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Royal Hideaway Playacar––Quintana Roo, Mexico

Lote Hotelero No. 6, Desarollo Playacar, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The pioneer in luxury all–inclusive resorts, Royal Hideaway Playacar puts a formal gloss on package tourism. Its convenient location near Playa del Carmen means you might also want to nip into town for a few meals.

Royal Hideaway Playacar pool

Set inside a sprawling gated community of condos, hotels, and a golf course, Occidental Resorts' Royal Hideaway has all the trappings of old–school luxury, beginning in the lobby, which is all stratospheric ceilings, gleaming marble floors, chandeliers, and oil paintings. Valets introduce guests to the reception staff, and service continues in this formal vein, with everyone greeted as "Mister" or "Miss," and even some white gloves sported by the bellhops.

Royal Hideaway Playacar Mexico Rooms are clustered in two– and three–story villas (each with its own concierge) painted butter yellow and trimmed in white Caribbean–style gables. Paths meander over ponds and past small swimming pools, but the overall feeling is one of formality and planning––essential given the resort's relatively small lot. A smart layout allows a fair amount of room among the buildings, but the beachfront had almost completely disappeared in 2009, despite ugly long sandbags partially submerged offshore. (The government is promising beach restoration work eventually, though overdevelopment on the shoreline makes it a long–term battle.)

Those looking for a party atmosphere, loads of organized activities, or a place for their children to hang out are not a good fit for this esteemed resort. No children under 13 are allowed and activities are the country club type: golf, tennis, cooking classes, and bike rentals for a leisurely ride around the Playacar gated community or the close by Playa del Carmen.

Standard rooms (184 of the 200 available) are comfortable, if not absolutely cavernous, and the whirlpool bathtubs don't accommodate two. But they are attractive, with pillowy beds, colonial–look ceiling fans, and dark, heavy furniture.Royal Hideaway Playacar roomBy contrast, the bilevel junior suites offer more room than most couples will know what to do with (a pullout bed can be used for children 13 or older), with two bathrooms, two terraces, a dining or sitting room, and a wet bar. The upstairs bedroom and bathroom are very similar in layout to the standard rooms. The most luxurious options are the two presidential suites and villas occupying either two or three floors.

All rooms have complimentary beer and soda minibars, nice Bvlgari toiletries, separate shower stalls, Bose sound systems with iPod docks, and large closets with silk–trimmed bathrobes. All should have a widescreen LCD TV in place by press time.

Royal Hideaway Playacar touts the quality of its cuisine, and it is leagues better than typical all–inclusives––though it is still no match at all for what's served at smaller, European–plan hotels and it is working hard to keep up with the impressive new Grand Velas restaurants. The showcase restaurant is ultra–modern Las Ventanas, where the chef turns out a modified version of trendy Spanish cuisine cuisine (foie gras ice cream, flavored foams, and the like). A new chef’s table there is certainly innovative; for the right price a group can discuss preferences with the chef then see everything being prepared for them on the other side of a wall of glass, while webcams and a microphone let them in on the action.

The more mainstream dining options––a dimly lit, super–Baroque Italian restaurant, a sleek Asian option, and a poolside Caribbean/Mexican grill––are more successful. Unfortunately, "all–inclusive" does not include premium wine (which can be very expensive in Mexico due to import duties), and the house choices are seldom memorable. There’s also a dinner theater and bar food service and it’s notable that none of its meals are buffet offerings except breakfast.

Royal Hideaway Playacar pool

A third of the guests at this established AAA 5–diamond resort are repeat visitors. Many travelers will never consider an all–inclusive package, no matter the perks that come with it. But for those who will (perhaps in part due to the range of activities available at such resorts), Royal Hideaway Playacar remains one of the best options on this side of Mexico––even if its vision of luxury feels a bit frozen in time.

Web Address: www.royalhideaway.com
Total Number of Rooms: 200
Published rates: $300 to $2,000 per person, all–inclusive

Review by Zora O'Neill, photos and updates by Timothy Scott.

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