Monday, February 28, 2011

Excellence Playa Mujeres

Isn't it always so tragic to come home after vacation? It already feels like a million years ago that I was lounging poolside at the Excellence Playa Mujeres. Fortunately even a week later I'm still enjoying the residual mellowness of five days of frozen cocktails and sunshine. Sigh...

Those who know me well know that I'm a hard core travel junkie and love getting knee deep in travel arrangements and research. But last time I tried to plan a tropical getaway, that was a liability. There are simply too many islands and too many fabulous resorts to properly research, and once I went down that rabbit hole I was frozen with indecision. 

This time I decided to just pick the first resort that had good prices, direct flights and great trip advisor reviews. Turns out that's easier said than done, so I was thrilled to find The Excellence Playa Mujeres met all three requirements.

Rarely have I ever found a hotel that had such universally great reviews, and after experiencing it for myself, I think it's merited. Last time my honey and I planned a tropical trip, we were snobs about all-inclusives. Since we're intrepid travelers, we thought all-inclusives were for lazy Americans too fearful to experience the real culture.

After a pleasant but not all that luxurious jaunt to the Semana peninsula in Dominican Republic, complete with epic mosquitos and a near-death experience with a moped-driving local, we came to the conclusion that while we're all about authenticity in destinations like Morocco or Argentina, on a tropical vacation, a little American-style pampering isn't a bad thing!

We arrived to the Excellence to find a gorgeous resort, resplendent with turquoise pools, a well groomed beach, peaceful palapas, and a bounty of nine different all-inclusive restaurants.Greeted with a smile and a glass of champagne, we couldn't wait to explore! 

What we had so missed out on during our previous trip was the ever-important role service plays. This is where Excellence excels. The staff is truly eager to address and even anticipate your every need. When they heard it was our birthdays, they arranged for balloons, a cake and a bottle of Mexico's finest bubbly (who knew?!) to show up in our room.

A birthday treat for us

Each day we took our perch at a different spot around the pool and were taken care of by a waiter plying us with frozen delights like the banana mama or the dirty monkey. Too lazy to even make a proper decision when it came to drinking, I'd say something like - ooh, something with Kahlua and not too sweet, and mere moments later I'd be slurping down some tropical treat always tailored to my specifications. Is there a 12-step program for banana mama's? If so, I'm checking Mr. AT in stat.

Who knew Mexican sparkling existed?

On our first day, we were starving for guacamole and chips but the kitchen wasn't open yet. As soon as it was 12, our waiter remembered our hours earlier order, and brought us the food and our 5th cocktails of the day (what else are you supposed to do while waiting for guac?) It's just that kind of place.

I would be remiss to ignore the relative mediocrity of the food. The major draw back to an all-inclusive is that the food is more plentiful than delicious. Fortunately with so many dining choices, we could at least try out something new every night, even if we were never wowed. Not surprisingly I'm kind of tough to please with food, so I imagine that most people would find the food more than adequate.

I would have given anything for some Buford Highway quality authentic Mexican, but Excellence is playing to the masses and kept things much more middle-American friendly (read: not a truly spicy or authentic dish in sight). Somehow though, the blandness didn't mean we ate less. There's just something about food being free that makes me want to have a bite of everything.

Fortunately we were given the good advice to save the French restaurant, Chez Isabelle, for our birthdays, and were treated there to a table festooned with balloons and surprisingly good steak, venison, and duck dishes. It all felt rather Epcot, but so what? They were gracious, the setting was indeed lovely, and we didn't have to get out our wallets after a day of sunning ourselves. I go on many of my vacations for the sake of great food, but in this case, luxurious environs, service and sun were much more my focus.

Surprisingly enough, the Indian spot was our other favorite and what little Mexican food we tried there, including the quesadillas, was shockingly bad. But being able to order anything else you wanted at any time, took the edge off that. Heck Mr. AT just loved taking M&M's from the minibar without incurring extra costs. It's the simple pleasures, right? And despite so-so food, the cocktails were fruity, cold and plentiful, which has a way of making you forget any other complaints!

All in all, I can't recommend Excellence Playa Mujeres highly enough. When you're not sunning, boozing or eating, there's live music and nightly shows ready to entertain and exceed expectations, and there are plenty of active pursuits for those less lazy than us. Be sure to check out Expedia for great flight/hotel packages!

Want a little slice of Excellence right now? Check out this recipe to make a Dirty Monkey at home.
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