Cancun and Riviera Maya, Mexico, offer a plethora of all-inclusive resorts, but how do you navigate the sea of options? Maybe you want the best Cancun all-inclusive resort for wine geeks; the one with the most pampering spa; or perhaps the property offering the best in-room liquor stash. From bustling Cancun to chill Tulum, and plenty of Playa del Carmen resorts in between, here are the region's best all-inclusive resorts.
Best Swim-Up Bar: Moon Palace Cancun
A cocktail is instantly improved when you get to breast-stroke over to the bar and order it. While there's more than one swim-up bar at Moon Palace Cancun, the Nizuc pool is where you want to be at sunset, clutching a fruity drink and listening to the lapping waves at the shoreline. Bonus: the property is in the throes of a $450 million transformation, set to wrap up in March 2017. When complete, there will be five swim-up bars and nine pools total.
Best Swim-Up Suite: Azul Beach Resort The Fives
Book a one-bedroom Essence Swim-Up Suites at Karisma Hotels' Azul Beach Resort The Fives and there are very few reasons to leave. The 700-square-foot space is decked out in mahogany and marble, with shades of lavender, gold and fuschia, but its super-easy pool access is the real gem. Just walk off the patio if you want to get wet.
Spa Treatments Included: Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Imagine a day filled with unlimited spa treatments. Banyan Tree Mayakoba's Spa Sanctuary Villas programs means you pay nothing extra for food or pampering — all with a healthy bent, including mini-bar contents, afternoon tea and turndown service. Wake up to either a Thai Yoga Massage or Neck and Shoulder Massage followed by breakfast (organic juices and fresh fruit) in your villa. Spa treatments — from a foot massage to Ayurvedic offerings — are at your leisure all day long, serviced on an outdoor deck above your private pool.
Best In-Room Liquor Dispenser: Hard Rock Hotel Cancun and Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya
Naturally, a Cancun all-inclusive resort linked to a rock-and-roll-venue brand will make sure guests get top-shelf drinks. Included in rates for four room categories at Hard Rock Hotel Cancun and Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya are full-sized liquor bottles in the room — all replenished daily. From James Alexander Red Label whisky in the Standard room to Justerini & Brooks whisky in the Concierge suite, there's no room for a dry vacation. Also, each stay comes with the $1,800 Limitless Resort Credit, to be used on pricier spirits throughout the property.
Best Off-Site Excursions: Karisma Hotels & Resorts
Stray from typical Riviera Maya excursions and opt for the offbeat at Karisma properties (El Dorado Royale, for adults only; the family-friendly Generations Riviera Maya; and clothing-optional Hidden Beach Resort by Karisma). Lomas Tours takes you to places you might not otherwise go, whether it's the new Xenses eco park, a Mayan spiritual ceremony, or a four-course lobster meal on a catamaran at sunset. Tours can be booked at the Lomas Tours desk at each property.
Best Pool: JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa
Spring for the all-inclusive package at JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and you can enjoy the gorgeous infinity pool even more because you don't have to whip out your wallet when you want another tequila shot. Post-swim, dry off in a Bali-style daybed on the beach. Swank it up even more during your stay with the hotel-in-a hotel concept and VIP services through Club 91.
As Latin America's largest spa, no luxury was lost in creating this 40,000-square-foot sanctuary at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen. Each treatment at SE SPA by Grand Velas begins with an 80-minute "water journey" coaxing you through seven rituals designed to purify your skin. Inspired by the local culture are three new treatments: a Mayan corn massage using corncob essential oil and a honey exfoliation, Uumbal Shawl Massage that stretches muscles using Mexican shawls, and the Aloe Vera massage to cure sun-damaged skin. Relax post-treatment in the Clay Room or Ice Room, or book another treatment for tomorrow at one of three new Oceanfront Spa Cabanas, offering exclusive treatments exclusive and Instagram-worthy views of the Caribbean Sea.
Best Tasting Menu: White Box at The Pyramid at Grand Oasis
Scoring a beachfront table for dinner in Riviera Maya isn't too difficult (there are many) but what gives White Box at The Pyramid at Grand Oasis glam status is its wine list, paired with 18 molecular-gastronomy courses from a choose-your-own menu. Wines are then artfully matched at the whimsy of the vino-educated wait staff. Whether you opt for cured foie terrine with tiny apples and a "cotton cloud" or end on a sweet note with marinated strawberries and nitro cream, wine selections aren't run-of-the-mill California labels: instead they're sourced from Spain, Argentina and, yes, even Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe.
Best Rock-Star Chef: UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya
As the region's most highly anticipated hotel opening (due to open in March), UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya tapped Christian Bravo to orchestrate all things culinary at Cueva Siete. With a resume that includes cooking for former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, three Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, and appearing on Top Chef Mexico, the food is anything but bland. Expect dinner twists like duck l'orange with Xtabentun liquor reduction and pureed plantains.
Best Entertainment: Grand Palladium Riviera Maya’s Riviera Theater
Accessible to guests staying at any of the four Grand Palladium Riviera Maya resorts, you'll find a show for all interests, so don't worry about being serenaded by the same mariachi band each night. The variety is especially welcome if you're staying for a week and want to mix it up. From fire performances to sexy cabaret shows, these are not the kinds of shows you can easily see elsewhere. Take a deep dive into global music and dance with "Colors of the World," a glimpse at culture around the world.