Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Comparison Continues: SECRETS CAPRI, Riviera Maya, Mexico - April 2012

NOTE: This is going to be a long and detailed review with lots of pictures and details so feel free to skip ahead if you aren't planning a trip to Mexico. My hope is that my reviews will help other folks who are trying to decide on a where to spend their holidays and want to know what things are really like. I know that when I'm trying to figure out where we should try, I read Tripadvisor like crazy (and yes, I've posted reviews of our travels there as well), but I thought that here on my blog I could be more detailed and try to give a true sense of what the week was truly like, including pictures to help illustrate what I'm saying along the way. So I hope you enjoy and find this helpful! And if you do decide to try Secrets Capri, have a Mango Tango for me! :-) And let me know how you liked your trip!

In April 2012 we visited Secrets Capri (http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun) in the Riviera Maya, Mexico for 7 days. I was a little bit nervous about Mexico with all the violence being reported in the news of late, but various websites reassured me that the Riviera Maya, particularly the resort hotel area, was safe and that as long as you were careful you weren't likely to encounter any problems. Plus these resorts tend to have pretty much all you need right there, so we didn't even have to leave the resort property if we didn't want to.

We flew down on Transat and it was a wonderful flight. We had paid extra to be able to choose our seats and board early and it was well worth the extra cost. We also received free snacks and a small bottle of champagne, as well as a comfort pack containing a soft blanket, head rest pillow and other small things. Very nice! We arrived in record time and the weather was fabulous.

A transfer was included with our package and since Secrets Capri was one of the closest resorts to the airport, we arrived quickly and were welcomed with warm greetings, smiles, cool moist towelettes and champagne. The lobby was impressive.  It had a beautiful stepped marble fountain in the center of the lobby.
This photo from Secrets Capri website
The reservations desks are to one side and on the other, a small bar with a seating area and some tables; 

A hallway leading to the gift shops and buffet is just to the right of the bar and across from it is a beautifully decorated lounge area set up with coffee/tea, pastries and snacks throughout the day. It was quiet and peaceful and a lovely place to sit and relax for a while in the mid-afternoon. This room has been renovated since we were there and is now, I believe, a CoCo Cafe which offers pastries, snacks and fancy coffees, both hot and cold. Most of the Secrets resorts now have one and we got to try it at Secrets Silversands and it was great. Their lattes are as good as our local Starbucks. :-)

The lounge led into another small room with computers and a printer (WiFi was free throughout the resort and we had our own laptop with us) for those who wanted to connect with the web or use the printer.  This upper level has a breathtaking double stairway that curls down to a lower level and leads outside towards the pool and beach area. 
This lower lobby level also houses a few of their restaurants (Portofino (the Italian restaurant) and stairs leading to Himitsu, the Asian restaurant), a disco/sports bar, the exercise facilities, wedding planning and a washroom, as well as beautiful sculptures, and a lovely seating area (in fact gorgeous seating areas were scattered throughout the resort on all levels). 
The decor was really gorgeous throughout. Knowing that Capri was one of the oldest of the Secrets resorts, I was worried it might look a little tired, but it really was beautiful and elegant everywhere, as well as spotlessly clean and it smelled heavenly! Whatever they pipe into the air just made you relax and feel peaceful and calm.  The rooms form a U shape with the pool in the center of the U and the open end is the beach. The grounds are beautiful and well kept. 

Our room, a Deluxe Oceanview Suite, was located on the 3rd floor (you could take an elevator located directly across from the entrance to the buffet) or take the stairs, we mostly did the latter to help balance a little exercise with all the food and drink we were consuming! Our room was located near the far end opposite where the stairs come up, amidst a beautiful array of hanging lanterns. Really one of the prettiest spots in the entire resort! I was thrilled that our room was in the midst of them!
This photo from Secrets Capri website
This was taken just outside our suite. They would all light up at night and it was so pretty!
And speaking of our room ...it was GORGEOUS! I loved the decor!!! I know many people don't care much about room decor because they figure they are only in there to sleep, but for me it's a big thing. I want to spend my vacation in beautiful and luxurious surroundings and that includes the room. In fact, a beautiful looking room is a selling point for me and can make the difference between us booking one resort over another! As far as decor, Secrets Capri really fit the bill. One thing I can say for Secrets is that the pictures on their website are very much the reality that you get, unlike many resorts where the room looks nothing like what is advertised! So kudos to Secrets for being truthful in their advertising...the quality and luxury you see on their website is what you get!!  

The view from our room overlooked the pool to the ocean:

As it was just past our 24th anniversary (we had to delay our trip slightly to allow for our younger son to finish up his university exams and come home to watch our dogs and cats) this trip was a belated anniversary celebration and we made note of this fact when we booked, as well as when we checked in, so I was a bit disappointed that I didn't see a Happy Anniversary banner on our door (there were many others on various doors...Happy Birthday, Honeymoon, etc.) and there was no sparkling wine or fresh fruit in the room (a complimentary perk for those celebrating their anniversary as per their website). My husband went to speak to the concierge on our floor about it and when we returned later that day after some time at the beach we had our banner
as well as a chilled bottle of sparkling wine and the most gorgeous treats tray I've ever seen
...a sugar spun container of chocolate dipped strawberries and little desserts. It was really nice and above any of my expectations! And delicious as well! :-)
In addition to the sparkling wine and sweet treats we also received a discount for spa services and "a champagne breakfast" in our suite which we took advantage of the next morning! 
Room service (24 hours) was included and it was always prompt and delicious. The burger and fries I had for lunch one afternoon was one of the best I've ever eaten!

The resort was quite small, which was lovely because it only took minute to get anywhere. Going down the hallway from our room to the stairway:

Coming out of the doors at the bottom of the big double stairway from the lobby (shown above) to the outside grounds you are facing the pool which is shaped like an infinity symbol with a small arched bridge in the center dividing the pool into two. One side is the more active side and contains the pool bar. On their live web-cam http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun/photos-videos you can see the layout that I'm talking about:
Photo from Secrets Capri website
The trees in the middle are blocking the view of the small bridge that crosses the pool in the center. Here's a photo from the website that shows the bridge and the building housing Oceana (the seafood restaurant) on the upper level, and the Seaside Grill on the lower level. The Seaside Grill has indoor and outdoor seating that overlooks both part of the pool as well as the ocean. The Seaside Grill also offered an a la carte breakfast, which we did try once the last morning we were there (Eggs Benedict which was good - spectacular presentation), but we generally preferred the buffet because it had so much selection. (see below for some buffet pics):
Photo from Secrets Capri website
I had read on Tripadvisor to try the ceviche and they were right - it's delicious (they have a variety of types and you can get it at The Seaside Grill as well as the Cactus Club)! If you haven't tried it, you must!!  My husband was skeptical at first - the whole idea of raw fish, but I insisted he try it once ...it became his favourite starter for lunch ever day we were there! It was so good!
My favourite was the Caeser salad with shrimp ....super yummy! The white cheese that they shred on top is soooo good! I wish we could get it here in Canada. <sigh> I had it every single day that I could!

At the end of the building housing the Seaside Grill there is a section called The Cactus Club: Ceviche & Taco Bar facing the ocean with seating right next to the beach allowing a close-up and beautiful view of the gorgeous blue water. This was, by far, our favourite spot to eat lunch.

Here's a pic of the Cactus Club seating area from the Secrets website and below...

their steak tacos ...they are amazing! Seriously, if you go, try them. You will not be disappointed. I still think about them and salivate! ha!
And pico de gallo, chips and gaucamole served with every meal - YUM!
As I mentioned above, the breakfast buffet had tons of selection and you could always find lots of good things to try, including some Mexican dishes. They had a crepe station, an omelette station, smoothies, all made to order. Lots of fresh fruit and pastries (loved the buns with cream cheese inside!). Fresh fruit juices of various kinds as well as Mexican and regular coffee and specialty coffees. All in a lovely, bright and pretty room with lots of big windows to let in the sunshine. Here's a pic of my plate from the buffet before digging in:

We never did get to Oceana, but we did eat once at Himitsu and also Portofino. None of the restaurants require reservations (another mandatory "want" on our list when looking for vacation spots. We like to be spontaneous and eat where and when we feel like it. I can't imagine trying to book all our dinners on the day we arrive, as many resorts require. Despite no reservations, we didn't have to wait anywhere. The only thing that requires a reservation is Himitsu's special tappenaki table where the chef puts on a show for a small group of guests which we didn't bother with. We had a wonderful dinner and we both loved the decor (below is a pic from Ice Portal's Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/163537030191950785/

And on our last night we tried Portofino which was very good, but very rich! 

Okay, enough about the food! It was incredible but it wasn't the only thing that was great about Secrets Capri! There was.... the beach!  I was a little worried because I had read on Tripadvisor that they had experienced a direct hit by a hurricane in November and it had destroyed a fair section of their beach. Yes it was smaller than it had been, but overall we thought the beach was fine. It was sandy and soft to walk on and there was lots of beach to walk with lots of amazing shells to see along the way.
And the beautiful salty blue ocean...every shade of blue imaginable. No matter how many times I looked at it, I just couldn't grasp it as real. It was just so incredibly beautiful.
  Great drink service and lots of palapas and loungers for all. What else do you need?

One thing to remember, however, is that that sun is strong. I don't usually burn at all but after just a few hours on the beach the second day of our vacation I was like a lobster! My poor shins got it really bad
Luckily, Walter, the Spa guy recommended I try a Water Lily Wrap at the Spa. It provides immediate soothing hydration and healing to sunburned skin and reduces the skin's temperature. I took his advice and it was phenomenal! Sooo soothing. I loved it and my skin was incredibly soft for days afterwards. It really did help to soothe the burn. Michael opted for a massage and we were both told to come early in order to go through their Hydrotherapy Circuit. It consists of a sauna, a variety of showers (some cold) and different pools with varying degrees of temperature, bubbling and other healthy stuff. Michael absolutely loved it and ended up going through it two more times during our stay.
Once was enough for me! LOL! Although I did enjoy the warm jacuzzi part and loved the room which was open to the tropical brush all around. The birds are so melodious, I love hearing their calls and singing. It's like music. Here's a photo of the hydrotherapy room from Secrets Capri website:
I especially enjoyed the relaxation room they put you in after your treatment, wrapped in a terrycloth robe, pillow under my kneeds, warm towel over me and a choice of ice water or chlorophyll ice water, you are urged to simply destress in a lovely room with a waterfall that flows down a stone wall. Paradise! I could've stayed there all day. <sigh> (Photo from Secrets Capri website)
Our daily routine quickly became the beach after breakfast and a morning swim, walk down the beach and then some sunbathing until around 11am, when we'd go clean up and have lunch. In the afternoon we'd play it by ear...Playa del Carmen one day (Word of Warning: make sure any silver you buy says 925 on it and don't believe anything else. We paid a few hundred for a necklace the guy swore to me was pure silver and of course it tarnished within weeks of being home. Buyer beware). Also, Playa is overwhelming. You have tons of people trying to grab you and pull you into their shop, shouting at you, cajoling you, offering deals. Some people like haggling but I'm not one of them. We did our best, but in the end we didn't get any great deals except on tshirts (they are very pricey at the resort but you can get them for quite cheap in Playa) for family. All the silver stuff we bought tarnished and clearly wasn't worth the money we spent on it. Live and learn. I'm glad we went but I have no interest in going there again, although if you are the type of person that likes to shop and haggle and you know what is a good deal then you might enjoy it! Each to their own.

Dinner was sometimes a show (different ones almost every night set up around the pool). We took in Mexican night, the Fire Show and the Mayan Show! And sitting at a large table with other guests allowed us to meet some really nice people and make some new friends, including a wonderful young couple from Ireland who were on their honeymoon! :-) Other nights were were simply too exhausted and retired to our rooms early and just read until we fell asleep. I know we're boring. We did try the disco sports bar one night but we are in our mid-50s and not so interested in dancing up a storm the way we were when we were younger and it was too loud to talk, at least close to the dance floor where we were.
Mayan night

Fire show - amazing!

The highlight of each night was the specialty coffee that was made by a girl in front of the lounge. You got to choose a liqueur like Grand Marnier, for instance, and she did this whole thing with coffee and setting the liqueur on fire...it was fascinating to watch and at the end you'd have a yummy drink. 

Overall it was a really wonderful trip, essentially the honeymoon we never had. I loved it! It exceeded all our expectations and while it wasn't as peaceful an atmosphere as Royal Beach, the food and entertainment and wonderful staff more than made up for it. It has become our favourite to beat! And the price was great compared to many other similar resorts. Definitely worth every penny. Plus, we both really liked that there was no Preferred Club...all guests were preferred!

Got to see three wedding during our week there and I have to say that when either of our boys decides to marry I would encourage them to think about a destination wedding at a resort like this. Beautiful setting, food is great, and I think the price for all they include is very fair. All in all, I highly recommend Secrets Capri!

And lastly...a picture of the beautiful Maya Riviera coastline from the airplane as we made our way home...