Only the Best All-Inclusives: For the Birthday Girl

Royal Hideaway Pool

Royal Hideaway Playacar
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Most birthdays include a cake – my wife's, however, routinely include airfare. As I researched sunny spots and swanky hotels fit for Joy's big day, I came across the Royal Hideaway Playacar on Mexico's Riviera Maya, the first adults-only, all-inclusive resort to receive the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award. That distinction puts it in good company (Barbados' Sandy Lane, the Four Seasons in Nevis and the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman share the same accolade), and after a glowing recommendation by a discerning friend who's a New York City restaurant manager and part-time sommelier, the deal was sealed.

Travel snafus delayed our arrival until the wee hours of the morning, but we were nevertheless greeted warmly by a smiling bellman who took our bags and escorted us to the hotel's grand lobby, fragrant with eucalyptus and fresh flowers. Instantly we were served flutes of surprisingly good Mexican champagne, given lavender-scented cold towels, and after a brief orientation shown to our well-appointed villa – one of 11 two-story colonial-style accommodations, each with a private concierge. Joy loved the his-and-hers bathroom sinks and the king-sized bed dressed in Egyptian cotton sheets. I appreciated the handsome furniture, sprawling outdoor terrace and well-stocked minibar that was refilled with my favorites each day. Our daily Royal Journal newsletter included a weather report, a list of the day's activities (Spanish lessons, tequila appreciation and towel sculpture were a few of our favorites) and a nod to guests with something to celebrate: "Happy Birthday, Mrs. LaHuta!"

In the morning we were greeted by Ricardo, a cheery concierge who made dinner reservations at four of the hotel's six a-la-carte restaurants. Our options included an Italian bistro; a Pan-Asian spot; a Mexican and Caribbean eatery; and a continental restaurant, Las Ventanas, which features a four-course tasting menu of inventive dishes such as foie-gras soup with white garlic ice cream and fish with coconut and vindaloo curry. Every evening Joy and I would enjoy what we considered to be some of the finest restaurants we've ever eaten in without having to lift a finger to do research, make reservations or pay the check – elegant and effortless dining, indeed.

The rest of the hotel was equally impressive. There were spacious beachfront Bali beds, hot tubs galore and two massive pools flanked by teak chaises with hand-fluffed cushions. By day two, every waiter knew our names and what we drank - a level of service that pervaded the entire resort. There were no family reunions, no frat-party bar scenes and no screaming children. By the end of our stay we agreed that The Royal Hideaway felt exactly like a traditional luxury resort but with the added convenience of having everything included – a sentiment echoed by many guests. "I knew it was going to be elegant," said Dave Adams, a first-time visitor from Provo, Utah, "but I didn't expect anything quite as luxurious as this."

Neither did we.

From $300 in low season ($500 high).*

800-999-9182; royalhideaway.com

*Rates current as of the time of publishing. Please call to confirm prior to booking your trip.