Rising Star

Iberostar continues to grow in the Riviera Maya.

By: Robert Carlsen

PLAYA PARAISO, Mexico With each new all-inclusive resort opening, Spain-based Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, now with 74 properties (and counting) in 11 countries, redefines the art of the vacation property with increasingly innovative architecture and services.

The 446-room Iberostar Paraiso Lindo, which opened in December and is located a 15-minute drive north of Playa del Carmen along the coast’s main Highway 307, embellishes many of the successful elements of the company’s first resorts in the region, Tucan and Quetzal, farther south toward Tulum, and its sister properties at Paraiso, the Paraiso Del Mar and Paraiso Beach.

Iberostar’s method is to essentially build two resorts with an elaborate pool system separating them. Plus, a guest from one resort can visit a restaurant from the other, and vice versa. Usually, the theater is shared as well, and guests from both properties can attend the nightly shows.

Iberostar plans to add two more resorts at the Playa Paraiso site the Iberostar Maya, a compact (for Iberostar) 82-suite number that will be the sister of the Lindo, is set to open in the late fall. The fifth Paraiso hotel, the Iberostar Palace, will, in the language of local Iberostar officials, be even smaller and more upscale than the Maya and is planned to open next year.

So, by 2005, Iberostar will have a total of eight hotels in the Mexican Caribbean (including the resort across the causeway on Cozumel).

Iberostar’s plan is to make its Paraiso development into a mini-city with all the accouterments. To that end, the company opened a 15,000-square-foot convention center in December and is constructing a championship Perry Dye 72-hole golf course across the highway, set to open at the end of this year if the weather cooperates. You may wonder why Iberostar is building so many rooms in one location. The answer pretty much is because the demand justifies it.

On a recent hosted visit, Lindo’s general manager Jesus Busque happily said they were full. He attributes the success of the new Iberostar Paraiso Lindo to the work of U.S. wholesalers Apple Vacations and Funjet, both of which offer ample charter lift into Cancun. Apple Vacations alone sends 50,000 clients to Iberostar’s Riviera Maya properties annually.

The Paraiso Lindo is shorter in length than the neighboring Del Mar and Beach properties, which means less walking to the theater and restaurants that are near the lobby. It shares a decent beach (although there’s a pretty good undertow in this area) with massage and bar service as well as some ocean activities, such as windsurfing and catamaran sailing, available.

What’s unique about this Iberostar resort is its architecture, which blends elements of European, Caribbean and Mexican design into a cohesive whole. Materials and colors reflect adobe and sky, water and wood. Its lobby features a wood-painted replica of a 16th-century Spanish church altar. Fronting the theater are two towers that curve upward like a musical note and are topped by parallel wood beams.

Rooms are good size and feature excellent Mexican artwork on the walls. Two double beds or a king are offered in the regular category, and there are 62 junior suites and two presidential suites. Standard amenities include cable television, air conditioning and a ceiling fan, in-room safe, complimentary minibar, coffee maker, Mexican tile floors and a balcony or patio. Bathrooms come with separate shower and tub, hairdryer, lighted cosmetic mirror and phone. Irons and ironing boards are also included.

Clients can nibble or feast on a variety of cuisines 24 hours a day, including room service. The all-inclusive label here applies to all food and drink, both alcoholic and non. Besides the specialty restaurants a Southwest/ Cajun, gourmet, Italian, Asian and steakhouse/fondue, all of which require advance reservations another restaurant serves a buffet breakfast and lunch. Out at the pool, a grill and snack bar is available during the day, as well as an ice cream bar.

Food quality at our stay was above average, with the breakfast buffet getting the top marks. Also good were the Southwest/Cajun eatery and the fondue restaurant, which is great fun for the kids.

There are also 10 bars and lounges our favorite being the lobby bar with its tubular aquarium.

Shows at the theater run the gamut from traditional Mexican fiestas to tributes to Hollywood hits (although the Michael Jackson imitator needs a deep-sixing if you ask me). Kids can join the fun at 8 p.m., while an adult version runs at 9:30 p.m.

Families are especially welcome at all Iberostars, and this resort scores high with its version of Lucy’s Mini Club (other Iberostar resorts have the same name and program). It’s available from 10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for children 4-12.

Exercise and fitness buffs have tennis courts, a small but functional exercise room with treadmills and other equipment and a spa and beauty parlor.

The resort also boasts a few token shops, such as a sundry/gift outlet and a jewelry store. For those who simply must be wired, there’s also an Internet cafe.

Not included in the all-inclusive list are, obviously, phone calls and laundry. Babysitting at an hourly rate is also extra.

But the swimming pools really make this place special. There are five of them, scattered about and connected by “the lazy river,” which is a slow-moving canal traversed by inner tube. The Lindo also boasts the only wave pool on the Riviera Maya the waves vary in size from gently lapping to tsunami.

And to top it off, the gentlemen and ladies, if they so desire can retire to the Cigar Bar for a nice Cuban stogie and brandy.