I remember the first time I read an article about a “luxury all-inclusive” resort. It was long before we launched Luxury Latin America, back when most travel information came from vessels holding ink on glossy paper that were mailed to your house. The writer was talking about a new resort near Playa del Carmen in Mexico. She was skeptical about the whole concept, someone who had shunned all-inclusive resorts her whole life, but was forced to spend time at this one because her editor sent her there. In the typical upscale travel mag formula you still see today, everything is rosy, the writer’s whole outlook changes, and there’s nothing negative to say about any part of the experience.
That resort was Royal Hideaway Playacar and it was a true pioneer. Back in the 1990s, most luxury travelers looked down their nose at the whole phrase “all-inclusive” and associated “those kinds of hotels” with Walmart shoppers and NASCAR enthusiasts. Places for bad food and bottom-shelf liquor swilled in abundance. In their mind, it wasn’t possible that a place like that could provide a luxury experience.
Times change, and so do attitudes. Royal Hideaway Playacar eventually got some company, most notably the Grand Velas properties in Mexico, a few upscale Cancun competitors like Le Blanc, and then whole chains like Secrets. All the while, the original kept rolling along in its gated community just down the beach from Playa del Carmen’s ferry dock. (When I first reviewed the property many years ago, I walked there from town.)
We made a second visit to the property recently to see how the pioneer was holding up. Once owned by Occidental Resorts, its ownership got swallowed up in 2015 by the larger Barcelo group. Most of Barcelo’s resorts are those mass market vacation factory resorts the luxury crowd still looks down at, which may mean the parent company’s Mexico division is not quite sure how to handle this oddity in their portfolio. (The other Royal Hideaway properties are all in Europe.)
At Luxury Latin America we like to tell it like it is and give you the pros and cons of any property, so you will find a few sour notes here and there in our updated review. As culinary competition has heated up in the region, this resort seems to have lost some talent in the kitchen.
Overall though, this is still an impressive resort, with a fine stretch of beach that’s never crowded, nice grounds for strolling, six swimming pools scattered around, and hidden spots you can claim as your own.
There are 200 rooms here, most of them clustered together in blocks. Each building is painted a creamy yellow with blue touches. There’s plenty of water throughout the grounds, including artificial streams and a lake up near the main “house” where we checked in and where the restaurants are located. The lawns are thick and green, while tall palm trees wave in the breeze, the combination creating a tranquil atmosphere. During your time here, it’s likely you’ll spot the occasional iguana, capybara, or woodpecker.
The rooms here are attractive, well-designed, and hit the right notes for included amenities. The balconies are furnished with comfy chairs and cool marble floors run throughout.
As with the Ritz-Carlton Cancun we recently revisited, this is a rather formal, elegant counterpart to the hip modernity of Le Blanc in Cancun or Grand Velas Riviera Maya. It’s quieter and more private too, with its collection of separate buildings instead of a big high-rise. This was designed as a place that would ease luxury travelers into the idea of an all-inclusive experience. Two decades on it is still doing that, though now some of the original guests are bringing back their kids or grandkids.
See our detailed new review of Royal Hideaway Playacar in the Riviera Maya.