Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tres Rios – All Inclusive in Riviera Maya

We recently had our first experience with an all-inclusive resort. Not intentionally mind you. We had booked at Tres Rios during one of their ‘AI optional’ weeks, and we opted not to get the package. I suppose that unlike many others, when we go on vacation we actually don’t eat more than we do at home, and we certainly aren’t the type to start drinking in the morning, so we’ve always felt that an all-inclusive model is just a waste of money for us. 

As owners at the Whiteface Lodge we are members of the Registry Collection, and we booked our week at Tres Rios through RCI. Interestingly, we’ve found in our travels to Mexico that RCI is at the top of the heap, and we are always treated very well at other properties. This held true to form when we arrived at Tres Rios. As per usual the guard at the gate to the property took our name and wrote it down on his clipboard (which they do every time you enter, except once you have checked in they write down your room number).  All the properties on the Riviera Maya have this setup since the entrance is on the ‘highway’ that goes north-south, yet the resorts are on the beach, so there is a bit of drive between the gate and the main lobby. However, unlike other arrivals, once we pulled up at the lobby the valet opened the car door and greeted us by name. A nice touch. Entering the airy, spacious lobby a person carrying a tray with glasses and a pitcher appeared, and offered us freshly squeezed ‘green juice’. We were unfamiliar with this juice since it is not offered at the other resorts, but it is a lovely combination of fruit and some vegetable (not sure which, maybe cactus leaves?) that tastes clean and refreshing.  We were directed towards an area of the lobby dedicated solely to checking-in guests of the Registry Collection.  Rather than standing in front of a desk while they do paperwork, they have chairs for you, and there is an array of tasty looking treats on the counter for you to consume while the process unfolds. A waitress stops by offering us mimosas. All this seem like a bit much? We thought so. You could ask yourself how long a check-in could possibly take that it involves chairs, food and alcoholic drinks. 

I ask the nice lady helping us about the kitchen in the unit (we had booked a two-bedroom even though there was just the two of us on this trip) and she replies somewhat evasively that somebody else is going to talk to us about that. Our antennae go up … 
We’ve found that in these very nice resort settings, there is often a catch. The catch involves somebody trying to pitch you on time-shares. Having sat through a couple of them over the course of the past 10 years, we avoid them like the plague these days. So, we wait. Eventually, they guide us over to the ‘sports bar’ where we can have ‘snacks’ and drinks, because the person who needs to speak with us is tied up at the moment. When she finally shows up, she is cheery, but we are not overjoyed. She asks how we are doing and I reply politely that we are fine, but wonder why it is taking an hour to check-in. And so it unfolds (slowly) that the unit we had booked with a kitchen is not available. The resort is terribly sorry and they are prepared to give us two-days all-inclusive for free, and she is ‘authorized’ to approve an additional two days. We suspect we see the writing on the wall - that this is all leading to pitch of “and all you have to do it pay for 3 days of all-inclusive”, so we nip it in the bud, decline the resort’s kind offer and hold our ground that we have to have a unit with a kitchen. Ok, ok – stay in this other lovely unit tonight, have dinner on us, and tomorrow we will see if a unit in the ‘Herencia’ building has freed up.   
It turns out that the Herencia building is for RCI members as well as Tres Rios members who are at the top of the pecking order. It has private butlers and private rooftop hot tubs with a view of the coastline. The occupants wear black wrist bands (they have a pretty hilarious system of wrist bands with so many different colors that we wonder if even the staff can keep them all straight), which opens all doors and is their ‘highest’ level band. It is also the only building that has units with kitchenettes. 

Ready to be done with this long check-in process we accept, and are shown to a truly lovely unit. Marble floors, facing the ocean with a great view of Cozumel island on the horizon, two balconies, two bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a spiral staircase leading to a private sunning area with large lounge chairs and a slatted wood portico. 

Circular stairwell to private sun deck

To make a long story somewhat shorter, we never get the unit in La Herencia building, but we do accept the 4 days of complementary all-inclusive.  Given how long it took to finally come to this conclusion, the complementary AI was scheduled to run Monday through Thursday and we planned a day trip for Friday before our return to the airport on Saturday. Thus we greatly enjoyed our stay at Tres Rios, in spite of the confusion over the booking. While they lost much of their beachfront when hurricane Wilma came through, they have a pretty little inlet area where one of the ‘tres’ rivers comes out. 

View of inlet and beach beds

Sun tanning bed

The waters of the inlet are clear and warm, great for snorkeling and a quick dip. They of course have beach side service, with this area giving priority for the beds with canopy covers to the black-wrist-band-wearers. It is hard to resist whiling away a few hours here, with very attentive and kind servers bringing over icy drinks, or plates of food including an excellent ceviche. 

Tres Rios gets our highest recommendation, if you are looking for an all inclusive vacation. If not, it is probably not worth dealing with the hassle of the AI push on the weeks when AI is supposedly 'optional'.