Everything's free in Mexico (once you've paid for it)
You don't have to go downmarket for an all-inclusive holiday. Paul Clements stays chic on Mexico's Caribbean coast
Published 27/05/2008 | 13:51
There's an accepted amount of low-level pilfering that goes on during a stay in a luxury resort.
By the time you've got shot of the bellboy, you're ready to size up the bathroom toiletries and are wondering how to make room in the suitcase for a bathrobe or two.
According to latter-day prophet Homer Simpson, "Hotels expect you to take a few things", so it's not stealing. "It's a souvenir," he explains, as he tries pocketing a side table. Smaller items such as toiletries and loo rolls (a surprisingly popular swipe) have already been factored in to your rate. So anything else you thieve – from the Egyptian cotton linen on the spare pillows to the in-room chill-out CD – will probably turn up on your credit card.
There's no need to do a freebie sweep at the Royal Hideaway Playacar, one of an elite cluster of luxury resorts outside Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Caribbean coast. From the minute you check in, literally everything's paid for – every meal, mojito and loo roll embossed with your initials. The Bulgari toiletries are for the taking – likewise, the plate of chocolate strawberries delivered to your room at turndown. From the pillow menu to round-the-clock room service, every tropical resort cliché is present, correct – and paid for. So relax, you're on an all-inclusive.
All-inclusive: if the phrase conjures up holidays on the Spanish costas surrounded by unruly families filling their boots at all-you-can-eat buffets, forget it. This was the first such venue to be accepted into the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio of luxury resorts; as free-for-alls go, it's certified five-star. It's also adults only, so there is nothing to disturb the couples snuggling up on the daybeds, except the occasional engine rev from the resort's watersports school (tuition is, naturally, all taken care of), or an approaching waiter administering fridge-cooled towels, slices of fresh fruit and non-stop cocktails.
But it's at mealtimes that the all-inclusive formula really comes into its own. Of the six guests-only restaurants, the top table is Las Ventanas, an upscale international dining room "overseen" by Sergi Arola, which serves globetrotting fancies – from the locally caught crab to Chilean sea bass. You're guaranteed a memorable meal not just because the Michelin-starred Spanish wunderchef has put his name to it – change your mind about the Angus roast beef with foie gras ice cream, and you can order again off the à la carte menu. Choose an under-par bottle of Mexican red, and swap it for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
When money's no object, it changes how you approach a menu and fill your days. When we tired of lazing between well-heeled Americans around the pool, we booked into the Balinese spa centre for a spot more lying down. As this is primarily a honeymooners' paradise, the lights go out early. We passed on the Vegas-style dinner show in the theatre club, and the early evening salsa and meringue dance lessons in the bar in favour of late nights spent in the plasticated "nitelife" in nearby Playa del Carmen.
Being part of the Yucatan peninsula, there are plenty of attractions to get you out of the resort and back in the habit of opening up your wallet. The Mayan ruins of Tulum are just 45 minutes away; the even more spectacular site at Chichen Itza, one of the new wonders of the world, is a good five-hour round trip. With two major sights seen, the resort and its pleasures were ours for the taking. Faced with the daily changing rota of poolside activities – from yoga and aquarobics to Spanish lessons and tequila appreciation – we chose as we pleased. One day we hired bikes to head into Playa for mall shopping, careful not to run over the iguanas. We boogie boarded in the shallows of the resort's shoreline till our knees were raw.
It's the unfettered access to such amenities that more than justifies the cost of a visit. At around £200 per person per night, an all-inclusive stay does not come bucket-and-spade cheap. But with low-cost Thomsonfly operating to nearby Cancun airport, a spot of top-end tropical chic is just about affordable. And no hidden extras.
During one afternoon at the poolside, I was shown the art of towel-sculpting, contorting cotton into the form of elephants and swans. It makes for a good party trick. If only I had a set of towels as thick and fluffy. If only I'd had space in my suitcase ...
How to get there
Paul Clements travelled to Playa del Carmen with Thomson Worldwide (0871 230 2770; www.thomsonworldwide.co.uk ), which offers seven nights at the Royal Hideaway ( www.royalhideaway.com ) from £1,749 per person, based on two sharing, on an all-inclusive basis, including flights and transfers. Thomsonfly (0870 1900 737; thomsonfly.com) offers return flights to Cancun from £369.
Visit Mexico (00800 1111 2266; www.visitmexico.com ).