 oceanfront junior suites, 18 adult-only Spa Rooms, two Presidential Suites, two pools and a spa. Guests also have preferred access to the nearby Greg Norman-designed course at the Litibu Golf Club
What really caught our eye, though, was the pieces of Huichol art displayed throughout the hotel, in rooms and public space. Huichol art is a traditional folk art form by the native Huichol people who live in Nayarit and Jalisco made with intricate designs, vibrant colors and sacred symbols to express deeply held spiritual beliefs.
Like this jaguar head in the lobby (pictured above), which has three million beads in it and it was made by one family -- grandparents, parents and children -- and took about three months to make. For Huichol Shamans, the jaguar is a power animal, considered messengers of the god of fire, Tatewari.
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Now that we've actually seen one of the properties in person, we're even more ready to give the all-inclusive experience a whirl.
We peeped at the former Barcelo Cabo in Mexico as it was undergoing some last-minute touch-ups to turn into the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, a family-friendly resort. (Hyatt Zilara in Cancún will be adults-only.)
The good news is that the Barcelo property is rather new (it opened in 2009) and so the rooms, public spaces, restaurants, meeting rooms, pools and even the kids' club area are all in excellent condition. (We especially loved the giant flat-screen TVs which also accessed the internet as well.) All Hyatt really had to do was make some cosmetic adjustments, change up the signs and tweak the all-inclusive plans.
You can read more about the plans here but the basic all-inclusive plan includes not just food and alcohol from the eight restaurants on-site (most are a la carte and only two are buffets) but also entertainment options, daily and nightly activities, fitness center, kids club and WiFi. The Club Premium Plan gets you a few more perks like private check-in, access to the Exclusive Premium Level Lounge, 20 percent off spa and salon services, welcome amenities and other goodies.
A few weeks ago, the Mexican-brand Palace Resorts came to New York and took it by storm, with billboards in Time Square, music in the streets, and general revelry. The followed it with an event boasting the all-inclusive giant's achievements and upcoming plans, including various music and comedy concerts at its mammoth Moon Palace property.
But amid all the talk about the band Chicago and Michael Bolton performing in 2014, one of the execs let out a piece of gossip.
It looks like Palace is in expansion mode even after pumping $55 million into its Moon property near Cancun, and will open a new all-inclusive resort in 2014. Now, we know people are fans of all-inclusives (stay tuned for a feature on some of the best off-the-radar resorts) so this is huge news.
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The amazing view from The Buccaneer is just short of competing with a brides beauty
May usually kicks off "wedding season" and from our experience, betrothed couples usually fall into two camps--the calm and collected or the completely overwhelmed. We believe these 5 Elopement Packages are perfect for the anti-bride, and those looking for an elegant, but easy-to-manage affair.
These hotels' wedding offerings are downright affordable, quite important after the seriously extravagant ceremony packages we've seen lately. Whether it's a ring exchange for 2 in Vegas or a Caribbean island soiree for 20, we think you'll appreciate a simpler way to walk down the aisle.
Aria Resort and Casino, Las Vegas
Who says all Vegas weddings have to be kitschy and doomed to an Elvis-impersonator-slash-drive-through affair? Nope. It's getting classier by the moment, and as of April 23, there will be a new Wedding Chapel at the ARIA, one of the town's hottest hotels. Instead of some velvet-laden, dank "church", this place promises to be completely chic. Designed in conjunction with MGM Resorts International Design, expect a modern and sophisticated set-up with chrome and mahogany wood doors, and a color scheme centered around warm chocolate tones and creamy whites. Pops of floral color and metallics soften up the look and lend a romantic feel. Seating is available for up to 60 guests, and the front foyer will double as a space for small post-ceremony gatherings. There's a dedicated ladies’ dressing lounge, and even a groom’s game lounge with a pool table and wet bar. It will feel more penthouse than house of the Lord, though, so keep that in mind. After all, it's still Vegas! On-site wedding coordinators are available to help the Big Day go smoothly, as well. The Wedding Chapel at ARIA will offer a variety of nuptial packages, ranging from $1,500 to $21,000. They all include photography, flowers, limo transportation to and from the Clark County Marriage Bureau and an officiant to perform the ceremony. Some packages even include accommodations at the hotel--honeymoon suite, anyone? And for those who can't attend your wedding, the Chapel can broadcast your ceremony online. For more info, visit arialasvegas.com/weddings or call the Chapel at (877) 371-2742.
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For travelers who seek to scratch the Caribbean island of St. Maarten off their bucket list, and see the planes flying over the beach for which the island is most famous, there's only one hotel option. This is the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino, an all-inclusive property with the distinction of being the only large hotel within walking distance of Maho Beach; the other buildings around all all time-shares or private condos.
The Sonesta towers over the small town of Maho, and the 537-room property is one of the first things visitors see as their plane touches down to the tarmac at SXM, St. Maarten's Airport which sits just off of Maho. As it's all-inclusive, nightly rates during winter peak season aren't cheap ($450 is average), but having everything taken care of and being on Maho Beach is a huge perk to justify the rate. If you're just on St. Maarten for the excellent plane spotting, you wouldn't even need to rent a car; just take a taxi to the hotel and all necessities are within walking distance.
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SuperClubs has removed the clothing-optional, adults-only Hedonism II Jamaican resort from its dossier of all-inclusive properties. This comes after it unloaded unprofitable sister resort Hedonism III in 2011 and in earlier 2012 sold Breezes Trelawny to a Canadian tour company called Sunwing. Breezes Montego Bay was also let go in 2009.
The company recently announced that the sale of the Negril hotel has finally been completed to an investment group named Marshmallow Ltd., headed by financier Harry Lange, and made up of partners Jon Gross of UnWind Travel (aka Fluffernutters), some of SuperClubs' own chairman's family members, and Kevin Levee, the hotel's current general manager.
The sale will not change Hedonism’s name, however, a $10 million room renovation is planned, which will certainly be welcome for the 30-year old hotel.
More importantly, what will remain the same will be the resort’s day-to-day operations, which include saucy, devil-may-care fun that its patrons, often repeat guests, relish.
[Photo: Ack Ook's Flickr]
We often have debates with people on the road and in the travel industry about all-inclusive resorts. Some people hate them, others love them, and, in our opinion, it breaks down into a fight of travelers versus vacationers. Some people’s idea of a good time is backpacking through Asia (travelers), and some like to post up by the pool and drink for six days (vacationers). Many are right down the middle and think margaritas make local Mexican history more interesting.
The latter is an approach we find to make sense for a majority of the population. There will always be the extremes on both sides, but for the most part, people just want to relax and have fun. Yes, you can take advantage of the amenities of an all-inclusive and not hide behind the walls of the resort all day and night Here are five ways for vacationers and travelers to meet in the middle while staying at all-inclusive resorts:
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Anyone who stayed at an old-style Club Med will have more than a few bad things to say about it, especially when they get to the part about the tiny rooms with two twin beds that couldn't be pushed together.
Renovations have been rolling across the whole chain however, and last fall the Club Med Ixtapa Pacific in Mexico shut down for months so the place could be completely transformed.
Workers literally took sledgehammers to the concrete walls and the concrete platforms those twin beds were resting upon. Some $20 million later, it's an impressive transformation.
Those crazy folks in the advertising world are rolling out their back-to-school and end of summer specials -- don't they know summer is still in full swing?
Expedia is taking advantage of the apparent change of seasons by reminding us that there are still great summer deals to be had -- all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, no less.
Book four nights or more at AI resorts and get the whole schmear at half off. (Hence Expedia's tag of "Half Off Summer Sale.") Throw in the airfare and you've got a relatively inexpensive vacation.
[Ed. Note: This is the Bad Rate in our Good Rate/Bad Rate feature. This screenshot was taken was on January 9, 2007 and is subject to change. Enjoy.]
If you want to go upscale, there are several all-inclusives in the Punta Cana area of the Dominican Republic where the food is a notch up, the liquor is not bottom shelf, and the staffers are fluent in English. Then there are those who just charge more and put a nice sheen on things. You can spend $158 per night for a couple at this week's Good Rate--Allegro Punta Cana--or pay $525 a night for a garden view room at Paradisus Palma Real.
The complaints on TripAdvisor are more entertaining than the typical ones your read for this kind of hotel (musty rooms, clueless staffers who can't fix problems, and ho-hum food).
The rooms have a "master switch" that turns all power off...and I mean ALL of it; lights, fans, clocks, etc. So, whatever you do, do not flip the middle light switch next to the bed or you will spend the next two hours trying to figure out what went wrong.
Butlers barely speak english and are basically a waste- -they stand there and jabber away about the property but they don't do anything and you need to keep tipping them.
My 11 year old turned on the bathtub jets and it shot water across my whole room, soaking down my bed. Don't do that.
The other negative comments mostly revolve around indifferent service, ocean-front rooms that get downgraded on a whim, and a major language barrier. If you're going to deal with these problems--common in this region--then go get a place where you're not paying a premium for supposedly better service.