Only the Best All-Inclusives: For the Gourmand

all inclusive excellence

Excellence Playa Mujeres
Cancún, Mexico

My husband and I both have adventurous palates and share a love of dining out, so when we're on vacation, eating well is a top priority. Set on a peninsula facing bohemian Isla Mujeres, swanky 450-room Excellence Playa Mujeres sounded exactly like our kind of place, with eight elegant international restaurants, 11 bars and 24-hour in-room dining should the late-night munchies strike. Obviously, some restraint would have to be exercised.

After settling into our two-story, ocean-view suite with rooftop hot tub, we hit the buffet at Barcelona. I planned to eat light – a salad, grilled fish and no dessert. But the lunchtime spread included an enticing array of sushi, a cooked-to-order seafood station and five varieties of homemade pizza – even the salad bar had six types of lettuce. So much for calorie counting. Temptation presented itself again that evening at Flavor Market, an intimate, low-lit tapas restaurant accented with glowing pendant lights and mosaic tile. We perused the menu of small plates, selected a few montaditos (open-face sandwiches) and cazuelas (hot appetizers), and in short order the marble countertop was groaning under a spread of elegantly presented appetizers. A fluffy tortilla; a cheese flight accompanied by an amazing, coarse-cut apple-pear-and-nectarine marmalade; chicken croquetas; and succulent rack of lamb with a tabouleh sauce. Strike two for sensible eating.

On day two, I vowed to atone for my gluttony with exercise: a session on the treadmill, kayaking, a stroll around the 25-acre property and swimming in the circuitous pools. But the stroll and swim were accompanied with frothy drinks spiked with a generous shot of liquor. By dinnertime I'd abandoned my dietary agenda: Bring on the epicurean orgy! None of the restaurants require reservations, so we took a culinary world tour, eating each course in a different venue. In French Chez Isabelle's, we sampled from a cellar stocked with 500 bottles (which inclued a $1,200 2002 Chateau Lafitte Rothschild; house wines, however, are complimentary). My husband raved over the salt-encrusted whole fish at Barcelona. At Pan-Asian Spice, we enjoyed piquant Thai beef salad and ginger-and-green-tea ice cream. And Toscana's Caprese salad with herbed pita bread slathered with honey-tomato sauce was a deliciously inventive riff on an Italian standard. Our favorite was Agave, a traditional Mexican eatery where a mariachi trio entertained. We particularly loved the Mayan coffee, theatrically prepared tableside, laced with flaming brandy, Kahlua and the anise liqueur xtabentun and then crowned with vanilla ice cream. Arriba!

All too quickly our gastronomic adventure ended, and I returned home wearing a two-pound souvenir. Perhaps next time we'll watch our portions. Then again, maybe we'll just pack pants with elastic waists.

From $212 in low season ($245 high).*

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