I have to confess that I used to be a bit of a snob about all-inclusive resorts. I had an image in my head of what an AI was, and it wasn’t a particularly flattering one. Think long lines at buffets for mediocre, mass-produced food, wristbanded college students eager to get their money’s worth out of the all-you-can-drink liquor, and pools so thick with crowds you can barely find a spot to put your towel down. A recent stay at Live Aqua Cancún made me look at AIs in a whole new light, though. There are wristbands here, but other than that this resort has absolutely nothing in common with the stereotypical all-inclusive I’d been picturing. Set on a gorgeous stretch of Cancún’s famous “hotel zone,” this tranquil, adults-only resort has elegant grounds, gourmet food and guests who are looking for a quiet, relaxing getaway rather than a spring break do-over.
First and foremost, Cancún itself is simply stunning. I feel like it’s an under-rated destination with American adults, which is a shame because the beaches here are probably the prettiest I’ve seen outside Bora Bora, and the city is just a short (only three and a half hours from Chicago) direct flight away for many people in the US. The ocean along the hotel zone is normally too rough for snorkeling (and I hear there’s not much to see anyway), but it’s a great spot for body-surfing. Those who are looking for a little more adventure can rent jetskis or go parasailing from the beach right in front of the hotel.
Although it’s nature that gave Live Aqua such a beautiful setting, the hotel has developed its beachfront in a way that’s consistent with its overall theme of understated elegance, with rows of carefully planted palm trees separating plentiful beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas (the latter for rent).
With seven pools in total, the pool deck never felt crowded and I was always able to find a chair, regardless of the time of day. And while there are some organized activities at Live Aqua, they tend to be low-key things like yoga, beach volleyball and cooking classes, so there won’t be any cheesy pool games interfering with your poolside sunbathing or reading.
As is probably evident from the name of this blog, food is an integral part of my travels. One of my biggest hesitations about staying at an all-inclusive (based entirely on my experience with the cruise industry, I have to admit) was that I expected to be served bland American food that would leave me feeling like I hadn’t sampled the local fare at all. Fortunately, the food at Live Aqua was nothing like that: it was fresh, creative and, most importantly, insanely delicious. The chefs buy most of their ingredients from nearby suppliers and although there’s more than just Mexican food available, there were so many local dishes offered that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by not venturing off the property for meals. I began each day with the splendid breakfast buffet at Siete restaurant (which serves a buffet for every meal and also offers a la carte upscale Mexican food at dinnertime). The buffet was one of the grandest I’ve ever seen, with a huge selection of pastries (both Mexican and European) and American breakfast staples like eggs, bacon, pancakes and waffles alongside Latin American dishes like fried plantains and churros and chocolate sauce (which I have to confess I indulged in nearly every day – ok, every day). There’s also a made-to-order smoothie bar with just about every kind of fresh fruit you can imagine, if you’re one of those weird types who likes to eat healthy on vacation.
All the remaining restaurants on the property are a la carte, and all but one (the InLaa’Kech steak and lobster grill) are included in the room rates. My favorite spots for a casual lunch or dinner were Azure, a Mediterranean restaurant with a beautiful view of the water and an emphasis on seafood, and Varenna, an authentic Italian restaurant with an excellent caprese salad and an opera cake that chocolate lovers can’t miss.
(As a side note, the deck at Azure is also a great place to spot one of the many friendly iguanas that call Live Aqua home.)
MB is the fanciest of the included restaurants, and was probably my very favorite at the resort. I loved the Mexican-American cuisine (especially the habanero cream soup, which was so unique and delicious that I keep meaning to attempt to recreate it at home) and the presentation of the dishes and atmosphere are evocative of an upscale restaurant in a major US city. If you’re at Live Aqua to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary, this is a great choice for dinner on the actual date.
In addition to these restaurants, there’s also Sea Corner (a casual Mexican taco stand where you can dine barefoot with your feet in the sand) and Hidden Garden (an Asian fusion restaurant), as well as a ton of quicker food options, including a crepe stand, a poolside grill, a coffee shop and a terrific sushi station with traditional sushi as well as innovative, American-ized rolls. And of course you can order room service or snacks (including their killer guacamole and chips) to your chair by the pool free of charge. The quantity and variety of the food available at all hours of the day was really kind of stunning to me, even though I knew going in that it would be all-you-can-eat.
For me anyway, the rooms are almost an afterthought in a place like this. Give me a beautiful beach and terrific food and I don’t really care too much about where I’m actually sleeping, as long as it’s clean. But Live Aqua’s rooms are as gorgeous as the rest of the hotel. I especially enjoyed hanging out on the spacious outdoor terrace that overlooked the turquoise water.
Other than an excursion to swim with whale sharks and a few walks to the mall across the street to watch the sunset, I ended up just sticking around the resort for the duration of my stay. That’s not my usual travel style, but it was such a peaceful and relaxing place that it was really hard to leave. As a result, this ended being one of the most restorative trips I’ve ever taken.
I’m so glad I looked past the label and gave Live Aqua a try. My stay here made me realize that “all-inclusive” is a broad term that covers a wide variety of resorts and, as with pretty much anything else travel-related, it’s all about doing your research and choosing a place that’s the right fit for your interests.