On Saturday evenings, Fuentes Restaurant at El Dorado Royale Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico, is transformed into an epicurean event called the Red Carpet. It is a virtuoso performance by the chef, with ceviches creatively presented in tall shot glasses, and oysters with foam and caviar in martini glasses. The cooking demonstrations displayed on large screens are as entertaining as the acrobatic troupe, Mexican dancers and mariachi band.
The Presidential one-bedroom Casita at El Dorado Royale overlooks a sparkling pool.
This new event epitomizes the unique “Gourmet Inclusive” niche carved out by Karisma Hotels and Resorts, which operates four hotels in the Riviera Maya under the El Dorado (adults-only) and Azul (family-friendly) brands.
Memorable food experiences and attentive service are hallmarks of the Gourmet Inclusive concept. The staff-to-guest ratio is double the industry standard. All properties offer private candlelight dining on the beach or in sky palapas, and sunset or moonlight couples massages in thatched pavilions. There is food and beverage service at the canopied beach beds, and 24-hour room service.
The AAA Four-Diamond El Dorado Royale is Karisma’s flagship. It stretches along 1.5 miles of beachfront and features 639 rooms in nine categories, topped by seven Presidential Suites with private pool and personal butler.
This adults-only property (minimum age 18) appeals to romantic couples with such features as Jacuzzis and canopied beds. For the ultimate in romance, recommend El Dorado Casitas Royale, a resort-within-a-resort at El Dorado Royale. Here there are eight separate enclaves of 26 to 34 suites in a horseshoe shape, which faces a central pool. The ground-floor suites have an in-water terrace with lounge chairs and access to a lazy river leading to the pool. In the newest Casitas enclave, the Swim-Up Infinity Pool Casita Suites also have a private plunge pool, while the upper-level Infinity Pool Casita Suites have a private infinity pool on the balcony facing the sea. Casita guests will love the butler service to their in-water terrace or beach bed.
Foodies will enjoy the seven restaurants, and can attend cooking, cocktail and wine-tasting classes. La Fondue Restaurant rivals the culinary theater at Fuentes Restaurant for most popular eatery.
The travel agent liaison for VIPs, or for special requests, is Flor Rodriguez, sales manager (011-52-998-872-8038, [email protected]).
El Dorado Seaside Suites was selected one of the most romantic resorts in the world by Forbes magazine. It’s less than half the size of El Dorado Royale with 280 junior suites in five categories, including swim-up suites. All have king beds and canopied Jacuzzis. The minimum age for a stay at this property is 18.
As part of the Gourmet Inclusive offerings, beachgoers are served fruit late morning, picnic baskets at lunch and champagne late afternoon. Spa therapists offer free sample massages on the beach, too. Sunday lunch features a fresh fish market on the beach so guests can choose their fish and have the chef cook it to order. Vida Garden Grill stands out among the five restaurants, with glass walls, Latin fusion cuisine and 20 types of margaritas.
For VIP bookings or special requests, contact Fernando Minniti, sales executive (011-52-984-875-7004, [email protected]).
El Dorado Maroma offers myriad swimming options.
El Dorado Maroma is a boutique resort with 72 rooms geared to adults (minimum age 16). There are 48 new swim-up and infinity pool suites with in-water lounge chairs on shallow terraces connecting to a lazy river on the ground floor, and infinity pools on the suite balconies on the top three floors. All these suites have ocean views, a canopied bed, Jacuzzi, outdoor shower and marble floors.
Recommend this property to clients who like highly personalized service, along with water sports. The beach at Maroma is the best on the Riviera Maya, and guests can try parasailing and jet skiing.
Gourmet Inclusive elements include Bites on the Beach (passed appetizers) and specialty beach lunches, such as a fresh fish market, barbecue and paella. There are three restaurants; suggest the six-course tasting menu.
For VIPs and special requests, contact Alfredo Santamaría, general manager (011-52-984-206-3470, [email protected]).
A light-filled Azul Beach Suite at Azul Beach Hotel.
Azul Beach Hotel is the flag bearer of the family-oriented Karisma brand. It is unique as a small boutique hotel catering to families and features 98 rooms, including 12 connecting rooms. For the best views, suggest Suite 101 or 102 in Villa 1; for families, recommend Villas 1-4, which face the kids’ pool.
Parents will love the close proximity to the airport (great for impatient kids), room service for children, Gourmet Gerber baby food and round-the-clock babysitting. There is a full range of infant equipment and amenities in the room, a kids’ club, movie library with popcorn service and, thanks to the offshore reef, calm ocean waters. Kids less than 2 years old stay free, and are half-price from 2 to 12.
A highlight of the intimate Azul Beach Hotel is its pool.
For adults, there are tequila tastings, massage lessons and a thatched palapa over the water where clients can experience a four-handed massage with chocolate body oil. Ask for Jorge Norris, a therapist with strong hands.
Gourmet Inclusive specialties include beach butlers, picnic baskets and themed beach lunches. Recommend a Tatami table in Tainan Restaurant for a special dining experience.
For VIPs (actor Michael J. Fox has stayed here twice with his family) and special requests, contact Alexia Muralt, sales executive (011-52-998-872-8084, [email protected]).
In 2008, two additional family-oriented Azul resorts will debut. Azul Sensatori Hotel will open by fall with 444 suites, including 96 connecting rooms. Recommend this property to families with teenagers. Azul Fives will open by the end of the year with 360 oversized one- to three-bedroom suites with kitchens. Steer large families and long-stay guests to this resort.
Azul Beach Hotel is a smart option for families traveling with the kids in tow.
Vacation bookings are typically made through wholesalers but can also be done over the GDS. Hotel transfers are handled by the wholesaler; private transfers can be arranged by car, van or stretch Lincoln Navigator. Spa treatments and luxury extras can be booked in advance through the online store by visiting www.karismahotels.com.
The Riviera Maya is the top-selling destination for Berman Travel, based in Brigantine, NJ. Susan Berman, agency co-owner with her husband, Mark, attributes this phenomenon to the wide variety of activities and accommodations on the 81-mile stretch of Yucatan coastline.
Berman explains that the Riviera Maya destination offers something for everyone, from Mayan sites to swimming with dolphins, zipline tours and shopping. However, she does not book tours in advance of travel except for the dolphin swim programs. “There are so many tour options available through the hotels, it’s easier to let the clients decide when they get there,” she says, adding that many clients prefer to simply enjoy their resort’s setting and pampering.
The four Karisma properties are a case in point: “They’re all about the food and service,” she says. The hottest-selling Karisma rooms for Berman Travel are the Casita Suites at El Dorado Royale. “They even sound cute,” says Berman.
Her advice to agents: Recommend hurricane insurance to clients traveling June through November. Berman uses the insurance provided by Travel Impressions, the agency’s primary wholesaler.
Karisma Certification and Marketing Support
To get fully up to speed on the four Karisma properties, consider the three-day certification fam trip incorporating site inspections, sales training and free time. If you don’t have the time for a trip to Mexico, there is a schedule of webcasts with an online web trainer. Marketing support available to agents includes a newsletter, photo gallery, materials that can be customized and online videos. An online store enables agents to send gift certificates, champagne and other gifts to their clients’ rooms.
Contact Flor Rodriguez, sales manager (011-52-998-872-8038, [email protected]).
Restaurants in Playa del Carmen
Everything is handmade at La Cueva del Chango, from the authentic tortillas to the open-air garden pavilions.
At Yaxche Maya Cuisine Restaurant, which resembles a Mayan temple, chefs prepare Yucatecan-European fusion cuisine in the open display kitchen.
Diners at Alux Restaurant and Lounge, located in a natural underground cavern, are surrounded by rock formations lit by dripping candles and have entrees flambéed at the table.
The second-floor balcony at Media Luna is a great spot for people watching on busy Fifth Avenue over dinner with jazz in the background.
The landmark beach club, Blue Parrot, has swings at the bar and heats up late night with a fire show.