I’ve grown accustomed to receiving a glass of champagne or a cool towel upon arrival at a high-end resort, but this was the first time I’d been offered a heated aromatherapy neck pillow as I filled out the registration form — a very comforting touch after a long flight. This was just the beginning of my resort experience at El Dorado Royale, a Spa Resort by Karisma that successfully raised the bar on what might be expected of an all-inclusive vacation.
An El Dorado Infinity Pool Swim Up Casita Suite // (C) 2010 Karisma Hotels & Resorts
“There are a lot of all-inclusive brands out there, many of which are coining new names for the all-inclusive product,” said Mandy Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing for Karisma Hotels & Resorts. “If you survey the trade today, you’ll find we’re known for our food, the best in the all-inclusive field. In fact, Wine Spectator has given us an award for four years in a row.”
It’s true that meals at the AAA Four-Diamond property’s seven restaurants are a cut above many other all-inclusive resorts, where the buffet customarily reigns supreme. At El Dorado Royale, you’ll only find a buffet at El Cocotel Restaurant, where it exists more as an alternative for those in a rush rather than a take-it or leave-it option. The resort’s two Italia restaurants are considered the most romantic. And here’s a tip: If dining at the D’Italia Restaurant in the casitas section, try to book a table with a direct ocean view. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the moon rise over the sea. For an extra charge, guests can arrange a candlelight dinner on the beach. It’s also important to note that only guests staying in the casitas can make restaurant reservations, although you can’t book a particular table in advance.
The adults-only resort is on the Mexico’s Riviera Maya, about five miles from Puerto Morelos and about a 20-
minute drive from Cancun International Airport. The property’s 639 suites and casitas make it the largest of Karisma’s El Dorado resorts.
Brenda Pantaja, the resort’s retail manager, noted that the resort’s swim-up suites book the fastest. The Garden and Ocean View suites have the option for two double beds at no extra charge; I was surprised to learn that these weren’t twin beds, but were, in fact, full doubles.
Casitas guests receive a separate check-in and, upon arrival, are immediately brought to the concierge station nearest their casitas section. The resort has 169 casitas suites in six categories, with 28 to 32 casitas in each section, each with their own concierge station.
Service is very personal and friendly. Throughout my stay, when I walked by the casitas station, staff would welcome me by name and inquire if I needed any assistance. Usually I’d answer, “No, I don’t think so,” only to have the staff suggest activities or dining recommendations that added to my day’s enjoyment of the resort.
There are 180 beach beds on the property, making it unnecessary to reserve one. The beach butlers make regular rounds, offering such items as sunblock, books, cool drinks and snacks.
The resort has two spas. The spa’s co-ed water feature is a nice touch — a Disneyland for spa aficionados comprised of hot and cold plunge pools and massage jets.
Sixty-five percent of the guests at the resort are from the U.S., many from the Midwest. The average stay for U.S. visitors is four to five nights. Canada and the U.K. make up the remaining majority.
Tipping is not required and is at the guest’s discretion. I found that service was generally more enthusiastic when I dispensed with small tips here and there, especially in the nightclub over the course of an evening.
According to Pantaja, travel agents touring the resort were especially impressed by the level of service, the quality of the food and the lushness of the landscaping. The mile-long resort can be a bit of a hike, especially if you’re in the casitas section. Shuttles run every 15 minutes until 11 p.m. and then run less frequently. A fun way to maneuver around is to take advantage of the free bikes at the resort (they even have a few tandem bikes). There’s also a daily 10 a.m. guided bike tour around the resort, which takes clients by the property’s huge greenhouse project — a real source of pride for the resort.
El Dorado Royale also schedules weekly free shuttles to Playa del Carmen and Cancun. The shuttles are an economical and easy way to handle “resort fever,” and Pantaja noted that most guests take advantage of the free excursions, turning them into shopping expeditions. El Dorado Royale, a Spa Resort by Karisma www.karismahotels.com