Style and Sensibility: A Luxury Vacation for Free (almost!)

Confession: in the past, my husband and I have scoffed at the idea of all-inclusive resorts. We love to travel, and to us, an all-inclusive seems to be at odds with our philosophy to explore and soak in as much culture as possible.  Resorts seem to be the type of place where you sit around and do nothing for a week, or get pushed to pay for cheesy excursions that aren’t even fun. Both my husband and I are typically way too high energy and, frankly, too cynical for this style of vacation.

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We look innocent, but in reality we’re hyperactive 28-year-old brats

…That is, until this past summer hit us.

 

My husband spent two and a half months studying 10-12 hours a day for his bar exam, and I spent the summer dealing with complications with my dental license for Georgia (where we are moving next week).  By the beginning of July, we had become mentally and physically exhausted, so when it was time to start planning our August vacation, we had two requirements: 1) the trip would be cheap 2) we could do absolutely nothing if we wanted.

…enter Hyatt Zilara Cancun!

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view from our balcony

Why this trip was a Deal:

  1. Flight: Booked with our Delta SkyMiles. Since it wasn’t peak season, fares seemed to be pretty reasonable mileage-wise (we didn’t even book that far ahead of time – I think about four weeks before the trip). Easy as pie, only cost here was minimal airline fees. We booked with our Delta Amex, so we each had free checked bags.

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    So close I can taste the pina colada!
  2. Hotel Reservation: So, my husband has used the Hyatt credit card for years, and thrives on telling everyone he meets the extensive advantages this card has.  I myself recently signed up for the card, and they currently have a promotion where if you spent $1000 within three months, you get two free nights at any Hyatt hotel and 5,000 bonus points.  Hyatt also gives you two free nights per year at any category 4 or lower Hyatt hotel.  Guess what resort is a category 4? We were able to reserve our hotel for five nights just by combining our cardmember rewards, which honestly was the perfect amount of time for us as all-inclusive virgins.
    cancun luxury getaway
    no kids allowed in this cabana!

    **Note: this particular Hyatt is for adults only and caters to a couples or older family clientele, no one under the age of 18 can book here and there are no children-centered activities. Another wonderful perk for us, but if you’re looking for a family-friendly Hyatt there is another one located in Cancun.**

  3. Car transport from airport to hotel: we used a separate service from the hotel and it cost us less than 40 pesos, round trip, which was the best rate we could find at the time.

 

After these arrangements, the framework is basically set – the hotel provides food, beverages, mini bar, free access to the sauna or jacuzzi at the spa, etc.  There are some “premium” options you can pay for booze-wise (ex: room service provides wine by the glass for free, but you can only get a bottle of wine for a charge).  Of course, any excursions, scheduled massages or other spa amenities, etc come with a price tag, and even though tipping isn’t required, it is encouraged.

So, planning the trip was easy – but was it actually a success?

The Check-In

First of all, the lobby is absolutely gorgeous. The stained glass ceilings, the white interiors, and the marble floors evoke luxury and comfort and make a fantastic first impression.  You automatically relax that crick in your neck from the hectic airport chaos and transition into vacation mode.

Because of my husband’s status with his credit card, we had a separate check-in room where we worked with a concierge to arrange all of our reservations and orientation to the resort.  The host we worked with, Julia, was incredibly nice, as well as our bellhop who immediately grabbed us margaritas to start our vacation off the right way.  We got an upgrade to a slightly higher floor and bigger room as well, which was a nice little bonus.

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There’s only two restaurants at the resort that require reservations, and we highly recommend booking your reservations as soon as you arrive if you plan on eating at either one of them as tables go FAST.  Julia also helped me set up a facial and hot stone massage for the spa, and provided an activities pamphlet for the week.  She was super helpful and friendly, and made the check in process go smoothly.

Notice as you walk around the lobby that there are multiple bars, a 24 hour lounge with pool tables, and a plethora of comfy chairs to read or nap in!

The Room

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So, I don’t know if every all-inclusive does this, but every single room at the Hyatt Zilara resort has a view of the pool and the beach. This is BRILLIANT design – all guests feel like they’re getting an advantage by having a good view. Every room also has a balcony, unless you’re on the ground floor, in which case you have your own little swim-up pool area and porch which has its own obvious advantages. Most balconies (including ours) also has a hammock that you can lay on while sipping your mai tai ;).

Other amenities include a beautiful suite-style shower, spacious closets, a well-stocked minibar with liquor and beer, and a couples’ jacuzzi near the window. It honestly was an ideal resort hotel room, they get a perfect store for everything.

Plus, as a bonus, they left a welcome gift for us of champagne and cake! Now who could be upset about that?!?

 

The Food

Before I review this section, I have another confession:  my husband and I are totally spoiled when it comes to food.  We grew up in houses of talented cooks (both of our moms really know their way around a stovetop, and our dads aren’t too shabby either), and we also love to cook. Besides that, we have spent the past six years in Boston, where there’s an endless number of fine dining restaurants.  So we can be a bit snobby with our food standards.

The Room Service

Our favorite food option, in all honesty.  They were always quick with the service and most of the items were delicious, especially the breakfast (I must confess, I ate a lot of pancakes and huevos rancheros on this trip…oops).  The room service is 24/7 and has plenty of options for everyone’s tastes.  We ate most breakfasts and a couple of dinners (and late night snacks) via the room service. Bonus: they have a little delivery “box” outside your room where they can deliver the food late at night without coming in. they buzz the doorbell and then you open the door for your food and wine! Genius!

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Breakfast is served!

Asiana Restaurant

Sushi/Tempura/Hibachi style restaurant.  This was probably our least favorite of the nicer restaurants. We had reservations for the hibachi style service, and even though the entertainment was kind of fun, the food was quite bland. I’ve heard their lunch menu/regular dinner menu is better, but we didn’t have time to check it out during our trip.

Spice Buffet

Usually when I hear “buffet,” I think of congealed vats of strangely-colored, unidentifiable meats and vegetables, so at first I tried to avoid the buffet.  However, mid-way through our trip we went for lunch and I couldn’t believe what I had been missing!  The buffet is incredibly well executed, with plenty of choices for everyone’s palate and different themed meals throughout the week.  The service was also impeccable here, with servers bringing you a refill of wine or water before you even realized you needed it.

Maria Marie 

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Dinner at maria marie

Mexican-themed restaurant.  Again, the service was impeccable, and the appetizers we ordered were full of flavor.  The entree’s were a little hit or miss – my shrimp dish with mole sauce was delicious, whereas my husband’s enchiladas were a bit lacking, but that could just be our snobbery kicking in.

Chef’s Table

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This is a new Premium Guest tasting menu with a set 4 course meal every night for only 16 hotel guests.  We were able to take part on our last night, and it was a lot of fun.  You’re greeted with a specialty cocktail before being seated at a long table with the other guests.  In between courses, you get to know the other restaurant goers which was a lot of fun! Definitely recommend if you get an opportunity.

There were also two restaurants we didn’t get a chance to check out (Pelicano’s was closed for renovations, and the new small plates restaurant was too crowded the night we tried to go), so we can’t comment on either of those restaurants.

The Pool/Beach

Cabanas, poolside service, swim-up bar, a volleyball net…it was basically perfect.  I recommend waking up EARLY (as in, 7 AM or possibly even a little earlier) to snag your cabana before they all get taken up. I usually threw a towel and/or a magazine on the cabana as our place holder, and would then go to the gym for a workout and meet the hubby for breakfast before coming to the pool for my day of margaritas!

The pool was large and spacious, never feeling crowded or too chaotic. We did miss out on Tuesday’s foam party at the pool, but I was told by other guests that it was THE event to go to at the hotel, so be sure to check it out (just don’t get tricked into reserving a cabana for $100…just go to the foam party for free without a reserved seat, not worth the money).

The beach also had plenty of cabanas (no need to reserve one on the beach, they were more abundant), and a swing bar as well!

Activities 

The fitness classes (Pilates, water aerobics) were fairly fun, free, and a decent work out. They also have guided bike tours that we didn’t get a chance to participate in. The gym is brand new, spacious, and has high quality equipment to use.

The night entertainment was too cheesy for us, though they did seem to attract the older couples staying at the resort. Think third-string Cirque du Soleil performances, opera singers, and mariachi bands.  We typically were at dinner or the bar instead of these events.

They also offered plenty of excursions like snorkeling, trips to Mayan ruins, parasailing, etc.  Unfortunately Hurricane Earl came through the day we had planned our excursion to Chichen Itza, so we can’t really review this part of the resort.  We did plan a shorter excursion of our own to the El Ray ruins in Cancun, which I’ll talk about in another post soon!

I scheduled a facial and hot stone massage at the resort spa, and it was my favorite part of the trip.  I loved getting pampered, and my masseuse Lucero was personable and professional, taking the time to explain everything ahead of time (it was my first facial so I was a little nervous about what kinds of products would be used on my ultra-sensitive skin). This was a splurge of mine, but I was able to get both services for under $200, including tip! Worth every penny.

Final Verdict

This trip was the definition of relaxation, and we really enjoyed our time lounging by the pool, sipping delicious drinks, and meeting other couples.  Although the food was a bit hit or miss, and the activities were hurt by the bad weather, we really enjoyed ourselves and stayed just long enough to get refreshed for the next big adventure: MOVING TO ATLANTA!

All in all, we spent less than $500 for the two of us for the entire week, including all transportation, food, amenities, etc. Plus, nearly $200 of that was for my massage, so if you nix the spa day you’re getting a REAL steal while feeling like royalty for a few nights!  All-inclusives definitely have their perks :).

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What are your thoughts on All-inclusives?  Any favorite destinations or resorts? Any other tricks on good deals for getaways? Comment below! 

 

 

 

 

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