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Discovering the Mexico Caribbean
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A gentle masseuse rubbed my feet, pressing into reflexology points to soothe my knotted muscles. As I reclined on a padded bed beneath a white canopy, a waiter set down a tray with chilled water bottles and tucked a rolled towel under my neck. An iPod playing mesmerizing chants cancelled out any chatter from the eight pools and hot tubs surrounding my private cabana. Lulled into a trance, I pondered the concept of actually diving into the nearby turquoise Caribbean Sea — and opted for a short siesta instead. I still had a few days and nights to enjoy the pleasures of the recently reopened Aqua Cancun.
The first Aqua opened with a mighty buzz just a few months before Hurricane Wilma wiped out Cancun’s hotel zone in October 2005. Making a daring fashion statement as the flagship of Grupo Posada’s newest brand, the hotel quickly appeared on international "Best" lists and attracted a flock of celebrities. After Wilma, its curving facade offered unintended sea views through blown-out windows and walls. For more than two years, its shell stood unsteadily as the most visible reminder of Wilma’s wrath.
Designers and architects
after Hurricane Wilma.
Architects, designers and builders spent many months reworking Aqua’s layout and ambience, and some details are still in the works. The hotel finally reopened in February with two celebrity-chef restaurants, several posh lounges and bars, a sensuous spa and — lest we forget — a lavish pool area complete with private cabanas. When I arrived in June, Cancun was lushly green and thriving and Aqua was back in the news.
Clients at the new Aqua luxuriate in 371 oceanview rooms and suites created to both soothe and stimulate the senses. In my suite, a whirlpool tub held pride of place between the king-sized bed and the open bathroom with ample counter space, stocked with subtly scented Moulton Brown toiletries. The tub was a joy, with jets that actually pounded knotted muscles into submission; unfortunately, it tended to splash water all over the floor until I figured out how to use the faucets. The television and sound system were cutting-edge, and the coffeemaker, although complicated, gave me a choice of one cup of espresso or American coffee. At least, as a member of the Aqua Club (an elite designation with perks like complimentary breakfast goodies and evening cocktails), I was able to access free coffee at will — and the concierges happily helped me carry several cups back to my room.
The simple, Asian-influenced room design encourages relaxation, while multiple mirrors (including several behind the bed) reflect the blue sky just outside the balcony doors. Housekeepers dispense aromatherapy oils during turndown, using scents the guests choose from a menu. There’s also supposed to be a pillow menu, though I didn’t see one during my stay. No matter — I was quite content with the selection on my perfect bed.
Clients stay buff and trim by working out in a sea-facing gym with the latest high-tech gear and joining the flow in yoga and tai chi classes in the Garden of the Senses. Several outdoor areas between are designated quiet spaces, and club guests have use of a private pool and bar. The Aqua Spa is a delightful retreat where spa director Jaime Martinez oversees an international menu of treatments using Aborginal Australian music, Moroccan and Tahitian oils and a wide range of techniques and therapies. A temascal (steam bath) and some treatment rooms are hidden in a palm grove between the spa and the pools.
Three exotic scarlet macaws occasionally fly about the property. They’ve lived there since birth and have an established routine used in the Aqua’s rituals. Like unexpected pieces of performance art, these rituals take place around the property throughout the day and evening (have your clients ask for a schedule at the spa). During one act, several staff members practice tai chi movements as the macaws (called red parrots at the hotel) are released to soar from the lobby’s balcony to the outstretched arms of the tai chi master. At other times, the birds squawk as they fly in circles above the property. Two ignored their established route one afternoon, and hung out on my terrace as their handlers waved from far below on the ground. I would have happily ordered room service and invited them to lunch, but they eventually responded to their masters’ calls and I headed down to the seaside Azur restaurant for their sublime pulpo ceviche (which I ordered two days in a row).
The Aqua’s restaurants have livened up Cancun’s dining scene, which is growing ever more sophisticated. Chef Michelle Berstein, recent winner of a James Beard Best Chef award for her Michy restaurant in Miami, oversees the posh MB dinner restaurant. Martha Ortiz Chapa, a Mexico City celebrity chef, designs the menus for the more informal Siete, where pillars tiled with murals of beloved Mexican celebrities separate several dining areas. Both restaurants are a must for any foodie visiting Cancun these days. Advise clients staying anywhere nearby to book reservations and spend an evening sampling the Aqua’s culinary offerings.
One of my favorite taste sensations occurred post-siesta in my private cabana. A waiter appeared mid-afternoon with a glass plate holding four small, square brownies and set it upon my bed. By then, I had burned a few calories swimming in the ocean and pools and earned a bit of pure chocolate bliss. Indulgence is a big part of the Aqua experience.