Celebration Vacation

Allie and Shain were scheduled to take the Bar Exam in August, and we had planned an amazing European trip for them for right after the exam. Then COVID happened, cancelling their trip and the exam. When the Bar was rescheduled for October, they contacted me to see if we could plan some kind of last-minute getaway to celebrate finally being done. We found a wonderful “escape” to Mexico with an oceanfront swim-up suite at the adults-only El Dorado Seaside Suites in the Mayan Riviera and, from the trip report below, I’d say the celebration vacation was a hit!

Best of all, they both recently found out they passed the Bar 🙂

Hi Ann! I’m so sorry for the delay in this reply, I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to appropriately review the whole experience. Overall, it was wonderful! There are hardly any, if there are any, cons to the experience. 

The resort was very very interesting, the way they have it set up for the “Infinity” side and the “Palms” side. We ended up sticking solely to the beach on the Palms side because it is so so beautiful,

“the water was beyond perfect in that it felt like an actual bath and had really cool snorkeling spots and the beds were the perfect place to lounge.”

view down the beach with a low wall sperating the sea in Mexico

It’s kind of funny we realized we didn’t end up going in any of the pools at all other than the one attached to our room.

Other than the beach, Shain and I were both in agreement that the food and the service were beyond exceptional and definitely the highlights of the resort. We have both been to all-inclusives before and were expecting the standard type of foods, drink service, etc. that is not usually outstanding but “good enough.” However, we ended up trying all of the restaurants at the resort and struggled to think of which one we wanted to visit twice because they were all so unique and had incredibly delicious food. 

The service of the staff was also superb. Everyone was extremely welcoming, friendly, and accommodating. We had a few small issues with our room, the safe broke a couple of times, etc. and they attended to us almost immediately. There was hardly, if ever, a time we were struggling to find somebody to help us and that was also including the shuttles around the resort which came regularly.

a stone path lined with palm trees resort in Mexico

“Not only that, but the entire resort was extremely clean (which is something I tend to be acutely aware of) especially considering there was a hurricane the week before, there was hardly any indication of debris or trash, etc. anywhere. The rooms were also very very tidy and cleaned at least once a day.”

We ended up purchasing a spa day and an excursion to Cozumel, which were both easily the highlights of our trip aside from the day-to-day lounging.

“The spa was a promotional deal they were offering where we had a one-hour “water journey” in the spa which was surprisingly cool, then a 50-minute massage and a 30 minute facial on the beach which was this bungalow type of a structure built right along the water so we could hear the waves crashing while we were receiving our treatment.”

two massage beds in a thatch-roofed hut on the beach in Mexico

The price was very fair in relation to the level of the treatment and the experience overall. I would 100% recommend this experience to anybody visiting the resort, I honestly think it’s silly for anybody not to do it and tell them to make sure they choose the beach location because you can’t get a massage on the beach nearly anywhere else. 

two scuba divers with an underwater sculpture in Mexcio

“As for Cozumel, I know this isn’t a resort-specific experience because we booked it through Amstar but this was also incredible and would 10/10 suggest it to anybody looking to do an excursion.”

Our day started at 7 am and we didn’t get back until 8 pm, but everything throughout the day was included and it was truthfully so cheap considering what was included. We had our own jeep to cruise around the entire island in and we ended up scuba diving which was amazing as neither of us had done that before, there was also a tequila tasting, a trip to a historic lighthouse and visit to a private beach club on one of the most beautiful beaches and a free lunch. All of the transportation was included on top of those activities so overall it was a no-brainer for us to book it. 

The few things I would suggest to people who ask about the resort would be to definitely get to the Palms-side beach as the Infinity side beach is not as nice. We would also tell them that the first floor rooms are definitely more of the “party” rooms because they are attached to the main pool, so if you are looking for a more relaxing stay then book a room on a higher floor.

the view from a hotel room of the ocean, tops of palmtrees and private balcony pool in Mexico

“Our room was amazing with an awesome view and much less rowdy than the activity on the first floor.”

Also, we decided it was definitely more of a couples resort, rather than a group-of-friends place to stay only because there wasn’t too much happening at night for activity despite how crazy it could get during the day. There was some entertainment like singers and musicians that were all actually extremely entertaining and talented, however, it wasn’t much of a “party” scene so much as a couples resort. This was perfectly fine for us and exactly what we were looking for, I just wouldn’t want people going to stay at the resort expecting to be a crazy/wild experience. Other than that there really is very little “negatives” to say.

“We cannot thank you enough for booking this for us, we know it was last minute and during a hectic time so we are very appreciative!! We look forward to booking more trips with you — hopefully all of this craziness is near ending and we can eventually book the Europe trip! 😄”

a cis couple in the ocean with an island of palm trees in the background at a resort in Mexico

Allie and Shain

A special guest blogger’s feedback

I just got back from a very relaxing vacation at the El Dorado Casitas Royale (a resort that’s very popular with my honeymoon clients), and my husband was nice enough to write a “guest blog” post describing the experience from his point of view. Since he’s an all-inclusive “newbie”, and has not been to Mexico in many years, I figured his feedback would be more interesting to most people than mine.

“Your wife is a travel agent? Wow, you must get to go on some pretty cool trips.”

How right you are!

Even travel agents need to get away from it all, and this past week I was able to sneak away with Annie for a trip to El Dorado Casitas Royale, an adults- only resort just south of Cancun. I hadn’t been to Mexico in over 15 years, and had never spent any length of time at an all inclusive resort. Both were a pleasant revelation!

The flight to Cancun via Charlotte was easy as could be, and we were in Mexico in no time. Upon arrival at Cancun airport, one of the many perks of listening to my agent really came in handy. Annie had reserved a private transfer for us from the airport to the hotel. My Spanish is non-existent, and while the Cancun airport is modern and easy to navigate, having a driver to meet you and lead you where you needed to go took away whatever stress there might have been in getting out of the airport and to our resort.

The Casitas is part of the El Dorado Royale, an adults-only resort. While we love our kids and travel with them frequently, sometimes you want to get away from it all. The Casitas was a perfect location to get away and unwind. We were welcomed at the front desk of the El Dorado Royale with champagne, and later transferred via golf cart to the Casitas section of the hotel for our room assignment.


Our room may have been the most “basic” of the categories offered in the Casitas section, but it was one of the most comfortable and well laid out of any that we have visited. It had all the amenities, including a Jacuzzi, a screened in porch with a day bed, a mini bar, an outdoor shower, and a rain shower that made me want to renovate my bathroom at home!

IMG_0793_9328_edited-1 IMG_0787_9322_edited-1

As an “all inclusive newbie” I was concerned that I would be underwhelmed by the food, but I was told by my favorite travel agent that Karisma resorts prides itself on their restaurants, and nothing in my experience led me to think otherwise. We did tend to gravitate towards the restaurants and bars in the Casitas section of the resort. Kampai is done on a Pacific Rim theme which you would think would somewhat limit its menu, but during the course of our stay we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner here, and always found plenty to enjoy. D’Italia is, as the name would suggest, an Italian restaurant, and the meal here was probably my favorite of the trip. We were disappointed that due to a scheduling conflict of my making (more on that below) we were not able to eat at Fuentes ( a culinary theatre), but we met several people who thought it the best of the best. I may have started out high up on the all inclusive food ladder, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the food was quite good.

By far the best part of the Casitas experience for me was all of the spaces that you could visit to lay out and sun without feeling the least bit crowded. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship during peak season and had to get up earlier than you do at home just to save a deck chair, you’ll appreciate the variety of options available throughout the day to find that perfect space to sit and read, sun worship, or enjoy a cocktail or two.  Whether it be the several pools with swim up bars or the daybeds on the beach, we never had trouble finding a prime spot to sit and enjoy the beautiful weather.



I did also learn one of the many things that make my wife’s job difficult. Not knowing better, I would have assumed that all Caribbean resorts on the water have great beaches. Not true! While the physical  plant and grounds of this resort are some of the nicest I’ve seen, I was surprised to see that it would not be the best choice for someone who loved water sports or the feeling of talcum powder sand between their toes. Not being much of a beach goer myself, this was of no consequence to me, and I was happy to spend my limited time at the beach sitting in a day bed reading a book. Annie explained that there are resorts nearby that do offer better beach experiences, and it’s one of the things she asks her clients about when deciding what resort(s) to recommend. Who knew?!


Annie unfortunately not only married a lawyer (who probably asks more questions than he should) but a non sun worshipper who has been known to get antsy even in the most gorgeous of locations with the best of company if he sits still too long. Luckily, not only is my wife a talented travel agent, she’s an accommodating sort who knows I would rather be standing in the hot sun in a remote location fishing than laying at the pool at a gorgeous resort. (If you can’t tell by now, she’s also the smarter of us two!). Given this, she made arrangements for me to spend two days at Pesca Maya lodge near Ascension Bay. For those interested in light tackle fishing, I can’t recommend a trip there highly enough, and if you have an interest, please check out my TripAdvisor review here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g667233-d481691-r185523023-Pesca_Maya_Fishing_Lodge-Punta_Allen_Yucatan_Peninsula.html

Having married the girl of my dreams many years ago, I was not terribly interested in the destination wedding facilities of the resort, but my wife has a passion for all things relating to her business, and we spent part of a day checking out the multiple venues available at the resort. I was surprised to see the variety of spaces available. From small chapels and courtyards to larger spaces and docks overlooking the water, there really did seem to be a location to fit every couple’s personality.


Lastly, a word about the Mexico I visited versus what I’ve heard and seen in the media. Yes, they speak a different language (although literally everyone I met was bilingual), and there are parts of the country that you would not want to visit. But I can say from experience the same things about many parts of this country. You can get mugged or worse in Orlando, no matter how Disneyfied it becomes, yet I wouldn’t give visiting there are a second thought. It is a source of much frustration to travel professionals that many travelers write Mexico off as a destination solely due to media reports of drug violence and the like. I saw or experienced nothing in our time there that would give me the slightest hesitation about visiting Cancun or the Mayan Riviera.

Resort-hopping in the Riviera Maya

I just got back from a quick trip to Mexico, and wanted to share my impressions of the resorts that I visited, but let me first say that Mexico is – without a doubt – open for business! The resorts were busy, the weather was beautiful, and I saw LOTS of people enjoying themselves. I did notice a lot of Europeans on this trip, and I’m not sure if that’s normal for this time of year, or whether they were there in greater numbers to take advantage of all the promotions and deals that the resorts are offering right now. Regardless, it was absolutely lovely!

If you’re impatient, and want to skip to the photos, you can find them on the Annie’s Escapes Facebook page. In the meantime, here are my impressions:

Dreams Tulum

Dreams Tulum, which was my home base for this trip, is at the far southern end of the Mayan Riviera, well south of Playa del Carmen, and about a 1 ½ – 2 hour drive from the Cancun airport. It is  ideally situated for those who want to spend time exploring Tulum, Xcaret and Xel Ha, but might be a little remote if you’re taking a short vacation (too much time spent in transit).  Dreams is a family-friendly all-inclusive chain with locations in Mexico and Punta Cana, and they really do a great job of pleasing all types of travelers, including multi-generational families, couples, singles, and more. We saw more than one destination wedding while we were there, but we also saw moms and dads with babies/toddlers in tow.

The property sits perpendicular to the beach, so there aren’t many true oceanview or oceanfront rooms, but the grounds are absolutely beautiful, and I loved that my balcony looked out onto a quiet courtyard. The low-rise (three story) buildings are Mexican hacienda in style, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. We were in a basic gardenview room, but we had a large bathroom with whirlpool tub, furnished balcony, and a stepped-down living area with a large daybed.

There are multiple a la carte restaurants, and no reservations are required, so we tried the Italian, French and Steakhouse restaurants while we were there. Everything I ordered was delicious, and the portions were on the small side so that you did not feel stuffed. The omelet station at the breakfast buffet was standout!

The larger, more active pool has a swim-up bar and a children’s area, but there’s also a quieter pool for adults only. The beach was nice, although the surf was fairly rough for the duration of our stay (red flags were up on two out of the three days), and if you like to walk the beach you’re in luck – there are no other resorts to either side, so it feels like a long private stretch of sand.

I can’t really speak about the kids’ club, but it looked like the children were enjoying themselves. And there was a daily schedule of activities and entertainment for all ages…including nightly movies on the beach.

The thing that impressed me the most about this resort, though, was the service. No matter what we asked for, the response was always “It’s a pleasure”.


El Dorado Maroma

I had really been looking forward to touring this intimate, boutique, adults-only all-inclusive, and I was not disappointed! If I were planning my honeymoon right now, El Dorado Maroma would definitely be among my top selections.

Set  on one of the world’s top beaches (as ranked by the Travel Channel), with its own adjacent marina for water sports enthusiasts, the property includes just 74 romantic suites. The various room categories offer things like private Jacuzzis, swim-out terraces with direct access into the lazy river pool, romantic outdoor daybeds, private outdoor “love showers”, infinity plunge pools, and more.

The overall atmosphere is luxurious and serene, with plenty of space for couples to spread out and find their own quiet corner. They do offer low-key evening entertainment three times per week, and some daily activities like volleyball and morning yoga classes, but this resort is definitely aimed at couples who want to relax and unwind. That being said, those who want a little more excitement can book daytrips and excursions, or take the shuttle into town.

There are multiple gourmet restaurants, with more than enough seats for everyone, so there’s no need for reservations or waits. The staff is very friendly and accommodating, and I got the sense that no reasonable request would be denied!

The onsite chapel is a definite plus for couples trying to plan a Catholic destination wedding.


El Dorado Royale

Ten minutes away from the El Dorado Maroma, its sister resort —  the El Dorado Royale – is also an upscale adults-only all-inclusive with fantastic gourmet food. But the similarities stop there. The El Dorado Royale is a large, sprawling property that provides golf carts and shuttles to whisk people around the resort. It is spread along a lengthy (and somewhat rocky) beachfront, but has so many lovely pools that it’s easy to overlook the less-than-perfect beach.

There are 600 rooms/suites which are divided among the regular El Dorado Royale and its smaller, more exclusive section, the El Dorado Casitas Royale. The main resort is more lively and active, with multiple restaurants and bars, tennis courts, bikes, a disco, and more. The smaller Casitas section has a very large and luxurious spa, and each oceanfront casita features a Jacuzzi tub and romantic “Aquas del Amor” roofless shower. Some have swim-up terraces, private infinity pools, or both!

On the day that I toured the resort, there was a large incentive group checking in (200 rooms), and this is a property that can definitely handle large volume like this, but without feeling in any way “mass market.”


Azul Sensatori

North of the two El Dorado resorts, and closer to the Cancun airport (in the town of Puerto Morelos) is another sister property — the family-friendly, all-inclusive, Azul Sensatori. This modern and beautiful resort is divided into three buildings – one for families (with guaranteed connecting rooms for those who need it), one for adults only, and one with premium-level rooms for adults only.

The facilities for adults are absolutely fantastic (including adults-only pools, restaurants, and more) but what really struck me about this property were the amenities for families. The rooms feature separate living areas curtained off from the main bedroom, with their own TV for the kids. The resort provides changing tables, cribs, baby monitors, strollers, baby food, diapers, and just about anything else you might need (and not want to carry with you from home). Through a partnership with Fisher Price, they also provide all sorts of great toys (available in the room, the restaurants, etc.) There’s a playground on the beach; a fantastic Kids Club facility with a rock climbing wall, a theater, age-appropriate video games, and a separate nap room; and a large and well-equipped Teen Club with large-screen TVs, pool tables, video games, and more.  The restaurants feature kids menus, and the check in desk even has a special area dedicated to the little ones.

The resort is popular for destination weddings, since guests of all ages can stay right on the property, and they offer traditional ceremonies on the beach or under a gazebo, as well as a unique “Sky Wedding” on a private rooftop terrace with views of the ocean and the jungle.


If you have questions about these or other resorts in the Mayan Riviera, give me a call. There are some tremendous deals to be found, and there are resorts to please just about anyone!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)